Saturday, March 26, 2011

Are You Locked In By Your Own Thinking?

The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.
– Arthur Koestler

The last surviving stage assistant of illusionist Harry Houdini died last week at the age of 103. The Associated Press reported that Dorothy Young was an accomplished dancer who joined Houdini’s company as a teenager after attending an open casting call during a family trip to New York.

During her year with Houdini’s stage show in the mid 1920s, she played the role of “Radio Girl of 1950," emerging from a large mock-up of a radio and performing a dance routine. Young went on to become a professional dancer, performing in several movies in addition to writing a novel about her career.

In his book, Houdini, author Harold Kellock shares a story about Houdini on one of his European tours when Houdini found himself locked in his own thinking. After he had been searched and manacled in a Scottish town jail, the turnkey shut him in a cell and walked away.

Houdini quickly freed himself from his shackles and then tackled the cell lock. But despite all his efforts, the lock would not open. Finally, ever more desperate but completely exhausted, he leaned against the door- and it swung open so unexpectedly that he nearly fell headlong into the corridor. The turnkey had not locked it.

Henry Ford said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it.” And this is the challenge for leaders today – not to allow their thinking to hold them back. Houdini was not locked in a cell by a key but by a belief. Is your business or organization being held back by wrong thinking? Here are three observations to help you identify wrong thinking and turn it around for your good.

Wrong assumptions lead to wrong actions. Houdini assumed the door was locked. Because his assumption was wrong his actions were wrong. When your business or organization is working with faulty information it is a prescription for disaster. In this economy it is more important than ever to make informed, intelligent decisions that will position you for the best possible outcomes.

Wrong actions based upon faulty assumptions will not only impede your progress but will have negative consequences on the morale of your organization. When actions are based on solid facts you will move forward with the confidence and strength that will see you through tough times.

Wrong outlook leads to wrong conclusions. Because Houdini believed the door was locked, he worked tirelessly to open it. Imagine if you will his reaction when he leaned on the door and it opened, needlessly working to solve a problem that did not exist. And this too is the challenge of your leadership – not to spend time and energy solving non-existent problems when your time could be better invested in more profitable ventures.

Hanna More said, “Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” Smart leadership distinguishes between real obstacles and perceived ones and keeps everyone focused. When your business is focused on real challenges it can channel its creative energy so that everyone benefits.

Wrong thinking leads to wrong beliefs. Houdini’s beliefs were mirrored by his conclusions and actions. As long as he believed he was locked in the cell he worked to free himself. Understand this: leadership requires right thinking, and when it is wrong, your actions will be also.

Richard Whatley said, “Everyone wishes to have truth on his side, but it is not everyone that sincerely wishes to be on the side of truth.” How you see yourself, your business, and the circumstances you face must have its roots based on truth. Until your thinking is right you will be like Houdini trying to escape from an unlocked cell that has no power to hold you back.

Are you locked in by your own thinking?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Your Life in Leadership

Life is too short to be little.
- Benjamin Disraeli

The late Fred Rogers, speaking at his acceptance speech into the Television Hall of Fame, gave a speech that I believe typifies what leadership is truly about. Rogers says, “Fame is a four-letter word: and like tape or zoom or face or pain or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it.

I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn’t matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!

The conductor of the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl grew up in a family that had little interest in music, but he often tells people he found his early inspiration from the fine musicians on television.” Rogers’s perspective on what is truly important may seem like a throw-back in time, but the message is timeless.

Rogers added, “Who in your life has been a servant to you…who has helped you love the good that grows within you? No matter where they are-either here or in heaven-imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now. We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.”

As defined by John Maxwell, leadership is influence. And with the influence you have as a leader, you will add value to the lives of others by your leadership style or it will be characterized by missed opportunities. How you see yourself will determine the direction you travel.

Italo Magni said, “If you’re talking with your head, you’re going to speak to their heads. If you’re talking with your heart, you’re going to reach their hearts. If you talk with your life, you’re going to reach their lives.” So here is the question: on which level do you want to lead? Discover these simple secrets and understand the most effective way to lead.

When you lead with your head you can help. There is certainly an advantage to leading from a position of knowledge. To be sure, it lends credibility when you lead and speak with understanding and experience. But leading with your head can only take you so far.

Howard Hendricks said, “You can impress people at a distance, but you can impact them only up close.” You can draw a person in with your knowledge but if you want to keep them there and truly make a difference there has to be more.

When you lead with your heart you can make a difference. When you lead on this level you have taken a giant step in expanding your influence. When you lead with your head you earn respect because of what you know; but when you lead with your heart, you earn a following because of who you are.

Malcolm Forbes said, “At the heart of any good business is a chief executive officer with one.” Leading from the heart provides the emotional intelligence that you need to integrate head knowledge into a plan of action that can easily be embraced. Until you connect with the heart you will never get to the life changing encounters that come from leading with your life.

When you lead with your life you change the world. Leading with your life is the most powerful form of leadership. This level of leadership embodies all that you know, all of your passions, and unites them into a life committed to adding value to others.

Fred Rogers also said, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” Stop and consider the relationships you have and how your influence is making a difference.

When you lead with your life your influence has no limits. What will be the measure of your leadership?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Will You Do With Your Troubles?

In the presence of trouble some people grow wings, others buy crutches.
-         Harold W. Ruoff

Somerset Maugham, the English writer, once wrote a story about a janitor at St. Peters Church in London. One day a young vicar discovered that the janitor was illiterate and fired him.

Jobless, the man invested his meager savings in a tiny tobacco shop. Where he prospered, bought another, expanded, and ended up with a chain of tobacco stores worth several hundred thousand dollars.

One day the man's banker said,"You've done well for an illiterate, but where would you be if you could not read and write?" The man replied, "I'd be janitor of St. Peter's in Neville Square."

A sign on an army chaplain’s door read, “If you have troubles, come in and tell us about them. If not, come in and tell us how you do it.” And this is a common thread most leaders share. While there are many rewards and benefits of being a leader it also means dealing with your fair share of someone else’s troubles.

The janitor in the story serves as an example of what to do when trouble knocks at your door. The janitor could have given up and allowed his unfortunate circumstances to be his undoing. Instead, he turned his setback into a prosperous venture. No one is immune from trouble. Each of us has a choice in how we respond. Here are Three C’s to help you make the most of your troubles and come out on top.

Count your blessings. In the difficult economic times we now live it can be easy to look at the negatives. Rising gas prices and unemployment numbers are enough to worry many. As a leader, you are the thermostat to which others in your organization are set. Your attitude in troubles times can make or break the morale of your business.

Gary Gulbranson said, “It’s not the magnitude of the mess that matters; it’s the measure of the man in the midst of the mess.” How true. Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, resolve not to be a whiner about misfortune, but a counter of blessings. No doubt the negatives can take a toll, but with the right attitude, you can lead your team even in the midst of troubled times.

Consider your options. When fired from his job, the janitor took his savings and invested in a tobacco shop. Eventually he became quite prosperous. The janitor demonstrated what can happen when you keep your options open. Had the janitor stayed at the church and continued in his work, as noble as it was, he never would have become the successful man he was.

Leaders understand the power of options. As you go forward in these challenging times, keep in mind that the troubles you face today can be unexpected blessings tomorrow. The fact that the janitor could not read was not a deal breaker. He had options and he called upon them as valuable resources to better his life. A wise leader will do no less.

Chart your course. When the janitor walked out of St. Peter’s Church he did so with purpose and a plan. Do you have one? Being fired from his job may have been insensitive but it was not irreversible. He took his savings and wisely invested it in a new business.

As a leader in these troubled times it is important to have a course of action that is known and communicated to your team. Howard Coonley said, “The executive of the future will be rated by his ability to anticipate his problems rather that to meet them as they come.” And this is the challenge of your leadership.

A Malay Proverb says, “Just because the river is quiet does not mean the crocodiles have left.” No one is exempt from troubles. Troubles for leaders can be transformed into opportunities if you count your blessings, consider your options, and chart your course.

What will you do with your troubles?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Give Way to Get Ahead

Yield – (verb), to give forth or produce by a natural process or in return for cultivation.
- Random House Dictionary

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia. Hundreds of passengers died as they were hurled into the icy waters below. News of the disaster was further darkened when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident.

It was not a technology problem like radar malfunctions, or even a thick fog. The cause was human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence nearby. Both could have steered clear, but according to news reports, neither captain wanted to give way to the other. Each was too proud to yield first. By the time they came to their senses, it was too late.

One of the challenges of organizational leadership is dealing with multiple personalities that often clash. Each talented member of your team brings unique gifts and talents to help advance the cause of your organization. Yet, when those talented egos clash, it can diminish what otherwise could be great advances if not kept in check.

As team members learn the art of collaboration and what it means to yield, you can position your team for advances you otherwise would be delayed in achieving. By working together and creating a yielding culture, be prepared for a new degree of success. Here are three simple but effective concepts of yielding that will help your team. Understand these principles and you can unleash the talent of your team in fresh new ways.

Yield to the better ideas. In the arena of ideas within your organization it can be a strong temptation to insist that your idea wins out. But what if it is not the best idea, then what? John Maxwell says, “If you desire the best idea to win, then become a champion of creative people and their contributions to your organization. When you discover peers who are creative, promote them, encourage them, and protect them.” Maxwell concludes that leaders “need to resist the temptation to fight for your idea when it’s not the best idea.”

Look at the culture in your organization. Do ideas flow freely? How receptive are team members to ideas not their own? When individuals on the team learn to yield to the best idea then the whole team wins. When egos are checked at the door, collective talent wins the day. Yield to the better idea and everyone succeeds.

Yield for better results. Yielding within your organizational structure is characterized by individual productivity integrated into the goals of your company. A better way to explain this concept is in understanding the power of teamwork. Individual players make up a team. While each player contributes, it is the team that wins.

Babe Ruth said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” And this is why yielding for better results is so important. A good team player with a great ego can cause more harm to your organization than a team player with lesser talent but is a team player. When you learn to yield for better results great things do happen.

Yield for better synergy. The functionality of your organization gives your company the competitive edge that team members crave. When your cooperative action is a combined effort you will see results only imagined on an individual basis. Yielding within an organization takes time to learn and adapt to, but once in place yields incredible results.

Charles Brower said, “You cannot sink someone else’s end of the boat and still keep your own afloat.” What great insight. Now, grade the level of functionality within your organization. Is it fragmented because of separate agendas driven by a lack of trust and cooperation? Does your organization promote individual achievement and how it complements the team?

Yielding within your organization is about embracing the best ideas, for the best results, for better synergy. Are you ready to cooperate?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson