Saturday, January 30, 2010

Halos, Egos, and Politicos – The Call for Authentic Leadership

John Maxwell shares a story about a man who suffered from constant headaches who went to see his doctor.

“I don’t know why I keep getting these terrible headaches,” he lamented. “I don’t drink like so many other people do. I don’t smoke like so many other people do. I don’t overeat like so many other people do. I don’t run around like so many other people do. I don’t-“

At this point, the doctor interrupted him. “Tell me,” the physician asked, “this pain you complain of, is it a sharp shooting pain?” “Yes,” the man answered. “And does it hurt here, here, and here?” the doctor asked indicating three places around his head. “Yes,” the man replied hopefully, “that’s it exactly.”

“Simple,” the doctor said, rendering his diagnosis. “Your problem is that you have your halo on too tight.”

Leaders come in every style and manner imaginable. While no leader is perfect, there are warning signs – red flags if you will, that need to be identified. The call to authentic leadership begins when we expose the red flags that prevent authentic leadership from flourishing. Consider with me the characteristics of the leader with the halo, the ego, and the politico.

The leader with the halo, like the man in the joke, has an image issue. The great philosopher Popeye once said, “I am what I am.” But for the halo leader, his real identity is a mystery. Perception over reality is what he prefers.

Authenticity is a foundational stone for success for any leader. The road to success as a leader is paved with setbacks, failures, and disappointments. While perceived as a sign of weakness, the leader with the halo can find great fulfillment when coming to terms with his humanity. Not only is it liberating for the leader, it usually comes as no surprise to those around him.

Authentic leadership begins when we wear the mantle of transparency and take off the halo. The halo hides you, transparency reveals you. When you reveal yourself, flaws and all, people will embrace you.

The leader with the ego has a realness issue. How many leaders have you encountered that are so stuck on themselves that they are unpleasant to be around? There is a fundamental difference between confidence in ones abilities and gifts to succeed (humility) and artificial self-worth (arrogance).

Authentic leadership has a vested interest in the lives and well-being of others. In the life of your organization and the credibility of your leadership style, is there anything more important? Dale Carnegie 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.”

There is a fundamental difference between a healthy perception of your God-given talents (a gift), and self-assumptions (pretense) that alienates you.

The politico leader has a relationship issue. Within many an organization exists the proverbial “office politics.” While it may be seen as a “necessary evil” to “play the game”, nothing destroys organizational morale more than politics.

Larry Hardiman said, “The word ‘politics” is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning, ‘blood sucking parasites.’” In many respects, this is what happens when leadership places politics over principle.

Authentic leaders are relationship builders and are aware of the temptations that office politics presents and the damage it can cause. When healthy relationships exist within the organization the degree of office politics is diminished.

Authentic leadership is restored when halos lose their shine, egos are checked at the door, and office politics is discouraged. We need, as Barbara De Angelis said, “to find the courage to say no to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.”

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Leaders That Go The Distance

On September 6, 1995, thousands of fans packed Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles were playing host to the California Angels. President Bill Clinton was in attendance, but only as a spectator to the history that was about to be made.

The history being made this night would be voted by fans as the “Most Memorable Moment” in baseball history. In the fourth inning Cal Ripken, Jr. stepped to the plate and hit a homerun. As thrilling as that moment was, history still had not been made. After the Angels’ half of the fifth inning was over, it was official. The 56-year record held by Lou Gehrig for the most consecutive games played (2,130), now belonged to “The Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr.

A Hall of Fame player, Ripken was the ultimate role model for little leaguers and aspiring major league players both then and now. He is a member of the 3,000 hit club including 431 home runs. Ripken continued the consecutive game streak by an additional 502 games, a record that still stands at 2,632 games.

After breaking Gehrig’s record, Ripken said, “Tonight, I stand here, overwhelmed, as my name is linked with the great and courageous Lou Gehrig, I'm truly humbled to have our names spoken in the same breath. Some may think our strongest connection is because we played many consecutive games. Yet I believe in my heart that our true link is a common motivation-a love of the game of baseball, a passion for our team and a desire to compete on the very highest level.”

Leaders who go the distance can learn valuable lessons from Ripken and his example. John Maxwell said, “The heartbeat of leaders is what they love to do. The priorities of leaders is what they have to do…” Are you a leader who is willing to go the distance to be the best you can be? Leaders who go the distance have an understanding of these three principles.

Leaders who go the distance have clear priorities. Never has there been a time when it is so easy to be distracted by the “tyranny of the urgent’. Dwight Eisenhower said, “The older I get the more wisdom I find in the ancient rule of taking first things first-a process which often reduces the most complex human problem to a manageable proportion.”

The more advanced we become in terms of technology and communications the more distracted we become. Leaders who go the distance are individuals who not only have a clear agenda but are executing it. While it might sound monotonous, a 56-year record broken by Ripken was done on days when I am sure he didn’t feel like it. Once priorities are settled, it opens new doors to enjoy the second characteristic.

Leaders who go the distance are passionate. Once again, hear the words of Ripken, “Yet, I believe in my heart that our true link is a common motivation-a love of the game of baseball, a passion for our team…” Without a love for the game and passion to energize him, Ripken would not have broken the record.

What about you? What is your passion? The pursuit of your passion is realized when you have a clear set of priorities that guide you and keep you on the right path. Warren G. Bennis once said, “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and his dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.” It’s the same with your passion. Priorities will be there to keep you on track.

Leaders who go the distance fulfill their purpose. Leadership’s ultimate achievement is not to attain a title or position. It is to expand your sphere of influence for good and to causes greater than yourself. Kenneth Hildebrand summarized it correctly when he said, “Strong lives are motivated by strong purposes.”

Now retired from baseball, Cal Ripken, Jr. devotes his time and energy for causes through his foundation. His purpose now is to support little league baseball and many other notable charities. As remarkable as his baseball career was, his lasting legacy- that of fulfilling his purpose is truly inspiring.

Are you a leader ready to go the distance? Set your priorities, embrace your passion, live your purpose.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction…Or Can I?

I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no satisfaction
‘Cause I try and I try and I try and try
I can’t get no, I can’t get no
-Rolling Stones

In 1965, the Rolling Stones released their hit song, (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. Satisfaction is the first of eight singles to reach number one in the U.S. The last song to hit number one was Miss You, released in 1978. The Rolling Stones have released more than 50 albums and are one of rock music’s most enduring legends.

I read two interesting articles of late about attitudes in the workplace. And depending one which account you read, satisfaction either abounds or as the Stones’ song suggests, there is no satisfaction.

In a recent report by The Conference Board, the U.S. job satisfaction level in the United States is at a two decade low. According to the report, “based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Boar by TNS, finds that only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted.”

Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board says, “The downward trend in job satisfaction could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity.”

The Conference Board research said this downward trend is disturbing in that these numbers “negatively affects employee behavior and retention which directly impacts enterprise-level success.” The research said that 22 percent of the respondents said they don’t expect to be in their current jobs in a year.

A second article I found interesting was from announcing the winners of the best companies to work for. Employee responses were gathered between December 2008 and December 2009 and included questions on career opportunities, compensation, benefits and the ability to balance a work life with a personal life. More than 10,000 companies were considered among 100,000 employees.

The best company to work for in 2009 based upon the responses was Southwest Airlines. Responses from Southwest Airlines employees give insight as to why it’s such a good place to work. “Freedom to be myself and explore the best way to do my job,” writes one employee. Another says, “The respect that you receive at any rank within the company is not comparable with any other experience I have had to date.”

As impressive as the responses were to employee satisfaction at Southwest Airlines, the approval rating for Vice Chairman and CEO Gary C. Kelly was quite remarkable.

Kelly received a 94 percent approval rating. While there may be many people not satisfied with their jobs, clearly the employees at Southwest Airlines are quite happy with theirs, and their boss.

So what is the game changer between a Southwest Airlines employee who wouldn’t think about leaving his job and the employee who says they won’t be at their current job in a year? Perhaps it’s a subjective question and individual answers would vary according to circumstances and a host of other variables.

I happen to believe that satisfaction in the workplace is attainable, but not a guarantee. The secret rests with the leadership at the helm and the culture they create. Here are three simple principles I believe that can foster a work environment that can lead to satisfaction.

Satisfaction occurs when leadership empowers and trusts its people. Without a foundation of trust for the talents and gifts of the people in your organization, satisfaction can never be achieved. When the people in your organization get the feeling that whatever they accomplish is never enough, or good enough, morale is lost and satisfaction will always remain out of reach.

Satisfaction occurs when excellence is the standard. When excellent service and products is the norm, then satisfaction is a sure thing. In his book, The Fred Factor, my friend Mark Sanborn ( writes, “The things you do, both small and large, cumulatively create a lifestyle that becomes apparent to anybody paying the slightest attention. It’s that kind of example that most influences others.” Excellence is an influence that generates a satisfaction that is contagious.

Satisfaction occurs when communication is strong. Strong communication within your organization is crucial to your success and to your bottom line. A quote from Fortune said, “It’s a shame when people can’t communicate. When they’re managers in your company, it’s a catastrophe.”

The challenge of effective leadership and creating satisfaction in the workplace comes through a leader who is in touch with his people and is communicating with them. A courageous leader is the one who is not afraid to get out of the office. The most effective communication is that which comes through relationship.

While not an exhaustive list of ways in which to build satisfaction in the workplace, it’s a good start. For if you practice these, and try and try and try—there can be satisfaction.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Power of a Big Dream

On a recent family visit to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, I took my daughters by the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr.

I was seven years old when King was struck down. I have gone by the Lorraine numerous times over the years to remember King and his amazing legacy. Next week we will celebrate his memory with a holiday in his honor.

Aristotle said, “Hope is a waking dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly a man whose dream awakened a nation and helped right the course of our history. Though taken from us way too early, we can still learn lessons from him when we challenge ourselves to live big dreams.

Big dreams inspire us to greater causes. On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands descended on the Mall in Washington, D.C. to hear King deliver his famous I Have a Dream speech. In it he said, “This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

King was a crusader for equality of rights, not just for black people but for all races. His dream was for a cause greater than himself in which he was relentless in pursuing. How about you? What is your dream and is it for a cause greater than self?

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber asks a rather interesting question. “Would you rather have a tepid success with something that doesn’t matter or a brilliant failure with something that does?” You see, a big dream will set you on a course of action and for a cause that is greater than you. The size of your dream will determine the sphere of your influence. The greater your influence the greater the impact you will have.

Big dreams inspire us to greater challenges. In the speech King continued, “As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back… I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells…You have been veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”

While tempted to bask in the glory of a dream achieved, we must remember that dreams are achieved through sacrifice and hard work. Dreams have a tendency to die not because the dream is unworthy, but because the dreamer gave up too soon. Anatole France said, “To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.” King not only dreamed big but he acted on it. Your dream becomes a reality when your heart grows legs and you take the first steps toward achieving it.

Big dreams inspire us with greater courage. King understood the necessity of his dream. He said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Many people look at King’s speech that day and remember his powerful oratory skills, and rightfully so. But even more powerful than his delivery was the power of his words. As he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that August day, King didn’t just deliver a good speech, he delivered courage and inspiration. He emboldened people to not just dream, but to believe that they could be the ones to go forth and make it a reality.

Big dreams have a way of stretching us. John F. Kennedy said, “We need men who can dream of things that never were.” Big dreams should not just elevate our imaginations but our hearts to causes greater than ourselves, empower us to face the challenges that will come, and give us the courage to overcome them.

What is your dream?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Leading Like Geese

At this time of the year it’s not uncommon to see geese flying across the evening sky.
One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that leadership lessons can be found all around us if we are paying attention. Yoggi Berra once mused, “You can learn a lot by watching.”

Tom Worsham in “Are you a Goose” shares a fascinating story about geese that reflects a lot on leadership principles.

He writes, “When you see geese heading south for the winter flying along in a “V” formation, you might be interested in knowing that science has discovered why they fly that way. Research has revealed that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately behind it. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. It quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the “V” and another goose flies the point.

The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. And finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gunfire and falls out, two other geese fall out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with the goose until it is either able to fly again or dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their group. Whoever was the first to call another person a “silly goose” didn’t know enough about geese.”

In as much as the story of the geese is not new, neither are the leadership lessons we learn from them. These are simple reminders that will help keep you on course. Consider these three observations.

Geese teach us that we can accomplish more when we work as a team. Individual talent, as impressive as it may be, is multiplied when we joins forces with others.

Greg Werner observed, “The life of a high achiever is one of give and receive. We receive that which we are first willing to give out. Therefore, to grow and achieve we must first be willing to help others grow and achieve, and, in doing so, the light of reciprocal achievement will brightly shine upon us.”

People who share a common vision, mission, and purpose, like the geese, attain that goal faster and more efficiently when they work together. Just as geese generate thrust as they travel together, your teams’ thrust will allow you to accomplish more when you stay together.

Geese teach us the power of unity. Solidarity of mission and purpose gives strength to the goals of the organization and make attaining them more realistic and attainable. An African proverb wisely states, “When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.”

Flying together gives lift to the team. Unity in the workplace is defined not just by the slaps on the back when it succeeds, but in lifting up a teammates hand when she is down. A unified team wants everyone to succeed.

Geese teach us to share the load. Each team member possesses different skills and abilities to accomplish the goals of the team. On any given project, you may be the point man to bring the team to victory. On another project someone else may have the right talents and skills to accomplish the mission.

John Maxwell said, “People come together as teams, peers work together, and they make progress because they want the best idea to win.’ The formula for success is the same across the board; the team succeeds when we let the best idea wins out.

Don’t allow insecurity to cripple the productivity of your organization and its progress. Set office politics aside and rally around the best idea and the best team member for the project. A strong leader gladly shares the lead on projects and is a model team player. When the team shares the load its work is more productive and the rewards much greater.

2010 has taken flight. Take a look at your organization and its formation. Are you headed in the right direction?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson