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