Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - Dear Algebra

Even if we can get them to stop asking for their "x", they still ask "y."

From That Blog is so Takei

Well, that explains a lot of my questions in Junior High...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Ways to Provide Recogniton

If you follow my blog, then you know I believe in recognizing people for their hard work. However, I haven't given a lot of examples. I thought I should share some examples. Please contribute if you can think of any.

From Hype Success

In the Army, giving a medal was obvious. However, there were other ways to provide recognition which could be more readily appreciated. You could call a person to the front of the formation and explain the accomplishment, thank them for the hard work, and potentially give a reward, like additional time-off or a choice assignment.

Another thing that the Military uses a lot are Challenge Coins. Mostly Battalion Commanders and higher have coins that they (or their staff) carry with them, and hand out to personnel for doing a good job (or sometimes as a memento for meeting them, like if you met the Secretary of the Army). These coins had a bonus associated with them. If you were in a military bar, occasionally a person would slap down one of these coins. Everybody else would pull out the coin they were carrying (if they had one). The person with the highest ranking coin (all the way to the President of the United States) pretty much drank for free the rest of the night. I've often thought about creating Challenge Coins for the larger projects I manage. It seems like a great idea, and carries a lot of weight with it.


In Toastmasters, there are many "levels" of accomplishment, from Competent Communicator and Leader all the way to Distinguished Toastmaster. However, it takes a while to get to each of those levels (for the communication side, it takes 10+ speeches per level). A lot of the time it is difficult to motivate new members to get to that first level. When I was President of InNOVators, a corporate club, we started providing certificates for the first and fifth speeches, to show that the person is on the right path. At the tenth speech, the club invites the awardee's manager and co-workers to the 10th speech, and provide a free meal and celebrate his/her accomplishment by presenting the award to them in front of his/her boss and peer.

At another club, there is an award called the 100% Toastmaster. The new member earns a name badge with the title of the award. In order to get the name badge, they have to participate in each role of a Toastmasters meeting. This reward can be worn at every meeting, giving the recipient an instant show of credibility and experience. Great idea!

In the same vein as the Challenge Coins, I typically give out custom made pens. Pen turning is a hobby of mine, and I use the results of that hobby to show my appreciation for the people who perform well. As a current Area Governor, I told my area clubs that the first 10 people to get their Competent Communicator and the first 5 to get an Advanced Communicator award would be able to choose the pen they would receive. At present, 8 of 10 and 4 of 5 are awarded, and we are just past the halfway mark for the Toastmaster year. My area is 1 of 5 in District 56 which has reached (and surpassed) the stated goals for the areas (out of 34 total areas).

Pens aren't just for Toastmasters. I provide them to my team when they do something that I feel deserves recognition, and sometimes even to people outside my team who go above and beyond. Other ways to recognize are taking a person to lunch, awarding them a gift certificate, or praising them at a meeting. I even keep a set of Thank You cards in my desk, just in case. I am sure that if you think about it, there are many ways that you can recognize the people that go above and beyond the job description.

The question is, will you be a leader and provide that recognition, or take the easy road and let your team toil in obscurity?
From ©

Friday, February 24, 2012

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell-2

To re-iterate from last week, even if you follow the blog, I greatly encourage you to purchase the book. John Maxwell is a very prolific writer on the topic of leadership. He knows what he is talking about and my musings here will only scratch the surface. This can be found at

The Law of Influence
From Loudly Outspoken

The second law is the Law of Influence. "If you don't have influence, you will never be able to lead others" is a line from the book; which makes perfect sense. Leadership is influence: nothing more, nothing less. To have influence means to act as a force on the actions of others. People do what you ask of them because you have influence (force/power).
When you Google influence, you will find links to six types of influence, or twelve types of influence, or a hundred types of influences, and everybody tries to sound like an expert. Honestly, I try to avoid getting bogged down in the definitions. You need to build respect among your team, whether it is from position, likeability, expertise, reward, or punishment (you might be able to figure out where this comes from, search for forms of power...). Okay, okay, so I do classify... a little bit.

The problem is that influence takes a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy (just like respect and reputation... now I need to find a word that starts with "r" that means influence). Some of the most powerful types of influence exist because the leader has proven himself or herself. 

Think about the people that have influence in your life. The ones with the strongest influence are probably the people closest to you, that have earned your respect and which have proven to be wise enough to give good counsel. The ones with the weakest influence may have influence solely by position, and you are more concerned about their negative impact on your life than how you can help the them accomplish anything (think pointy-haired boss in Dilbert).

In my life, I've often found myself with influence over groups. Most of the time in my professional life it started out because of position. I had rank, or a title that "authorized" me to make decisions. Over time, in most of those roles, the team grew to respect my abilities and I could lead in my own right. You realize you have influence when people are following you and they have no reason to other than you are heading in the right direction (or as much as I hate to say it, at least you are heading in a direction).

In other areas of my life, I've earned influence with groups because I have goals and can identify tasks; provide direction. BUT I let my team know that I appreciate the work they are doing, and often, unless the "how" is critically important (or a moral issue), I typically let the team decide that part. I've found that it is a balancing act, but the results are worth the effort. 

Now, for the leaders reading this, honestly, take a step back and look at your team and how they respond to you. Hopefully, the team is respectful, responsive, and effective. If the people are eager to help, and they don't grumble, then you are in a good position. 

However, if the team avoids contact with you, grumbles about the assignments, and everything takes twice as long as it should; then you are probably either losing or lost influence with the team. That situation needs to be addressed. 

So, how do you build influence? A lot of it is how you treat people. I've often talked about the power of recognition, but when you provide recognition, you often gain influence. People want to work with/for someone that recognizes hard work. If you treat them well, it is another influence builder. 

Additionally, a leader should have goals and expectations, which are realistic (they can be difficult and realistic). The more often the goals are reached, expectations met, then the more influence you build. 

My final piece of advice on the subject. Never settle for position as your primary source of force. Find your influence, and make sure it grows.  If you are leading by title alone, you aren't leading.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - Sometimes You Just Need to Hang On

Sometimes you just need to hang-on. This artist is on a tear. We should keep on rollin... wow the bad jokes just keep on going...

From George Takei's Facebook, from one of his fans

And I think some people have way, way too much free time...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sometimes you have to Voluntell

I am sure that we've all run into a situation like this one:

"I need a volunteer to fill a position (take on additional responsibility, lead an activity, etc etc etc)."

Unfortunately, almost every time those words are uttered, the people in the immediate area look down, at each other; basically anywhere but at the person looking for the volunteer. Sounds familiar, I am sure.

After that, the person says "If somebody doesn't step forward, I'll have to pick someone..."

Followed by more non-eye contact. Finally either a person is picked or a some brave soul steps forward.

From Hanger Theatre website
Usually the person that is ultimately chosen probably won't grow doing the assignment. It might even be easy for him/her, which is why he/she stepped forward. Or in the case of being picked, it is usually a person who won't complain (at least not loudly) and can get the job done. Again, not somebody who will probably grow with the assignment.

When a person is picked I call it being "voluntold." It's a term I picked up in the Army, because this situation played daily all over Fort Hood, where I was stationed (or for that matter, any other military base). So how do we avoid this pain?

The solution is the same as the final step in the original process. You voluntell somebody that they have the assignment. Don't step in front of the group, looking uncomfortable, or at least uninspiring, hoping somebody will step forward. It wastes the team's time and yours. It also wears away at your credibility because now you aren't a leader standing in front of a group. You are a task master.

Instead, call the person you want to perform the activity aside before the formation, inform them of the voluntelling, and then in front of the formation announce your decision. Now that person has authority given by you, and you look like a leader who is prepared and effective. Problem solved.

Now I am not saying don't ever ask for volunteers. What I am saying is that you should be asking for volunteers once every blue moon, rather than once or twice a day.

A prime example where this worked for me was in Toastmasters. I was elected President to a club that was newly formed but missing direction. Every week they asked for volunteers to fill roles or give speeches, and every week there were barely enough people attending the meetings to fill the roles (in many cases people were asked to take on multiple roles). It was a new club, but a dieing one.

Once I became President, one of the first things I did was get with my Vice President of Education (VPE) and ask him to develop a rotation for the roles. Rather than looking for volunteers, we voluntold people when they had assignments and what the expectation was; at least a WEEK before the meeting. We still allowed volunteer to step forward and fill roles, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

The result: attendance at the club increased, awards were earned more quickly and evenly, and the club started thriving, with regular visitors and rapid growth. A true success story, made possible by the well thought out plan of my VPE.

So as a leader, the next time you are looking at a volunteer situation, stop and think about the reaction of your team, and perhaps you should treat it as a voluntell situation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell-1

With the end of Colin Powell's leadership lessons, it is time to move on to another teacher and leader for expertise. For the next 21 weeks we will explore The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, as defined by the 10th anniversary edition of the book by John Maxwell, which can be found at

Even if you read this blog, I greatly encourage you to purchase the book. John Maxwell is a very prolific writer on the topic of leadership. He knows what he is talking about and my musings here will only scratch the surface.

The Law of the Lid

The first Law is the Law of the Lid. Sounds vague, right? Well the law means that a person's level of effectiveness (as a leader) is lidded by his/her own level of leadership. Lidded in this case means that it is effectively stopped. This one makes sense, if you think about it. Will a strong leader follow a weaker one? If the leader truly is weak, will anybody follow him/her? The answer should be obvious.

I recall a particular PFC who was promoted to Sergeant. He was a bit of a goof-ball and was well liked by the troops... but he wasn't respected. His level of leadership was low because he was considered unreliable and that he couldn't take anything seriously. Nobody wanted to work for him, because they weren't sure about the end result. Not a good sign in a war zone.

However, since leadership can be learned/taught, all hope wasn't lost. Over time he learned some lessons (mostly from senior sergeants setting him up to win; in order to build confidence and respect), started taking things seriously and showed that his head wasn't only good for coming up with the tag line of a joke. His troops started trusting him. He earned their respect and they started to believe in him. The Army is good for teaching young men how to become leaders, as these people are placed in positions of responsibility and authority early; usually with at least decent leaders above them to provide an example. 

If you're in the civilian world, don't despair. You can improve your leadership abilities (in many ways by applying the rules we will talk about in the coming weeks). John provides a list of exercises to perform to evaluate your leadership level, as well as ways to utilize the Laws in your own world (hey, I can't give you everything... otherwise John might find a reason to talk with me, other than leadership  :-) ). 

Perhaps the best thing I can tell you about them is to get somebody close to you to work through the exercises with you (probably a couple of somebodies). The reason is that many of us have a hard time taking a "real" look at ourselves. We tend to have biases in our own favor. If you have honest people you can trust then they are the ones to help with this evaluation... as well as the others to come in future weeks.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 19

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.

Tune in next week for another series of leadership lessons. Thanks for sticking with me!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - Everything Happens for a Reason

Now I just talked about accepting blame and apologizing on last week's blog (AAA, click the link to learn the last A). Then I came across this Maxine:

Now, as a leader, I learned that even if one of yours "screwed up" a lot of the time your job is to absorb the damage so that the screw-up can be fixed. I'll share a couple of those stories in some future blogs. But until then... think about it the next time you start wondering why something is happening.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Breaking Track

During my time in Iraq I learned a couple of valuable lessons. One I will title "Breaking Track."  Breaking Track is what tankers do when they have to replace their tracks. Why bring this up?

For those of you that don't know, the Army (and all the armed services) is basically split in 2 groups, enlisted and officers. The enlisted is the "dirty hands" group.  They perform a lot of the activities in the military that some would consider "blue collar." The officer side is the "white collar" side. The thinkers and strategists. One side is not better than another, just different. And both sides are necessary.

During the deployment, I often would try to help my crews to do maintenance. The crews would grease bearings, clean weapons, check on fluid levels, etc. The reason I say "try" is that more often than not, I would grab a grease gun, a wrench, or a weapons cleaning kit and start working. If I was lucky I would be able to help for about 5 minutes. More often shorter, much shorter. The reason is that the soldiers of my platoon would come up to me, grab the tool I was using and say something along the lines of "Don't you have some paperwork to do?"

So, I would hand over the tool and (in the beginning) skulk away. Often I tried to sneak back into the area to help, only to get caught like a pup sticking his nose where it didn't belong. A tough lesson, since I wanted to show my men I knew how to get dirty and work, as well as the fact that since my life depended on the equipment, I wanted to make sure everything was okay. Instead, what my men got out of it was that I didn't trust them. That I needed to be there with them the entire time because I needed to ensure everything happened. Not the right message to send to your team.

Eventually I learned to let the men have the time to do the work, without "management" over their shoulder. I could make visits, I could offer suggestions, even inspect the final product; but I couldn't turn a wrench, and they definitely didn't want me there the entire time...

Until it came time to break track. The job is dirty, difficult, and very very time consuming. At that time it was any available hands to work (including me). You see, the tracks are under tension, so you need to take these massive clamps to take tension off the bolts, then you have to break the bolts (not easy when they've been in place for a hundred miles or so). Once the bolts are broken, you pull off the brackets, loosen the clamps, and then drive the tank off the tracks. Then the fun begins. You have to loosen individual bolts in order to replace the treds (if you aren't using a new track). As the treds are replaced, you need to look at each bracket, and either hammer them back into place, or replace them. Once all the repairs are made, you drive the tank back on the tracks, use the clamps to add the tension, then re-bracket and tighten the bolts. Average time per tank... 6-8 hours of really hard, back breaking work.

When it came time to break track, Unlike some other officers, who stood back and watched, staying clean and proper, I was right there with my men, swinging a sledge and torquing a wrench.

The guy with glasses is me, a very young me
 I was just as dirty as my men, and they learned that I didn't shirk from hard work. Any my platoon loved me for it.

So what is the lesson? Most times, you need to trust your team. Give them a mission/objective and then step back (or out) and let them do their job. You can check status and you can offer suggestions, but let them do the work. That shows trust in them, and they get a sense of pride in it. However, when the most difficult jobs/tasks/whatever happen, get in the mud and help. The team will respect you even more because you are there when the times are tough. They might even show their appreciation in weird ways that will make you smile for years to come.

My platoon showing their appreciation

Friday, February 3, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 18

Command is Lonely

 This almost feels like you are coming full circle. In the first of General Powell's lessons, he tells us "Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off (found here)." If you think about it, when you piss people off, you will be lonely. Even when you are not pissing people off, it is your decision, and your responsibility.  After all, your job is to make the tough decisions. too often people flinch from that responsibility; or take a wait and see approach, hoping the decision will be made for them.

if you want to be a true leader, then you need to make the choice. Remember, General Powell mentioned in an earlier lesson (15) to make a call when P=40 to 70%. Don't miss the opportunity, but also remember as a leader, you share the praise but absorb the blame. You stand alone.