Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pardon the Interruption(s)

Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal.
- Mario Andretti

Type A personalities in leadership make for interesting office drama when it comes to interruptions. For a task driven leader it can be a source of great frustration, and for his team it can make for uncomfortable relationships.

A story in Reader’s Digest a few years ago illustrates that despite how annoying interruptions may be when they occur, they can change our outlook and circumstances drastically when we have the opportunity to look at them from the benefit of historical perspective.

As the story goes, it was the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, and the Coconut Grove was packed. Waiters were setting up extra tables to handle the diners. The overflow from the dining room surged down a narrow stairway to the Medley Lounge.

The dimly lit basement bar offered a South Seas ambiance, with artificial palm trees, driftwood, rattan and a ceiling draped in blue satin. The only illumination came from behind the bar, supplemented by low-wattage bulbs hidden in the palms. Even this was too bright for one young man. He reached up, unscrewed a bulb and settled back in his date’s arms. Like many others there, he was in uniform. It was 1942; the U.S. had been fighting World War II for nearly a year.

Dr. Vincent Senna was having dinner that night in the Grove and was paged because one of his patients had gone into labor. Grumbling, Senna rushed to the hospital in time to deliver the baby, and save his life. Because after he left, for still unknown reasons, the Coconut Grove burst into flames, and over 450 people died in the smoke and flames. The interruption that ruined his evening also saved his life.

The next time you face interruptions they may not be ones that save your life as in the case of Dr. Senna. But they could be the indicators needed to help chart the course for your business or organization. Consider these three benefits of interruptions and how they can make you a stronger leader.

Interruptions give you time to reflect. Interruptions can be seen as an impediment to the task at hand but in actuality is a blessing. Interruptions become opportunities when you welcome them as gifts as opposed to setbacks.

Jim Rohn aptly said, “Give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of your attention.” While interruptions may seem irritating at the time, if taken advantage of they can serve you well if you allow it. In the end, it can make the difference between going forward with a good plan or a great one.

Interruptions give you time to listen. Interruptions may be nothing more than orchestrated moments in which you need to be still and listen to others around you and gain from their perspective. Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

For the busy Type A leader, sitting and listening does not come naturally and it is usually uncomfortable. To be an effective leader there comes a time when you need an audience to listen to; not one to speak for. When a leader opens his ears, mind, and heart; great things can happen in him and in the life of the organization.

Interruptions give you a second chance. Dr. Senna’s interruption at dinner may have seemed like an intrusion to his evening. But as fate would reveal, it saved his life. The interruptions you encounter may annoy, aggravate, and irritate, but could be the very thing needed to save you from yourself and set you on the right course.

As leaders we tend to believe our own headlines and our narcissistic ways can blind us to present realities. Could it be that we have failed to understand that what we might perceive as an interruption could more accurately be described as an appointment with the Divine?

Interruptions can be obstacles that we curse or our stepping stones to success. When we choose to reflect, listen, and understand the blessing of second chances, we can rise to new levels as leaders.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Blessing of Thankful Leaders

Thanksgiving is the attitude of the life that acknowledges the contribution from God, from others, from life.
- C. Neil Strait

Paul Harvey tells the story of an old man who walked the eastern Florida coastline every Friday night around sunset until his death in 1973. You could see the old man walking, white-haired, bushy eyebrows, slightly bent. In his bucket was shrimp to feed the gulls and to remember the sacrifice one gull made many years before that would drastically change his life.

Many years before in October of 1942, the old man, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was on a mission in a B-17 to deliver an important message to General Douglas MacArthur in New Guinea. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life.

Somewhere flying over the South Pacific the Flying Fortress became lost beyond reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, so the men ditched their plane in the ocean. For nearly a month the men would fight the water, the weather, and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts.

But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable; starvation. Eight days out their rations were gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. Rickenbacker recalled that on one particular afternoon, “Captain William Cherry read the service, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off.”

What happened next was nothing short of a miraculous answer to their desperate prayers. Rickenbacker added, “Something landed on my head. I knew it was a sea gull. I don’t know how I knew, I just knew. Everyone else knew too. No one said a word, but peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at that gull. The gull meant food if I could reach it.”

Captain Rickenbacker caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten. Its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone sea gull, uncharacteristically hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice. And that is why, many years later every Friday night, Rickenbacker would walk the shores with a bucket of shrimp to feed the gulls in remembrance to the one, on a day long past, that gave itself without a struggle.

The story of Rickenbacker reminds us that the answers we search for can come in unexpected ways. How the answers come may be a mystery to us but not to the One from whom they come. Our duty is not to question, but to trust. Our thanks is grounded in a belief that we are not alone on our journey and in our darkest moments a sea gull is closer than you can imagine.

As you gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, pause to remember and give thanks for all of your blessings. With a sense of renewal and purpose, forge ahead with the understanding that what you have to be thankful for most is not the bottom line of your business; but the blessing of family, friends, health, and faith.

One of my great passions each week is to write on the topic of leadership. I am thankful for my readers across the country whose kind words continue to inspire and encourage. I trust that your Thanksgiving Day will be filled with much joy and love as you share the day. In closing, I would like to leave you with this poem to reflect upon.

How To Observe Thanksgiving

Count your blessings instead of your crosses;
Count your gains instead of your losses.
Count you joys instead of your woes;
Count your friends instead of your foes.
Count your smiles instead of your tears;
Count your courage instead of your fears.
Count your full years instead of your lean;
Count your kind deeds instead of your mean.
Count your health instead of your wealth;
Count on God instead of yourself.
-Author Unknown.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Composure and Consequence: Understanding Your Temperament as a Leader

The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good.
- James Allen

A story is told of actress Carol Burnett who stepped out of a cab one day and caught her coat in the door. The driver was unaware of her plight and slowly began to edge out into the traffic. To keep from being pulled off her feet, the comedienne had to run along side down the block.

A passerby noticed her predicament and quickly alerted the driver. He stopped, jumped out, and released Miss Burnett’s coat. “Are you all right?” he asked anxiously. “Yes,” she gasped, “but how much more do I owe you?”

This humorous illustration is an example of keeping ones composure in difficult situations. As a leader your composure is going to be tested and your team is looking to you to see how you will respond. Your response is a signal to others that the waters are fine or it’s time to jump ship. Are you mindful of the signals you give? Are you aware of the consequences? Here are a few tips to help you keep your composure and understand the consequences.

Composure is a confidence builder. There is always an element of surprise in the unexpected. As a leader how you respond when things do not happen as anticipated is your moment to either build confidence or send the wrong signal.

When President Reagan was shot early in his presidency it was a frightening time. As the president was placed on a gurney and prepared for surgery it was reported that Reagan, in his folk some way said to the doctors, “I hope you are all Republicans.” Even in a moment of great national and personal consequence he delivered a sense of stability in the midst of tragedy.

The leader who keeps his composure is the one who delivers confidence. And in the midst of turbulent times you can communicate the message that in spite of the circumstance things are going to be fine. Floyd Filson said, “He can inspire a group only if he himself is filled with confidence and hope of success.” And this is why composure is so important. As goes your composure so goes the confidence of your team.

Composure is momentum builder. When you exhibit composure in the day-to-day execution of your responsibilities as a leader, you not only instill confidence for your team but give them traction in moving forward. The momentum your team needs to succeed is built through trust in your leadership.

A story is told by former Miami Dolphin player Bob Kuechenberg as to what motivated him to go to college. He explains, “My father and uncle were human cannonballs in carnivals. My father told me, “Go to college or be a cannonball.” Then one day my uncle came out of the cannon, missed the net and hit the Ferris wheel, I decided to go to college.” The momentum your company needs to succeed is attributed to your composure at the helm. Lead with confidence and the momentum will follow.

Composure is a success builder. When you maintain your composure as a leader, you become a magnet that others are drawn to. While others are scrambling and are in a panic, there is an endearing quality about a leader who is calm and composed.

In 1917 at the age of 67, Thomas Edison’s lab was destroyed by fire. While a setback by anyone’s standards, Edison forged ahead. Within a matter of a few weeks Edison produced the first phonograph. At the time Edison was quoted as saying, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Composure will not exempt you from challenges, setbacks, or failures, but it will determine how you will move forward. As you lead with a steady hand and a quantifiable confidence, you can lead your company to success.

Your composure has consequences. Make sure the signals you send conveys the message you want delivered. As you understand the power of your composure you will lead with meaningful purpose.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How Relaxed Are You?

If man insisted on always being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unbearable without knowing it.
- Herodotus

In a recent article at ( Francesca Levy identifies the most relaxed cities in America. Levy writes, “If you’re having trouble relaxing, it might be because you’re living in the wrong city. Places with high unemployment, heavy traffic and long working hours can be physically painful to live in: Stressful environments can take their toll on your health, causing everything from headaches and back pain to high blood pressure and heart disease.”

In her research, Levy integrated six metrics that are closely related to stress to compile her research. Incorporated were unemployment rates, how many commuters spend an hour or more in traffic, and the average of how many hours people spend at work. Also included were health factors including whether most residents had access to health care and how they rated their overall health. The final metric was that of exercise and how many residents reported getting any kind of workout in the past month.

Cited in Levy’s article is Kathleen Grace Santor M.Ed., Ed.S a therapist and founder of Stress Management Center of Nevada. Santor adds, “Bringing the rest of the country’s stress level down to that of these calm cities starts with making stress-reduction techniques an everyday practice, rather that an obscure fad. There needs to be some kind of a mainstream way of coping with stress, It’s not part of the mainstream to cope with stress; it’s part of the mainstream to talk about how stressed out you are.”

Levy’s research identified the most relaxed cities as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Boston, Portland, Ore., Columbus, Ohio, Denver, Colo., Seattle, Wash., Cincinnati, Kansas City, Mo., and San Jose, Calif. I am not a therapist, but you may want to consider these simple ideas for reducing stress and learning to relax.

Change your vocabulary. Santor said that it is not part of the mainstream to cope with stress but rather to talk about how stressed we are. And herein lies the problem, some people had rather talk about it than change. Change begins when you change your conversation from how stressed you are to how blessed you are. Richard Bach said, “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” The next time you face a difficult challenge; why not ask what the gift is as opposed to what the problem is. You might be surprised at the outcome.

Laugh at yourself. Some people are wound up so tight that if not careful they might snap. Bob Newhart said, “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.” When you learn to laugh at yourself it can give you the necessary perspective that even when the situation you are working through is not funny, you can still have a smile in your heart. Robert Frost aptly said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And since it goes on, why not go forward with a smile on your face?

Change your outlook. This has much to do with your attitude. Herm Albright said, “A positive attitude may not solve all of your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” Your attitude is a forecast of your ability to relax and unwind. If your attitude is bad your stress levels will mirror it. And the same holds true for the stress level of your organization. What you model will be duplicated. When you keep a strong attitude you will have a strong team.

Find alternatives to your routines. It is all too easy to accept the daily routines we have established as rituals. Even small changes in your daily routine can provide a reprieve from the grind that can cause stress. Why not conduct your next team meeting at a nearby park, or take a walk at lunch? Dr. Joyce Brothers said, “No matter how much pressure you feel at work, if you could find ways to relax for at least five minutes every hour, you’d be more productive.”

A Chinese Proverb says, “That the birds of worry and care fly above your head, this you cannot change. But that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.” You cannot change every stress factor that comes your way, but you can change how you respond to them. A relaxed leader is more prone to lead a healthy and happy organization. Why not give it a try!

© 2010 Doug Dickerson