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