Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Unexpected Interruptions - What in Heaven's Name brought you to Casablanca?

Unexpected Interruptions – What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?
By Doug Dickerson

It’s considered by many as one of the greatest movies of all times – Casablanca. World War II has engulfed Europe, reaching all the way to Rick Blaine’s CafĂ© American in French-held Morocco. The Nazis have overrun France and are heading into the unoccupied regions in Africa – and all kinds of people are trying to escape them by way of Casablanca.

Blaine’s haven is disrupted when his one time love Ilsa, played by the luminous Ingrid Bergman, arrives in the company of a world-renowned resistance leader Victor Laszlo, whom the Nazis would very much like to get their hands on. She’s looking for safe passage, first from Rick, who believes she jilted him for Laszlo, and then from Signor Ferrari, the owner of the rival Blue Parrott.

Casablanca was a big budget film for its day and was shot almost entirely on sound stages and the studio lot. Based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, the screenwriters essentially made up the story as they went along, and no one knew exactly how it would end, which may have added to the film’s suspense and freshness. As a bit of trivia, nobody in the film actually says the infamous line: “Play it again, Sam.” Both characters ask Wilson to play the song, but never use the precise words.

In leadership, unexpected interruptions can throw the team off if not properly prepared. Life can be smooth and pleasant one hour and the next thing you know; in walks Ilsa. So what are some ways to deal with unexpected interruptions and how should we respond?

First, interruptions happen. Blaine illustrates it eloquently for us when he says, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.” Interruptions happen to all of us.

Interruptions come to us in various forms. They appear as the unexpected projects with unrealistic deadlines that are way under funded. It can be a key team player that called in sick, or an unexpected staff meeting. Sometimes an Ilsa walks in without an appointment and completely turns things upside down.

Whatever your interruption may be, it’s important to be flexible enough to adjust to the situation. If you can’t bend, you’ll break. You’ll keep from the breaking point when you learn to be flexible.

What some may see as an interruption may be nothing more than an opportunity in the making for others. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Ilsa may look like an interruption in the beginning, but can turn out to be something entirely different in the end.

Second, interruptions can bring your team together. Captain Louis Renault said, “Round up the usual suspects.” It’s my favorite quote from the movie and I think typifies a leader who’s looking to rally the team for help.

When an unexpected interruption comes our way, sometimes the best thing to do is bring the best and brightest together to tackle the challenge. What’s the usual reaction to interruptions? If you’re like me, a lot of time you get annoyed. There you are, you’ve found your zone, everything is clicking, and then it happens. The boss blows in, wants something done, “Now,” and the mother of all interruptions has occurred…arrgh! Can you relate?

Rounding up the usual suspects on your team can be a creative way to combat interruptions. Sometimes the team can handle the interruption, at other times it can be delegated. We should work interruptions to our benefit, not have our day ruined by them. Round up the usual suspects, take control of the interruption, and don’t let it derail you.

Finally, interruptions can be a blessing in disguise. As Rick Blaine said, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.” Unexpected interruptions may annoy us, but if we’re observant they can turn out to be something good we never anticipated.

We never know what can come from unexpected interruptions. One of my favorite inspirational stories is that of Thomas Edison. His lab was destroyed by fire on a cold December night in 1914. At the height of the fire, Edison’s 24-year old son, Charles, frantically searched for his father among the smoke and debris.

He finally found him, calmly watching the scene, his face glowing in the reflection, his white hair blowing in the wind. The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver his first phonograph.

Quite possibly, unexpected interruptions can be the beginning of something grand that we never expected. And yes, at times, they are nothing more than a nuisance. The difference maker is keeping the right attitude when they come.

Unexpected interruptions – expect them, gather the team around to fix them, and look for the blessing in disguise. Here’s looking at you, kid.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Madness - Lesson from The Dean

March Madness – Lessons from The Dean
By Doug Dickerson

March Madness is here and basketball fans across the country have faithfully filled out their brackets, and are watching the madness. Through the first weekend, I am still in fairly good shape with my picks, including North Carolina who I’ve picked to win it all.

Legendary coach Dean Smith is a coach’s coach. As current UNC Coach Roy Williams said, “Coach Dean Smith is the greatest on-the-court basketball coach there ever was, and in his dealings with his players and others off the court, he was equally effective.”

In his book, The Carolina Way, Leadership Lessons From a Life in Coaching, Smith outlines many of his leadership principles that guided him to one of the most storied coaching careers of all time; especially when you consider he won more than 75 percent of his games, including 13 ACC tournament championships and 17 ACC regular titles. In 2000, an ESPN panel of experts named him one of the greatest coaches of the twentieth century in any sport.

Smith identifies first principles that lay the foundation for success on and off the court. I’d like to share with you his three foundational principles; play hard, play together, play smart, from his book as we consider important leadership principles. Speaking of these principles, Smith said, “Hard meant with effort, determination, and courage; together meant unselfishly, trusting your teammates, and doing everything possible not to let them down; smart meant with good execution and poise, treating each possession as if it were the only one in the game.”

When it comes to the leadership and the development of your team, think of how these principles can make a difference in your organization.

The first principle is playing hard. Coach Smith says, “Maybe the player wasn’t the fastest, the tallest, or the most athletic person on the court. In the course of any game that was out of his control. But each of them could control the effort with which he played. ‘Never let anyone play harder than you’ I told them.”

You’ve heard the expression, “Work smarter, not harder”. I’m all for working smarter, more efficiently, and being more productive. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Every now and then we can have moments of genius, but it takes hard work to move that idea forward. Coach Smith built his legacy by working hard and smart.

The second principle is playing together. Coach Smith instilled in his players the importance of team play. “Basketball is a game that counts on togetherness. I pointed out that seldom, if ever, did the nation’s leading scorer play on a ranked team. He certainly didn’t play on a championship team. I made them understand that our plan would fall apart if they didn’t take care of one another, One man who failed to do his job unselfishly could undermine the efforts of the four players on the court,” Said Smith.

In your organization, team work will move you forward faster than going it alone. That’s why relationship building is so important. When everyone buys into the vision of the organization and realizes that goals and dreams will become realities much sooner if pursued as a team, then Lone Ranger attitudes will become a thing of the past. Baseball legend Babe Ruth summed it up well when he 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.”

Finally, it’s the principle of playing smart. Coach Smith insisted on a fundamentally sound team. “We didn’t skimp on fundamentals. We worked on them hard in practice and repeated them until they were down cold. We expected our team to execute well and with precision. If we practiced well and learned, we could play smart. It was something we could control,” he said.

Playing smart, executing the play, and putting yourself in a position to win is the result of good fundamentals. This happens when a good leader is in place navigating the way for the team.

Coach Smiths’ leadership principles are good reminders that when we work hard, play together, and play smart, good things can happen.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Perseverance - The Recipe to Success

Perseverance – The Recipe to Success
By Doug Dickerson

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are no “over-night” successes. The path to success is rewarding, but at times long and lonely. Consider Walt Disney, he was fired by a newspaper editor for lack of ideas. He also went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. How about Babe Ruth? He is considered by sports historians to be the greatest baseball player of all time, and until recent years, held the record for the most homeruns. However, he holds the record for the most strikeouts.

While there are many roadmaps to success and each one is different in terms of strategy, objectives, business plans, etc. there remain core principles that will always be found in the DNA of any successful person.

I read an account of the struggles and success of Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame that I’d like to share with you. Colonel Harland Sanders is a profile in perseverance. Born in 1890, his father died when he was just 6 years old. Sanders picked up the art of cooking at an early age and had mastered many dishes by the age of 7. During his early years, Sanders worked different odd jobs such as a farm-hand, streetcar conductor, soldier, fireman, self-taught lawyer, insurance salesman, and steamboat conductor.

At the age of 40, he was cooking for travelers out of his service station. His cooking fame spread and soon there were huge lines for his food. During this time, Sanders also began tinkering with his special herbs and spices to make the perfect fried chicken. It was during this time that Sanders also reached a trademark for his 11 herbs and spices.

By 1950, Sanders is 60 years old and has to shut down his restaurant business because a new highway was being built where his restaurant was located. He retired and lived off the $105 in the form of social security checks. Not wanting to accept this as his fate, he decided to franchise his chicken at the age of 65.

Legend has it that Sanders heard 1009 “no’s” before he heard his first “yes” as he traveled by car to different restaurants and cooked his fried chicken for restaurant owners. If they liked the chicken, they would enter into a handshake agreement to sell the chicken.

By 1964, Sanders had 600 franchises selling his trademark chicken. At the age of 75, it’s said that Sanders sold the franchise for a finger- lickin’ $15 million. In 1976, the Colonel was the world’s second most recognizable celebrity.

Sanders illustrates for us that the price of success is paid with perseverance and belief in a cause or product that you are willing to sacrifice for. Sanders demonstrates three possibilities of perseverance.

First, consider the possibility of risk. Sanders learned a trade at an early age and had time to perfect it over the years. As he took to the highways to sell the franchise, he was willing to take the risk. Successful persons have always been risk takers. Unsuccessful persons have also been risk takers. What’s the difference in the two? One persevered longer than the other. The successful person knocked on more doors, made more calls, and in the end, stayed with the dream longer.
Second, consider the possibility of rejection. Sanders is but one example of a risk taker who stood strong in the face of rejection. More than a thousand times, Sanders heard the voice of rejection as he attempted to market his chicken to unsuspecting restaurant owners. With determination that would have easily discouraged others, he models the possibilities of risk takers who refuse to take no for an answer.

Finally, consider the possibility of reward. It’s easy to imagine how Sanders felt on rejections 5, 10, 500, and 1,009. Consider how he felt when he finally heard the voice of fellow risk taker number 1010 say yes. All those long days had finally paid off when a restaurateur taker joined the cause.

Sanders’ success is the story of our success. It’s one of perseverance and determination if we are willing to stick with it longer than the next person.

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Be encouraged as you pursue your dreams, success is much closer today than it was yesterday. Don’t give up.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Beating a Dead Horse - Innovative Leadership to the Rescue

Beating a Dead Horse – Innovative Leadership to the Rescue
By Doug Dickerson

Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. However, in organizations we often try other strategies with dead horses, including the following:

* Buying a strong whip
* Changing riders
* Saying things like “this is the way we’ve always ridden this horse.”
* Appointing a committee to study the horse
* Arranging a visit to other sites to see how they ride horses
* Changing the by-laws to specify that “horses shall not die”
* Harnessing several dead horses together for increased speed
* Declaring that “no horse is too dead to ride”
* Providing additional funding to increase the horse’s performance
* Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position

Dead horses in any organization can be burdensome. So what is an organization to do with a dead horse? Before we address that issue, let’s identify what a dead horse is. I define a dead horse as any idea or policy, an established way of doing things that is antiquated, impractical, and stifling to the progress of the organization, perpetrated by someone claiming to be in charge. Here are some practical suggestions for dealing with dead horses.

First, in the most compassionate way possible, declare the dead horse dead. Nothing will ruin the morale of an organization faster than trying to ride a dead horse. Simply put, if the horse is dead then bury it. The life of the organization can’t be hijacked by the memories of what use to be.

Chances are, the person in charge has an affinity for the dead horse. The dead horse might be his after all. However, the team can’t move forward on a dead horse. John Maxwell said, “Teams succeed only when the players have a unified vision, no matter how much talent or potential there is. A team doesn’t win the championship if its players have different agendas.”

Ultimately, the talented team member will leave if the horse isn’t buried. No one likes to play on a losing team. In order to move the organization toward a prosperous future, bury the horse with all of its antiquated ways that are holding the organization back.

Second, get a fresh horse(s). An organization can best move forward with forward- thinking members. In other words, the organization – the stable if you will, needs fresh horses that have not been beaten with strong whips. When aspiring leaders regularly hear, “this is the way we’ve always ridden the horse,” they are having the saddle of the dead horse placed upon them.

Fresh horses in the stable deserve the opportunity to lead the organization forward. Scudder N. Parker said, “People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be – not what you nag them to be.” Fresh horses (leaders) with fresh food (ideas) can propel the organization to greatness. A fresh horse can take you much further than a dead one.

Third, take the blinders off the new horses. Blinders on a horse are designed to make it focus in one direction on one trail- it’s accustomed to only one way of seeing things. One of the contributing causes of death to the horse was tunnel vision. To move the organization forward with fresh horses means taking off the blinders and opening the eyes of the organization to new possibilities.

Robert K. Greenleaf, in his book The Servant as Leader, says, “Foresight is the ‘lead’ the leader has. Once he loses this lead and events start to force his hand, he is leader in name only. He is not leading; he is reacting to immediate events and he probably will not long be a leader. There are abundant current examples of loss of leadership which stem from a failure to foresee what reasonably could have been foreseen, and from failure to act on that knowledge while the leader has freedom to act.”

When vision is gone out of the leader, when ideas and policies are antiques, the horse is dead. Take the blinders off and let the fresh horses take you to the next level. When the blinders come off, vision is restored. Helen Keller was asked, “What would be worse than being born blind? She replied, “To have sight without vision.” The fresh horse must be allowed to run without blinders.

Finally, let the fresh horses blaze a new trail. Passing the torch in leadership is essential and ideally should be done with affection for the horse that brought you to where you are. There will always be core principles that are the underpinnings of any organization that remain intact such as honesty, trust, and integrity. But in order to move the organization forward, innovative and fresh thought processes must be brought to fruition.

The previous horse got you to where you are, but the fresh horse will take you to the next level. Ideally, it would be nice to make the transition an honorable one. Max Dupree, the author of Leadership Is an Art, said, “Succession is one on the key responsibilities of leadership.” When appropriate, the rider needs to dismount the old horse, and turn over the reins to forward- thinking leadership with a fresh horse.

Innovative leaders are ready to blaze a new trail. Saddle them up, success awaits them.

©2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Focus on Success

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson

Focus on success

Power Point – The best motivators know that one reason to recognize achievement is to help people concentrate on themselves succeeding, and that such mental exercises have an undeniable effect on performance.
-Alan McGinnis

Power Thought – Focusing on success is important. Seeing yourself as a success is even more important. One’s ability to get into the right mindset is vital in order to succeed. How you see yourself influences the direction you are going. A successful attitude will lead you in the right direction in order to accomplish your goals. Yes, you’ll have setbacks along the way, but with the right attitude you’ll be ready for them.
-Doug Dickerson

Power Surge – Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.
-Yogi Berra

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Extraordinary Life

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson

The extraordinary life

Power Point – Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary happens one act at a time.
- Mark Sanborn

Power Thought – Your ability to add value where you are is measured each day by the little things that you do. It’s not a complicated idea. Each day do one thing above and beyond what is required or expected. Before long, your life will be defined by extraordinary achievements.
- Doug Dickerson

Power Surge - The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.
- Japanese Proverb