Saturday, December 25, 2010

Working With a Clean Slate

The beginnings of all things are small.
- Cicero

A story is told of a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied who 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.

Many speculate on what the “new normal” will look like in 2011 and how it will affect them. From the story of Timanthes we can glean a few ideas as we look toward a year of new beginnings.

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. What we did in the past and what we took for granted has changed how we look at things today.

Harry Truman 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; priorities today must be honest, realistic, transparent, and flexible.

You must 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 their circumstances. Layoffs abound, 401K’s have diminished, and many uncertainties loom large. Yet in the face of these challenges great opportunities await the person in possession of the right attitude.

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. Even in difficult times resilient leaders have the foresight to see brighter days ahead.

You have a clean 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 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..."

You may not have chosen the challenges you face today; and while many are hard pressed to find anything good in it, a clean slate is in your hands. You can be one of the “dangerous men” Lawrence referred to with open eyes to create something you never knew possible.

If you find yourself living in the past, with a bad attitude, take heart. You can transform 2011 into a new beginning with a clean slate. In doing so, your finest work may now be in the making.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don’t Miss the Important Points

The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.
- Walter Lippmann

The story is told of when Orville and Wilbur Wright finally succeeded in keeping their homemade airplane in the air for fifty-nine seconds. The historic event took place on December 17, 1903. Afterwards they rushed a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio, telling her of this great accomplishment.

The telegram read, “First sustained flight today fifty-nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas.” Upon receiving the news the sister was so excited about the success that she rushed to the newspaper office and gave the telegram to the editor. The next morning, though, the newspaper headline stated in black, bold letters, “Popular Local Bicycle Merchants To Be Home For Holidays.” The scoop of the century was missed because an editor missed the point.

In these final hours in the countdown to Christmas, most folks are busy trying to complete their shopping, attend a Christmas performance, a candlelight service or mass. A final office gathering will take place and pleasantries will be exchanged. And then family arrives. Are you now feeling the stress of the holidays?

As in the example of the sister and that of the editor of the newspaper, we can be so caught up in the moment that we miss the point of what our lives and work is all about. Here are three points to remember during this season and something to guide you into the beginning of another year.

Every great accomplishment has a small beginning. When the Wright brothers took their infamous flight it lasted 59 seconds. From a 59-second flight in 1903 to supersonic and space flight today, we have come a long way. The advancements within your organization have come about through hard work, determination, and a desire for excellence. Every small step is one closer to something great.

Bruce Barton said, “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” And this is the organizational belief that you must hold true to as you move forward in 2011. Your best days are before you and each one begins small.

Every small victory should be celebrated. Little did the Wright brothers know, nor could they have envisioned what flight would look like more than 100 years after theirs. Yet, for these brothers, it was a day of celebration for their accomplishment. And with that bottled up enthusiasm unleashed, they sent a cable to their sister back in Ohio to share the news.

Stuart B. Johnson said, “Our business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves- to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our today, to do our work with more force than ever before.” And this is your challenge in 2011 - to greet each day with anticipation of new victories and the hope of a better tomorrow.

Every team member needs to be appreciated. The newspaper editor back in Ohio missed the point and the headline was uninspiring. As the leader of your company, take time to daily write the headlines of your organization. Sing the praises of the team who delivered the new account, for the one who faithfully goes the extra mile without complaining, and for all of the creative talent that make you look better than you are.

Thomas D. Bailey said, “Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones.” The production of your team should be celebrated throughout the year as you take small steps to greatness, and as you remember the most important ingredient to your organization – its people.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Three Leadership Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Then all the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee, Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history!
- Robert L. May

For many years, the story goes; Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago purchased and gave away coloring books as a promotional during the Christmas season. In 1939, company executives wanted to do something that would both reduce costs and be new and different.

To help with the new project they turned to Robert L. May, a 34-year old Montgomery Ward copywriter who was known to dabble in children’s limericks and stories. His creation was a short story written in rhyming verse and differed from the version known today. The original Rudolph lived in the woods with his loving parents far from the North Pole.

May’s story became an immediate success. Montgomery Ward gave away 2.4 million copies of the story in 1939 and by 1946, despite wartime paper shortages; over 6 million copies had been distributed. Faced with large medical bills because of his wife’s battle with cancer, May asked Montgomery Ward officials if he could have the copyright to Rudolph turned over to him. The company agreed and that same year the story was published commercially.

May also asked his brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, to adapt his basic story idea to music. When Marks was done, one singer after another, including Bing Crosby, declined to record the song. Finally, in 1949, Gene Autry accepted and, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shot to the top of the charts. Autry’s version is now the second best selling Christmas song of all time, surpassed only by Crosby’s White Christmas.

From the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, come leadership lessons that are still applicable for today. Here are three leadership lessons that will serve you well regardless of the season.

We all have natural gifts and abilities; embrace them. Rudolph was the object of scorn by the other reindeer who mistakenly thought that because he was different from the others, he didn’t have anything to contribute.

We all come in different shapes, sizes, and with unique giftedness. It is not in the similarities that we stand out, but in our differences. The gifts and talents you bring to the table of your business or organization may not look like anything else in your company, but that is your gift. As you embrace and celebrate those gifts, others will also come to appreciate what you have to offer.

We all face opposition; ignore it. Because his appearance was obviously different from others around him, Rudolph faced opposition. There will always be an element of people who oppose you not based on your appearance as in the story, but because you bring a different set of eyes to the problem, you bring a different attitude, and you bring an optimistic mindset to the challenges your company faces.

When you make up your mind that what causes you to stand out is what will propel you to the top, others will be faced with a challenge: go there with you or be left behind. But regardless of the opposition you face, never surrender your giftedness to opposition.

Your moment to shine will eventually come; welcome it. It is your faithfulness in the little things; day by day, that you prove yourself. Even though Rudolph faced opposition from the others, he didn’t allow their negativity to defeat him. In the moment of crisis when Santa needed a go-to Reindeer, Rudolph was ready. Armed with his natural giftedness and positive attitude, he navigated the team of fellow reindeer to a successful completion of the Christmas mission.

Your moment of destiny will come one day and it will not always come in the manner in which you expected. Open your eyes to all the possibilities that your leadership can provide. As you show yourself faithful in the little things your big moment will come.

This Christmas season, celebrate your gift as a leader, rise above your opposition, and stand ready to embrace your destiny. As you do, you will have a greater understanding of just how special the season can be.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Leader of Christmas Yet to Come

Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.
- Charles Dickens

You know it as one of the most beloved Christmas classics of all time. Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. As you know, the tale begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley.

Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past who implores Scrooge to change his stingy ways. Scrooge is reminded of his innocent youthful days in an attempt to appeal to a more tender time in his life. The second spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge, among other places, to the home of his impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit. Scrooge is faced with the responsibility of caring for his fellow man.

Finally, Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In this dream, Scrooge is faced with the dire consequences of his failure to act on what he has witnessed. He is shown his untended grave and in the end changes his ways. He spends Christmas day with his nephew’s family and sends the prize wining turkey to the Cratchit home for dinner.

While the story concludes with Scrooge changing his ways it serves as a reminder that exceptional leadership is called upon in uncommon times. The fictional account of Scrooge serves to remind us of what is truly important during this season of the year.

The opening words of Dickens serve as an exemplary leadership model. This model will endear you to your team and will build the character of your organization from the inside out. Consider the qualities of The Leader of Christmas Yet to Come.

A leader with a heart never hardens. One of the greatest compliments for a leader today is that he or she has not grown calloused by the corporate grind. While leadership certainly has its benefits, it can be challenging. Keeping people at a distance might make a leader feel secure but it can create an unhealthy bubble that hardens the heart of leaders to those who otherwise desire to help.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.” When the Leader of Christmas Present has a heart that is not hardened he has the makings of a business with a future and a force for good.

A leader with a temper that never tires. The temperament of the leader in the organization determines the direction of the organization more than anything else. Lord Chesterfield said, “A man who cannot command his temper should not think of being a man of business.” The responsibility of the leader is to set a tone that signals civility as well as success. All leaders are challenged and tried, and at times fall short. But in order to successfully move the organization forward, an even-tempered leader must be at the helm.

Wes Craven said, “A lot of life is dealing with your curse, dealing with the cards you were given that aren’t so nice. Does that make you into a monster, or can you temper it in some way, or accept it and go in some other direction?” And this is the challenge of leadership – to endure some unpleasant realities, make difficult decisions, and put up with some cranky people along the way. The Leader of Christmas Present is the steady hand at the helm guiding the ship to success.

The leader with the touch that never hurts. This by far is the legacy of leadership. Your touch as a leader is far reaching beyond the decisions of today. Will yours be the touch that lifts up or tears down? Will it be with words that help or cause harm? It was Dickens who also said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.”

The touch that never hurts is the signature of your leadership. Your business environment benefits when your leadership is a source of healing and not one of destruction. The Leader of Christmas Present is a catalyst for creating an organization that is quick to care, patient in adversity, and leads with a touch that never hurts.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pardon the Interruption(s)

Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.
- Mario Andretti

Type A personalities in leadership make for interesting office drama when it comes to interruptions. For a task driven leader it can be a source of great frustration, and for his team it can make for uncomfortable relationships.

A story in Reader’s Digest a few years ago illustrates that despite how annoying interruptions may be when they occur, they can change our outlook and circumstances drastically when we have the opportunity to look at them from the benefit of historical perspective.

As the story goes, it was the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and the Coconut Grove was packed. Waiters were setting up extra tables to handle the diners. The overflow from the dining room surged down a narrow stairway to the Medley Lounge.

The dimly lit basement bar offered a South Seas ambiance, with artificial palm trees, driftwood, rattan and a ceiling draped in blue satin. The only illumination came from behind the bar, supplemented by low-wattage bulbs hidden in the palms. Even this was too bright for one young man. He reached up, unscrewed a bulb and settled back in his date’s arms. Like many others there, he was in uniform. It was 1942; the U.S. had been fighting World War II for nearly a year.

Dr. Vincent Senna was having dinner that night in the Grove and was paged because one of his patients had gone into labor. Grumbling, Senna rushed to the hospital in time to deliver the baby, and save his life. Because after he left, for still unknown reasons, the Coconut Grove burst into flames, and over 450 people died in the smoke and flames. The interruption that ruined his evening also saved his life.

The next time you face interruptions they may not be ones that save your life as in the case of Dr. Senna. But they could be the indicators needed to help chart the course for your business or organization. Consider these three benefits of interruptions and how they can make you a stronger leader.

Interruptions give you time to reflect. Interruptions can be seen as an impediment to the task at hand but in actuality is a blessing. Interruptions become opportunities when you welcome them as gifts as opposed to setbacks.

Jim Rohn aptly said, “Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.” While interruptions may seem irritating at the time, if taken advantage of they can serve you well if you allow it. In the end, it can make the difference between going forward with a good plan or a great one.

Interruptions give you time to listen. Interruptions may be nothing more than orchestrated moments in which you need to be still and listen to others around you and gain from their perspective. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

For the busy Type A leader, sitting and listening does not come naturally and it is usually uncomfortable. To be an effective leader there comes a time when you need an audience to listen to; not one to speak for. When a leader opens his ears, mind, and heart; great things can happen in him and in the life of the organization.

Interruptions give you a second chance. Dr. Senna’s interruption at dinner may have seemed like an intrusion to his evening. But as fate would reveal, it saved his life. The interruptions you encounter may annoy, aggravate, and irritate, but could be the very thing needed to save you from yourself and set you on the right course.

As leaders we tend to believe our own headlines and our narcissistic ways can blind us to present realities. Could it be that we have failed to understand that what we might perceive as an interruption could more accurately be described as an appointment with the Divine?

Interruptions can be obstacles that we curse or our stepping stones to success. When we choose to reflect, listen, and understand the blessing of second chances, we can rise to new levels as leaders.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Blessing of Thankful Leaders

Thanksgiving is the attitude of the life that acknowledges the contribution from God, from others, from life.
- C. Neil Strait

Paul Harvey tells the story of an old man who walked the eastern Florida coastline every Friday night around sunset until his death in 1973. You could see the old man walking, white-haired, bushy eyebrows, slightly bent. In his bucket was shrimp to feed the gulls and to remember the sacrifice one gull made many years before that would drastically change his life.

Many years before in October of 1942, the old man, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere flying over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month the men would fight the water, the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable; starvation. Eight days out their rations were gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. Rickenbacker recalled that on one particular afternoon, “Captain William Cherry read the service, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

What happened next was nothing short of a miraculous answer to their desperate prayers. Rickenbacker added, “Something landed on my head. I knew it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food if I could reach it.”

Captain Rickenbacker caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. And that is why, many years later every Friday night, Rickenbacker would walk the shores with a bucket of shrimp to feed the gulls in remembrance to the one, on a day long past, that gave itself without a struggle.

The story of Rickenbacker reminds us that the answers we search for can come in unexpected ways. How the answers come may be a mystery to us but not to the One from whom they come. Our duty is not to question, but to trust. Our thanks is grounded in a belief that we are not alone on our journey and in our darkest moments a sea gull is closer than you can imagine.

As you gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, pause to remember and give thanks for all of your blessings. With a sense of renewal and purpose, forge ahead with the understanding that what you have to be thankful for most is not the bottom line of your business; but the blessing of family, friends, health, and faith.

One of my great passions each week is to write on the topic of leadership. I am thankful for my readers across the country whose kind words continue to inspire and encourage. I trust that your Thanksgiving Day will be filled with much joy and love as you share the day. In closing, I would like to leave you with this poem to reflect upon.

How To Observe Thanksgiving

Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count you joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
-Author Unknown.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Composure and Consequence: Understanding Your Temperament as a Leader

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good.
- James Allen

A story is told of actress Carol Burnett who stepped out of a cab one day and caught her coat in the door. The driver was unaware of her plight and slowly began to edge out into the traffic. To keep from being pulled off her feet, the comedienne had to run along side down the block.

A passerby noticed her predicament and quickly alerted the driver. He stopped, jumped out, and released Miss Burnett’s coat. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Yes,” she gasped, “but how much more do I owe you?”

This humorous illustration is an example of keeping ones composure in difficult situations. As a leader your composure is going to be tested and your team is looking to you to see how you will respond. Your response is a signal to others that the waters are fine or it’s time to jump ship. Are you mindful of the signals you give? Are you aware of the consequences? Here are a few tips to help you keep your composure and understand the consequences.

Composure is a confidence builder. There is always an element of surprise in the unexpected. As a leader how you respond when things do not happen as anticipated is your moment to either build confidence or send the wrong signal.

When President Reagan was shot early in his presidency it was a frightening time. As the president was placed on a gurney and prepared for surgery it was reported that Reagan, in his folk some way said to the doctors, “I hope you are all Republicans.” Even in a moment of great national and personal consequence he delivered a sense of stability in the midst of tragedy.

The leader who keeps his composure is the one who delivers confidence. And in the midst of turbulent times you can communicate the message that in spite of the circumstance things are going to be fine. Floyd Filson said, “He can inspire a group only if he himself is filled with confidence and hope of success.” And this is why composure is so important. As goes your composure so goes the confidence of your team.

Composure is momentum builder. When you exhibit composure in the day-to-day execution of your responsibilities as a leader, you not only instill confidence for your team but give them traction in moving forward. The momentum your team needs to succeed is built through trust in your leadership.

A story is told by former Miami Dolphin player Bob Kuechenberg as to what motivated him to go to college. He explains, “My father and uncle were human cannonballs in carnivals. My father told me, “Go to college or be a cannonball.” Then one day my uncle came out of the cannon, missed the net and hit the Ferris wheel, I decided to go to college.” The momentum your company needs to succeed is attributed to your composure at the helm. Lead with confidence and the momentum will follow.

Composure is a success builder. When you maintain your composure as a leader, you become a magnet that others are drawn to. While others are scrambling and are in a panic, there is an endearing quality about a leader who is calm and composed.

In 1917 at the age of 67, Thomas Edison’s lab was destroyed by fire. While a setback by anyone’s standards, Edison forged ahead. Within a matter of a few weeks Edison produced the first phonograph. At the time Edison was quoted as saying, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Composure will not exempt you from challenges, setbacks, or failures, but it will determine how you will move forward. As you lead with a steady hand and a quantifiable confidence, you can lead your company to success.

Your composure has consequences. Make sure the signals you send conveys the message you want delivered. As you understand the power of your composure you will lead with meaningful purpose.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How Relaxed Are You?

If man insisted on always being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unbearable without knowing it.
- Herodotus

In a recent article at ( Francesca Levy identifies the most relaxed cities in America. Levy writes, “If you’re having trouble relaxing, it might be because you’re living in the wrong city. Places with high unemployment, heavy traffic and long working hours can be physically painful to live in: Stressful environments can take their toll on your health, causing everything from headaches and back pain to high blood pressure and heart disease.”

In her research, Levy integrated six metrics that are closely related to stress to compile her research. Incorporated were unemployment rates, how many commuters spend an hour or more in traffic, and the average of how many hours people spend at work. Also included were health factors including whether most residents had access to health care and how they rated their overall health. The final metric was that of exercise and how many residents reported getting any kind of workout in the past month.

Cited in Levy’s article is Kathleen Grace Santor M.Ed., Ed.S a therapist and founder of Stress Management Center of Nevada. Santor adds, “Bringing the rest of the country’s stress level down to that of these calm cities starts with making stress-reduction techniques an everyday practice, rather that an obscure fad. There needs to be some kind of a mainstream way of coping with stress, It’s not part of the mainstream to cope with stress; it’s part of the mainstream to talk about how stressed out you are.”

Levy’s research identified the most relaxed cities as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Boston, Portland, Ore., Columbus, Ohio, Denver, Colo., Seattle, Wash., Cincinnati, Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif. I am not a therapist, but you may want to consider these simple ideas for reducing stress and learning to relax.

Change your vocabulary. Santor said that it is not part of the mainstream to cope with stress but rather to talk about how stressed we are. And herein lies the problem, some people had rather talk about it than change. Change begins when you change your conversation from how stressed you are to how blessed you are. Richard Bach said, “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” The next time you face a difficult challenge; why not ask what the gift is as opposed to what the problem is. You might be surprised at the outcome.

Laugh at yourself. Some people are wound up so tight that if not careful they might snap. Bob Newhart said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” When you learn to laugh at yourself it can give you the necessary perspective that even when the situation you are working through is not funny, you can still have a smile in your heart. Robert Frost aptly said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And since it goes on, why not go forward with a smile on your face?

Change your outlook. This has much to do with your attitude. Herm Albright said, “A positive attitude may not solve all of your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” Your attitude is a forecast of your ability to relax and unwind. If your attitude is bad your stress levels will mirror it. And the same holds true for the stress level of your organization. What you model will be duplicated. When you keep a strong attitude you will have a strong team.

Find alternatives to your routines. It is all too easy to accept the daily routines we have established as rituals. Even small changes in your daily routine can provide a reprieve from the grind that can cause stress. Why not conduct your next team meeting at a nearby park, or take a walk at lunch? Dr. Joyce Brothers said, “No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you’d be more productive.”

A Chinese Proverb says, “That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” You cannot change every stress factor that comes your way, but you can change how you respond to them. A relaxed leader is more prone to lead a healthy and happy organization. Why not give it a try!

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Five Things Great Leaders Can’t Do For You

A leader is a person with a magnet in his heart and a compass in his head.
- Vance Hainer

In an address to the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf spoke about the importance of leadership and service. Schwarzkopf said, “I’ve met a lot of leaders in the Army who were competent, but they didn’t have character. And for every job they did well, they sought reward in the form of promotions, in the form of awards and decorations, in the form of getting ahead at the expense of someone else, in the form of another piece of paper that awarded them another degree, a sure road to the top.

You see, these were competent people, but they lacked character. I’ve also met a lot of leaders who had superb character but who lacked competence. They weren’t willing to pay the price of leadership, to go the extra mile because that’s what it took to be a great leader.

And that’s sort of what it’s all about. To lead in the 21st century – to take soldiers, sailors, airmen into battle, you will be required to have both character and competence.” And this is the challenge for leaders today.

Developing leaders can read the latest books, attend trendy conferences, and watch every webcast, but at the end of the day, the great leadership speakers and writers cannot do anything for you until you take action for yourself. I have identified five specific things great leaders cannot do for you and why this is good.

Great leaders can’t speak with your voice. And this is the challenge for emerging leaders - to speak in their own voice. For years I have looked to and benefited from leadership mentors. And as influential as they have been, I would never be fulfilled as a leader if I lost my own voice in the process.

As you develop your leadership skills it is imperative not to lose your voice. Benjamin Disraeli said, “There is no index of character so sure as the voice.” Great leaders don’t speak with your voice nor do they speak with your passion. Own it. Develop it. And speak it.

Great leaders can’t pay your dues. Great leaders can challenge you, motivate you, inspire you, and help you renew your sense of purpose. They can impart hope and encourage you to fight another day. And as wonderful as these things are, you still have to take your personal journey in the school of leadership.

Your development as a leader evolves the way it does for all of us – through life experiences and paying your dues. Albert Einstein said, “There is only one road to true human greatness: through the school of hard knocks.” Take solace from the great leaders who have walked the trail before you, but understand that their dues are not transferable.

Great leaders can’t see your dreams. Great leaders can motivate and encourage you to pursue your dreams. They can give you formulas based on their successes and failures that can give you wisdom in your daily decisions. But you alone are the guardian of your dreams and what is required to turn them into reality.

Henry David Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” You see what the great leaders cannot. Hold true to your dreams and valiantly pursue them.

Great leaders can’t feel with your heart. Personal leadership is not just a product of what is in your head, but what is in your heart. Your leadership is manifest in ways that heal, inspire, build, promote, and touch your world in ways unknown to great leaders. Great leaders can show you the tools, but you are the one who must use them to create a masterpiece.

Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” And this is the power of your dreams and who will be touched by your leadership.

Great leaders can’t reach your potential. Your influence as a leader exists by maximizing your gifts and abilities where you are planted. To the extent that there are things great leaders cannot do for you, you are in the driver’s seat as you fulfill your purpose as a leader.

As you speak with your own voice, pay your dues, see with your eyes, feel with your heart, and reach your potential, you will achieve a level of success that is worthy of distinction. This is where all great leaders begin.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Power of Organized Leaders

The achievements of an organization are the results of combined effort of each individual.
- Vince Lombardi

In a Peanuts cartoon Lucy demands that Linus change the TV channel, threatening him with her fist he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk right in her and take over?” asks Linus.

“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”

“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”

In order for your company to perform at optimum levels it will require an organized leader at the helm. Jack Welch said, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” And this is why an organized leader is so valuable. An organized leader adds value to his company in the three specific ways.

Organized leaders build confidence. Organizations are powered by confident leaders. When the leader is organized he creates a sense of purpose and order that lends credibility to its mission. A confident team has a competitive advantage because it is not wasting energy trying to make sense out of chaos.

Brian Tracy said, “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” And this is the power that organized leaders give to their team. An organized team operates with a sense of expectancy that delivers extraordinary results during uncommon times.

If organizational skills are not your strong suit then you must surround yourself with an administrative team that can help you deliver what your team needs to succeed. Your team will be hard pressed to do well if a strong organizational structure is not in place.

Organized leaders build camaraderie. Team members thrive in an environment where organization is strong. While strong organization is no guarantee for good morale, it does give life to the possibility. If you have a sense of low morale or productivity in your organization give consideration to the thought that it may not be personality conflicts at the root of your problem but organizational ones.

It is unreasonable to have high expectations for your corporate performance if the organizational structure it needs is fractured. But when the necessary tools are in place the ability to prosper is enhanced. When team members work together in an environment where camaraderie is the norm rather than the exception then good things will happen.

Sammy Davis, Jr. said, “The success of the Rat Pack or the Clan was due to the camaraderie, the three guys who work together and kid each other and love each other.” And this is the genius of a leader who understands that more can be accomplished through camaraderie as a team than ever could be imagined without it. Strong organization and camaraderie are foundations upon which to build your company strong.

Organized leaders build continuity. While continuity of mission and purpose is the product of a strong organizational structure; flexibility to adapt to changing environments is critical to its livelihood.

Michael Porter said, “The thing is, continuity of strategic direction and continuous improvement in how you do things are absolutely consistent with each other. In fact, they are mutually reinforcing.” Organized leaders welcome reinforcement that blends its core values with a deep seeded commitment to improvement. As the leader grows comfortable with the process the company can thrive.

As continuity of mission and purpose is established within the organization it gives credibility to the ultimate rite of passage which is succession. A strong leader does not build the organization upon his shoulders. It is crafted in the hearts and through hands of his dedicated team.

The lineage of your company’s values and mission is a testament to the power of an organized leader who builds confidence, camaraderie, and continuity. The power of your organization shapes the legacy of your leadership.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Luis Urzua

We have done what the entire world was waiting for.
- Chilean President Sebastian Pinera

Last week the world watched in celebration as the 33 miners in Chile were pulled to safety. Trapped nearly a half-mile underground for 70 days, the rescue provided riveting television witnessed by millions all over the world.

For the first 17 days of the crisis, no one knew if the miners were alive or if they could be rescued. But from the depths of the earth we now learn, a leader emerged among the men who would rally them together and lead them to safety. Shift commander Luis Urzua is praised by his fellow miners as being the leader responsible for bringing the necessary discipline to the group.

Under Urzua’s leadership the food was rationed for more than two weeks that would keep them alive. Work and sleep areas were designated along with shift schedules for each activity. When rescuers first established contact with the miners it was Urzua who scribbled the note letting them and the world know they were alive and waiting to be rescued.

Former co-worker and miner Robinson Marquez described Urzua as being “very protective of his people and obviously loves them.” He said Urzua is a “calm professional person,” and a born leader. “It is his nature. It is his gift,” said Marquez. The heroic efforts of the rescue workers, the tenacity of the Chilean president, and the way in which countries from all over the world generously contributed to the effort is a testament to what can happen when people come together for a common cause.

Someone said that adversity introduces a man to himself. From Luis Urzua we learn important leadership lessons that are transferable in any culture or work environment and offers hope and inspiration to leaders on any level. Here are a few take away lessons from Luis Urzua and the rescue mission.

Leaders adapt to changing circumstances; they understand fragile systems. The mission of the 33 men going into the mine was that of a familiar routine. The men were copper miners who were accustomed to the work in addition to the risks. But in one instance the world in which they worked suddenly became their potential tomb.

Utilizing his leadership instincts Luis Urzua mobilized the men to scout out the mine as soon as the dust settled in order to understand how and to what extent their circumstances had changed. And this is the nature of how leaders operate. They waste little time bemoaning the circumstances they are thrust into and immediately begin the work of overcoming them.

Leaders keep the team focused on the mission; they find solutions. Once the miners fully understood the severity of the problem, Urzua began to bring order to the chaos. He partitioned areas in which the men would work, sleep, and even where the latrine would be located. He began a process of rationing their food and made sure they maintained a proper sleep and exercise regiment.

Despite overwhelming odds against them, Urzua kept as much of a normal routine in place for the men as possible. The intent was to keep the crew focused on the mission. And while the mission had dramatically changed for them, it fell upon him to convince the others that it was one in which they would emerge alive.

When adversity strikes it is important for leaders to step up and keep the team focused. Taylor Benson said, “It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." And this is what uncommon leaders do. By keeping your team focused on finding solutions problems can be overcome by faith and perseverance.

Leaders place the well-being of others ahead of themselves; they are selfless. When the rescue operation began, Luis Urzua was the last man out of the mine. It was a consensus that was determined by a vote of the miners and was the ultimate show of respect for what he had done during their entrapment.

Tony Robbins said, “Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy – true fulfillment.” Uncommon leaders inspire us to believe the best in others, bring out the best in ourselves, and motivate us to serve others on the journey.

Urzua is an example of what can happen when a leader is committed to his people, leads by example, and is selfless in the process.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Captures Your Imagination?

Imagination is not a talent of some men, but is the health of every man.
- Emerson

In his highly insightful book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber devotes a chapter to what it takes to capture the world’s imagination. In the chapter he makes his case based off a question by Tom Peters whom he quotes as saying, “Enough of this weak stuff! Now is the time to capture the imagination of the world! And if not the whole world, at least your world!”

Webber contends that much of what passes for innovation today falls short of the mark. He says, “Some companies go for the gold when it comes to new products and services. But not many. Most companies play it safe and call it innovation. Most companies make an incremental packaging change and call it a breakthrough. They benchmark their competitors and look for small ways to make big claims. They say they’re reaching for the sky-and then settle for the next-to-the-top shelf in the garage where the old gear gets stored. It’s safe. Nobody gets fired for predictable mediocrity. Just don’t call it innovation. It’s more like mini-vation.”

As a leader, the claim by Webber is both refreshing and challenging. Identifying the 300- pound gorilla in the room is a breath of fresh air as it relates to honestly capturing the culture of some corporations. But what it exposes is equally troubling. A culture of mediocrity is the by-product of leadership on auto- pilot. And if the company or organization wants to be around for the long haul it had better wake up to new realities. And that takes place when leadership wraps its mind around these three principles.

Imagination is the leader’s genius for the company. As Webber dutifully points out, corporate imagination by some standards is simply playing it safe. Imagination comes to fruition when ideas emerge from the conceptual and become real products and services. Until a leader is willing to take the necessary risks to make it happen it is grossly unfair to repackage old ideas and call it innovation.

Imagination that translates into new products or services involves risk. The risk is calculated by demand, market analysis, and a leader who is willing to back the product and team who puts it forward. Jim Rohn said, “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” And sadly this is where some companies find themselves today. But a smart leader with an imaginative team can make great things happen.

Innovation is the leader’s standard for the company. Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” Innovative leaders understand that if they want to capture the imagination of the world as Tom Peters challenges, it must always be vigilant, learning, and aware of his competitive culture.

Good Housekeeping recently revealed its 2010 Second Annual VIP (Very Innovative Products) Awards. The Hall of Fame Award was presented to Proctor and Gamble for the Swiffer Sweeper. In polling by Proctor and Gamble this product ranked first by its readers. “This product came out on top- and we’re not surprised,” said Good Housekeeping, adding, “It truly changed the way we clean…how did we live without it?”

Innovative leaders don’t just claim innovation, they deliver it. In a few short years Proctor and Gamble revolutionized household cleaning by replacing the mop and bucket with a highly efficient and affordable product that has become the standard by which other products are measured. Innovative leaders raise the bar for excellence.

Intuition is a leader’s safeguard for the company. In every organization there has to be a filtering process by which ideas green-lighted or tabled. A wise leader surrounded by capable advisors can make the difference between an idea whose time has come and those that need more work.

New ideas and timing are a matter of intuition that comes from leaders who understand that the right product introduced at the wrong time can cause more harm than good. Intuition is the needed emotional intelligence your company needs during times when your next decision is not made in your head but in your heart.

Before you can capture the imagination of the world, you first must define what captures your imagination. Your imagination, innovation, and intuition will set you on a course discovering it, creating it, and defending it. Dream on.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The DNA of Opportunity

An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.
- Winston Churchill

I enjoyed reading a story from Bits & Pieces about an energetic young man who began as a clerk in a hardware store. Like many old-time hardware stores, the inventory included thousands of items that were obsolete or seldom called for by customers.

The young man was smart enough to know that no thriving business could carry such an inventory and still show a healthy profit. He proposed a sale to get rid of the stuff. The owner was reluctant but finally agreed to let him set up a table in the middle of the store and try and sell off a few of the oldest items. Every product was priced at ten cents.

The sale was a success and the young fellow got permission to run a second sale. It, too, went over just as well as the first. This gave the young clerk an idea. Why not open a store that would sell only nickel and dime items? He could run the store and his boss could supply the capital.

The young man’s boss was not enthusiastic. “The plan will never work,” he said, “because you can’t find enough items to sell at a nickel and a dime.” The young man was disappointed but eventually went ahead on his own and made a fortune out of the idea. His name was F.W. Woolworth. Years later his old boss lamented, “As near as I can figure, every word I used in turning Woolworth down has cost me about a million dollars!”

Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Woolworth demonstrated what every wise leader knows; not every opportunity will be handed to you and if you are going to succeed you have to take risks. Opportunity is seized when you understand its DNA or what I call the 3 R’s of Opportunity.

The first opportunity is to reinvent your purpose. Woolworth did not try to reinvent new uses for the old inventory. He cleaned it out to make way for new products. The novelty of the sale is what brought in the customers, not the outdated products. Often times it is not outdated ideas that hold organizations back but a lack of forward-thinking leaders who don’t know what to do with them.

Learning to adapt in changing times is critical to the survival of your organization. Woolworth made an opportunity where one did not exist in the understanding of his boss. It was a bold move that paid great dividends. In these changing times are you capable of making the necessary changes to ensure that your purpose going forward will be preserved?

The second opportunity is to rethink your strategy. Had Woolworth listened to his boss we would likely know nothing about him or the F.W. Woolworth stores. Woolworth’s idea may have been gutsy in its time, but nonetheless was a creative risk that paid off.

Uncertain of its potential success, Woolworth’s boss shot down the idea for how to move the store forward. Rather than quit, Woolworth launched out on his own and was quite successful. Og Mandino said, “Obstacles are necessary for success because in selling, as in all careers of importance, victory comes only after many struggles and countless defeats. Each rebuff is an opportunity to move forward; turn away from them, avoid them, and you throw away your future.” Your strategy for success will emerge as you drown out the voices of those who say it can’t be done.

The final opportunity is to reclaim your future. Woolworth’s future was not hindered by a near-sighted leader. Instead he was emboldened to move forward despite the pessimistic forecast. And this is the essence of what you must choose as you look at the opportunities before you. Who are you going to listen to and how are you going to respond?

Jim Rohn said, “Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their fortune in someone else’s hands, but not you.” Are you prepared to embrace the opportunities that destiny has chosen for you? It is time to reinvent your purpose, rethink your strategy, and reclaim your future. The opportunity is yours; the time is now.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Power of Impact Leaders; How Little Things Make a Big Difference

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
- John Wooden

I recently came across a story by Robert McGarvey about former NBA coach Pat Riley. He shares that when Riley coached the Los Angeles Lakers from 1982 to 1990, the team won four NBA Championships. In taking over the New York Knicks in 1991, Riley inherited a team with a losing record. But the Knicks seemed able to play above their abilities and even gave the eventual champions, the Chicago Bulls, their hardest competition in the playoffs.

McGarvey writes that Riley attributed his success to paying attention to detail. For example, every NBA team studies videotape and compiles statistics to evaluate players’ game and performances. But Riley’s use of these tools is more comprehensive than that of his rivals. “We measure areas of performance that are often ignored: jumping in pursuit of every rebound even if you don’t get it, swatting at every pass, diving for loose balls, letting someone smash into you in order to draw a foul,” says Riley.

After each game, the “effort” statistics are punched into a computer. “Effort,” Riley explains, “is what ultimately separates journeyman players from impact players. Knowing how well a player executes all these little things is the key to unlocking career best performances.”

Like Coach Riley, impact leaders understand that it is by attention to the little details that you and your team go from journeymen to impact players. A Persian Proverb says, “Do little things now; so shall big things come to thee by and by asking to be done.” Great things await the leader who prevails in overcoming the small things. Here are three details that impact leaders perfect to become the best and move the organization forward.

Impact leaders communicate vision. George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Impact leaders will not leave to chance that the vision of the company has been clearly communicated and that everyone is on board with its execution.

The implementation of the corporate vision is completed by team members who have the trust and confidence of their leader. John Kotter said, “People are more inclined to be drawn in if their leader has a compelling vision. Great leaders help people get in touch with their own aspirations and then will help them forge those aspirations into a personal vision.” And this is the secret of impact leaders who communicate vision.

Impact leaders create a culture of growth. When a culture of growth is encouraged within your organization it unleashes the creative talent your team members bring to the table. John Maxwell said, “No matter what level you’re on, leadership skills are needed at that level. Each new level requires a higher degree of skill. Your best chance of making it into the next level of “league play” is to grow on the current level so that you will be able to go to the next level.”

When impact leaders provide opportunities for personal growth within the organization it is laying the foundation for the whole team to shine. Billy Hornsby said, “It’s okay to let those you lead outshine you, for if they shine brightly enough they will reflect positively on you.” Organizational growth is achieved when the personal growth of the team becomes a priority.

Impact leaders are relationship builders. An antiquated leadership style would suggest a more fragmented practice and understanding of the power of relationships. In this structure team members are viewed suspiciously, the flow of information is selective, and trust is a far-fetched reality.

Mark Sanborn writes, “Everyday we interact with dozens of people. Often those interactions are fleeting and unmemorable. Freds, however, don’t use people as a means to an end; they use relationships to build a foundation for success. They understand that all outcomes are created by and through interactions with others. So they become students of social psychology. They understand that strong relationships create loyalty and are the basis of partnerships and teamwork.”

Impact leaders are committed to communicating vision, creating a culture of growth, and are relationship builders. As impact leaders focus on these details they create an environment in which the organization can prosper. Are you paying attention to the little details?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Are You a Redemptive Leader?

Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.
- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

During my last visit to London a few years back, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my wife to West End to see the musical Les Misérables based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It was a magnificent performance and one of the highlights of the trip.

Les Miserables is one of the classics that never fails to inspire and reminds us of the power of redemption. Jean Valjean is the main character who spent years in prison for stealing bread for his sister and her family. After his release from prison he is required to carry a special passport that identifies him as an ex-convict. Forced to sleep on the streets, Valjean grows increasingly despondent.

Valjean is taken in by the charitable Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware and flees. Soon Valjean is caught but instead of identifying Valjean as the thief, Bishop Myriel claims that the silverware was actually a gift. Bishop Myriel gives him the candlesticks and ridicules him in front of the police for leaving behind the most expensive pieces. Bishop Myriel reminds Valjean of the promise he made to use the silver to make an honest man of himself.

John Wooden said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” And this is the essence and practice of leadership. Along the way, you will make mistakes and so will your team. And if we are certain that mistakes are going to be made then we must take into account acts of redemption. Here are three questions to ask when dealing with mistakes and how to effectively harness your redemptive leadership skills.

What can we learn? When mistakes are made; be it from poor communication, poor judgment, or another break down in the system, it is important to understand why. Our initial reaction typically is to assign blame, but that is secondary. Redemptive leadership is exhibited when discovering what went wrong is understood and everyone in the company learns from the experience.

As an act of redemptive leadership, an insight by Norman Vincent Peale is a gem for all leaders. Peale said, “We’ve all heard that we have to learn from our mistakes, but I think it’s more important to learn from our successes. If you learn only from your mistakes, you are inclined to learn only errors.” Leadership is a learning process. Successes and mistakes are included in the mix. At the end of the day it is not so much about who made the mistake but what was learned.

What can we teach? Jim Rohn said, “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” In failure or success, a redemptive leader seizes upon teachable moments to elevate his team to a new level.

Leaders do not always choose the lessons they teach. In a perfect world everyone communicates well, mistakes are seldom made, customers are always happy, and the bottom line is always strong. Elbert Hubb`rd said, “The teacher is the one who gets the most out of the lessons, and the true teacher is the learner.” Your capacity to teach others is found in your ability to learn and to apply lessons from the totality of your experiences.

What can we change? This is one of the great challenges of leadership. The ability to adapt and change will determine the future of your company. C.S. Lewis wittingly surmised the situation for leaders when he said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” In practicality, we must not only identify what needs to change but have the courage to act.

And this is the challenge of redemptive leadership. If you do not learn from your mistakes, if teachable moments go unheeded, change will not occur. You and your company will perpetuate a climate of what could have been in place of what could be.

Successful leaders and productive companies understand the power of redemptive leadership and the importance of what can be learned, what can be taught, and what needs to change. Are you a redemptive leader?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How Safe Are Your Assumptions?

You must stick to your convictions, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.
- Denis Waitley

A story I read not long ago told of how for centuries people believed that Aristotle was right when he said that the heavier an object, the faster it would fall to earth. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he would not be wrong.

Anyone, of course, could have taken two objects, one heavy and one light, and dropped them from a great height to see whether or not the heavier object landed first. But no one did until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death.

In 1589 Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Then he went to the top and pushed off a ten-pound and a one-pound weight. Both landed at the same instant. The power of belief was so strong, however, that the professors denied their eyesight. They continued to believe Aristotle was right.

While it is easy to find that illustration amusing, it should serve as a reminder for leaders that we must be careful about the assumptions we make as we lead our organizations. The most dangerous thing a leader can do is to assume that the way the company has operated the past twenty years will be good enough for the next twenty, or that morale is good because no one tells you otherwise, or that your leadership is still effective.

There is an old adage about making assumptions and what the end result is. A wise leader will call old assumptions into question and evaluate where he is and whether he is on the right track in moving forward. To help you understand where you are and if old assumptions are holding you back, ponder these three questions.

Are your assumptions based on old facts or new realities? In Aristotle’s day, his pronouncement that the heavier object would fall to earth faster became a settled belief. It was faulty in its facts but nonetheless perceived to be true.

Companies that rely on outdated facts and methods of operation are limited to the potential of those facts. As new realities emerge, outdated facts will only serve to choke out the life and potential of the company. The faulty assumption is that you cannot adapt to the present without somehow disrespecting the past. I strongly disavow that notion and warn leaders not to fall prey to that false assumption. You can embrace new realities while preserving your principles.

Is your future as a leader hindered by old assumptions? Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of his day and to challenge his wisdom would be an unspeakable offense. So the people of his day did what many do now-- they adopted the philosophy of “go along to get along”. In doing so, otherwise nice people ignorantly went along with the conventional wisdom of the day.

John Agno said, “Leaders are born with an innate talent to question conventional wisdom.’ And this is a necessary endeavor if your company is going to survive. Aristotle’s fallacy became a settled fact. It was left unchecked for nearly 2,000 years until someone dared to think differently. Until old assumptions are challenged can you honestly say you have reached your full potential? Don’t hold yourself or your company back by living in the past.

Can you handle the truth? When Aristotle’s long held belief was put to the test and proven wrong by Galileo in 1589, the assembled group of professors refused to believe what they saw. They held on to the old assumption in spite of the evidence. Old assumptions die hard.

Writing in his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber says, “Old lines are blurring and blending. And solutions are becoming more creative, innovative, and effective. What happens when old categories no longer fit reality? You can keep trying to cram new realities into old categories. Or you can invent new categories that fit new realities. One path leads to irrelevance. The other leads to innovation.” And this new reality places you at the crossroads.

How safe are your assumptions? As you embrace new realities, be prepared to move forward with renewed innovation and opportunity.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Litmus Test for Leaders – ‘Is this thing still flying?’

The reward for being a good problem solver is to be heaped with more and more difficult problems to solve.
- Buckminster Fuller

Writing for Reader’s Digest a few years back, Captain Alan Bean writes about his Apollo 12 mission. Bean states, “Test pilots have a litmus test for evaluating problems. When something goes wrong, they ask,”Is this thing still flying?” If the answer is yes, then there’s no immediate danger, no need to overreact.

When Apollo 12 took off, the spacecraft was hit by lightning. The entire console began to glow with orange and red trouble lights. There was a temptation to “Do Something!” But the pilots asked themselves, “Is this thing still flying in the right direction?” The answer was yes – it was headed to the moon. They let the lights glow as they addressed the individual problems, and watched orange and red lights blink out, one by one. That’s something to think about in any pressure situation. If your thing is flying, think first, and then act.”

Bean describes the litmus test that test pilots use to prepare for any scenario that comes their way. Likewise, a wise leader, while not obsessing over things that can go wrong, must exercise a degree of competence and skill that puts his company on sound footing in times of crisis.

The questions the test pilots ask are ones that will serve you well as a leader. The questions are tactical, and with the guidance of a steady leader will be an asset to your company. When things go wrong here are three questions to ask.

Is this thing still flying?—Evaluation. Bean observed that the temptation is to "do something!" Human nature dictates that when something bad happens we are to respond. But at times, our response is disproportionate to the size of the problem. In our knee-jerk reactions, we overreact.

Maya Lin said, “To fly we have to have resistance.” What perceptive leaders understand is that not all resistance is negative. While some may think the obstacles the company faces will ground them, a wise leader sees it as the very thing needed to give them flight.

When trouble comes and testing occurs the first reaction is not action, it is asking the right question – “is this thing still flying?” When a leader accurately answers this question setting the right course becomes much easier.

Is this thing still flying in the right direction? – Observation. This is critical to the success of the mission. If you are not on the right course, it doesn’t matter how fast you are flying, you will only get to the wrong destination quicker.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “The great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” The test of your leadership and that of your organization is not whether you can face times of adversity and testing, but whether you can honestly evaluate where you are and what, if anything, you need to do about it. If you can answer the first two questions then it is time to honestly answer the third.

Is the right leadership in place? – Competence. Not all test pilots become astronauts. While their skills and abilities are admirable, not all have the right stuff. When it comes to the astronaut corps, only the best are chosen.

While it is a delicate question to ask, it is a legitimate one that needs an answer. It could be that that the leader that brought you to where you are will not, nor should be, the one to take you forward. Better to have the right leader in times of adversity than the wrong leader in times of prosperity.

How you evaluate problems as a leader will determine how your team perceives them and how they will overcome them. Evaluate properly, observe wisely, and be sure the right leader is showing the way.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Trusted Leaders in Troubled Times

Difficulties exist to be surmounted.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a major speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on the state of the economy. In the speech he sought to reassure financial markets that the Federal Reserve did foresee a slow recovery, and that the Fed was prepared to offer more support if necessary. The speech came as the Commerce Department released revised downward second quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers showing growth at just 1.6 percent.

The current state of the economy by any standard has people worried. The housing market remains sluggish, the stock market is vulnerable, and unemployment numbers are still troublesome. Add to the mix the partisan divide as the mid-term elections approach and we have a picture of a nation in turmoil.

Trusted leaders are not made in difficult times, they are revealed. Beethoven said, “This is the mark of a really admirable man; steadfastness in the face of trouble.” Whether you are the CEO of a large corporation or the owner of a small business struggling to make ends meet, a climate of trust and hope can alleviate many worries. Can faith and trust be restored in your organization in these troubled times? Yes it can, and here are a few ways in which you can make it happen.

Keep the vision before your team. I read a fascinating story by Don McCullough about Winston Churchill. In the story he writes about the time in which England needed to increase its production of coal. Churchill called together labor leaders to enlist their support. At the end of his presentation he asked them to picture in their minds a parade which he knew would be held in Piccadilly Circus after the war.

First, he said, would come the sailors who had kept the vital sea lanes open. Then would come the soldiers who had come home from Dunkirk and then gone on to defeat Rommel in Africa. Then would come the pilots who had driven the Luftwaffe from the sky.

Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner's caps. Someone would cry from the crowd, “and where were you during the critical days of our struggle?' And from ten thousand throats would come the answer, 'we were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.’”

Presently your team may feel they are deep in the trenches with their faces to the coal. As you keep the vision before them you can inspire them with the confidence needed to endure troubled times.

Keep the faith in your team. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “When you affirm big, believe big, and pray big, big things happen.” If there was ever a time in which your team could use your voice of faith and encouragement it is now.

I am reminded of the story from Bits & Pieces about American painter John Sargent. He once painted a panel of roses that was highly praised by his critics. It was a small picture, but it approached perfection. Although offered a high price for it on many occasions, he refused to sell it. He considered it his best work and was very proud of it. When he was deeply discouraged and doubtful of his abilities as an artist, he would look at it and remind himself, “I painted that.” Then his confidence and ability would come back.

We are indeed living in challenging times. Your team is not exempt from temptations to fall prey to discouragement as they glance at the news headlines. Yet when your team has reminders of the vision before them and your voice of faith behind them, the possibilities for all of you are endless.

C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” When vision and faith come together in the hearts of your team, troubled times will be remembered not for the struggle, but as the defining moment that your team came together went to the next level.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson