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