Saturday, February 26, 2011

Power to the People in the Trenches

Never underestimate the wisdom and resources of your frontline staff.
- Lee Cockerell

A number of years ago, columnists Ann Landers wrote a piece called “Let George Do It”. The story is about four people: Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.

Everybody was sure Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it. Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.

Actually, the greatest Somebody of all is telling not just Anybody, but You, that there is a most important job to be done. Nobody but You is being asked to do that job.

While there are many hard workers within your organization, that humorous story is an important reminder of the significant role your frontline staff plays in the daily execution of your business. As a leader, it is important to not just appreciate the service they deliver but see them as extensions of your leadership.

Staff on the frontlines have the initial point of contact with your clientele, are the face of the organization, and create the first impressions that will make or break your business. As important as this role is, it is equally important to understand why your frontline staff is so important to you. Here are three simple yet powerful observations to help you appreciate their invaluable service.

They are valuable because of what they see. There is something to be said about the view from the top. As a leader, you see the big picture and oversee the execution of the vision.

While you have your eyes on the big picture, those in the trenches have their eyes on the road taking you there. They see the obstacles, barriers, and pitfalls, and as such, provide intelligence necessary to navigate the organization with skill.

John Maxwell said, “Leaders who are good navigators are capable of taking their people just about anywhere.” Good leaders rely on people with good insights and instincts. Those in the trenches provide the extra set of eyes you need to be an effective leader.

They are valuable because of what they hear. With their ears to the ground, team members in the trenches hear what you would not ordinarily hear. How well do you know what is being communicated on the frontlines of your organization? Do you understand the needs and concerns of your customers?

Team members in the trenches have their pulse on the business. As a leader, when you have a finger on the pulse of the organization, it makes you a more effective leader.

On the frontlines of your organization is where the most important conversations regarding your business take place. Staff in the trenches will hear the unvarnished truth that you may be shielded from. With this knowledge they can help you and keep you on the right course.

They are valuable because of what they deliver. Without exceptional, skilled, and trusted people in the trenches, think of where your organization would be. The relationship to those in the trenches should be characterized by trust and inclusion.

The wise leader knows that those in the trenches are the engineers of momentum that drives the organization towards success. People in the trenches clear paths so that everyone can move forward. In addition, they understand its culture and can head off potential threats. In short, people in the trenches are the go-to players who deliver time and again.

With this level of leadership, talent, and ability; is it any wonder those in the trenches are so invaluable to your organization?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unstruck Notes – Learning to Let Go of the Little Things

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.
-W. C Fields

It is said of one of the famous composers that he had a rebellious son who used to come in late at night after his father and mother had gone to bed. And before going to his own room, he would go to his father’s piano and slowly, as well as loudly, play a simple scale, all but the final note. He would leave the scale uncompleted and retire to his room.

Meanwhile the father, hearing the scale minus the final note, would writhe on his bed, his mind unable to relax because the scale was unresolved. Finally, in consternation, he would stumble down the stairs and hit the previously unstruck note. Only then would his mind surrender to sleep once again.

The father is emblematic of what happens to leaders who are unable to let go of the little things. The father could not sleep until he went down and hit the last note on the piano. What unstruck notes from work and other obligations rob you of your ability to relax? Do you find it hard to relax and unwind when away from the office? How long can you go on a weekend without checking your Blackberry or iPhone regarding work?

The technology that makes our lives so efficient and productive in our work can be the same technology that disrupts our life when away from it. Be it looming deadlines, budget anxieties, personnel concerns, staff meetings, investor relations, etc. they can all be unstruck notes that can cause us to worry. Here are three things to remember the next time you are stressed and tempted to strike the last note.

If it’s not your music don’t fret about it. Even though the last note on the scale was not played, the father could not sleep until it was. It is likely the son did this on purpose knowing the effect it would have on his father. How often do we take on issues and concerns that do not belong to us?

Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” When you take on worries that do not belong to you it can cause you to lose focus on what is your responsibility. Take ownership of what is yours and leave the rest alone.

If it’s not a mountain don’t turn it into one. How many times have you seen this scenario played out in your organization? The issue at hand is not that big a deal, but too many minds and too much energy is expended tackling the perceived problem. In the end, what was only a mole hill has now successfully been turned into a mountain.

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 future in someone else’s hands, but not you.” And this must be your attitude toward the little things – not you. See things as they are, but not more.

If it’s dependant upon you, don’t sweat the small stuff. As a leader you understand that there are some decisions that only you can make, a vision that only you can cast, and responsibilities that you alone must give account for. It’s the way of leadership.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Don’t take tomorrow to bed with you.” What great advice. When you learn not to sweat the small stuff life begins to look and feel different. While leadership has its demands and responsibilities, it should not prevent you from enjoying life, it should enrich it.

Letting go of the little things begins with a changed attitude about unstruck notes. It begins when you understand that the playing of the last note can wait if it wasn’t your song to begin with, that mole hills don’t have to be mountains, and I don’t have to sweat the small stuff.

It’s time to let go of the little things, are you ready?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Are You Stuck in a Rut?

Nothing endures but change.
- Heraclitus

I read a story not long ago about the standard railroad gauge. That is the distance between rails – 4 feet, 8 ½ inches. One might wonder why such an odd number but also what is has to do with them personally. As a student of leadership and as one who looks closely at organizational leadership; you might be surprised.

The reason for the odd number is because that is the way they were built in England, and American railroads were built by British expatriates – that is, people who used to live in Britain.

They used that particular gauge because the pre-tramways used that gauge. They in turn were locked into that gauge because the people who built tramways used the same standards and tools they had used for building wagons, which were on the gauge of 4ft., 8 ½ inches.

Why were the wagons set to that scale? With any other size, the wheels did not match the old wheel ruts on the roads. So who built the old rutted roads?

The first long distance highways in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since. The ruts were first made by Roman war chariots. Four feet, 8 ½ inches was the width a chariot needed to be to accommodate the two rear ends of war horses.

Maybe “that’s the way it’s always been” isn’t the good reason some people believe it is. The causes of ruts are varied and complex. Be it boredom, the trap of falling into the monotony of a routine, or lack of vision or inspiration, it can happen to the best of us.

In order to remain relevant it is important not to allow ruts that you find yourself in to be your grave. Are you stuck in a rut? Here are three questions to answer to help you get out of it.

Are you too comfortable? In other words, are you too reliant on the traditions of the past? The easiest trap to fall into, in part, is based upon familiarity. The mind set of “this is the way we’ve always done it,” are the reins of the plow that digs the rut.

Tradition not only shows us our history, but if we are entrenched in it, shows us our future. While I do not advocate dishonoring a sound work ethic and morale that propelled you to where you are today; neither do I advocate holding on to it at the expense of your future progress. Find the balance between the two and move forward.

Comfort zones inoculate us from that which we perceive as a threat or from embracing new ways of thinking and leading. While you might feel safe there, you will not fully grasp the measure of your potential if you stay there.

Are you afraid to take risks? Herodotus said, “Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks.” In this economy it is not wise to throw caution to the wind and make uninformed decisions. Simply put, risk taking is a calculated decision based on all the facts that tend to trend in your favor of a desired outcome.

What does General Electric, Hyatt Corporation, HP, FedEx, LexisNexis, CNN, and many other companies all share in common? They were start-ups during times of recession. They succeeded because leaders at the helm recognized a market need and filled it.

What risks are you afraid to take? What is the worse thing that can happen if you take it and fail? What are the regrets you will have if you don’t? John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Is your thinking too small? Ruts have a way of making us feel secure in mediocrity. Ruts lull us into a sense of satisfaction in believing that as long as we are moving forward then all is well. Ruts box us in and provide us with few options. Ruts limit our vision.

As you answer the previous questions you can emerge from ruts that have held you back. Christopher Reeve said, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they become inevitable.”

Ruts make you comfortable, afraid to take risks, and kill your dreams. What ruts do you need to break free from?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Cut Above Average; Rising Above Your Limitations

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.
- James Baldwin

A story is told that after physicist Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize for his work, he visited his old high school. While there, he decided to look up his records. He was surprised to find that his grades were not as good as he had remembered them.

He really got a kick out of the fact that his IQ was 124, not much above average. Dr. Feynman saw that winning the Nobel Prize was one thing, but to win it with an IQ of only 124 was really something. Most people would assume that all winners of Nobel Prizes have an exceptionally high IQ. Feynman confided that he always assumed that he had.

If Feynman had known that he was really just a bit above average in the IQ department, we wonder if he would have had the audacity to launch the unique and creative research experiments that would eventually win him the greatest recognition the scientific community can give.

Perhaps not. Maybe the knowledge that he was a cut above average, but not in the genius category, would have influenced what he tried to achieve. After all, from childhood most of us have been led to believe that ordinary people don’t accomplish extraordinary feats.

Most of us fall short of our potential because of little things we know or assume about ourselves. And the most self-defeating assumptions of all are that we are just like everyone else.

The key to growth as a leader rests in your belief that there are no limitations that can hold you back if you act in a manner consistent with how you see yourself. Here are three truths about limitations that will help you move forward.

The hardest limitations to overcome are self-imposed. It is interesting to note that Feynman always assumed that his IQ was high. It never occurred to him to think otherwise. In short, he acted in a manner consistent to how he perceived himself.

While it is not healthy to deny realities that exist neither is it healthy to be held back by realities that do not. If you live in denial of the influence you have as a leader you rob yourself and others the gift of your leadership.

The most hurtful limitations to overcome are cast upon us. While overcoming self-imposed limitations is certainly a challenge; overcoming ones cast on us by others can be painful.

John Maxwell makes an interesting observation in his book The 360ยบ Degree Leader. He states, “Some leaders are so insecure that when they see a potential all-star, they try to push that person down because they worry that his or her high performance will make them look bad.” Regardless of how others see you or the limitations they may try to place upon you, refuse to be intimidated by their actions.

What limitations from others are you dealing with? Perhaps it was a teacher who said you couldn’t learn, or a boss who said you would never get that new account. Your success as a leader is not linked to what others think about you but in what you believe about yourself.

The healthiest attitude toward limitations is to overcome them. Most would agree that winning a gold medal in the Olympics is the crowing achievement for an Olympian. So when track star Wilma Rudolph won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics it was a defining moment in her career.

In winning those three gold medals Rudolph had to overcome great adversity. At the age of four she was stricken with scarlet fever. She lost use of her left leg and had to learn to walk again at the age of seven. To overcome these odds and to one day win three gold medals is testament to what can happen when we choose to overcome our limitations.

Do you want your leadership to be defined by self-imposed limitations or ones cast upon you by others? As you embrace your challenges and tune out the critics, you can embark on a leadership journey not characterized by limitations but by your potential.

What limitations will you overcome?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson