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Ducks In A Row: Leaders are NOT Silver Bullets

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

ducks_in_a_rowRecently Dan McCarthy asked if there was a leadership crisis or is it a branding issue and I’ve been stewing ever since. (Please take a moment to read the post and the discussion.)

I’ve been stewing not so much because I disagree with Dan’s individual points, but because I disagree with the whole leadership-for-the-chosen-few attitude prevalent since the end of WWII.More than that, I am vehemently against the leader-as-a-silver-bullet school of thought.

The extent of this attitude has become glaringly apparent and the Presidential election is the highest profile example.

Yes, I voted for Obama, but not with any expectation that he could take office and resolve the global economic crisis, provide an abundance of high-paying jobs and reverse outsourcing, end our involvement in the wars and provide universal healthcare during his first year—or even his first four years.

There is no human being on the planet who could have accomplished any one, let alone all, of those goals.Hero-leaders, god-like leaders, God-as-leader—none are going to lead us anywhere because none is universally acceptable.

And it is time to stop looking to others to clean up our messes.

Real change starts as a grass roots effort, not as the vision of a larger-than-life figure with a title that is more like a target.

But we love to have a scapegoat; someone to shoulder the responsibility and take the blame for an effort doesn’t work—and that we can laud in the event that it does.

Remember when financial writers talked about share prices and compared 2005 prices to their pre dot bomb highs?

I think that comparing leaders/managers who functioned brilliantly during an up economy to those are performing now is just as ridiculous—there is no similarity between running a company in 1999 or 2006 and now.

Just as importantly, I believe we have a crisis in ‘followers’, both the actions and the brand.

Initiative is expected in the select ‘high potential’ few, but if you aren’t in that group initiative is often shot down. So, by de facto definition, followers are lower; a lesser breed from which to expect little more than compliance.

When high potential is identified early “late bloomers” are often nipped in the bud—or leave to flower somewhere else.

Developing and rewarding initiative, no matter the source, helps build leadership into a core competency throughout the organization.

That, in turn, builds strong, thinking followers and positions the company to thrive no matter what.

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Image credit:  ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

If It Smells Rotten It Probably Is

Friday, October 16th, 2009

dog-noseYou’ve heard of Cesar Millan, the “Dog Whisperer,” but the item in the article that grabbed me was a quote from another article by Malcom Gladwell in the New Yorker article that “quoted scientists and dance experts analyzing how Mr. Millan’s bearing instills confidence. The conclusion: his fluid movement communicates authenticity better than words could.”

Sadly, the authenticity conveyed by the fluid movements of Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff and a host of recent “leaders” proves that authenticity isn’t always the best yardstick.

People are much like dogs, although the words used to describe their reactions are different.

We talk about dogs and other animals ‘sensing’ things; we accept that children have a kind of built-in radar that makes them pull away from fakes and evil-doers.

Adults insist on giving benefit-of-doubt to either their thinking or their gut, which means they frequently get burned.

I’m not saying that we should ignore the rational thinking in favor or instincts or vice versa; rather we should tune in to both equally and include them in our evaluation.

If there is anything we should learn from the people who brought us to the current economic point, it is that our judgment needs to encompass all the data we can accumulate and that we should ruthlessly strip out any assumptions.

We’ve always been told that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck, but these days it may be a hunter with a great robotic decoy.

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Image credit: Mark Watson (kalimistuk) on flickr

If You Want To Lead The Ball Starts In Your Court

Friday, October 9th, 2009

When you’re the leader, the person out front, you need to motivate and to achieve a commitment from your people you need more than a vision—your people need to know that they matter and that you believe in them. And they need to know before the fact—you can’t wait until they prove themselves by their actions. You need to trust them before they will trust you; the ball always starts in your court.

The US Navel Academy prides itself on teaching leadership, but the students you’ll see in this video haven’t realized yet that what they learn in class needs to permeate their MAP, their entire life and every thing they do to be truly authentic.

Watch the video and think about what kind of reception Kings Firecracker should have received based on the first paragraph.


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Image credit: CesarGastelum on YouTube

Leadership’s Future: Cheating Is OK, But Lying Is A No-no

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Cheating isn’t new, nor is my writing about it.

It probably dates back to the cavemen, but it’s become more acceptable with the passage of time. Or maybe it’s just that the level of cheating needed to upset people and the stakes involved have increased so much.

An article in the Sun Journal gives an excellent overview of the pervasiveness of cheating.

Of course, the best thing to do if you’re going to cheat is don’t get caught, but if you do and lie about it the penalties increase exponentially.

For some reason people are tolerant of the cheating, in some cases they even seem to expect it, but they go totally ballistic when they get denial and lies from the cheaters when they are caught.

Nixon and the Watergate tapes are a case in point. Dirty tricks in politics were nothing new; it was his blatant lying and lack of remorse that resulted in his impeachment.

When Nixon was up there denying that he edited the tapes and claiming to know nothing about it one thought kept going through my mind and my conversations, “How stupid does he thing we (the American people) are?” and that reaction hasn’t changed with any of the hundreds (thousands?) of accusation/proof/denial scenarios that have played out since, whether in politics, business, religion, sports or any other arena.

It takes a great deal from our so-called leaders to get a reaction beyond a shrug of disgust from me, probably because I have no-to-low expectations.

But treating me as if I am stupid will send me around the bend in no time flat.

I have no liking for Bernie Madoff, but at least he had the guts to plead guilty as opposed to Jeff Skilling, who added the cost of his trials and appeals to the rest of his fraud believing that we were too stupid to see/understand what he did.

The saddest part is the example these clowns set for younger generations.

What really happens to those like Nixon, Ebbers, Skilling, and all the lesser cheats?

Some serve a few months or years in jail; they might lose their “good name,” although that will fade in time, but they won’t be left destitute. Most go back to their old life; if they can’t do that they can always write a book, become a guest speaker or go on the talk show circuit.

The same actions that brought them down will serve to lift them up, so what’s the big deal?

As to the sports arena, another athlete on steroids or some other performance-enhancing drug is barely news these days.

“The Canadian sprinter stunned the world by running 100 meters in 9.79 seconds. Oops. Busted. Turned out Ben Johnson was the world’s fastest steroid abuser.

“How many athletes are using performance-enhancing substances? The answer is, everyone who’s willing to.” says Jay Coakley, author of Sport in Society: Issues and Controversies.

“Every athlete looks for an edge,” says Charles Maher, Cleveland Indians team psychologist. “Some are conflicted about it. They want a competitive advantage but they don’t want to damage themselves.”

With no real consequences in the vast majority of cases, and whatever penalties there are quickly forgotten, why not cheat?

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Image credit: Hariadhi on Wikipedia Commons

Advice For Followers—Or Everybody?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Leadership, people either covet it, are tired of hearing about it, ignore it or some, like me, see it as an abdication of personal responsibility (let the leader decide).

By definition, if you are a leader you must have followers, and Dan McCarthy over at Great Leadership wrote a terrific post listing 10 actions required to be a great follower.

I hate to disagree with Dan, but he’s wrong saying they are for followers when, in fact, the 10 actions he listed are just as important for the designated leaders—or for any human interfacing with others.

But nobody would be interested in 10 Ways To Be a Great Employee/Boss/Teacher/Student/Parent/Kid/Etc./Etc.; plus it would be lousy SEO and it probably wouldn’t sink in.

Now, Dan is a terrific guy and I have enormous respect for him, but I also couldn’t resist having a little fun by using his post to illustrate my point, which is this.

Skill and action lists aren’t just for the group described as the target audience. Yes, they may need to be tweaked a bit to fit your own particular situation, but they can be applied to anyone.

Maybe they should all be titled along the lines of ‘<whatever> To Be A Great Mensch’, but that wouldn’t fly with Google.

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Image credit: dwogen on sxc.hu

The Downfall Of Leadership

Friday, August 21st, 2009

At some point in the rise of the modern leadership movement, and the ensuing profit-making industry, leadership and management were set on divergent courses, with leadership presented as the brilliant star and management as the subservient drudges.

The results of this extreme focus on vision and influence are being felt globally in the form of the economic meltdown led by the Wall Street leadership who were above the mundane and wouldn’t dirty their hands with the gritty details of management.

In a brilliant opinion piece, Henry Mintzberg, Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, founding partner of Coaching Ourselves and author of numerous, says, “U.S. businesses now have too many leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing. So they don’t know what’s going on. … Unfortunately, detached leaders tend to be more concerned with impressing outsiders than managing within. “

The current rise in advanced degrees in leadership can do nothing more than exacerbate the already dangerous attitude that so-called leaders are different/unique/special and, therefore, entitled.

And it is that sense of entitlement, exemplified so well by John Thain, that got us into this mess.

Those who want only to lead should become consultants and stay out of line positions, executive or not, where they can do so much damage.

Consultants are paid for visions, excel at influencing and then walk away bearing absolutely no responsibility for the results.

When will we stop this nonsense and accept that, depending on circumstances anyone can lead, anyone can follow, the positions aren’t cast in stone forever and the whole shebang needs to be managed along the way.

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Image credit: ravasolix on sxc.hu

Social Media—An Exercise In Ego

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I read a great description of politics in You Run, a short story by Sarah Shankman, “politics is one long power plan; an exercise in ego”. That seems to be a good description of what leadership is to many people.

It certainly describes the MAP so prevalent in the business scandals of the last two decades, as well as that of the titans of Wall Street who contributed so heavily to the current economic mess.

It’s also a major characteristic of the more mundane populace in general, as witnessed on social media platforms.

  • The foremost cyber-goal is to be on the first page of Google search results based on designated criteria.
  • The more friends you have on Facebook the more desirable you appear.
  • Garner enough followers on Twitter and you are suddenly a leader.
  • Technorati assigns authority levels to bloggers.

Every social media rates its members and people work mightily to improve their ratings.

For those who aren’t celebrities of one kind or another or are verifiable in the real world, this is done based on the ancient principle of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” (As you might guess, this isn’t my forte.)

That means the ratings can be manipulated—and they are.

There are dozens of classes, webinars, coaches and businesses, along with hundreds of books, all focused on ‘managing your online persona’. They teach all the tricks to raising your authority level, acquiring more friends and followers, and the achieving first page status on Google.

But there are no classes, webinars, coaches or books that explain how to tell the wheat from the chaff, i.e., sort through these impressive exercises in ego to find real value.

What do you do? Please share your approach to finding and validating the authenticity and value of your cyber-connections.


Remember to share your favorite business OMG moments for the chance to win a copy of Jason Jenning’s Hit The Ground Running.

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Image credit: uglyhero on sxc.hu

Choose The Freedom To Change

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

“The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too.” Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill

I recently ran across this quote; it’s been years since I read the play, but that poignant line, with its message that what has been is and irrevocably will be has always left me feeling depressed and angry.

Depressed because it revokes hope.

Angry because it’s the antithesis of everything I believe.

It proclaims that we, whether individuals, organizations or countries, can’t change; that we are locked on our trajectory with no rudder and an endless supply of fuel.

That thought represents a type of MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) I’ve constantly rejected, while embracing the belief that anyone can change if they choose to make the effort.

Not that it’s simple or that it’s easy, but that it can be done.

I’ve done it and am in the process of doing it again.

You’ve done it and can choose to do it again.

Whether you choose an opportunity or pass it by, each one changes the present and alters the future, because your MAP changes with each decision.

Not necessarily large changes, but changes none the less and those changes will impact your next decision and so on throughout life.

But you can avoid changes by embracing a rigid ideology that eliminates decisions by turning a blind eye of all divergent opportunities or by allowing someone else to decide for you in the name of followership.

What are you going to do?

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Image credit: David Reece on flickr

The Sound Of Leadership

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Have you ever thought about what leadership sounds like?

Real leadership makes no noise.

Real leadership goes quietly about its tasks.

Real leadership doesn’t announce itself or blather on about what it plans to do in the future.

Real leadership isn’t a pied piper that mesmerizes you to follow along on its journey.

Real leadership happens every day all around you; it’s done by your colleagues, those you pass on the street and the people in your home.

So the next time you hear leadership be suspicious, be very suspicious.

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Image credit: user_fizik on sxc.hu

Quotable Quotes: 6 Reasons To Think

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

It seems to me that more people spend less time thinking then at any previous time in history.

They’re more interested in Michael Jackson’s estate than their state’s budget problems; they choose for whom to vote based on attractiveness and clothes; social media fills all their time with thousands of friends to whom they tweet, but don’t talk…

“Language is a wonderful thing. It can be used to express thoughts, to conceal thoughts, but more often, to replace thinking.” –Anon

Then there are those who treat thought and action like marriage and kids—they no longer know which comes first or that they should go together…

“Failures are divided into two classes –those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought.” –John Charles

Or you might prefer this version…

“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” –Anon

Of course, there are those who expect the wonks to supply the roadmap and have no idea what to do when they don’t…

“When policy fails try thinking.” Or abscond to ideology, which precludes all thinking.

Here are words of wisdom for those who still believe that ‘leaders’ can solve the world’s ills, instead of causing them; one can only hope they are taken to heart…

“Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.”

Finally, if none of the above has sunk in I’ll go straight to the heart of the subject…

“A man [or woman] who does not think for himself does not think at all.”

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Image credit: SteveD’s cartoon by Wonderlane on flickr

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