Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Gold Medal Leader - Leadership Inspiration from Jesse Owens

For sports fans, the late Jesse Owens is truly an inspiration. His appearance at the 1936 summer Olympics where he was the first American to win four gold medals propelled him to international fame. I have enjoyed reading up on Owens’ life and would like to condense some of my findings with you.

No other Olympian had achieved so much in previous Olympics. His success was a major blow to Adolph Hitler, who had hoped to showcase Aryan superiority at the games.

The grandson of a slave and the son of a sharecropper, Owens’ victories were significant on many levels. Perhaps most importantly, it affirmed that an individual’s performance distinguishes one more so than race, religion or national origin.

The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Owens won his first final in the 100 meters by edging out teammate Ralph Metcalfe.

The following day, Owens was nearly out of the long jump competition after qualifying began. He fouled on his first two jumps. One of the jumps was a practice run, but officials counted it as an attempt. With just one jump remaining, Luz Long, a German long jumper who was Owens’ toughest competition, introduced himself. Long had the blond hair, blue-eyed look that Hitler so favored, yet Long didn’t buy into the “master race” propaganda that Hitler espoused. He offered a suggestion to Owens. To play it safe, make your mark several inches before the takeoff board and jump from there. Owens used the advice and qualified on his last jump.

Check out the video tribute Owens here:

Later that afternoon, Long’s fifth jump matched Owens’ 25-10 in the finals. But Owens won the gold medal with a final jump of 26-5½ on his last jump. The first to congratulate Owens was Long.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler,” Owens said. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”

Owens’ remarkable story teaches us valuable leadership lessons. While we may never compete in an Olympic event, we can learn from an Olympic icon. Consider these gold medal lessons about leadership.

A gold medal leader rises above negative circumstances. Owens’ humble beginnings did not prevent him from pursuing and achieving his dreams. His achievement proves to the rest of us that the greater the obstacles are the greater the potential for success. Owens once remarked, “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams a reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” Owens embodied that philosophy. His gold medals are a tribute to it. Your past is no contest for your future if your heart is right.

A gold medal leader is teachable. Owens attributes his success as an athlete to his junior high school track coach Charles Riley. Riley believed in Owens and was his source of inspiration, and Owens never forgot it. Many are the leaders today who had someone who believed in them and encouraged them along the way. “One chance is all you need,” Owens once said. A wise leader is a teachable leader. You can’t rightfully expect people to follow you to where you have not trod yourself.

A gold medal leader earns respect. The bond of friendship that was forged during the 1936 Olympic Games with Luz Long illustrates that while they may have been competitors, the bond of friendship was stronger. What took place in Berlin between Luz and Owens transcended sports, it was a lesson to the world in the power of the human spirit to rise above prejudice and hatred. Owens said, “Friendships born on the field of athletic strife are the real gold of competition. Awards become corroded, friends gather no dust.” Dreams fulfilled are much sweeter when at the end of the day; you have earned the respect of your competitors and not their scorn.

A gold medal leader comes through the fire a better person. A ticker-tape parade awaited Owens upon his return to America. Yet afterward, he had to ride a freight elevator to his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Years passed without proper recognition of his accomplishments. He suffered setbacks in his personal life before making a comeback traveling the world as a goodwill ambassador.

In the end, he kept a proper perspective that is worth taking note of today when he said,” The battles that count are not the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself, the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us- that’s where it’s at.”

As leaders we all have our races to run. Learn from Owens and make it count.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Night at The Joe - Leadership Lessons from Yogi Berra

I’ve been a sports fanatic all my life. I enjoy all sports with football and baseball topping the list. I’m spending a lot of time out at The Joe (the nickname of the stadium named for Charleston Mayor Joe Riley) watching our local team, the Charleston Riverdogs. The Riverdogs are a farm team of the New York Yankees. Granted, I’m not a Yankees fan, but I do like baseball, and our home team is fun to watch.

At a recent game while enjoying a hot dog, it came to me that there is a lot we can learn about business and leadership at a ball game if we’re paying attention. So, with a little help from that famous Yankee catcher and philosopher, Yogi Berra; I’d like to point out a few leadership ideas.

Lesson One from Berra, “If the fans don’t wanna come to the ballpark, no one can stop ‘em.” The fans show up for numerous reasons. They enjoy the game, like the team, are out for a good time with family and friends, etc.

What is the attraction for your place of business? What draws customers through your doors and to your web site? What brings them back? It’s not just the product you offer, but the experience. If the fan’s have a good time they’ll be back, if not, no one can make them come back.

Lesson Two from Berra, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” One thing I’ve noticed this season as compared to last, the crowds appear to be a bit smaller. Sure, the season is young and the “dog days of summer” hold much promise. But for now, the future “ain’t what it used to be.”

For certain, the business climate has changed in light of the recession. Plans that we charted a year ago, have been redrawn. Budgets have been rewritten. The bottom line is guarded more closely. The future anticipated a year or two ago, isn’t the reality today. But, it’s what we have, and we adjust accordingly.

Lesson Three from Berra, “Baseball is 90 percent mental, the other half is physical.” The last game I attended, several errors were made. Routine plays went bust. That’s just the way the ball bounces some nights. You’ve heard the expression, “Get your head in the game.” The balance between having your head being in the game, as well as your glove, can be tricky.

Surviving these tough economic times is about possessing a tough mental attitude in addition to everything else. The tone and morale of the organization is crucial to your success. Sure, times are tough, but when everyone is working hard, just like at the ballpark, your team should also be having fun.

One final lesson from Berra, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Regardless if it’s a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth inning or it’s a buzzer beater miracle shot like the NBA’s LeBron James [see the shot here:] recently pulled off to win a playoff game, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. Never count the team out.

Whether it’s an organization goal or a personal goal that you have, the winning attitude is what will make your dream a reality despite what the scoreboard says. The only way you will win is to stay in the game. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Don’t give up.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Disappointments from Within, from Without

Disappointments from Within, from Without
By Doug Dickerson

Donald Mc Cullough in his book, The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking, shares some interesting insights from individuals considered persons of accomplishment, yet struggled with personal disappointments.

McCullough writes, “Alexander the Great conquered Persia, but broke down and wept because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India. Hugo Grotius, the father of modern international law, said at the last, "I have accomplished nothing worthwhile in my life." John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U.S.--not a Lincoln, perhaps, but a decent leader--wrote in his diary: "My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers that something would be the result of my existence beneficial to my species." Robert Louis Stevenson wrote words that continue to delight and enrich our lives, and yet what did he write for his epitaph? "Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much." Cecil Rhodes opened up Africa and established an empire, but what were his dying words? "So little done, so much to do."

Let’s face it, we all experience disappointments both personally and professionally. On a professional level, how you deal with disappointment sets the tone for the office environment. Peter McWilliams writes in Life 101, “The simple solution for disappointment depression: Get up and get moving. Physically move. Do. Act. Get going.” How you accept disappointment determines your destination. Consider with me now disappointment from within, disappointment from without.

I think disappointment from within is the hardest form of disappointment to recover from. Usually it’s because of something we did. Either it was something we brought on ourselves or a poor choice in how we responded to something out of our control. I’ll talk more about the latter in a moment.

My encouragement to you with regard to personal disappointments is to forgive yourself; cut yourself some slack, get over yourself. Once you have identified the cause of your personal disappointment you are now empowered to make corrections. Identify what went wrong, accept responsibility for your part, make corrections, and get moving. Simply put, life is too short to wallow in self- pity.

In his book, Failing Forward, John Maxwell writes, “In contrast, someone who is unable to get over previous hurts and failures is held hostage by the past. The baggage he carries around makes it very difficult for him to move forward. In fact, in more than thirty years of working with people, I have yet to meet a successful person who continuously dwelled on his past difficulties.”

Life will be filled with disappointments and mistakes, but we must not allow them to own us or defeat us. Too often we try to justify our anger, our bitterness, and our grudge. In the end, it only hurts one person.

In his book, Attitudes that Attract Success, Wayne Cordeiro says, “Each of us will be surrounded with problems at times, and we will often find ourselves steeped in hot water. But remember that the event will soon pass. The event is temporary, but the effects of how we respond in the midst of the event will last much longer. A poor attitude in the midst of the storm can cause the storm to rage inside for a lifetime.”

Disappointments from without can be a little tricky. Our response is our choice. Let’s be honest- other people will disappoint us. The tempo you set as a leader will make or break things in the office environment.

It reminds me of the story by Michael Hodgin about two Kentucky racing stable owners who had developed a keen rivalry. Each spring they both entered a horse in a local steeplechase. One of them thought that having a professional rider might give his horse an edge in the race, so he hired a hot-shot jockey.

Well, the day of the race finally came, and as usual, their two horses were leading the race right down to the last fence. But the final fence was too much for both of the horses. Both of them fell, and both riders were thrown. But that didn’t stop the professional jockey. He remounted quickly and easily won the race.

When he got back to the stable, he found the horse owner fuming with rage. He really didn’t understand his behavior, because he won the race. So the jockey asked, “What’s the matter with you? I won the race, didn’t I?” The red-faced owner nodded, “Oh yes, you won the race. But you won it on the wrong horse!” Sometimes we cause our own disappointments and at times, others do. The point is; keep moving, don’t give up. Keep your attitude right.

In order to be successful in leading others, you have to successfully lead yourself. Choosing the right attitude when wronged or disappointed by others may be difficult, but in the end, your rise to the next level as a leader depends on it. Choose wisely.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Kindness Factor

The Kindness Factor
By Doug Dickerson

In his writing, Perhaps I Am, Edward W. Bok shares a story of kindness involving Herbert Hoover and Polish premier Paderewski. Here is an excerpt from the inspiring story Bok shares.

“There were once two young men working their way through Leland Stanford University. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition. The great pianist's manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. "No," replied Paderewski, "that won't do." Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: "Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest."

The years rolled by--years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came, and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. Thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. "That's all right, Mr. Paderewski," was Mr. Hoover's reply. "Besides, you don't remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole."

While many qualities come to mind with regard to leadership characteristics, kindness seems to be one that is overlooked. When many climb the ladder of success through ruthless means, kindness is a forgotten commodity that leaders need to rediscover. Consider with me the consequences of kindness as a leadership trait.

Kindness given is an investment. The dividends of kindness may not be collected today, but it will. Aesop, in The Lion and The Mouse says, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

People today are hurting like never before. The challenges that many face today should remind us that we are all in this together. A little kindness goes a long way. Don’t be like the man in the Born Loser comic strip who asked his boss if he had one good word for him. The boss looks at his and says, “Goodbye.” Kindness invested in others is a testament to your leadership; be generous.

Kindness remembered is a reward. Years went by from the time Hoover was a recipient of the kindness of Paderewski, and Hoover remembered in a special way. Years had gone by and their fates had changed dramatically. Hoover was now in a position to return the kindness that was once showed to him. Now this time, Hoover not only repaid Paderewski, the reciprocation was monumental, even life saving.

It’s hard to imagine how kindness demonstrated to a stranger today can dramatically alter someone’s life tomorrow. But that’s the beauty of it. Practicing random acts of kindness is about, well, being kind. It’s not about being seen, pretense, or looking good. It’s about being good and doing the right thing.

Are you ready for a leadership challenge? Here it is – every day practice random acts of kindness. The possibilities are countless and I am sure you will think of at least one thing a day you can do to investment in others. I’ll get you started, but the rest is up to you. How about giving hand-written “thank you” notes to the people on your team, letting them know how grateful you are for them.

William Wadsworth said, “That best portion of a man’s good life, His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”

Let your acts of kindness begin now.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Turning The Circus into Opportunity: Being an Agent of Change

Turning the Circus into Opportunity: Being an agent of change
By Doug Dickerson

I came across a humorous story not too long ago, I’m not sure wrote it, but here’s what it said. “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.”

Your office may resemble a three-ring circus more than it does a highly successful working environment. Most days you may identify more with the lion tamer than you do fellow executives, and at the end of the day, you may feel like the man shot out the cannon.

The consequences of the economy have caused many organizations to juggle things like never before just to make ends meet. It reminds 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 an opportunity, even when the change was not welcomed?

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

First, accept the challenge of change. Whether you accept the challenge that change brings, it’s there before you. What are you going to do? As best I can figure you can be in-different to it, retreat from it, or accept the new challenges that have been presented to you.

John Maxwell in his book, The Winning Attitude, shares the story of the man who lived by the side of the road and sold hot dogs who 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.”

Change always brings new challenges. It requires new ways of thinking and new ideas. What’s important is to not allow the negative voices around you to discourage you. Success will come as you navigate the waters of change, and you will probably make a few mistakes along the way. But if you will accept change with a determination to succeed you will.

Second, learn to accentuate the positives of change. In order to do this, you have to shake off old assumptions that all change is bad. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. 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 never easy for some. We are creatures of habit.

Seth Godin in his book, Survival Is Not Enough-Why Smart Companies Abandon Worry and Embrace Change, 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 went on to say, “If you and your company are not taking advantage of change, change will defeat you.”

Accentuating the positives of change occurs when you understand that change is the gateway to future success. As long as you stay where you are, you’ll never get to where you want to be. In business, if you’re sitting still, you’re getting left behind. As the leader, accentuate the positives of change, your survival depends on it.

Finally, appreciate the value of change. Appreciating change only works when people 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.

Writer Lincoln Barnett once described the excitement he shared with a group of students emerging from a physics lecture at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton. “How did it go?” someone asked. “Wonderful!” Mr. Barnett replied. “Everything we knew last week isn’t true.” Keeping current with changes and relating them to your organization is a constant challenge. Yet, the rewards of adapting well to change can position you for success you never imagined.

Change presents you with new opportunities. It takes you out of your routine, it challenges the way you think, and it causes you to look at the same things in new ways. Whether you are an agent of change for good, or a victim of it, depends on whether you embrace it.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson