Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leadership Lessons from March Madness

I may not always be right, but no one can ever accuse me of not having a genuine love and passion for whatever I do.
-Dick Vitale

So, how are your brackets looking? Busted? Mine, too. Like many others, I picked Kansas to take it all. Not that I particularly like Kansas, but because I, like so many others, thought it was theirs to lose.

Strange things happen during March Madness. And just when you think you are safe with picks like Kansas and Syracuse, the unthinkable happens.

It reminds of the story from Reader’s Digest years back involving Les Henson, a six foot, six-inch senior forward on the Virginia Tech basketball team. With two seconds to go and the score tied at 77, Henson grabbed a rebound off the Florida State backboard a foot from the baseline and threw the ball overhand to his own basket.

“It was eerie- you couldn’t hear a thing in the arena,” Henson recalled later. “Then it just swished through the hoop” – from 89 feet, 3 inches away, making it the longest field goal in college basketball history. And Henson, who shoots with his left hand, had done it with a right-handed throw.

How the rest of the Final Four goes, I dare not predict, but if it plays out anything like what’s been seen so far, it should be interesting. As a fan of basketball and a student of leadership, I have made a few observations that leaders can learn from.

Conventional wisdom is not always correct. As mentioned already, many brackets were busted when Northern Iowa, the number nine seed, toppled number one seed Kansas. The selection of Kansas to win in all was a safe choice. By choosing Kansas I was in good company.

In this time in which we live, conventional wisdom is not always correct. Anthony Robbins said, “Create a vision and never let the environment, other people’s beliefs, or the limits of what has been done in the past shape your decisions. Ignore conventional wisdom.”

Embracing the vision that is within you is a choice to listen to your heart and sometimes not follow the path of least resistance, but to get on the path that others tell you to avoid. A wise leader is carving out a new path that leads to the fulfillment of the purposes that destiny has prescribed for him. It may not be conventional wisdom to do so, but to do anything less would be to miss your calling.

Never underestimate the underdog. When Northern Iowa knocked off Kansas and when Butler disposed of Syracuse, not too many would have thought it possible. Two number one seeded teams going down to lesser ranked opponents didn’t seem feasible by many prognosticators.

In the game of basketball as in leadership, those who rise to the top may not have the history of championships past. And on paper they may not match up to their opponents. When teams come together on the basketball court or in the conference room, with the right game plan and determination, a win is possible no mater what the odds are.

You see, leadership is not reading the headlines that predict your loss; it’s about writing the headlines announcing your win. It’s about stepping up to the amazing opportunity that lies before you and defying the skeptics. As the old saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

The big stage brings out the best in everyone. When given the opportunity, teams like Northern Iowa and Butler did not become a shrinking violet. They rose to the occasion and made a statement.

Sir Francis Bacon said, “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” That is what the two teams did – make an opportunity. Through hard work, skill, and determination, they created an opportunity. Whether they make it to the final game or not, they have already proven the point – the big stage brings out the best.

What about you? What are the opportunities before you? What is the big stage that your organization is vying for? I know this, your moment of destiny is fulfilled when you pursue with a love and passion that which springs from your heart.

David McCullough said, “Real success is finding your life work in the work that you love.” When you find that, it’s really not work – it’s passion. That is what propels teams to victory and it’s what makes you the leader you were meant to be.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Recipe for Change

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
-Andy Warhol

Last December Domino’s Pizza announced a major change to their pizza recipe. Considered by many to be a risky move in the highly competitive market, it now appears that the change is paying nice dividends.

In announcing the forthcoming pizza makeover, Domino’s Chief Marketing Officer Russell Weiner issued a very insightful press release that spelled out the changes. A look at the statement reveals a well thought out strategy, and for leaders, an opportunity to learn some key ideas of enacting change.

Change requires a commitment to be relevant. In the statement Weiner said, “The fact is, we love our pizza, but as times change, so do our consumer tastes.” From that statement we learn that the success of any organization is to be relevant.

For a pizza chain or any organization, relevancy is essential to survival. While proud of its product, Domino’s realized that market demands required an overhaul of the product in order to succeed.

Weiner continued, “We’ve created a pizza to reflect what customers are looking for…it’s a completely reinvented pizza from the crust up, and we are proud of it.” Enacting change in any organization can be a challenge. Successful leaders and organizations respond to changing conditions around them and are not afraid to adapt. Steve Jobs said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

Change requires a commitment to excellence. An impressive observation form Weiner’s press release stated that more than 80 percent of Domino’s menu is new since 2008. “The cherry on the top of all of this recent innovation is our newly-inspired pizza. Our inspiration came from the thousands of direct consumer feedback messages on several social media channels,” Weiner said.

As a result of the feedback, Domino’s tested for the next two years dozens of sauces, seasonings, and blends imaginable to in order to perfect their new product. Their commitment to excellence and relevancy was not rushed, but rather years in the making.

A leader enacting change in his organization must also understand that the right change at the wrong time can sink even the best of ideas. Excellence is a process of enacting the best ideas at the right time. Before the launch of the new pizza, Domino’s listened to the consumers, and took their time to be sure that the new product met their expectations.

Weiner added, “With this new pizza we are convinced Domino’s can be known for both quality and service.” Only after countless tests and changes did they unveil their new product. Striving for excellence is what separates good leaders from great ones. In leadership; it is the difference between being satisfied with where you are and striving to be relevant.

Change requires everyone’s involvement. Weiner said, “The entire company has been involved in this. From the CEO to our franchisees; from our supply chain division to our supply partner; from our product development team to our marketers- everyone has had a hand in reinventing our pizza.”

It could be argued that Domino’s still may have had the same success without everyone’s involvement in the process. But certainly, everyone at Domino’s is sharing the credit for the success that it has had since. This is attributed to smart leadership that brought in everyone who would be touched by the change.

Dee Hock said, “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thought into your mind, but how to get old ones out. Every mind is a building filled with archaic furniture. Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” At Domino’s, innovation from the top down is what made their change successful.

According to a report published on, for the quarter ending January 3, Domino’s profits climbed to $23.6 million up from last year’s $11 million. That certainly is a nice rise in dough. Leadership bold enough to change and be relevant is to be credited with the success.

Weiner opened his press release with the statement, “The fact is, we love our pizza…’ In fact you may love your company, your product or service, your personnel, etc. But you must love it enough to be willing to enact change where needed and when needed.

A good recipe for change is a commitment to relevancy, a commitment to excellence, and a commitment to involve everyone. As Johan Wolfgang von Goethe said, “There is nothing more dreadful than imagination without taste.” Imagine the possibilities of what change can do for you.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Monday, March 15, 2010

From Ordinary to Extraordinary – It’s not as far as you think

From Bits & Pieces comes the inspiring story of physicist Richard Feynman. After winning the Nobel prize for his work, he visited his old high school. While there, he decided to look up his records. He was surprised to find that his grades were not as good as he had remembered them. And he got a kick out of the fact that his IQ was 124, not much above average.

Dr. Feynman saw that winning the Nobel prize was one thing, but to win it with an IQ of only 124 was really something. Most of us would agree because we all assume that the winners of Nobel prizes have exceptionally high IQs. Feynman confided that he always assumed that he had.

If Feynman had known he was really just a bit above average in the IQ department, we wonder if he would have had the audacity to launch the unique and creative research experiments that would eventually win him the greatest recognition the scientific community can give.

Perhaps not. Maybe the knowledge that he was a cut above average, but not in the genius category, would have influenced what he tried to achieve. After all, from childhood most of us have been led to believe that ordinary people don't accomplish extraordinary feats.

Most of us fall short of our potential because of little things we know or assume about ourselves. And the most self-defeating assumption of all is that we are just like everyone else.
From ordinary to extraordinary is following the lead of your heart. While Feynman’s grades in high school may not have been a forecast of his future, his heart led him where his grades couldn’t.

Your success as a leader is not dependant on the outward measurements that others use to quantify. Pursuing the passions of the heart as you seek out your goals and ambitions is where you discover the talents and skills that you have.

Louisa May Alcott said, “Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations, I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” As you pursue your dreams chase them with your heart. Your head will catch up.

From ordinary to extraordinary is a belief that nothing is out of your reach. The fact that Feynman didn’t make great grades in high school did not deter him from chasing after his dream. He is credited for his work in quantum mechanics, assisted in the development of the atomic bomb, and was a member of the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Oprah Winfrey said, “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance- and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” From bad grades in high school to quantum mechanics is not an overnight step. Your success will come as you relentlessly pursue the dreams you have and not give up. The leadership seeds that are in you are not lying dormant, they are growing and developing and are ready to spring forth.

From ordinary to extraordinary is taking the first step. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Don’t be too timid or squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Leaders fail not for a lack of vision or ideas, but for never taking the first steps toward achieving them.

One can sit on the sidelines and ponder a dream or get in the game and make it happen. Denis Diderot said, “Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.” You will fulfill your life’s dreams and passions when you decide to take the first steps in making it a reality.

As a leader with the seeds of potential inside you, never settle for anything less than the belief that you can achieve your dreams. Don’t allow the report card to dictate your future. Don’t quit in the middle of the fight. Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close to success they were when they gave up.”

From ordinary to extraordinary is not as far as you think. Keep your eye on the prize and your heart in the hunt. Your days of extraordinary are upon you.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Have Seen the Face of the Pilot

Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a storm that caught a vessel off a rocky coast and threatened to drive it and its passengers to destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring man, contrary to orders, went to the deck, made a dangerous passage to the pilot house and saw the steerman, at his post holding the wheel unwaveringly, and inch by inch, turning the ship out, once more to sea.

The pilot saw the watcher and smiled. Then, the daring passenger went below and gave out a note of cheer: “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well.”

During this time of economic crisis, you may be one of the millions around the country who is either unemployed or among the ranks of the under-employed. You may be the leader in your organization that daily carries the burden of how to meet your next payroll, and whether your company can survive the recession.

A new brand of leaders is being purged and brought forth in the fires of recession. Hardships faced with courage are how the leaders of past generations inspired us. And it is through their example we will emerge as refined leaders. Winston Churchill said, “For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.”

When the man in Stevenson’s story saw the smile on the face of the pilot, he knew that things we going to be fine. While faced with the challenges of this economy and with an understanding of the struggles that many face; let us as leaders do our best to give hope to those in despair. Here are a couple of observations as to how the pilot won them over.

The pilot projected confidence. It is likely the pilot was experiencing the same range of emotions as all the other passengers. Yet during the storm, he had but one mission – to steer the ship to safety. The pilot’s responsibility was to steer the ship away from the danger. A wise Hasidic saying, “The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others,” is worth remembering.

When faced with the challenge of steering your organization in these troubled times, do so with a confidence that inspires others to report back with enthusiasm that all is well. I am sure the ship was tossed and battered, but it came through the storm.

Jerome P. Fleishman said, “Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement- and we will make the goal.” I would like to encourage you to stay strong and believe that your best days are ahead of you.

The pilot projected hope. Defying orders to the contrary, one man made his way to the pilot and, without a word being spoken, got the answer he needed.

In leadership there will always be times of testing and even questioning whether you are up to the challenge. The pilot simply gave the watcher a smile and that was enough for him to share and give hope to the others.

Leadership in the storm is a different creature than leadership in times of smooth sailing. Harold Wilson said, “Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you are scared to death.” My guess is; this was not the first storm the pilot had navigated. And as the pilot held unwaveringly to the wheel, you too will come through your storm if you hold tight to hope.

I understand how tough times are right now and want to inspire you to keep your confidence and hope intact. Katherine Butler Hathaway said, “There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.” I know she is right. Be encouraged today, it will get better; I have seen the face of the pilot.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson