Saturday, December 25, 2010

Working With a Clean Slate

The beginnings of all things are small.
- Cicero

A story is told of a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied who under a respected tutor some 2,000 years ago. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art. Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting. “I did it for your own good. That painting was retarding your progress. Start again and see if you can do better,” he told him. Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

Many speculate on what the “new normal” will look like in 2011 and how it will affect them. From the story of Timanthes we can glean a few ideas as we look toward a year of new beginnings.

You can’t live in the past so reset your priorities. Timanthes spent days admiring his work to the point where it ultimately became a distraction. What we did in the past and what we took for granted has changed how we look at things today.

Harry Truman said, “Men who live in the past remind me of a toy I am sure all of you have seen. The toy is a small wooden bird called the “Floogie Bird.” Around the Floogie Bird’s neck is a label reading, “I fly backwards, I don’t care where I am going. I just want to see where I’ve been.” Flying backwards is not an option; priorities today must be honest, realistic, transparent, and flexible.

You must to embrace challenges so reset your attitude. Timanthes was upset when he discovered that his work was blotted out with paint. Faced with the challenge his tutor presented him, he turned his disappointment into a masterpiece.

Many today find themselves profoundly troubled by their circumstances. Layoffs abound, 401K’s have diminished, and many uncertainties loom large. Yet in the face of these challenges great opportunities await the person in possession of the right attitude.

The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question, "What are you doing?" The first replied, "I'm cutting stone for 10 shillings a day." The next answered, "I'm putting in 10 hours a day on this job." But the third said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London's greatest cathedrals."

While turning the corner for many seems a long way off, the first step begins with a change of heart; a change in attitude. Even in difficult times resilient leaders have the foresight to see brighter days ahead.

You have a clean slate so reset your vision. Timanthes embraced the challenge from his tutor and painted his finest work. He reset his priorities by not living in the past. He reset his attitude by overcoming great disappointment to paint at a level of perfection he had not previously known.

T.E. Lawrence once said, "All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible..."

You may not have chosen the challenges you face today; and while many are hard pressed to find anything good in it, a clean slate is in your hands. You can be one of the “dangerous men” Lawrence referred to with open eyes to create something you never knew possible.

If you find yourself living in the past, with a bad attitude, take heart. You can transform 2011 into a new beginning with a clean slate. In doing so, your finest work may now be in the making.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don’t Miss the Important Points

The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.
- Walter Lippmann

The story is told of when Orville and Wilbur Wright finally succeeded in keeping their homemade airplane in the air for fifty-nine seconds. The historic event took place on December 17, 1903. Afterwards they rushed a telegram to their sister in Dayton, Ohio, telling her of this great accomplishment.

The telegram read, “First sustained flight today fifty-nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas.” Upon receiving the news the sister was so excited about the success that she rushed to the newspaper office and gave the telegram to the editor. The next morning, though, the newspaper headline stated in black, bold letters, “Popular Local Bicycle Merchants To Be Home For Holidays.” The scoop of the century was missed because an editor missed the point.

In these final hours in the countdown to Christmas, most folks are busy trying to complete their shopping, attend a Christmas performance, a candlelight service or mass. A final office gathering will take place and pleasantries will be exchanged. And then family arrives. Are you now feeling the stress of the holidays?

As in the example of the sister and that of the editor of the newspaper, we can be so caught up in the moment that we miss the point of what our lives and work is all about. Here are three points to remember during this season and something to guide you into the beginning of another year.

Every great accomplishment has a small beginning. When the Wright brothers took their infamous flight it lasted 59 seconds. From a 59-second flight in 1903 to supersonic and space flight today, we have come a long way. The advancements within your organization have come about through hard work, determination, and a desire for excellence. Every small step is one closer to something great.

Bruce Barton said, “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” And this is the organizational belief that you must hold true to as you move forward in 2011. Your best days are before you and each one begins small.

Every small victory should be celebrated. Little did the Wright brothers know, nor could they have envisioned what flight would look like more than 100 years after theirs. Yet, for these brothers, it was a day of celebration for their accomplishment. And with that bottled up enthusiasm unleashed, they sent a cable to their sister back in Ohio to share the news.

Stuart B. Johnson said, “Our business in life is not to get ahead of others but to get ahead of ourselves- to break our own records, to outstrip our yesterdays by our today, to do our work with more force than ever before.” And this is your challenge in 2011 - to greet each day with anticipation of new victories and the hope of a better tomorrow.

Every team member needs to be appreciated. The newspaper editor back in Ohio missed the point and the headline was uninspiring. As the leader of your company, take time to daily write the headlines of your organization. Sing the praises of the team who delivered the new account, for the one who faithfully goes the extra mile without complaining, and for all of the creative talent that make you look better than you are.

Thomas D. Bailey said, “Conductors of great symphony orchestras do not play every musical instrument; yet through leadership the ultimate production is an expressive and unified combination of tones.” The production of your team should be celebrated throughout the year as you take small steps to greatness, and as you remember the most important ingredient to your organization – its people.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Three Leadership Lessons from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Then all the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee, Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history!
- Robert L. May

For many years, the story goes; Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago purchased and gave away coloring books as a promotional during the Christmas season. In 1939, company executives wanted to do something that would both reduce costs and be new and different.

To help with the new project they turned to Robert L. May, a 34-year old Montgomery Ward copywriter who was known to dabble in children’s limericks and stories. His creation was a short story written in rhyming verse and differed from the version known today. The original Rudolph lived in the woods with his loving parents far from the North Pole.

May’s story became an immediate success. Montgomery Ward gave away 2.4 million copies of the story in 1939 and by 1946, despite wartime paper shortages; over 6 million copies had been distributed. Faced with large medical bills because of his wife’s battle with cancer, May asked Montgomery Ward officials if he could have the copyright to Rudolph turned over to him. The company agreed and that same year the story was published commercially.

May also asked his brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, to adapt his basic story idea to music. When Marks was done, one singer after another, including Bing Crosby, declined to record the song. Finally, in 1949, Gene Autry accepted and, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer shot to the top of the charts. Autry’s version is now the second best selling Christmas song of all time, surpassed only by Crosby’s White Christmas.

From the song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, come leadership lessons that are still applicable for today. Here are three leadership lessons that will serve you well regardless of the season.

We all have natural gifts and abilities; embrace them. Rudolph was the object of scorn by the other reindeer who mistakenly thought that because he was different from the others, he didn’t have anything to contribute.

We all come in different shapes, sizes, and with unique giftedness. It is not in the similarities that we stand out, but in our differences. The gifts and talents you bring to the table of your business or organization may not look like anything else in your company, but that is your gift. As you embrace and celebrate those gifts, others will also come to appreciate what you have to offer.

We all face opposition; ignore it. Because his appearance was obviously different from others around him, Rudolph faced opposition. There will always be an element of people who oppose you not based on your appearance as in the story, but because you bring a different set of eyes to the problem, you bring a different attitude, and you bring an optimistic mindset to the challenges your company faces.

When you make up your mind that what causes you to stand out is what will propel you to the top, others will be faced with a challenge: go there with you or be left behind. But regardless of the opposition you face, never surrender your giftedness to opposition.

Your moment to shine will eventually come; welcome it. It is your faithfulness in the little things; day by day, that you prove yourself. Even though Rudolph faced opposition from the others, he didn’t allow their negativity to defeat him. In the moment of crisis when Santa needed a go-to Reindeer, Rudolph was ready. Armed with his natural giftedness and positive attitude, he navigated the team of fellow reindeer to a successful completion of the Christmas mission.

Your moment of destiny will come one day and it will not always come in the manner in which you expected. Open your eyes to all the possibilities that your leadership can provide. As you show yourself faithful in the little things your big moment will come.

This Christmas season, celebrate your gift as a leader, rise above your opposition, and stand ready to embrace your destiny. As you do, you will have a greater understanding of just how special the season can be.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Leader of Christmas Yet to Come

Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.
- Charles Dickens

You know it as one of the most beloved Christmas classics of all time. Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, first published in 1843, is the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. As you know, the tale begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the death of Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley.

Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Past who implores Scrooge to change his stingy ways. Scrooge is reminded of his innocent youthful days in an attempt to appeal to a more tender time in his life. The second spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge, among other places, to the home of his impoverished clerk Bob Cratchit. Scrooge is faced with the responsibility of caring for his fellow man.

Finally, Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. In this dream, Scrooge is faced with the dire consequences of his failure to act on what he has witnessed. He is shown his untended grave and in the end changes his ways. He spends Christmas day with his nephew’s family and sends the prize wining turkey to the Cratchit home for dinner.

While the story concludes with Scrooge changing his ways it serves as a reminder that exceptional leadership is called upon in uncommon times. The fictional account of Scrooge serves to remind us of what is truly important during this season of the year.

The opening words of Dickens serve as an exemplary leadership model. This model will endear you to your team and will build the character of your organization from the inside out. Consider the qualities of The Leader of Christmas Yet to Come.

A leader with a heart never hardens. One of the greatest compliments for a leader today is that he or she has not grown calloused by the corporate grind. While leadership certainly has its benefits, it can be challenging. Keeping people at a distance might make a leader feel secure but it can create an unhealthy bubble that hardens the heart of leaders to those who otherwise desire to help.

Henry Ward Beecher said, “No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich according to what he is, not according to what he has.” When the Leader of Christmas Present has a heart that is not hardened he has the makings of a business with a future and a force for good.

A leader with a temper that never tires. The temperament of the leader in the organization determines the direction of the organization more than anything else. Lord Chesterfield said, “A man who cannot command his temper should not think of being a man of business.” The responsibility of the leader is to set a tone that signals civility as well as success. All leaders are challenged and tried, and at times fall short. But in order to successfully move the organization forward, an even-tempered leader must be at the helm.

Wes Craven said, “A lot of life is dealing with your curse, dealing with the cards you were given that aren’t so nice. Does that make you into a monster, or can you temper it in some way, or accept it and go in some other direction?” And this is the challenge of leadership – to endure some unpleasant realities, make difficult decisions, and put up with some cranky people along the way. The Leader of Christmas Present is the steady hand at the helm guiding the ship to success.

The leader with the touch that never hurts. This by far is the legacy of leadership. Your touch as a leader is far reaching beyond the decisions of today. Will yours be the touch that lifts up or tears down? Will it be with words that help or cause harm? It was Dickens who also said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.”

The touch that never hurts is the signature of your leadership. Your business environment benefits when your leadership is a source of healing and not one of destruction. The Leader of Christmas Present is a catalyst for creating an organization that is quick to care, patient in adversity, and leads with a touch that never hurts.

© 2010 Doug Dickerson