Monday, January 30, 2012

Admit, Apologize, and Accept

I recently re-learned a leadership lesson from my wife. She is part of a local mom's club and recently helped put together a Preschool fair at a local church. The fair itself was a charity event. She worked with roughly 20 different schools, and several other organizations and sponsors. There was advertising, scheduling, cost control; it was a regular project. But there was a tripping point...

One of the sponsors who paid for advertising and donated to the Help Center is a franchise opportunity. One of the members of the mom's club also owned a franchise in the same organization. When the announcement of the sponsors was made, this person was a little upset (although she was good enough not to show it during the meeting). My wife learned of the mistake after the event, and even talked with me about how to handle it.

She handled it very well, without my advice. She contacted the person the next day and apologized. explaining that she wasn't aware of the member's involvement with the organization and that she was sorry if it caused any issues. She admitted fault quickly, said she was sorry, and the member from the club accepted the apology, confirming her invitation to my wife for a party the following weekend. My wife attended the party and had a great time.

What is the lesson here? First, that everyone is fallible. Everyone makes mistakes, even leaders. The lesson is to admit your mistake quickly after realizing it, accept responsibility, and then move on. my wife did just that. She quickly admitted her mistake to the other member of the club, apologized without trying to pass blame on somebody else (well, if you had told me you were an owner...) and then moved on quickly after the apology (admittedly, the club member helped in this regard by inviting my wife to the party).

Too often today we find people passing blame, and trying to rationalize everything, including their mistakes. Too few admit fault. Perhaps that is why when somebody actually admits fault, and takes the burden by himself/herself there is so much power in it. People want to follow somebody who can admit and accept their mistakes. But, there is a caveat... you cannot dwell on them.

I am sure we all know people who grump about "if only..." for years after the fact, often times the words following that statement aren't happy, and don't accept responsibility for what occurred. These types of people tend to find themselves lost in their woes, and nobody is the willing to hang around with them, let alone follow them.

So, here is the challenge. The next time you make a mistake: admit, apologize, and accept (hey, another use for AAA), then move on! And if your team makes a mistake, help them through the process as well. After all, everyone makes mistakes. But once the process is over, take the lesson from the mistake; not the guilt or burden. Leave that behind, with the mistake!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 17

Have fun in your command. Don't always run at a breakneck pace. Take leave when you've earned it: Spend time with your families. 
Corollary: Surround yourself with people who take their work seriously, but not themselves; those who work hard and play hard.

Even during my combat command in Iraq, I learned that we needed to enjoy ourselves, otherwise, people burn-out and they can't figure out what they are fighting for. In this case, I actually organized the purchase of a satellite dish in order to watch football, which brought a welcome taste of home when most of the rest of the Army was still trying to get basic supplies (ourselves included). It is honestly amazing what you can accomplish with the right dedication (and negotiation skills ;-)). 

This led to our team playing football inside the compound, which led to other activities. We fought to survive, but some of my favorite memories were during that time-frame. Back in the "real world" it is important to have that balance and passion. Without it, you will burn-out. 

Of course, this means that you need the right people to do the work when you are pursuing your passion, and that you can cover down for them when they pursue theirs. The grim workaholic can be a downer because others will feel they need to share his/her dedication. The pompous pretentious professional shatters moral with their statements of what can and cannot be done. Show them the door, and find people that know how to work and live.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 16

The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.

I literally watched the degeneration of this lesson while I was in Iraq. When I was first there in 2003, the LT or SGT on the ground was always backed up by command. There was never any question about whether or not the use of force was necessary, unless something was obviously wrong. By the time I got back in 2006, the rules had changed to the point where the commanding general demanded a briefing for every bullet fired in his division (consisting of 22,000+ troops deployed throughout Baghdad).  How do I know this? I was a tank platoon leader for the first tour, and sat in the briefings for the general on the second tour (in his defense, Washington was pressuring him to answer for any major conflict that happened in the supposedly safe Baghdad area).

In the corporate sector, we find this trait is also dominating. Think about all the times a person has to answer to an Accountant or Business Analyst because his/her actions don't pass mustard from a dollar and cents standpoint? Bureaucracy breeds this problem, and usually, when a group runs into a problem, they staff up the areas of analysis rather than identifying the decision and why it was made.

I recently went through a situation where a new system was implemented, one where additional work was created for the people dealing with the customers and plants so that the accountants would have better visibility. On top of that, the accountants received approval authority for budgets and change orders when they had no authority before the system was implemented. Now, a lot of the accountants I count as friends, and we work well together; but I would point out that the "commanders in the field" were hampered by these new hurdles, which probably didn't need to exist.

Please don't doubt your leaders at the tip of the spear. They are in the weeds dealing with the opportunities as they arise, and they don't need their hands tied, or to be looking over their shoulders when it is time to act.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 15

Part I: Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the number indicates the percentage of information acquired.
Part II: Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.

One thing I learned in Iraq, "not making a decision, IS MAKING A DECISION." I actually saw people get hurt because leaders couldn't make up their mind. In fact, the lesson I really learned was that a bad decision is better than no decision. At least a bad decision can be corrected, no decision means that the opportunity passes you by. 

And in today's age, you cannot wait for 100%. Where would Steve Jobs or Bill Gates be if they waited to be 100% sure? Apple and Microsoft wouldn't be what they are today. A leader needs to push boundaries, and go with his/her gut. If you are 40%+ sure you will succeed, it is time to move. Otherwise, the opportunity passes (or the world explodes around you). 

The other side of "analysis paralysis" comes from information or choice overload. I recently had a new experience with this. I needed to update my cell phone and I kept putting off the decision. My old phone worked, and a better phone would be out in 6 months, what's the rush? Really, I didn't know what I needed, and was overwhelmed with all the choices available to me. Eventually, I made the decision, and am quite happy with the phone. But I was stuck until I decided to move forward. 

I know that this is a small example, but that is the point. I share this experience to show how easy it is to fall into the trap. No imagine if a whole factory hinged on your decision? A company? Make a decision and move forward, before someone makes a decision for you (or changes the situation on you).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wacky Wednesday

In my last blog entry, I said it felt like I got hit with a "ton of bricks." Every time I think about this statement, this is what I picture:

I love this show. I apologize for the image, but it was the best version of the video I could find.

So, what has hit you like this? How did you recover? A lot of the time, the important thing is how you recover.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Perhaps Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

I recently read the latest version of Men's Health magazine, and came across a line by John Brant and Ben Court (on page 106):

"The difference between a goal and a daydream is whether you take action to achieve it."

This line hit me like a ton of bricks. Because it was the New Year, my mind was turning to Resolutions. A little research found the same number coming up, however. 80% of resolutions fail by February. 80%! It made me wonder why?

Honestly, I think the answer is the quote above. Too often we make Resolutions (goals, whatever) and write them down (maybe) only to be stuffed into a drawer and forgotten. Then what happens? The Resolutions are abandoned for the habits that we formed to get where we were. SCARY!

So, how do you combat this. First, I wouldn't call anything a New Year's Resolution anymore. There is too much bad connotations, and the public's willingness to accept you can fail at them. Instead, set goals, but don't associate them with a new year.

Okay, got your goals? Now, when do you want to achieve them? You need to provide a deadline. Without providing a deadline, all you are doing is stating an open-ended wish. A DAYDREAM. When will you deliver?

Third, plan out how you will make this date. If you want to hit the gym 3-5 days a week, plan out when you will go, and for how long. Build it into your schedule, and set a reminder so that your phone will buzz when it's time. If you want to get a certification, plan out when you will study, and again, set the reminder. These are the Baby Steps (one of my Toastmaster's Speeches, I will need to share sometime) necessary to reach the bigger goals.

Finally, you need to execute the plan. Up until this time, you were creating the plan. You were CONCEIVING. It has it's own plan now, it has almost a life of it's own; but now you need the COMMAND over yourself to execute. After all, the difference is action.

Now, I will let you in on one of my goals. Many of you who read this know I am in Toastmasters. I am currently an Advanced Communicator Bronze and an Advanced Leader Bronze. My goal this year is to reach Distinguished Toastmaster by the end of the year. That will require roughly 15 more speeches, a High Profile Leadership Program, and the completion of my current duties as an Area Governor. My drop dead date? 26 September 2012 (my birthday). Wish me luck and hopefully it won't be a daydream for me!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 14

Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt, to offer a solution everybody can understand.

Too often, Dilbert has it about right, managers spend a lot of their time finding complex, buzz-word laden terminology to explain something simple. The manager thinks it makes them look smart, but in many cases, the person only looks more ignorant and out of touch. In fact, every year there is a list of the most annoying business slang. A list for this year can be found here

Instead, leaders tend to stick to the KISS principle (explained in the above slide). I would take it a step further as well. Leaders can cut through the debate, argument, etc., but they also cut through the "blame game." Leaders know that the real deal is the solution, not who caused the problem. Usually, after the problem is solved, who or what caused the problem can be identified and fixed when the problem isn't pressing anymore. 

Never underestimate the power of a simply stated plan with a clarity that others can follow. So often, people are willing to move in the same direction, so long as they know the direction that everybody is heading in. That clarity of purpose and credibility of leadership are instrumental in getting people on the same page. 
One thing not mentioned in the slide, but I feel should be brought up, is that you need to train your people to continue moving in the same direction without you. Momentum (mentioned in a previous post, here) is a powerful thing. You want the team to continue to guide the snowball in your absence, rather than letting it run rampant, or worse, trying to push it back up the hill it just went down.