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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power of the Ordinary; How Great Leaders Stay on Top

A great man is always willing to be little.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the arena of conventional wisdom much has been said and written on how to go from good to great as a leader. While much has been penned about how to get to the top it is important to understand how leaders stay there.

John Maxwell said, “Great people have little use for fame or notoriety; they are consumed with productivity, not image. They are content when the moment calls for them to be little, ordinary, or common – as long as the goal is achieved.” While many look to unlock the deep secrets and mysteries of leadership; is it possible to overlook simple characteristics that propel leaders to the top and keep them there? I believe it is, and here are a few observations on how great leaders do it.

Great leaders are comfortable in their own skin; they are authentic. 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.” This is at the heart of leaders who make it to the top. Hang around any great leader long enough and you will soon find that you feel right at home around them. Why? When the leader is at ease others around him will be also and productivity will flourish. Great leaders have nothing to prove and care deeply for those near them.

Great leaders are content to ride shotgun; they delegate. By and large, great leaders did not get to where they are by going it alone. Neither will they remain there without being surrounded by a devoted group of leaders with a shared vision.

Jim Collins said, “The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led – yes. But not tightly managed.” A great leader is great because he gives adequate space to those around him to achieve their full potential.

Great leaders understand the greater purpose of riding shotgun. The leader understands that he will not sit atop his perch forever. Success calls for a successor and riding shotgun is merely driver training for a seamless transition. Leaders delegate for the greater good.

Great leaders are careful to share the limelight; they are humble. All that matters to the leader is that the goals are achieved. Robert Woodruff said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or how far he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” If achieving goals requires the leader to be little, ordinary, or common, then look for the leader to step up for the greater good.

Thomas Merton said, “A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about accidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.”

A great leader demonstrates strength in allowing the light to shine on others. For in understanding the big picture he accurately understands his small role.

Great leaders stay on top not by acts of vanity but rather by acts of mercy. Great leaders dare to be authentic, delegate responsibility, and walk in humility. The secret to understanding how great leaders stay on top is found in the discovery that these were the habits formed from the beginning and have been practiced ever since.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Power to the Doers and Dreamers; Unleashing the Best and Brightest

We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In his book Rules of Thumb, Alan M. Webber writes about the differences between talkers and doers. It is a special relationship in organizational structures between those who talk up great ideas and those who make them happen.

Webber states, “In your company, who gets listened to when it comes to assessing an idea or evaluating a project? If your company is like most, good talkers get taken more seriously than real doers. The people in the field who are closest to the problem and closest to the customer may be useful when it comes to do what our experts have advised.” Herein lies the primary challenge to the discerning leader. How do you take the best and brightest ideas from the talkers and mesh them with the executioners of the vision; the doers? Sound familiar?

Let’s face the fact. Companies need visionaries as well as executioners of the vision. Every organization is dependant upon both for survival. Unfortunately, the marriage between the two can be rocky because each uses a different side of the brain in the process.

In keeping with a marriage metaphor, Dave Meurer said, “A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.” When a leader understands his dependence upon dreamers and doers and creates interdependence between the two, great things can happen for the company. Here are a few simple tips for doers and dreamers and how working together can be a game changer within your company.

Dreamers must defer the details to the doers. It is important to understand the powerful influence of dreamers. T.E. Lawrence said, “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible.”

Think of where your company might be today were it not for the dreamers; those who see the big picture long before others and point the way. Dreamers are invaluable in terms of their creative genius to move the company in the right direction. Yet, when it comes to the execution of the plan, dreamers must give way to the doers.

By deferring to the doers, dreamers are in essence passing the baton as in a race to the ones that can carry the team across the finish line to victory. When dreamers understand that doers can take the vision to completion it no longer becomes a territorial issue but one of what is best for the team. For the dreamer it is not about sole possession of the idea, it is about learning to share; to see the dream come to fruition.

Doers must trust the dreamer. In some ways, doers are natural skeptics of dreamers. Again, both work and live on different sides of the brain, and therefore do not always understand one another. When the doer learns that the dreamer is just as vested in the company as he is, progress can be made.

Trust between a doer and a dreamer is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Dreamers already know what the picture looks like, but it is up to the doers to put it together. Doers have to trust that the dreamers have the right picture or vision for where the company is supposed to go before they put the pieces together.

Doers and dreamers must be team players. Trust is nurtured when leadership builds bridges between doers and dreamers. I know how difficult it can be when two allies can’t come together but should because each is playing by their own rules. Frustration sets in and progress is stymied.

Webber adds. “But don’t forget: you’ve got plenty of street-smart frontline people in your own organization, men and women who are close to the customer and have deep working knowledge about what works and doesn’t in your company. How do you get access to their kind of knowing, the kind that comes from actual doing?” This is exactly what you as a leader must figure out.

When doers and dreamers work together; setting aside pride and ego, great things are bound to happen. When you unleash the power of a dream with the ingenuity of doers, your organization is bound to flourish.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Red Sox Nation

Baseball isn’t a life-and-death matter, but the Red Sox are.
- Boston columnist Mike Barnicle

Forbes magazine released the results of a study last week that ranked the best sports fans in America. The study revealed that Boston Red Sox fans are best in the nation. The criteria cited were attendance figures from home and away games, merchandise sales figures, and the results of surveys that determined teams’ in-market popularity.

While the results of the survey might come as a surprise to fans in larger markets such as New York or Los Angeles, it comes as no surprise to the Red Sox faithful. As one brought up a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I married into Red Sox Nation. When the Red Sox swept my beloved Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

As an adopted member of Red Sox Nation, I know something about the passion, zeal, and heart of Red Sox fans during good times and bad. As a sports enthusiast with a passion for leadership, it’s not too hard to draw the parallels when it comes to being a leader along with the highs and lows of the game. From the best fans in the nation -- Red Sox Nation, come four leadership lessons to encourage you regardless of the team you cheer for.

Faithful to the team. Whether in the hunt for the division title or playing through a disappointing season already determined; Red Sox fans support their team. Be it the morale of a major league baseball team or of your organization, faithful support is earned, not a right.

Building a loyal following to your company or brand requires something special. The value of your product while important is secondary to the value that you place in your customer. Red Sox fans appreciate the history, tradition, and great rivalries that have endeared them to the hearts of the faithful. In short, faithful followers are earned through faithful service.

Aspire to be the best. Some of greatest baseball players of all time have suited up in a Red Sox uniform. From Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Carlton Fisk, and Jim Rice to name only a few, these have added to the lore and legend of Red Sox Nation.

Cultivating a climate of excellence in your organization is not achieved by accident. Commitment is made at every level to be the best. Red Sox fans have come to expect over the long haul a team that will field the best players to give them every advantage possible to win. When your company creates the same standard of excellence and expectation, good things will come, but it begins with a commitment to be the best.

Never quit believing. If there is one characteristic that describes Red Sox fans it would be enduring. The first World Series championship for the Red Sox came in 1903 against Pittsburgh. After winning the 1918 series against the Cubs, the Red Sox agonized for the next 86 years until the title came back to Fenway. The alleged “Curse of the Bambino” was finally put to rest.

The heart of your organization is celebrated in the good times. The character of your organization is built during the down times. Over the years, Red Sox fans have developed a lot of heart and character that has earned them the distinction as the most dedicated fans in the country. It has been a long journey on the road to this honor, and it will be the same for you. Regardless of what your business looks like today, never quit believing that your best days are ahead of you.

Sing like nobody’s business. One of the highlights of any visit to Fenway Park takes place before the bottom of the 8th inning. It is a tradition that began in the 1990’s and continues today. Whether the Red Sox are winning or losing, from the public address system comes Neil Diamond’s hit tune, Sweet Caroline. Fans are on their feet, everyone is singing, and Fenway Park is rocking.

Benjamin Disraeli said, “Most people will go to their graves with their music still in them.” In this economy many have turned their focus to what they have lost and what the future has in store for them. But uncertain days give way to confident leaders. No matter how things look, confident leaders never quit believing…and singing.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson