Throwback Thursday: Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038A positive leader is a real strength to an organization. In fact, learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

#TBT Early to Rise

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Throwback Thursday

Surnrise over MolokaiI’ve been privileged to attend both Air Command & Staff College and the Eisenhower School where I heard dozens of very successful leaders from every walk of life speak to us: business executives, military leaders, politicians, and athletes.

There were several common themes in all of their talks, and one of the most obvious to me was that they were all early risers. Some got up very early, others merely earlier than most. But they all got up at a regular time every day with a disciplined morning routine.

Over at Inc.com, Margaret Heffernan notes the same trend among successful leaders:

What is striking about leaders, however, is that even those who do get a decent eight hours a night are mostly early risers. Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment, gets up at 5 AM. Vittorio Colao, CEO of Vodafone gets up at 6. Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, gets up at 5 because, he says: “Life is too exciting to sleep.”

I have also always been an early riser. I use the time in the morning for physical fitness, catching up on the day’s news, some spiritual nourishment, and a decent breakfast. That’s my routine, but I don’t think there’s a magic formula. What’s important is to get a head start on the day, so that when your team assembles the leader is ready to show the way.

How do you spend your mornings?

Being a Heart Guy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Practical Leadership
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Photo: shutterstock via under30ceo.com

“There is a great cost when you neglect the human connection point in business.” –  Susan Steinbrecher, CEO, Steinbrecher And Associates, Inc.

I’m a firm believer in the human element in business and in life. After all, the reason we build things, make products, and provide services is for other people. Without “heart”, then we don’t need leaders–any old machine can do it. A colleague of mine once described himself as a “heart guy” when I asked him about his leadership style, and he surely lived up to that! We simply cannot forget leadership is about people first and foremost. While getting the mission accomplished is the raison d’etre  for leaders and teams to work together, there are very few endeavors that should consume the team on the way to the goal. Even the military where we understand the work may incur casualties or even deaths, we understand the need for people-centered leadership.

Ms Steinbrecher writes:

Leading from the heart is not just a nice idea or theory or some magical dream. By embracing a heart-centered approach to leadership, you will be in a more powerful position than you could possibly have imagined. After all, what can be more powerful than motivating an associate to go the distance for you and your organization because he or she is inspired by you and respects you so highly? More importantly, you will genuinely and deeply touch the lives of others by your actions.

I wrote something similar in Leading Leaders:

However, any successful style has to recognize the foundational truth that leadership is fundamentally a human problem. This means that leaders have to engage the people they’re leading and not treat them as if they were a math problem. We cannot treat people like machines, and we cannot ignore the fact that people have a basic need for affirmation and a sense of fair play.

In nearly 28 years of leading in the Air Force, and a lifetime of leading on the sports field and other arenas, I can attest to the truth that the accomplishments of which I’m most proud are when I’ve had a positive impact on another person. Helping others reach their goals is far more satisfying than reaching my own goals.  My hat’s off to Ms Steinbrecher and all the other “heart guys” out there–thank YOU for your leadership and care for your people!

 

Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038Learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

Learning from Starbucks About Mission

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs

starbucks logoOne of my core tenets is leaders must give teams a sense of mission:

In my book Leading Leaders, I recount the story of a friend of mine who took over leadership of a volunteer re-sale shop.

“She and her leadership team began by listening to the volunteers and addressed their personal concerns about the rigidity of the workplace, and then went on a communication campaign to remind all the volunteers why they were there. It was an effective leadership style but it required a great deal of work on her part to get the organization moving again. When she turned over leadership to her successor, the volunteers were happy and the resale shop was thriving again. It’s amazing what a great leader can do when she connects with her people and then connects them to the mission.”

Apparently, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and I are on the same page in this regard, for which I’m grateful every time I stop in at my local Starbucks for a cappuccino.  Listed first on a list of 12 business lessons from the global coffee giant is “mission.”

1. Have a Mission

Starbucks has one simple mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.

That mission statement has served the company for more than four decades, because Starbucks is more than just a coffeehouse. It’s become an escape for anyone needing a break from the daily grind. It’s become a centralized meeting location for friends to catch up and business people to have meetings.

Starbucks wanted to provide people–no matter their age, profession, or location–with a unique experience: the coffeehouse as a place to relax, work, and socialize.

I’ve always believed one of a leader’s most important jobs is to give the team a sense of mission.  It’s the reason military units have such good espirit de corps, and will hang together even under the most dire circumstances. As a leader you have to have a vision, communicate it clearly, and then cheer on your team as they move toward the goal. If your people believe in the mission of your company, they’ll work very hard. If they believe in you as their leader as well, they’ll get to the goal with smiles and ready for the next challenge.

 

Leadership Lessons from UConn Coach Kevin Ollie

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

There’s a lot of leadership lessons to be learned from sports.

It’s football season again, and as teams get tuned up for the regular season, it’s worth reflecting on the success of the champions in drains just concluded. While it may not be necessary to win an NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship like the University of Connecticut Huskies in order to learn those lessons, that championship ring certainly lends credence to the idea Coach Kevin Ollie has something going on as a leader. So what does it take to produce a championship team?

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Photo: Yahoo Sports (sports.yahoo.com)

It a word: work.

Teamwork and just plain hard work is the recipe for success on the court and it’s also the recipe for success in life. No one can hope to be an effective leader without expecting to do some hard work, and no team can be successful unless the leader sets expectations then leads by example. There aren’t any shortcuts to excellence; to quote the Dread Pirate Roberts: “anyone who says differently is selling something.” Here’s what Coach Ollie said in his post-championship interview about not taking the easy road (via Inc.com):

“We’re going to take the stairs, escalators are for cowards.”

I love that quote, because there’s a lot of wisdom in just a few simple words. What I think Coach Ollie means is there’s virtue in taking the harder way. The harder way builds character, inspires confidence, and forges teams. It’s part of the reason the military and sports teams have basic training and two-a-day practices.

The full interview is in the Hartford Courant, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

Coach Ollie achieved great success by taking his team to the top after only two years on the job by leading from the front and expecting hard work from his players. But I think his greatest achievement is the life long lessons in leadership he taught those young men. It’s the lesson that true achievement isn’t fame or trophies; true achievement is working hard as a team and making every drop of sweat count. And there aren’t any shortcuts.

Knowing When Not To Speak

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

A very wise colonel once gave me advice about knowing when to talk and when to keep quiet. He said, Never pass up the opportunity to keep your mouth shut. It’s good advice that’s harder to follow than you might think!

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(Courtesy: http://www.keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

Leaders are generally talkers. We talk because we need to communicate our ideas, to motivate our team, to build consensus among peers, etc. But talking also is a risk. The more words that come out is sometimes a compromise with strategic thinking. To make the risk greater, the higher up in the organization a least is, the more his/her words are parsed by everyone. Just think about how CEOs, military commanders, head football coaches, and politicians every utterance is dissected and expounded upon by professional and amateur pundits alike.

That’s why leaders, particularly senior leaders, need to be very deliberate about what they say in public (and for that matter, in private). Not every email deserves a response, and not every conversation needs comment. A savvy leader know when to weigh in, and when to keep quiet.

Over at Inc.com, Bill Murphy Jr offers some advice on when not to speak. Great tips, and you’ll want to read the whole thing.

The bottom line is that while leaders need to communicate often, it’s also important to remember that words need to be spent carefully.

I Really Don’t Like Meetings

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Practical Leadership

I know, I know, sometimes meetings are necessary, but in my experience very little actual work gets done in most meetings. Yes, of course, senior leaders still need to be informed, so the “status/update brief” is a necessary component of running most large organizations. Yes, sometimes we need to have a meeting to set the stage for something else (like a project kickoff meeting). I don’t mean those.

So having granted the required caveats, I’ll say it again… I really don’t like meetings. I don’t like them because very often they’re not run effectively. Writing in Forbes Magazine (h/t Inc.com) coach / consultant Christine Comaford shares my meeting-aversion:

Too often, participants waste time with what could’ve been relayed via e-mail, social networks, or water-cooler conversation. Debating and sharing can be fruitful activities, but a meeting is the wrong setting. “The goal isn’t to solve detailed problems in the meeting,” notes Comaford. “It’s to assign responsibilities based on requests and promises made.”

Read the rest.

For a meeting to be truly effective, I’d recommend the following prescription:

1. Be prepared.

Read ahead slides / agenda sent to all principal attendees in enough time so that everyone has the opportunity to read and make their own notes.

2. The staff work is done before the attendees walk into the room.

Discussions and if necessary, arguments, happen well in advance. The meeting table is no place for groping for a way ahead, particularly when there are lots of subordinates in the room. It is a place for unemotionally laying out the pros and cons of an issue and making a fact-based decision. Staff work is for one-on-ones & and written communication.

3. Keep to the agenda.

It’s easy to get off the subject. Don’t. The best meetings are those that get to the point then get out of there. Meetings cost money, don’t let your organization bleed money by consuming unnecessary time.