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

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Finest Hour - What to Remember When Things Blow Up

Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks is one of my favorites. The movie chronicles the Apollo 13 space mission that was to carry four astronauts to the moon. Instead of landing on the moon, the mission was scrubbed when an explosion onboard the spacecraft changed everything. It was a combination of worse-case scenario and greatest achievement all in one event.

Anyone who has seen the movie knows the line by Tom Hanks, who portrays astronaut Jim Lovell, as he utters those infamous words, “Houston, we have a problem.” The other equally impressive line is from Ed Harris who plays the role of NASA flight director Gene Kranz who said, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”[Watch the clip here:] Those were two signature statements. One of which diagnosed the new reality as it existed, and the other was the way in which they would be remembered for handling it.

How does the same set of negative circumstance make a disaster for one person and success for another? What makes the difference between disaster for one and the finest hour for another? There are a few things worth remembering when it comes to leadership and how to handle a crisis.

Not everything will go according to script. Years of work and preparation went into the launch of Apollo 13, and the defect that caused the explosion was in place before the Apollo 13 crew was even named.

When all heck breaks loose in your office just remember that not everything will go according to script- life just happens. Thomas Edison said, “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” How you react when things blow up will determine for you a positive outcome or a negative one.

Success is discovered in adversity. Now and then a bump in the road is a good thing to keep ideas fresh and flowing. We can get so accustomed to smooth sailing that when challenges come we don’t know how to react. Ed Harris had another great line in the movie. “We’ve never lost an American in space we’re sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch. Failure is not an option!” Faced with adversity, his approach was clear and emphatic. What is your approach to adversity?

Horace wisely said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” Your ability to succeed in the face of adversity will not be far-fetched when you embrace what comes your way with a determination to overcome. It’s not that you expect things to blow up, but when it does, failure will not be an option.

Great minds work together. When faced with the challenge of bringing the crew home alive with near impossible conditions, the NASA crew rose to the occasion and did the unthinkable.

Creativity within your organization should be encouraged and promoted. In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M.Webber writes, “Most companies have people who are nothing but idea people and others who are implementers. You need them both. Great idea people are rare-and also frequently hard to live with. They see things the rest of us can’t see, which is their gift. They can’t see what you and I can see easily, which is their burden. Still, you need them and they need a home where they can contribute. Your job is to build a bridge the great ideas can walk across, from those who have them to those who make them real.”

It’s been said, “Great minds think alike.” If that is the case in your organization, be concerned. If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking much at all. I submit that great minds work together, pooling the resources of the best and brightest.

The next time things blow up around you, just remember, you are not alone. When times are tough and adversity strikes, let your confident words be, “I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Packing Chutes - The Importance of Daily Leadership

The author is unknown, but I read a story recently about Charles Plumb. Plumb was a US Navy Academy graduate and jet fighter pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air-missile.

Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent the next six years in a Communist prison. He survived that ordeal and now lectures about lessons learned from that experience.

One day, when he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Nam and the carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”

“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb. “Oh I was the one who packed your parachute,” the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man smiled and said, “Yep, I guessed it worked.” Plumb assured him, “It sure did work, if your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the man who had packed his parachute. Plumb kept wondering what the man might have looked like in a Navy uniform.

“I wondered how many times I might have passed him on the Kitty Hawk. I wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘good morning, how are you’, or anything, because you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was a sailor.”

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent on a long wooded table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t know.

The story of Plumb serves to remind us of the important little things about leadership. When it comes to your organization, what are you packing into the lives of your team members? Allow me to suggest a few things.

Pack plenty of praise. A hard working team deserves to be praised for the work they do. One of the saddest statements to hear at the annual Christmas party is when the boss stands up to thank the team and says, “I know I don’t say it enough, but…” My immediate thought always is, “why not?”

If your team is working hard and performing s it should, praise for them should be sincere and often. George Adams said, “To praise is an investment in happiness.” A happy team is a productive team. Praise for your team should be a priority.

Pack plenty of attitude – a good attitude, that is. Charles Swindoll wrote, “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company ...a church ...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past ...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.”

Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude in your organization. When the chips are down, when the economy is sluggish, when prospects disappoint you, what will set you apart from everyone else is the power of your attitude. Maintain a good attitude at all costs; it is the thread of your chute.

Pack plenty of confidence. As you navigate the current economy with all of the challenges it presents, rely on the sound decisions that have brought you to where you are. Keep a steady hand and resist the temptation to leap when you need to sit.

Richard Evans said, “Don’t let life discourage you; everyone who got where he is had to begin where he was.” At the end of the day, confidence in yourself, your team, and your mission will set you apart from the others.

Finally, pack plenty of kindness. Aesop said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Packing a little kindness in the chute of your organization could be the lifeline needed today.

Praise, a good attitude, confidence, and kindness, these are timeless leadership traits worthy of attention.

As you pack the chutes of those around you, just remember, what you put in is what will come out. Pack wisely.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hall of Fame Leadership

I was recently in Boston for a family vacation. For a history buff, Boston is a charming place to visit filled with innumerable places to explore and enjoy. One piece of true Americana is a visit to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Besides taking in a game we also enjoyed taking a tour of the park. While there, legendary outfielder Jim Rice was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. He returned to Fenway where in a pre-game ceremony had his number 14 retired.

Rice was a consummate player. During his career Rice hit 1, 451 RBI’s, 382 home runs, had 2,452 career hits, and had a lifetime .298 batting average. He was named the American League MVP in 1978 and was named to eight All-Star teams.

Boston Herald writer Steve Buckley recalled in a recent column a few of the qualities that set Rice apart from others. Most professional athletes are use to signing autographs. After his election to the Hall of Fame the way in which a player signs his autograph changes. “From then on,” Buckley writes, “and forever, decorum dictates that said athlete customizes his autograph with an HOF, followed by the year of induction.”

Rice’ first autographed baseball was not for family, the president, or his mentor. It was for Joe Cochran, the Red Sox longtime equipment manager. The second autograph was for Cochran’s assistant Pookie Jackson. Buckley continues, “Ask Jim Rice to explain and he just shrugs and says, ‘The way I was brought up, and the way I see things now, I’m still the same person. My mom and dad are passed away, but if my mom was here now, she’d be saying, ‘I don’t care how big a baseball star you are or if you are in the Hall of Fame, you’re still my son.’ She never would have treated me any differently if she were here, so I don’t think I should act differently.'”

Rice exemplifies leadership qualities that are worthy of emulation today. Allow me to share a few observations with you for consideration.

Hall of Fame leaders lead by example. Buckley recounts what the late Jack Rogers, the Red Sox’ traveling secretary used to say. “Jim was the one guy I never had to worry about. He’d just ask what time the plane or bus was leaving and he’d be there. And he never complained.”

George Will said, “Sports serve society by providing vivid examples of excellence.” While there may be some professional athletes who have not behaved properly in recent years, Rice is a leader who can be looked up to as a role model.

Hall of Fame leaders remain true to their values. Often time success changes a person. Buckley writes, “Peel away the veneer, though, and there were always stories, dozens of them, about how Rice was unfailingly cordial with regular folks, how he treated clubhouse kids and ushers and front-desk clerks as though they were old fraternity buddies.”

“The secret of a good life,” Norman Thomas wrote, “is to have the right loyalties and hold them in the right scale of values.” Rice never lost touch with common folks which is why he is so revered by fans today. Rice is quoted in Buckley’s story as saying, “Sometimes an individual, when good things happen, will put themselves ahead of other people. Life is not like that.” His genuineness is refreshing and is an admirable leadership quality.

Hall of Fame leaders are rewarded. “Given that he was no Hall of Fame lock, some campaigning by Rice might have helped,” Buckley writes. But that was not Rice’s style. Buckley continues, “Whenever we’d talk to Jim about getting into the Hall of Fame, he’d just say, ‘They should look at my numbers,’ said Red Sox vice president Dick Bresciani. ‘He just wasn’t going to campaign. That just wouldn’t be him.”

A Hall of Fame leader doesn’t have to blow his own whistle. Like Ribe, a leader who works hard, plays by the rules, is considerate of others, and achieves success, will be rewarded.

Albert Einstein had it right when he said, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather to become a man of value.” On the road to success a Hall of Fame leader is one who adds value to those around him. That’s certainly what Jim Rice did.

Former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer said, “He (Rice) might be the most misunderstood player I ever knew. He’s just this…this beautiful person who likes to hang out with his friends.”

The mark of your leadership is not whether you are immortalized or enshrined in some museum. At the end of the day the greatest compliment is to be remembered as a kind, caring, beautiful person.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson