Saturday, December 26, 2009

Embracing a New Year of Change

I read this humorous story not too long ago. “If the circus comes to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus coming to the Fairgrounds Saturday,’ that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flowerbed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.

If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertaining booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot of money, that’s sales.” Being an agent of change can be like convincing the people at the circus that they need to spend their money.

As we prepare to ring in a new year, I am reminded me of the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are a Changing, “If your time to you is worth savin’, then you better start swimnin’, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changin’.”

Change in an organization is never easy – not even in good times, much less when implemented during bad times. So how can the implementation of change be seen as a positive opportunity, even when the change is not welcomed?

Allow me to explore with you what I call the Three A’s of Change as you seize the opportunities that it brings.

Accept the challenge of change. In his book, The Winning Attitude, John Maxwell shares the story of the man who lived by the side of the road, and sold hot dogs was hard of hearing, so he had no radio.

He had trouble with his eyes, so he read no newspapers. But he sold good hot dogs. He put up signs in the highway advertising them. He stood on the side of the road and cried, “Buy a hot dog, mister?” And people bought his hot dogs. He increased his meat and bun orders. He bought a bigger stove to take care of his trade.

He finally got his son to come home from college to help out. But then something happened. “Father, haven’t you been listening to the radio” his son said. “Haven’t you been reading the newspaper? There’s a big recession on. The European situation is terrible. The domestic situation is worse.”

Whereupon the father thought, “Well, my son’s been to college, he reads the papers and he listens to the radio, and he ought to know.” So the father cut his meat and bun orders, took down his signs and no longer bothered to stand out and the highway to sell his hot dogs. His sales fell overnight. “You’re right son; we are certainly in the middle of a big recession.”

Accepting the challenge of change does not mean accepting every negative report. Sometimes the challenge of change is to go against the status quo, embracing your dreams despite what you hear.

Accentuate the positives of change. In order to do this, you have to shake off old assumptions that all change is bad. One thing is for certain, you’ll never move toward success if your attitude towards change is negative.

Adapting to change in the workplace, whether by necessity or choice, is not easy for some. We are creatures of habit.

In his book Survival Is Not Enough-Why Smart Companies Abandon Worry and Embrace Change, Seth Godin says, “Change is the new normal. Rather than thinking of work as a series of stable times interrupted by moments of change, companies must now recognize work as constant change, with only occasional moments of stability.” He added, “If you and your company are not taking advantage of change, change will defeat you.”

Appreciate the value of change. Appreciating change only works when people in your organization understand why you are changing in the first place. That is the task of good leadership. It reminds me of the time when Lucy was leaning against a fence with Charlie Brown. “I would like to change the world,” she said. Charlie Brown asked, “Where would you like to start?” She replied, “I would start with you!” A leader can’t change the climate of the organization if he hasn’t communicated the value of it.

When organizations choose the path of least resistance and are held captive to old-school thinking, then change will be difficult. Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” I trust that the change you experience in 2010 will be the beginning of something truly special.

Happy New Year!

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leadership – It’s a Wonderful Life

The beloved Jimmy Stewart wrote an article for Guidepost magazine back in 2005 in which he recounted the unique opportunity he had to star in the classic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Stewart recounted, “Good as the script was, there was still something else about the movie that made it different. It’s hard to explain. I, for one, had things happen to me during the filming that never happened in any other pictures I’ve made.”

In one scene Stewart recalls his character, George Bailey, is faced with unjust criminal charges, and not knowing where to turn, ends up in a little restaurant. In the scene, at the lowest point in George Baileys life, he raises his eyes, following the script and prays, “God…God…dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God…”

“As I said those words,” Stewart confesses, “I felt the loneliness, the hopelessness of people who had nowhere to turn and my eyes filled with tears. I broke down sobbing. This was not planned at all, but the power of that prayer, the realization that our Father in heaven is there to help the hopeless, had reduced me to tears.”

Like the unexpected reaction of Stewart as he recited the lines from his script, the function of leadership in many ways serves the same purpose. During this Christmas week celebration, allow me to share a few thoughts on why being a leader is a gift and how these gifts can make you a stronger leader in the New Year.

Leadership is a gift of servitude. Your rise to the top as a leader is attained not by how many people serve you, but in how many people you serve. When you come to the understanding that your success is tied to the success of others it will change your perspective.

Years ago, the Salvation Army was holding an international convention and their founder, Gen. William Booth, could not attend because of physical weakness. He cabled his convention message to them. It was one word: "OTHERS."

While it may run contrary to popular thinking today, a true leader is one whose dreams come to reality when he helps make the dreams of others a reality. It truly is a wonderful life when as leaders we are empowered to serve.

Stewart recalled how when the movie came out in December of 1946, “from the beginning we could tell it was not going to be the success we hoped for,” he said. “The critics had mixed reactions. Some liked it; others felt it was “too sentimental…a figment of simple Pollyanna platitudes.” As more reviews came out, our hopes sank lower and lower. The postwar public seemed to prefer lighthearted fare. At the end of 1947, It’s a Wonderful Life ranked twenty-seventh in earnings that season. And although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes, it won nothing. “Best Picture “for 1946 went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.”

Leadership is a gift of second chances. I don’t have to tell you that this has been a tough year for a lot of folks. Like Stewart and his high hopes for It’s a Wonderful Life, you may have experienced disappointment and feel like you have been put on a shelf.

I would like to encourage you to believe that regardless of how you see things today, there is a hope that you can cling to. Stewart added, “But a curious thing happened. The movie refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they told others. They wouldn’t let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on TV, a whole new audience fell in love with it. Today, after some 40 years, I’ve heard the film called “an American cultural phenomenon.”

This we know for sure, leaders will be tested. It’s when you walk though the fire and come through difficult times that your leadership is rewarded. You may not have chosen the battles you faced in 2009 nor the challenges before you in 2010. But one thing is for certain, with courage and faith; you can know success you never realized.

Stewart concluded his remarks about the movie saying, “It seems to me that there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.’

I happen to think his words are most appropriate for leaders.

Merry Christmas!

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Grinch on Leadership

The economy this season has many folks in a pinch, you can be a smart leader or be like a Grinch.

If a good leader you’d be, there are things that you can do, things that you must; so don’t waste another minute, there’s no time to fuss.

Here are my thoughts on how the Grinch went astray, four points in all- a gift to you before Christmas Day.

The Grinch had issues too numerous to count, with an ugly demeanor the Grinch stood tall; contrasting the first problem- his heart was too small.

The people of Who-ville were festive and fun, filled with expectancy as the big day approached, but the Grinch had plans he thought would encroach.

If you’re a leader who acts like the Grinch, be advised now and be advised quick; respect you won’t have, you’ll make people sick.

When the season is festive with noise and feast, be kind and considerate, be not offended, not in the least.

The Grinch is stingy and needs a heart that is new; it’s now what you know as problem number two.

When the Who’s came together, bells ringing with cheer, the Grinch couldn’t stand it, he looked on in spite and covered his ears.

From his devious heart came a good awful idea; he would steal their presents, he would take their good meals.

When leaders are stingy like the Grinch with no heart, change can take place, and in Who-ville, it starts.

The Grinch wreaked havoc on Who-ville that night, but his devious plan backfired, now exposing his new plight.

With eyes not deceiving, he clears his throat with a cough, thirdly revealing his heart is turned soft.

Who-ville awakens with joyous sounds, Grinch is now watching as the morning fog clears, but to his dismay it’s hearts full of cheer.

The Grinch is now home with Who’s toys in sacks, he has a change of heart and decides to give it back.

The Grinch we all know behaved badly and with nerve, revealing the fourth truth-even a selfish leader like Grinch can learn how to serve.

In the morning light away flew the Grinch, the homes were reminders of his past ill intents.

Grinch is now receptive to the joy the season brings; he takes ole Max and soars to new heights, the smiles in Who-ville now a holiday delight.

The lesson for leaders is one we must remember, the best investments in Who-ville are not just in December.

Leadership is influence as John Maxwell does say, so I bring you good
tidings in time for Christmas Day!

© 2009 Doug Dickerson
Note: I’d like to acknowledge Dr. Seuss for the inspiration for my column this week.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Are You a Curious Leader?

A sign in a window of an English company read: We have been established for over one hundred years and have been pleasing our displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coal rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next.

The late Walter Pater said, “What we have to do is be forever curiously testing new opinions and courting new impressions.” I believe that curious leaders are the life blood of any organization. I also believe when leaders cease to be curious that is when creativity begins to wane.

What are you curious about? What grabs your attention and captures your imagination? Here is how I would define a curious leader. To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list, so see how these apply to you.

A curious leader asks a lot of questions. Albert Einstein said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” Asking questions is the pathway to understanding.

Remember when your children were small and their eyes were opening to the world around them? When my two girls were growing up, like many parents, I thought I would go crazy with all the questions of, “Daddy, is the moon made of cheese?” Daddy, how does Santa Claus get in the house when we don’t have a chimney?” Remember those days?

Perhaps the next gathering around the table in the board room ought to be a return to the innocence and wonderment of eyes open to new possibilities that you did not realize existed. Perhaps James Thurber was on to something when he said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”

A curious leader challenges old assumptions. Your way forward, especially in this economy, is though fresh eyes and clear thinking. Alan Alda said, “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or light won’t come in.”

A curious leader will be in the forefront of this new paradigm of challenge and must make curiosity comfortable for those more skeptical. Guardians of tradition will no doubt feel threatened by this new way of thinking, not understanding the greater threat of the status quo.

Stephen R. Covey said, “We simply assume the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions.” Curiosity is the way out of the rut many organizations find themselves in. The day your team is free to challenge old assumptions is the day your organization begins to rise to a new level.

Curious leaders are willing to take risks. The end result of questions and challenges to old assumptions are but one thing – action. Think of all the modern conveniences of life that you enjoy today. We enjoy them because at some point, questions were asked, assumptions were challenged, and decisions were made.

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke at Rice University where he delivered his famous speech challenging the nation to reach for the stars and to put a man on the moon before the decade was over.

Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

Was the goal lofty, was it inspiring, and risky? The answer to all three is obvious. Yet, Kennedy believed it was attainable. Curious leaders are not comfortable with the status quo, believe that the challenges before us are worthy of our efforts, and that our dreams are worth the risk.

What are you curious about?

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Up in Smoke - The Power of Sacrifice

I don’t have to tell you that these are challenging economic times we are living in. In this time of economic challenge, making sacrifices is no longer an option for many organizations. Budgets are being cut, raises are set aside, and discretionary spending is being watched closer than ever. Maintaining strong morale during times of sacrifice can be a challenge.

Warren Lamb shares a story of a Japanese seaside village a hundred years ago that experienced an earthquake that startled the villagers one evening. Being so accustomed to earthquakes and not feeling another, they soon went back to their activities without giving it another thought.

An old farmer was watching from his home on a high plain above the village. He looked out at the sea and noticed that the water appeared dark and was acting strangely, moving against the wind and running away from the land. The old man knew what that meant. His one thought was to warn the people in the village below. He called to his grandson, “Bring me a torch! Hurry!”

In the fields behind him lay his great crop of rice that was piled high in stacks that were ready for market; it was worth a fortune. The old man hurried out to see the stacks with his torch. In a flash the dry stalks were ablaze. Soon the big bell pealed from the temple below: Fire!

Back from the beach, away from the sea, up the steep side of the cliff came the people of the village, running as fast as they could. They were trying to save the crops of their neighbor. “He’s mad!” they said when they saw he just stood there watching them come and staring toward the sea.

As they reached the level of the fields the old man shouted at the top of his voice over the roaring of the flames while pointing toward the sea, “Look!” At the edge of the horizon they saw a long, thin, faint line – a line that grew thicker as they watched.

That line was the sea, rising like a wall, getting higher and coming more and more swiftly as they stared. Then came the shock, heavier than thunder; the great wall of water struck the shore with a fierceness and a force that sent a shudder through the hills and tore homes below into matchsticks. The water withdrew and with a roaring sound. Then it returned and struck again, and again, and again.

One final thme it struck and ebbed, then returned to its place and its pattern. On the plain no one spoke a word for a long while. Finally, the voice of the old man could be heard, saying softly, gently, “That’s why I set fire to the rice.”

He now stood among them just as poor as the poorest of them; his wealth was gone – all for the sake of 400 lives. By that sacrifice he will long be remembered, not by his wealth. He was not saddened by what his sacrifice cost him; he was overjoyed at what was saved.

The rice farmer teaches us valuable lessons about leadership. What are they? Let’s examine.

He was observant. Leaders pay attention to what is taking place around them. He saw the pending danger and immediately began to warn the villagers below. He understood his responsibility and acted on it.

He was personally invested in the well-being of others. He sacrificed his own fortune for the lives of his fellow villagers. Crops can be replanted, the village could be rebuilt, but the lives of the villagers could never be replaced. In other words, he had his priorities right.

Alan McGinnis said, “We lead best when we seek the welfare of those we lead, when we seek to serve rather than being served.” The rice farmers’ self interests would have been served by not torching his crops and letting the villagers worry about themselves. He teaches us that there are some things more valuable than wealth.

Finally, he shows us that when people come together they can weather the storm. The people ran to save the farmers’ crop. What they didn’t understand at the time was that they were saving themselves.

We will weather this economic crisis as we come together not out of selfish ambition, but out of true care and concern for our fellow man. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

A rice farmer who torched his own crops teaches us to observant, invested in others, and to come together to weather the storm.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thankful Leaders

This week we will congregate with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Millions of Americans will gather around the table to feast on turkey and all the fixing’s and to tune in to one of the traditional Thanksgiving Day football games.

The celebration of Thanksgiving is one of remembrance and gratitude for the blessings of life we enjoy. In his Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789, George Washington offered a blueprint as to how the day ought to be remembered.

In part, the proclamation read, “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation…” As our nation’s first president he had a keen understanding of the origins of our blessings.

Washington’s proclamation touched on themes that are worthy of another look. The themes are guiding principles for every generation of leaders. Here are a few observations for consideration.

Thankful leaders are devoted to service. Washington proclaimed the day be “devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of good.” Our highest calling as leaders is to serve.

The most tangible form of service to “that great and glorious Being” is found in service to our fellow man. Frank Warren said, “If you wish to be a leader you will be frustrated for very few people wish to lead. If you aim to be a servant you will never be frustrated.” One of the most defining qualities of a leader is not in who serves him, but in whom he serves.

Thankful leaders are sincere and humble. “…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks…” Washington said. Leaders are grateful not so much for their position (the weakest form of leadership) but for the blessings that the position offers. With the position comes great responsibility to do good.

John Ruskin wisely said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.’

A leader comfortable in his own skin is sincere and humble. He is not self-absorbed by a sense of self-importance, but understands that it is through humility, sincerity, and service to others that his greatest contributions are made.

Thankful leaders are unifiers. Later in the proclamation Washington said, “And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications…” Like Washington, leaders today understand the significance of what happens when people come together for a common purpose.

Washington understood the struggles of the past and he knew the importance of the future. In order to move forward in unity of purpose he knew it was only possible through unity of heart. Washington called upon Americans to pray to “beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgression," and asked that we be enabled “to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually.”

Thankful leaders unite people around causes greater than self. With all the challenges that we face today, and all that we have to be thankful for, can we do any less?

Happy Thanksgiving!

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Everyday Leaders

On a cold wintry day in January 2009, US Airways flight 1549 taxied down the runway at New York’s LaGuardia airport. The flight, bound for Charlotte, N.C., was a familiar flight for Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Within a matter of minutes after takeoff, flight 1543 was floating in the Hudson River, mechanical failure from a bird shot brought the plane down.

In his book, Highest Duty, My Search for What Really Matters, Sullenberger shares not only his life story, but the heroic actions he and his crew took to ensure that not one passenger was lost.

Sullenberger writes, “Through the media, we all have heard about ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. They act courageously or responsibly, and their efforts are described as if they opted to act that way on the spur of the moment. We’ve all read the stories: the man who jumps onto a subway track to save a stranger, the firefighter who enters a burning building knowing the great risks, the teacher who dies protecting his students during a shooting.

I believe many people in those situations actually have made decisions years before. Somewhere along the line, they came to define the sort of person they wanted to be, and then they conducted their lives accordingly. They had told themselves they would not be passive observers. If called upon to respond in some courageous or selfless way, they would do so.”

I believe Sullenberger describes what makes leaders tick. The courageous acts that so many people demonstrated that fateful day is characterized by daily decisions long before they were placed in the situation. Everyday leaders- who are they and what is unique about them? Let’s examine.

Everyday leaders exemplify courage. Not only did the crew of flight 1549 act with courage but so did emergency personnel on the scene including ordinary citizens on the ferry boats that came to the rescue of the passengers and crew.

“Courage is not the absence of fear,” said Ambrose Redmoon, “but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Everyday leaders who came to the rescue of the passengers set fear aside and did what had to be done.

Your organization may not be facing a life or death emergency like flight 1543, but courageous actions are being called upon for sound leadership, a fresh approach, a new vision. Summon the courage within you and dare to lead.

Everyday leaders assess risk and respond. In the initial moments after the bird strike, Sully and co-pilot Jeff Skiles had to rely on their extensive training and instincts in order to pull off the impossible.

At the controls of a descending, crippled airplane, Sully had to make split-second decisions that would mean the difference between life and death for all on board. The distance to nearby airports and the rapid rate of descent of the airplane compounded an already difficult situ`tion. Sully had no choice but to put the plane down in the Hudson River. While not the optimum choice, it was the right one, and all were saved.

Risk can be frightening in some circumstances. Everyday leaders understand what E.E. Cummings noted, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” When channeled properly, risk can get you out of your comfort zone and propel you to the next level. Don’t fear risk, embrace it.

Everyday leaders bring out the best in others. Whether it was air-traffic controllers, the flight crew, emergency service personnel; everyday leaders rose to the occasion to bring order out of chaos. The way they acted “on the spur of the moment” is testimony to the power of the human spirit, in times of adversity, to do the right thing.

As an everyday leader, you are the guardians of servitude and the custodians of courage in the time of need. You tap the resources of your leadership not out of impulse, but from what you have nurtured all along.

Booker T. Washington said, “Character, not circumstances, make the man.” That is true in leadership. The events and circumstances of that January day did not make Sully Sullenberger a leader and a hero, it just revealed it. Character is what shows others the type of everyday leader that you are. Lead on.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Heroes in our Midst

I read a story recently by Laura Craven of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey about Genevieve Rausch. At a ceremony in her honor, the 93 year-old sat patiently as local dignitaries paid homage to her. The ceremony, over sixty years in the making was certainly in order, and long over due.

Rausch, a member of the U.S. Army, was a pilot in the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) of World War II. From 1942 to 1944, the women took over non-combat military missions across the U.S. – test flying planes, teaching male pilots, and towing targets for artillery practice- so that male pilots could be deployed for combat. The pilots were skilled in the areas of navigation, meteorology, Morse code, and firearms. Yet, they received none of the prestige as their male counterparts did.

President Obama recently signed legislation acknowledging and awarding the members of WASP with the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest honor. Of the original 1,830 members of WASP, only 300 are with us today. Their service to our country is but one more example of why the United States military is composed of the finest men and women our nation has to offer.

As war continues in Irag and Afghanistan, Veterans Day this week will be marked with the soberness that comes from understanding that the cause for liberty and freedom continues. We pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and thank all who have and are currently serving today. Understanding that constant threats exist, we also pause to pray for and remember all those touched by the recent tragedy at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Ask any soldier, active or retired, and they will tell you with a deep sense of humility that they are not heroes. In fact, most would cringe at the suggestion. What we understand from those we honor this week are their leadership qualities that inspire all of us – honor, duty, and service.

In the humble beginnings of our republic, ordinary men and women answered the call to protect and defend. With the recent commissioning of the USS New York, we must not forget the sacrifices made by those who paved the way for our freedom in the most primitive conditions imaginable.

In his bestseller, 1776, historian David McCullough describes the horrific conditions that existed during that brutal winter. “With firewood selling for $20 a cord in Boston, more and more trees were cut down, including the old elm at the corner of Essex and Orange streets, known as the Liberty Tree, which provided fourteen cords. A hundred or more houses were pulled apart. Old barns, old wharves, and derelict ships were chopped up, almost anything that would burn. On orders from General Howe, Old North Church was demolished for firewood.”

From the warmth and comfort of our homes this week, the events of 1776 will likely not be remembered. While we may take the day for granted, unsung heroes go about their duty with pride and honor. They do so with no fanfare, no limelight. But these faithful patriots, people like Genevieve Rausch, remind us that heroes’ in fact do exist.

To the soldiers keeping watch at outposts at the DMZ in South Korea, on the streets of Baghdad, and Kandahar, we say thank you. To the Rough Riders who stormed San Juan Hill (San Juan Heights), and those who stormed the shores at Normandy, we say thank you.

Our brave soldiers of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts deserve our gratitude and respect – thank you. To the shoeless patriots of the Revolution who left their bloody footprints in the snow, we say thank you.

Freedom is fragile and we must never forget the sacrifices made so that we can enjoy it today. “I must study politics and war,” John Adams said, “that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

Veterans, we salute you. Thank you for reminding us that heroes are still among us.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are we Communicating?

“What we’ve got here…is failure to communicate.” The line is from the movie Cool Hand Luke and ranks number 11 among the phrases on the American Film Institutes’ list of top 100 movie quotes.

The movie features Paul Newman who plays the role of Luke, a non-conformist, anti-hero loner who defies authority and the establishment. His nemesis, the Captain, is played by Strother Martin who first delivers the famous line.

Luke has been returned to a chain gang that he was sentenced to prior to a brief and unsuccessful escape. The Captain is frustrated by Luke’s failure to understand the one-way nature of the communication he demands. He strikes Luke, sending him rolling down a hill.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Does this sound like your office? Effective communication is essential to the success of your organization and is a leadership trait that must be mastered. Here is what I call the four C’s of effective communication.

Be consistent. If the team receives mixed signals from the top levels of leadership, it breeds frustration down the line. When leadership comes across half-cocked, the perception, fair or not, is that they don’t have their act together. The team executing the organization’s vision needs to have confidence that all participants are operating off the same script.

Be concise. Tom Lehrer said, “I wish people who have trouble communicating would just shut up.” Concise communication is most effective when it is precise and to the point. How many of you, like me, have been stuck in meetings where re-inventing the wheel was a favorite pastime? Leaders disrespect their teams’ time and resources when in meetings they chase down rabbits no one else cares about.

Be considerate. If your communication mentality resembles the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, then certainly there is failure to communicate, and you are the reason why. “To effectively communicate,” Anthony Robbins says, “we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to communicate with others.”

One of the most valuable asset you have as a leader is the diversity of your team. Considerate communication is inviting, receptive to new ideas, and values the contributions of team members.

Be creative. Someone once said, “When all other means of communication fail, try words.” Communication methods will vary according to need. At times email will be sufficient. At other times bringing the team together in the room is most productive.

Tired of that same old conference room? Why not try quarterly meetings away from the office? Take the team to a meeting room at a nice local restaurant or nearby State park. Placing your team in this environment stimulates fresh ideas, and builds morale.

Since the dawn of time, man has struggled to communicate. Rudolph Flesch said, “Creative thinking may mean simply the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.” How many times have we held on to archaic ways of doing things simply because we thought that was the expected thing to do? Communication is the lifeblood of your organization, be bold and creative in your approach.

While the tools of communication have changed down through the centuries, the truth is, no amount of communication will ever be effective without trust. Trust is established through relationship and those two ingredients are the backbone for any organization.

Leadership expert John Maxwell said, “People listen not necessarily because of the truth being communicated in the message, but because of their respect for the speaker.” When a leader has the trust and respect of the team, effective communication becomes a reality.

Good communication is a reflection of your commitment to it. Don’t take it for granted, work hard at it, and reap the rewards.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Leading Ladies in Leadership

ESPN’s Graham Hays wrote a story about a women’s softball game between two conference opponents back in 2008. The game was played between Western Oregon and Central Washington. Western Oregon won the game 4-2. Both schools compete as Division II softball programs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. At first glance, this may sound like a routine game. The events that transpired that day were truly amazing.

Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky had never hit a homerun in her career. Tucholsky came to the plate in the top of the second inning of the second game with two runners on base. A part-time starter throughout her four years, she was the unsung player at the plate about to crush the ball over the center field fence for the first home run of her career.

Filled with emotion as she began rounding of the bases, Tucholsky missed the tag at first, reversed direction to tag the base, and then it happened. Her right knee gave out. Lying in agony from a torn ACL, Tucholsky tried to reach the bag.

Confusion about the rules temporarily left the outcome of her hit in doubt. Unable to continue under her own strength, would a substitute runner nullify the home run? Moments before making the decision to bring in a substitution, the unexpected happened.

Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman, the team’s home run leader, asked the officials if they could carry her around the bases. Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they carried her around the bases. They stopped at each base until they carried her across home plate into the waiting arms of her teammates.

As they crossed home plate, the crowd stood and cheered their incredible display of sportsmanship. Holtman and Wallace returned to the field and tried to win the game, but that play decidedly was the most memorable one of the game.

Leadership exploits show up in unexpected ways and are demonstrated by unsung heroes. The selfless acts of leadership exhibited that day give hope as we look at the leaders of tomorrow. Here are three reasons to be optimistic.

Leaders step up at the right time. The young ladies that carried Tucholsky around the bases had every reason not to do it. But they realized at the end of the day it was not about winning or losing a ball game, what they did was a random act of kindness.

The right time to step up is not necessarily dictated by circumstances, or when it is time to close a deal, or when a championship is on the line. Characters high calling to humility can be demonstrated in board rooms and on ball fields at any given time.

Leaders step up at the right place. The sportsmanship of Holtman and Wallace was remarkable. Everything that the team had worked so hard to achieve was on the line. Without prompting or coercion these ladies placed the team in a position that ultimately cost them the game, but set them apart as true leaders.

My belief is that the underlying principles of leadership were already in tact with these young ladies. A leader understands that her time to step up may come when least expected. Holtman and Wallace were in the right place at the right time and allowed their leadership to shine.

Leaders step up for the right reasons. Leadership is about seizing opportunities when presented. Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her career. Holtman held her school’s record for them. They could not have been further apart in terms of their respective abilities. Holtman knew what this home run would mean to her and thus offered to carry her around the bases. In leadership, being right is not as important as doing the right thing.

Western Oregon coach Pam Knox put the game in perspective saying, “It was such a lesson we all learned—that it is not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we are always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It has changed me, and I am sure it has changed my players.”

The Western Oregon women’s softball team teaches us that whether in business, sports, or life in general, to get ahead you sometimes have to give up, and a greater victory comes when you give someone else a lift.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Support Pillars and Optical Illusions

Nino Lo Bello writes in European Detours about Sir Christopher Wren and his design of Windsor Town Hall near London. Built in 1689, the ceiling was supported by pillars. After city fathers had inspected the finished building, they decided the ceiling would not stay up and ordered Wren to put in some more pillars.

England’s greatest architect did not think the ceiling needed any more support, so he pulled a fast one. He added four pillars that did not do anything – they did not even reach the ceiling. The optical illusion fooled municipal authorities, and today the four sham pillars amuse many tourists.

Within every organization is a need for pillars – they are the go-to people who are steadfast and committed to success. These pillars are grounded in the qualities that inspire confidence and shape an in-house culture of excellence.

Support pillars are not hard to spot. Their qualities are indispensable, transferable, and attainable. Develop these leadership qualities within your organization and you will have a firm foundation.

Pillars rise to the top. A pillar not only represents the foundation of a building or organization, but symbolically represents its potential. Pillars in your organization rise to the top because they have paid the price with respect to hard work, reputation building, and trust. Pillars on a building are placed there by the builder. Pillars in the organization grow there over time.

Pillars give support to others. Structurally, pillars provide cover and keep things in place. Organizationally, the principle works the same. Pillars give support to those around them in order for others to thrive and succeed.

The residual effect of a pillar is in how his support is reciprocated. Leadership expert John Maxwell said, “If you continually help others, then others will eventually want to help you. Just remember: It’s not how heavy the load is. It’s how you carry it.”

Pillars stand the test of time. By design, pillars are placed strategically to fortify a structure. Come what may, pillars are the anchors of your organization. In like manner, leadership pillars have stood the test of time, gained wisdom that is acquired through experience, and offer the maturity needed to mentor future pillars.

C.S. Lewis said, “What I like about experience is that it is such an honest thing. You may take any number of wrong turnings; but keep your eyes open and you will not be allowed to go very far before the warning signs appear.” The pillars of your organization are the guardians of the warning signs; tested, experienced, trustworthy, and grounded.

In as much as there is a need for pillars within each organization, one must not turn a blind eye to the presence of illusions either. In a rather creative way, Wren fooled the municipal authorities of his day by adding what appeared to be additional pillars to the building. It looked the part but it did not play the part.

In your organization optical illusions look and sound like team members, but at the end of the day, they are only in it for themselves. Distinguishing pillars from illusions is made easier due to the last characteristic. This last characteristic runs contrary to the illusion masqueraded by the pretender.

Pillars cast a big shadow. Pillars understand that their rise to the top is only successful as they raise others up to the same stature. A strong team is built not by a handful of pillars but by a cast of them. Rather than rely of the strength of a small number of pillars, the team thrives because of a host of them.

Pillars encourage team members to perform at optimum levels. Mark Sanborn said, “Remarkable performers see in others what they have discovered in themselves-the ability to reach unexplored and unanticipated levels of performance. They inspire others through their own performances, instruct others through their own teaching, and help others improve through their encouragement.”

Be encouraged to rise to your full potential, support others along the way, stand the test of time, and cast a big shadow. As you do, you will stand among the pillars.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Power of Simplicity

The story is told of a man flying in a hot air balloon who realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon and shouts, “Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?” The man below says, “Yes, you are in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field.”

“You must work in information technology,” says the balloonist. “I do,” replies the man. “How did you know?’ “Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but it is of no use to anyone.”

The man below says, “You must work in management.” “I do” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?” “Well, says the man, “you don’t know where you are, or where you are going, but you expect me to be able to help you. You are in the same position you were before we met, but now it’s my fault.”

Ever had one of those encounters? At some point we all have. Often, our expectations are fueled by our perceptions. Perceptions can be deceptive, and while expectations need to be high, they also must be realistic.

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber shares some practical wisdom about the roles of leadership. “The problem today,” says Webber,” is too much information sharing and not enough sense making: too many messages, too many meetings, too many e-mails, too many change programs, too many changes in direction. The problem only gets worse when the stakes go up-when a company is facing a crisis, when it’s up against an innovative competitor and the old ways won’t work. That’s when too many leaders give in to the temptation to ramp up the volume an amp up the adrenaline. The result: an already overtaxed system collapses from overload.”

I neither want to overstate nor understate the idea here, but a fresh look at simplicity may be in order. Albert Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” If your organization is on the brink of collapse due to “one more meeting” for the sake of a meeting, or one more organizational makeover, then take these ideas into consideration.

Simplify your mission. Simplicity of mission is not dumbing- down the mission, nor does it equate to less work. It means working with a smarter understanding of the mission and how to achieve its stated purpose.

Simplifying the mission is about people in your organizational structure being able to connect the dots because leadership made sure they saw the big picture and knew where the ship was headed. To this end; meetings, when called, should be intentional and with a purpose, people should be empowered and trusted, common sense should prevail.

Simplify communication. Survey most people within any organization and one of the top frustrations is that of communication. Over the years, I have seen up close how morale is sacrificed at the expense of clear, open, and relevant communication. When key personnel are kept in the dark, when office politics stifle ideas, the consequences can be costly. As Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”

If communication is to make sense and be simple, the following should be examined carefully: the methods, the intended audience, the desired outcome, and the frequency. If one of these methods is out of balance; there is potential for problems down the line. Communication is the life blood of your organization. If you don’t communicate well internally don’t expect communication to go well externally.

Is your organization about to buckle under from the weight of too much information and not enough sense making? Perhaps it is time as Henry David Thoreau said to, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.”

Keep it simple.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Who's Got Your Back?

It’s an amazing story that perhaps you have heard. I read it again recently in a story by Rick Reilly for Sports Illustrated. The Father-son duo of Rick and Dick Hoyt are an amazing team. Together they have competed in marathons and triathlons. They have competed together and finished hundreds of races together. Each time they cross the finish line they do so at the same time- every time.

What you may not be aware of is that Rick is disabled. In each marathon they compete in, Dick is pushing his son in a wheelchair the entire 26.2 miles. Not only has he pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair, but has towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming, and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars- all in the same day.

Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs. The doctors told them that he would be a vegetable the rest of his life, but he Hoyt’s weren’t buying it. Now together, they have competed in more than two hundred triathlons, and four 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii.

The incredible story of Rick and Dick Hoyt is truly an inspiration and one with obvious leadership ramifications. What the Hoyt family has endured and overcome tends to put a new twist on the perceived problems we think we have. By looking at the Hoyt’s as an example of a team that never quits, I believe these simple truths can help us. Watch the video:

The simple truth- experts can be wrong. Peter Ustinov once said, “If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it can’t be done.” When the Hoyt’s were given the grim news that their son would be a vegetable the rest of his life, they challenged that assumption. Despite being told that there was nothing going on in Rick’s brain, the reality was quite different.

The Hoyt’s are but one example of what you are being told everyday by experts on the economy and business. Everyday someone is giving a forecast that, if not challenged, will stifle your adventurous spirit to grow your business, hire that new employee, and buck the trends. The Hoyt’s didn’t buy the negative report, and neither should you. I am not suggesting you throw caution to the wind and not exercise due diligence, but sometimes when your head says “no”, you have to listen to your heart.

The simple truth- what appears to be a disability to one is a marathon to another. Rigged with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? “Go Bruins!” And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, “Dad, I want to do that.” Although the initial training was difficult, Dick got in shape and the marathons began.

“Opportunity is missed by most people,” Thomas Edison said, “because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Dick Hoyt had to train like never before to get ready for the marathons. Dick’s devotion to his son was worth the sacrifice in order for Rick’s dream to become a reality. When you embrace your challenges as opportunities it’s then you discover the power of possibilities you never knew existed. Don’t miss the opportunities before you because you missed this simple truth; your marathon awaits you.

The simple truth is – you can go farther than you ever imagined when someone has your back. During a race a few years back, Dick had a mild heart attack. “If you had not been in such great shape,” a doctor told him,”you probably would have died 15 years ago.” As it turns out, Dick and Rick saved each other’s life.

Babe Ruth said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” When you commit to your team, share common values and goals, and have each other’s backs, you can go the distance. Despite obstacles along the way, each challenge is overcome when each member gives their all.

Whose back do you have?

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Industrial Strength Leadership

The industrial revolution was a transformational time in American history. Without question, the technologies of the twenty first century have dramatically improved upon the inventions that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave us.

Can you imagine the look on the face of Alexander Graham Bell if he were to hold an i-phone today? Imagine the Wright brothers flying first class on a Boeing 777? I can only imagine what Samuel F.B. Morse would think of the internet, email, and instant messaging.

Henry Ford is an example of perseverance during the industrial age. Although he faced numerous setbacks in his career, he forged ahead with the vision of car that would revolutionize transportation. He raised $28,000 in capital from friends and family, and on June 16, 1903, the Ford Motor Company was born. Ford began producing the Model A, an eight-horsepower two-cylinder automobile. In the first year 1,708 cars were rolled out.

The early industrialists possessed a leadership quality that revolutionized America and the world. We owe much to their creative spirit and in our age of challenges and ever-advancing knowledge, we can still learn from them.

The industrial leaders teach us the marvel of inspiration. Henry Ford said, “One of the greatest discoveries man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. Most of the bars we beat against are in ourselves- we put them there, and we can take them down.” Usually the most difficult barriers we overcome are the ones that we impose on ourselves. When unburdened by self-imposed barriers of creativity, dreams can come alive.

Industrial leaders teach us the power of imagination. The imagination of the early industrialists gave us the power of communication, transportation, and productivity. The power of imagination coupled with determination drastically improved the lives of countless millions over the years. George Bernard Shaw had it right when he said, “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

Industrial leaders teach us the payoff of tenacity. Before the first Model A rolled off the line, Ford knew what setbacks felt like. All of these men did. Thomas Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something doesn’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Failure was no stranger to these men, but it would not break them. We are inspired today because of the tenacity of these men and our lives are richer for it.

Industrial leaders teach us the rewards of risks. Risk was a way of life for the industrial leaders. Their lives are testaments to the power of risk and reward. Setbacks and failure paved the road to their ultimate successes. Without risk though; how long before the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, the first steam engine? “The greater danger for most of us,” said Michelangelo, “is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we hit it.” Risk is the down payment today for success tomorrow.

Industrial leadership is a call to lead with innovation that is driven by the power of new dreams, visions, and the wonder of things previously thought impossible. German philosopher and philologist Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in 1881, “I fly in dreams, I know it is my privilege, I do not recall a single situation in dreams when I was unable to fly.”

Nietzsche had dreams of flying while living in Germany twenty-two years prior and a continent away before it became a reality in Kitty Hawk, N.C. in 1903. The dreams of today become the realities of tomorrow when one dares to embrace the challenge and live the dream.

Henry Ford said, “You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. With it, there is accomplishment. Without it there are only alibis.”

Unleash your inspiration and imagination to do the impossible. The time is now for a leadership revolution. The time is now to chase your dream.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Making Your Mark

One of the highlights of my first trip to England was a tour through the House of Commons in London. My good friend Martin arranged the tour for us. To walk the halls of the House of Commons and take in all of its history was an amazing experience.

The House of Commons is where the members come to debate the issues of the day and where the Prime Minister holds his question and answer sessions which can be quite entertaining.

While taking in the impressive sights our guide pointed out to us marks in the desk where the Prime Minister stands. Those indentations on the desk, he told us, were put there by Winston Churchill. During passionate times of debate, Churchill would pound the table with a closed fist and the indentations were put there by the ring he was wearing.

I have often thought back to my visit to the House of Commons and what the guide pointed out to us that day. As leaders, we too will leave our mark. Like Churchill, we too will carve out a niche that will be characteristic of our leadership. What will your mark be? I believe there are two marks worthy of consideration.

Leave your mark with passion. Shakespeare said, “O that my tongue were in the thunder’s mouth! Then with passion I would shake the world…” A passionate leader shakes his world with conviction and purpose.

In her book, We Shall Not Fail- The Inspiring Leadership of Winston Churchill, Celia Sandys (Churchill’s granddaughter) writes, “Churchill’s immense courage in World War II played such a large and varied role in his leadership that we will touch on it only briefly here. But it’s clear that when Britain had to stand alone Churchill epitomized Britain’s courage and resilience. His inspiring words, energy, his trademark V sign and ever-present cigar all combined to communicate tremendous courage.”

Churchill’s passion as a leader resonated with his country and eventually propelled them to victory. Passion is an ingredient all leaders must posses if they are to succeed. During great moments of passion and persuasion, Churchill left his mark on that desk in the House of Commons. But there was nothing common about it. That passion was a fire in his belly that would never surrender. What is your passion as a leader?

Leave your mark with people. The great philosopher Charlie Brown once said, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” While at various times we can all relate to Charlie Brown, to succeed as a leader it takes patience, understanding, and skill.

John Maxwell said, “Don’t ever underestimate the importance of building relational bridges between yourself and the people you lead. There’s an old saying: To lead yourself use your head; to lead others, use your heart. Always touch a person’s heart before you ask him for a hand.”

In order to leave your mark with people you have to develop relationships. Positional leadership may be the starting place for many leaders, but in order to grow relationally and professionally you can’t remain there.

Dale Carnegie wisely said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” A good leader understands that his success is tied to the success of others around him. And with that being true, what wise leader would not care for those around him?

Leaving your mark with people is about praising them in the good times; patience in the down times, forgiving in the hard times, encouraging in depressing times, and above all else as the leader – being there.

Like Churchill, we will all leave a mark by which our leadership will be defined. Let it be said of us that we were passionate about our beliefs and we cared deeply for people.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Power of a Grateful Leader

Last week a milestone took place that was seven decades in the making. Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees broke Lou Gehrig’s hit record with a single to right field. Gehrig’s record for the most hits by a Yankee player stood at 2,721 for a little more than seventy years.

While not a Yankees fan by any stretch, no one can deny that Jeter has rightfully taken his place among Yankee greats. His work ethic and talent makes for a successful combination and without question a team leader.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner released a statement following the game saying, “For those who say today’s game can’t produce legendary players, I have two words: Derek Jeter. Game in and game out, he just produces. As historic and significant as becoming the Yankees’ all-time hit leader is, the accomplishment is all the more impressive because Derek is one of the finest young men playing the game today. That combination of character and athletic ability is something he shares with the previous record holder, Lou Gehrig.”

Gehrig was struck down in his prime with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which later came to be known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a first baseman for the Yankees in the 1920s and 1930s, he was noted for his power hitting. Gehrig averaged 147 RBIs per season. His longevity was remarkable. He played in 2, 130 consecutive games, the longest streak in baseball until Cal Ripken Jr. broke that record in 1995.

Only July 4, 1939 the team sponsored Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day at Yankee stadium. In between games of a double header, Gehrig was honored by his team. His speech that day is what baseball lore is made of. The remarks he made serve to remind us as leaders of what is truly important in life.

He taught us humility through success. Gehrig set many records that stood for decades. Nicknamed “Iron Horse”, Gehrig was the consummate player who worked hard at his craft every game. He set the record for the most grand slams (23), was the first baseball player on the cover of a Wheaties box, and when fans voted for baseball’s All-Century Team, Gehrig was the leading vote getter.

Despite all of those remarkable accomplishments, Gehrig said in his speech, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.’

Gehrig was a man of great accomplishment in his career at a level few attain. With class and humility, Gehrig demonstrated why he was respected by his teammates and competitors, and adored by his fans. While achieving greatness he remained true to who he was.

He taught us to be grateful for our friends. “Look at these great men,” he said, “which one of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure I am lucky….When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something.” Gehrig was a man with many friends who respected him not just as a player but as a person.

Leaders today understand the power and importance of friendships that transcend the boundaries of business and competition. How often do we forget this simple lesson of what is truly important?

He taught us the blessing of family. “When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something,” he said. He continues, “When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.”

Gehrig’s perspective and priorities not just made him a great ball player, but a great leader. He ended his speech by saying, “So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.” Gehrig chose to live out his days not bitter for the bad breaks he got, but in grateful appreciation for life’s blessings.

Two years after the speech at Yankee stadium, Gehrig passed away. While he may have lost the battle with his illness, the way in which he lived his life on and off the field will continue to inspire. Congratulations to Derek Jeter – those were big shoes to fill.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hitting the Reset Button

The story is told of a young Greek artist named Timanthes who studied under a respected tutor some 2,000 years ago. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art. Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting. “I did it for your own good. That painting was retarding your progress. Start again and see if you can do better,” he told him. Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

It’s been said that life is a continuous process of getting used to things we hadn’t expected. There is no denying that we are living in challenging times. As economic troubles continue and political tensions rise, some have suggested hitting the reset button and starting over to find a solution to the problems that abound.

Many speculate on just what the “new normal” is and how it will change our way of thinking. From the story of Timanthes we can glean a few ideas for today’s leader.

You can’t live in the past so reset your priorities. Timanthes spent days admiring his work to the point where it ultimately became a distraction. The economic downturn and recession has taken an unprecedented toll on many fronts. The far-reaching effects have dramatically altered not only the way in which corporations operate but household as well. What we did in the past and what we took for granted has changed how we look at things today.

Harry Truman once said, “Men who live in the past remind me of a toy I am sure all of you have seen. The toy is a small wooden bird called the “Floogie Bird.” Around the Floogie Bird’s neck is a label reading, “I fly backwards, I don’t care where I am going. I just want to see where I’ve been.” Flying backwards is not an option for moving forward in today’s economy. Priorities today must be honest, realistic, transparent, and flexible.

You have to embrace challenges so reset your attitude. Timanthes was upset when he discovered that his work was blotted out with paint. Faced with the challenge his tutor presented him, he turned his disappointment into a masterpiece.

Many today find themselves profoundly troubled by the circumstances they find themselves in. Layoffs abound, 401K’s have diminished, and uncertainty looms large for many. Yet in the face of this conflict great opportunity is in the making.

The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question, "What are you doing?" The first replied, "I'm cutting stone for 10 shillings a day." The next answered, "I'm putting in 10 hours a day on this job." But the third said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London's greatest cathedrals."

While turning the corner for many seems a long way off, the first step begins with a change of heart; a change in attitude. Resilient leaders embrace challenges and overcome.

You have a fresh slate so reset your vision. Timanthes embraced the challenge from his tutor and painted his finest work. He reset his priorities by not living in the past. He reset his attitude by overcoming great disappointment to paint at a new level of perfection he had not previously known.

T.E. Lawrence once said, "All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible..."

We may not have chosen the challenges that we face today, and while many are hard pressed to find anything good in it; a clean slate is in our hands. The opportunity of today is to be what Lawrence described as “dangerous men” dreaming with open eyes to create something they never would have imagined in better times.

If you find yourself living in the past, with a bad attitude, take heart. You can turn your crisis into an opportunity and begin with a clean slate. With a clean slate your finest work may now be in the making.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Growing to the Top

In his book, The 360° Leader, John Maxwell shares a humorous story of a turkey that was chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well,” replied the bull, “why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally, after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. But he was promptly spotted by a hunter, who shot him out of the tree.

The moral of the story: BS might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

Maxwell wisely states,” …my life began changing when I stopped setting goals for where I wanted to be and started setting the course who I wanted to be. I have discovered for others and me that the key to personal development is being more growth oriented than goal oriented.”

Growing to the top is not about positional leadership placement. Growing to the top is about reaching your full potential as a person regardless of where you are within the organizational structure. Allow me to share a few thoughts on growing to the top.

Bloom where you are planted. While aspiration is a great motivator, be careful not to fall into the trap of looking beyond what destiny requires of you today.

Whether you are at mid-level position or on the bottom rung of the ladder, there is something to be said for establishing roots of personal growth where you are. What you are learning today is preparing you for the next level and the responsibilities of tomorrow.

When Pablo Casals reached 95, a young reporter asked him, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Casals replied, “Because I think I am making progress.” Progress as a leader is made when you bloom where you are planted and remain faithful in the small things.

Learn all you can. A wise leader is one who has enough sense to understand that he doesn’t know it all and commits to doing something about it. It’s one thing to have degree’s hanging on the wall, but I still haven’t found a University yet where you can get a degree in common sense or experience.

I’m reminded of the story I read of a father and his small son. They were out walking one day when he asked how electricity could go through the wires stretched between the telephone poles. “I don’t know,” said his father. “I never knew much about electricity.”
A few blocks farther on, the boy asked what caused lightning and thunder. “That too has puzzled me,” came the reply. The youngster continued to inquire about many things, none of which the father could explain.

Finally, as they were nearing home, the boy said, “Pop, I hope you didn’t mind all those questions.” “Not at all,” replied his father. “How else are you going to learn?”

Growing to the top is a learning experience that we all must embrace as leaders. It’s not something you can bluff your way through as the father did with his son. Learn through books, learn through mentors, learn through colleagues, learn through competition; learn all you can.

Make yourself useful to others. One cannot grow as a leader without investing in the lives of others. The thinking of bygone days is that of success by any means necessary, regardless of who you hurt or step on.

Growing to the top as a leader today is about serving and adding value to others. The mark of a true leader is not in what he takes but in what he gives. Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” A true leader is known by what he gives, in serving others. A leader grows when he helps others grow.

Set high expectations. No one would argue that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer in the world today. In an interview he said, “One of the things that my parents have taught me is to never listen to other people’s expectations. You should live your own life and live up to your own expectations, and those are the only things I really care about.”

High expectations as a leader are realized when you focus on who you want to become. Langston Hughes said, “I have discovered in life that there are ways of getting almost anywhere you want to go, if you really want to go.” When you set high expectations as a leader you are committing yourself to growing beyond where you are today to become who you want to be tomorrow.

Personal growth as a leader is lifelong quest. Befriend the journey.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Four Points of Separation - Evaluating Your Rise as a Leader

In his book, Winning Every Day, Legendary football coach Lou Holtz shares a story about taking his Notre Dame team to the Sugar Bowl to face the Florida Gators. Notre Dame was the underdog, could they pull it out?

Holtz recalls taking his family to dinner one night before the game where he shared his optimism and how he believed his team could win the game. Holtz said, “I felt like I was on top of the world. While taking our order, the waiter scrutinized me a bit before asking, “Aren’t you Lou Holtz, the Notre Dame coach?” When I told him I was, he said, “Let me ask you a question. What’s the difference between Notre Dame and Cheerios?” I didn’t know. He answered, “Cheerios belong in a bowl, Notre Dame doesn’t.”

Holtz remembers how upset he was over the incident but held to his belief that they could win. Holtz added, “I shrugged off my anger and reminded myself that I knew what our team could do; it didn’t matter what anybody else thought. That’s the attitude you have to carry into life.” In the end, Notre Dame defeated the Gators 39-28.

In leadership I have often wondered, at what point do you separate yourself from others around you, your competition, and your colleagues and move to a higher level? What is the tipping point when a leader parts company with those around him- even when others have equal or greater talents?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines separation as “the place at which a division or parting occurs.” I believe this division or parting in leadership occurs as you identify these four processes.

Leadership separation occurs when you embrace your dream. How many times have you heard someone say, “One of these days I am going to…?” What separates you is when you embrace your dream and dare to act on it. There is a time to ponder and there is a time to act.

In his new book, Put Your Dream to the Test, John Maxwell writes, “I don’t know what you desire to accomplish or who you will need to include to see your dream come to fruition. You may need only the encouragement and care of one other human being to help you keep going. Or you may need an army. Regardless of your situation, I can tell you that you do need others. The bigger the dream, the greater your need. But here’s the good news: the size of your dream determines the size of the people who will be attracted to it.”

Separation in leadership occurs when you embrace your dream and dare to achieve it. While others continually talk about “one of these days”, you are doing it.

Leadership separation occurs when you excel with passion. Passion is what keeps you up late at night and gets you up early in the morning. Passion is the driving force that transforms you from average to great.

Denis Diderot said, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to do great things.” A leader breaks from the pack when he embraces his dream with a passion unlike anyone else. Passion is one of those rare commodities that resides deeper than head knowledge of a plan or product. Passion resonates from the heart and inspires you to go farther.

Leadership separation occurs when you empower your team. When a leader goes to the next level he doesn’t go alone- it’s a team effort. Joe Paterno said, “When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.” Nothing propels confidence like an empowered team committed to achieving common goals.

Rising to the next level is a team effort. Yogi Berra said, “Every organization needs team players. People you can always depend on.” I believe that is especially true in todays environment. Empowered team members will take you farther than you can go by yourself. The more you empower your team, the farther you can go.

Leadership separation occurs when you enjoy the journey. I can’t imagine anything worse than not enjoying the journey. I have seen up close the effects of the rat-race and how it robs one of enjoying the moment. Ones dream, passion, and team efforts mean little if you are miserable.

When the late Nadine Stair of Louisville, Kentucky was 85 years old, she was asked what she would do if she had her life to live over again.

“I’d make more mistakes next time,” she said. “I’d relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously, I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones.”

Nadine reminds us to enjoy the journey; after all, getting there is half the fun.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson