Saturday, July 31, 2010

Innovators of Opportunity

I dream for a living.
- Steven Spielberg

I read a story from Bits & Pieces about the Irish Potato Famine (1846-1851) which resulted in a 30 percent drop in population of the west of Ireland. The prolonged suffering of the Irish peasantry had broken the survivors in body and spirit.

John Bloomfield, the owner of the Castle Caldwell in County Fermanagh, was working on the recovery of his estate when he noticed that the exteriors of his tenant farmers’ small cottages had a vivid white finish. He was informed that there was a clay deposit on his property of unusually fine quality. To generate revenue and provide employment on his estate, he built a pottery at the village of Belleek in 1857. The unusually fine clay yielded porcelain china that was translucent with a glass-like finish. It was worked in to traditional Irish designs and was an immediate success.

Today, Belleek’s delicate strength and its iridescent pearlized gl`ze is enthusiastically purchased the world over. The multimillion-dollar industry arose from innovative thinking during some very anxious times.

Today we continue to experience the effects of a recession, unemployment remains high, and many are struggling to make ends meet. Through the eyes of history we understand the cyclical nature of the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity.

The resilient leader when faced with anxious times is an innovator of opportunity that gives way to a better day. What are the leadership characteristics of these innovators?

Innovators are resilient in hardship. Given the choice, no one prefers to go through famine or recession. But innovative leaders find ways to meet the challenge and give hope to those around him. When difficult times come, innovators tend to revert back to the basics that made them strong to begin with.

Writing for, Andrew Beattie says, “The biggest benefit of hard times is that companies get hurt for inefficiencies that they laughed off in better times. A recession means general fat trimming for companies, from which they should emerge stronger, and that’s good for investors.” As in the famine, today’s leader finds ways to emerge stronger than before.

Charles Dickens said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for another.” Resilient leaders lift the spirits of the broken to believe that while today you might be in a famine, clay in the dirt tomorrow can bring new hope.

Innovators are not afraid to get dirty. It was when Bloomfield was working on the recovery of his estate that he noticed the white finish on the exterior of the cottages. The discovery of the clay deposits was the prelude to the creation of a multimillion-dollar porcelain china business.

When faced with the adversities of life, innovative leaders refuse to wallow in despair. Be it by design or unexpected discovery; leaders are purveyors of solutions by which everyone around them reaps the rewards. Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed up in overalls and looks like work.” Bloomfield was not sitting idly by, his hands were dirty and the payoff was astounding.

Innovators retool their thinking. The same ground that was the source of their famine has now becomes the source of their fortune. How you look at your circumstances can either hold you back or move you forward. The solution to your problem is not as far away as you might think. The challenge of the innovative leader is to look under the rocks with a fresh set of eyes to the possibilities before him.

An old story from Reader’s Digest illustrates the power of right thinking and a positive outlook. It describes how both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over our nation's deserts. All vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. They thrive on that diet. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They live on the past. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for. We all do.

Benjamin Disraeli said, “The great secret of success in life is for the man to be ready when his opportunity comes.” Opportunities are knocking, are you ready?

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Earning the Right to Serve

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.
- Albert Einstein

I will never forget driving through a small Florida town many years ago. As I drove past a small family diner there was a sign out front that read, “Come in and eat before we both starve.” While meant to be humorous, the sign is as pertinent now as it was years ago. The owners were dependant upon patrons for their business, and consumers with an appetite appreciate the value and service of a nice place to eat.

In one word John Maxwell defined leadership as influence. And if influence is the one word by which leadership can be defined, service is the fuel by which it operates. William J.H. Boetcker said, “The more you learn what to do with yourself, and the more you do for others, the more you will learn to enjoy the abundant life.” Once leaders wrap their hearts and minds around the concept of service, it will change not only the culture within your organization, it will separate you from your competitors as well.

Creating a culture of service within your organization begins with a basic sense of purpose and understanding as to why you exist. For your team it is the recognition and understanding that the customers which you rely upon are not a distraction, a nuisance, nor an interruption, in fact, they are the reason you exist. Yet the concept of service transcends how we treat the customer, it also is a reflection of how within the organization you treat one another.

Carrie Chapman Catt said, “Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture in life.” While it is true that good service is good for business, living a life of service to others is good for everyone.

Service is a difference maker, be it with your customers, your team, or in any other venture in which you can find yourself useful. Here are three things to understand with regard to service and how it develops a meaningful life.

Who you serve is a reflection of your priorities. Everyone wants to make a difference and live a life of significance. Dave Thomas said, “Unselfish and noble actions are the most radiant pages in the biography of souls.” Thomas is a great example of a leader who served others by promoting his Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption which has helped children find loving homes since the inception of the foundation in 1991.

Who you serve reaches beyond your customer base and touches countless lives through service organizations and programs that you believe in. The philosophy is simple; find a need and do your part to meet it. While those you serve will be appreciative, internally you are creating a culture in your organization that understands that you are serving causes greater than yourself.

How you serve is a reflection of your heart. Emily Yellin, the author of Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us, says, “Some really backward companies still view customer service as merely an inescapable nuisance. Realize that most of the world is moving on from that retro view.” A wise leader understands that it does not matter if the product is superior, if the service is terrible, the customer can always gn somewhere else.

Joseph Joubert said, “A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve.” Acts of kindness should not be random but standard. How we treat clients, our colleagues, and our families, are found in making kindness a practice. You may not choose who you serve in your business, but you do choose how you will treat them.

Why you serve is a reflection of your motives. Albert Einstein eloquently said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” While serving others is beneficial to your bottom line, builds a strong customer base, and builds morale within your organization, it is humbling to know that a greater cause is being served.

Service transcends customer relations and the existence of your product. In the end, what you have done to touch and impact the lives of others is what will truly make a difference. It is then you will understand the power of serving.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 1:50 Ratio and the Power of Encouragement

There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.
- Katharine Hathaway

A story is told of Edward Steichen who became one of the world’s most renowned photographers. He almost gave up on the day he shot his first pictures. At 16, young Steichen bought a camera and took 50 photographs. Only one turned out – a portrait of his youngest sister at the piano.

Edward’s father thought that was a poor showing. But his mother insisted that the photograph of his sister was so beautiful that it more than compensated for 49 failures. Her encouragement convinced him to stick with his new hobby. He stayed with it for the rest of his life, but it had been a close call. What tipped the scales? The vision to spot excellence in the midst of a lot of failure.

Steichen’s renowned career as a photographer, painter, and curator, was birthed by the power of words spoken to him at an early age by a thoughtful mother who believed in his abilities. Her example is testament to the power of encouragement and the impact of what I call 1:50 leadership principles.

The 1:50 ratio is a leadership principle which believes that the power of encouragement is meant to elevate the morale, confidence, and productivity of your organization. Johann von Goethe said, “Instruction does much, but encouragement does everything.” While instruction is a blueprint, encouragement is the fuel that moves your organization forward. So, what are the 1:50 ratio principles that leaders possess?

The 1:50 leader believes that your best days are ahead of you. It might have been easy for young Steichen’s mother to join the chorus of the father who believed the exercise of taking pictures was futile. When the numbers are against you and what you have done is considered as failure by some, along comes a 1:50 leader who takes a second look.

“Originality,” as Thomas Higginson said, “is simply a fresh pair of eyes.” The difference between 49 bad pictures and one that can launch a prolific career is found in the eyes of the encourager. The difference maker is one leader who in her heart believes the best and dares to speak it.

The 1:50 leader believes that your failures are not final. Steichen’s mother was convinced that the picture was so good that it more than compensated for the 49 failures. How do you see your team? Do you believe that your organization, despite the economy, and all other obstacles it faces is capable of success?

A 1:50 leader knows that failure can be demoralizing. He understands that the difference between a team member throwing in the towel in despair and success is words of encouragement that motivates him to take one more picture. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, “Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.” A 1:50 leader is there to build up and to see others reach their full potential.

The 1:50 leader believes that you can make a difference. The critical moment comes when faced with the decision that only you can make. Edward’s father was of the opinion that the hobby was not worth pursuing; his mother believed it was. All some people need as they stand in the valley of decision is one word of encouragement that propels them to their destiny.

A 1:50 leader defies all odds and dares to believe in his team. He speaks words of encouragement with conviction in such a way that failure is not an option. Yes, the 1:50 leader can make a difference.

When faced with what may seem to be insurmountable obstacles before you, consider the words of Thomas Edison who said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” Moving forward begins with a belief in your heart that the steps before you are not a trap but a blessing, and that your words will encourage others to take the journey with you.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost in Translation – 3 Keys to Meaningful Communication

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.
- Anne Morrow Lindbergh ‘Gift from the Sea’

Prudence Leith in her book, Pardon Me, But You’re Eating My Doily, shares her favorite catering disaster regarding a couple who went to the Far East on holiday. They wanted, besides their own supper, something to give to their poodle.

Pointing to the dog, they made international eating signs. The waiter understood, picked up the poodle, and set off for the kitchen—only to return half an hour later with the roasted poodle on a platter.

How often in your organization has the effectiveness of your communication been about as productive as it was for the couple at dinner? It seems that the more advanced we have become with the age of new media phenomenon’s such as Twitter and Facebook, etc., the greater the challenges of personal interaction and communication have become.

Success in your business is dependant not just upon the modern conveniences of today’s technology, but on the power of personal relationships. Whether communicating with your staff, potential clients, or your family, you will need to develop a strong set of communication skills that will empower you to win. Consider these three keys to meaningful communication.

Speak from your heart. When your team hears what is coming from your heart it will move them to respond in a manner more fulfilling than just responding to policy directives. While day-to-day operations are essential to your operation, communication from the heart transcends office procedure to an understanding of the larger picture- your organization's mission.

John Maxwell says, “Few things increase the credibility of leaders more than adding value to the people around them.” This is especially true when it comes to communicating from the heart. In doing so, your team will have a greater appreciation for your vision and will rally around you to achieve it. Meaningful communication begins when you speak from your heart.

Look them in the eye. There is something to be said for face-to-face communication. The way I read an email, for example, may be totally different from the way that you do. Implied tones, inflections, or attitudes are assumptions I make that may not necessarily reflect the intent of the sender. Yet when I look into the eyes of the person(s) I am speaking with it clears up any doubts, builds relationships, and breeds trust.

Bruce Burton said, “For good or ill, your conversation is your advertisement. Every time you open your mouth you let men look into your mind. Do they see it well clothed, neat or businesswise?” The most important information regarding your organization deserves the most meaningful form of communication. Don’t let your team read about it; show up, look them in the eyes, and speak from your heart.

Listen with passion. Effective leaders understand that the most important ingredient of meaningful communication is listening. The next time you are sitting around the conference table take a look at who is trying to control the conversation and who is actually listening, it might surprise you.

A story is told about Broadway producer Jed Harris who once became convinced he was losing his hearing. He visited a specialist, who pulled out a gold watch and asked "Can you hear this ticking?" "Of course," Harris replied. The specialist walked to the door and asked the question again. Harris concentrated and said, "Yes, I can hear it clearly." Then the doctor walked into the next room and repeated the question a third time. A third time Harris said he could hear the ticking. "Mr. Harris," the doctor concluded, "there is nothing wrong with your hearing. You just don't listen."

Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” Meaningful communication begins when you understand that your organization depends on it and that it begins with you.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Great Bambino and the Value of Loyalty

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.

- Henry Ford

As the midsummer All Star game approaches, I am reminded of a story about one of the all-time baseball greats, Babe Ruth. His bat had the power of a cannon, and his record of 714 home runs remained unbroken until Hank Aaron came along. The Babe was the idol of sports fans, but in time age took its toll, and his popularity began to wane.

Finally the Yankees traded him to the Braves. In one of his last games in Cincinnati, Babe Ruth began to falter. He struck out and made several misplays that allowed the Reds to score five runs in one inning. As the Babe walked toward the dugout, chin down and dejected, there rose from the stands an enormous storm of boos and catcalls. Some fans actually shook their fists.

Then a wonderful thing happened. A little boy jumped the railing, and with tears streaming down his cheeks he ran out to the great athlete. Unashamedly, he flung his arms around the Babe’s legs and held on tightly. Babe Ruth scooped him up, hugged him, and set him down again. Patting him gently on the head, he took his hand and the two of them walked off the field together.

The story of the Babe serves as a reminder of the power of loyalty as seen through the innocence of a child. Not deterred by the advantage of having years to watch Ruth’s game decline, the young boy still esteemed Ruth as the baseball great he had been, not for what he had become in his twilight years.

Through the eyes of an unnamed boy come principles of loyalty and compassion that can empower leaders for greater service. The most effective means by which to empower your team and solidify your leadership skills comes down to understanding these three simple lessons.

In success you gather a following. When the Babe was on top of his game; cranking out home runs and winning titles, it was easy to be on his bandwagon. Success is like that. Everyone likes a winner. Irving Berlin said, “The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in business. You’ve got to keep working that talent.”

While it is normal to understand how loyalty is built in times of success, true loyalty is manifest during the down times. It is just human nature, be it in sports, or business, to pull for a winner. Loyalty and goodwill is built in the good times, but as Berlin said, you’ve got to keep working that talent.

In failure you gather your friends. While fans may be fickle, your friends will be with you to the end. Babe Ruth achieved a level of success that others in the game would envy. His fans were treated to an era of the game that was truly inspiring. Yet, in the sunset of his career, he was heckled.

Somerset Maugham said, “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter.” Maugham’s observation is spot on with regard to how Ruth embraced the little boy who emerged from the stands. Instead of brushing him aside, Ruth kindly embraced him, and held his hand as they walked off the field.

Someone once said, “Loyalty is faithfulness, and effort, and enthusiasm. It is common decency plus common sense. Loyalty is making yourself part of an organization-making it part of you.” This is a proper understanding of loyalty’s high and noble calling. Cling to it during the good times and lean on it during the down times, but never underestimate the power of it.

In humility you garner admiration. Whether as one of the most beloved baseball players of all time, or the leader of your organization, serving in humility is an indispensible quality of leadership. In the good times and bad, humility will be an endearing quality recognized and rewarded by those close to you.

John Rusk eloquently said, “I believe that the first test of a truly great man is humility. I do not mean by humility, doubt of his own power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.”

Serve in humility, keep your friends close, and enjoy the journey. As you do, you will be the leader others will always cheer for.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson