Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - The Power of Shame

Sometimes, as a leader, you need to accept some humility for the betterment of the team...

Sometimes it can be very painful, but for the greater good, as a leader you have to accept it. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nothing Counts Before the Word "But"

I've talked with a lot of friends recently and constantly heard words like "I plan to do (insert idea here), but..."

One of my favorite shows is the Game of Thrones from HBO. One of the the scenes at the Wall is where Tyrion Lannister is in a conversation with Benjen Stark. The actual conversation isn't important, but one particular line is:

You know, my brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word "but" really counts
-Benjen Stark 

Such a fantastic quote, and one that I am starting to realize needs to be used more often. Every time you find yourself saying "I would do x, but..." then you should stop right there and analyze that "but."  If you think the "x" is a good idea, then you need to dissect what is stopping you. In one of my previous blog entries I talk about Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons, and number 15 is:

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.

So, with that in mind, if you are 40% or more sure that "x" is a good idea then the "but" doesn't matter. You need to go with your gut and execute, take COMMAND. You should be finding ways to overcome those obstacles instead of using that obstacle as an excuse. If you aren't at least 40% sure, then you need to start planning a way to get to at least 40%. If the obstacle is financial, how do you save to get to the point where you can execute? If the problem is people, how do you find the people you need? In the meantime, what other activities can you do to move your goal forward? If you cannot move past the obstacle, then you should build up your supplies and work toward overcoming or flanking that obstacle. 


On the other hand, if you cannot find a way to move forward then perhaps you need to step back and examine your idea. Take a look at your gut, as Colin Powell suggests. Perhaps the "x" isn't fully CONCEIVED. Take a look back at your plan, analyze which path you want to move forward with, and remember that going over the mountain may not always be the best route. Sometimes you need to work your way around it. And if you cannot find a way to do either of those, then you may need to shelve it. Stop holding onto an idea that cannot happen. A plan doesn't always work, and because of that, a leader will evaluate the reality of the situation and formulate a new plan to move forward. Unfortunately that may mean giving up your original goal in order to advance for the benefit of the team. Remember, no decision is a decision all by itself!

Now, if you find members of your team using that "but" then you need to ask them to look into it. Never let people rest on that "but." Instead, ask them to look at it. Why is this "but" standing in the way? Is it really an obstacle, or an excuse? What other solutions are there?  They need to find ways around the "but." If they cannot, then perhaps you don't have the right people looking at it; or perhaps you need to step back and decide if the plan still works, or needs to be re-addressed (or shelved). 

Now, the decision to move forward or change the path is part of COMMAND. If you or your team stands still, then the situation is changing around you. don't let the "buts" stand in the way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - The Spy Among Us

One of these things is not like the other...

I knew there was something about those little dogs... Now if only he could stop being so happy...

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Importance of One on One

Last week I wrote about a Leader's Most Fragile Asset: Trust. In that article one of the things mentioned was to make sure that people understood the big picture, usually by addressing your team as a group. However I don't want my readers to think that there is no benefit for one on one.


Honestly, if you want to see members of your team grow their skills, then you have to spend time one on one with them. It is a delicate balance, but honestly, every person is different, and if you want to help them learn, then you will need to spend time with each member individually.

Perhaps the easiest example is also the most likely to raise confusion (at least for some people). As a parent, I think you learn very quickly that what works for raising one rarely (if ever) works for the other children. Each one is an individual. If you aren't a parent, I apologize in advance for this example.

I have 2 children, ages 2 and 4. Both test their limits (as is to be expected). The difference is how to let the child know he's reached that limit. For my oldest, it is quite simple. My wife or I tell him he isn't being a good boy; he stops whatever he is doing, looks at the person who says it, acts sad and says "I want to be a good boy." Crisis averted.

My youngest, on the other hand, needs a little more "encouragement." You can follow the same approach, but he doesn't care about being a "good boy." If you tell him he's going to end up in time-out, he will actually look at the speaker, and evaluate whether the thinks the crime is worth the punishment. Then almost every time he decides it is. We've taken away treats, snacks, toys... it doesn't seem to matter. He is an individual, and we need to spend individual time with him (as well as with our oldest).

Okay, so in this example, I mention a moment when the child was misbehaving. However, in the moments when I try to teach the children something, to give them something to grow with, I run into a similar experience. My oldest follows direction quickly, but sometimes I find that he doesn't comprehend why I ask him to do something and need to take my time explaining it. My youngest on the other hand, has to be cajoled into any growth experience, but understands the "whys" almost as soon as he starts the activity.

Now, as a leader you will have all types of people on your team (and some you may even think act like children). Each person needs individual attention, because what works with one will not work with another. You need to address your style and tactics to the person. I've spent time gently encouraging one person, haranguing another, and holding yet another's hand through a process (and not just my children). Each person handled, based on the situation and personality.

A final thought... you will need to identify who is worth your time. Everybody deserves some one on one time; however at some point you need to determine which people can continue to grow (and are willing to). Some people aren't interested in growing, just marking time; or worse yet securing their position or causing trouble. They eventually aren't worth your time, and your time as a leader is critical. Making these evaluations certainly falls under the idea of COMMAND.

Friday, March 16, 2012

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell-3

To re-iterate from the previous weeks, 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 Navigation
John Maxwell opens this chapter with a statement that rings true: Nearly anyone can steer the ship; but it takes a leader to chart the course. Now, I did post a picture for land navigation, but the statement is no less true. Hey, I'm a former Army Officer, deal with it!

People think that charting a course means vision. One of the things we constantly hear people talk about is vision. It is the easy, go to answer for many "leadership experts" But most people's definition of vision isn't enough. A vision is as bad, if not worse than an "idea." In today's society, Vision is used as a filler when somebody has a grand concept, but isn't flushed out.  There is no plan, and no idea on how to accomplish this vision;  but if I yell about it loud enough, people will think I am smart and may follow me. In fact, today a vision is almost as bad as a Mission Statement. If you try to give your team a vision it will probably end up in a notebook and quickly forgotten. That is one of the reasons why I chose the first "C": CONCEIVE.

Instead, a leader Conceives of not only the end point, but the route to get there. he charts the course. That's right, it's about planning. Once it's charted the team can follow it. In fact, if you have a great team, they can even improve it, help the leader identify obstacles, hazards or even better routes. But the leader needs to do the initial plotting. Without that, the team doesn't know how to get from point A to point B (or even what point B is), and that leaves so many teams floundering in water without a boat and sharks circling (as a nod to the people who listened to my presentations this week). 

However, I want to point out that the leader needs to be with the team during the journey as well. Otherwise, when the team does hit an obstacle, or gets turned around, someone is there to point them in the right direction again. I recall a lot of US Army Land Navigation exercises with whole teams of new cadets and/or Privates lost in the woods, mere feet from the objective on their map; but lost because they couldn't see it, and didn't have a leader (or the confidence in their own skills) to assess the situation and find it. And unfortunately, that is one of the more sedate examples that I have for lack of planning and leadership.

As with so many of Maxwell's lessons, this blog entry is only scratching the surface. I've only mentioned the first part of it. He has exercises, and acronyms that assist in a lot of this, and as I've stated several times over, I can't give you all the secrets here (I don't want to be up half the night). Just remember, in the long run Conceiving an idea means PLANNING.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Leader's Most Fragile Asset

If I asked you, what is a leader's most fragile (and most valuable) asset? Communication Skills? Confidence? Integrity?

My answer is Trust. 
It is an item that takes a career to build with your team, and is gone in a second (same as you reputation, which come to think of it is built on trust). If your team doesn't trust you, then you won't get the most out of them, and they will always be playing CYA games.

But, why do I bring this up, and on a Thursday, instead of my typical Monday edition? Well, I recently had a meeting with a former co-worker who is someone I like to think I've gotten to know fairly well over the last year. We've built up a relationship where we can ask each other questions and expect honest answers. I think we both use the other as a sounding board. And I wanted his permission before I posted this.

During this meeting, he admitted to me that he was having trust issues with his team. Not that he didn't trust them, but that they might not have complete faith and trust in him. Now, if somebody asked me to identify a "straight shooter" his name would be the first that came to mind, so I knew that it was unlikely that there was a legitimate trust issue, but more likely a perception problem.

And that is the rub, isn't it? Perception is reality. If your team perceives that they can't trust you, then in their reality, they can't trust you. After some conversation I was able to identify a couple of things that I hope help him.

1. He is an analytical person (if you can get your hands on it, look for a book by Neil Sperling called 4 Types of People, I think). He is results oriented and pushes hard for those results. He has some people skills, but tends to focus on one on one conversations rather than addressing his team en masse. I haven't spent time with his team, but I have spent time with him in other organizations, and know that this is his habit. This could lead to the perception that individuals aren't getting the full story. After all, how do I know what you are telling the person down the hall after you've left my work area? And if a member of the team feels he/she isn't getting the full story, then they distrust the source. That person thinks that the leader is holding the cards to close to the chest.

How do you combat this? My first suggestion is to start addressing the team in groups when a new project is started. Rather than telling individual members what their role is, tell the whole team what each person's role is. That way everybody knows the big picture, or end goal; and are more willing to believe that they have all the right information.

2. Again, because he is analytical, he isn't quick to praise. He works hard, expects others to work hard, and lets the hard work be its' own reward. Not normally a problem, except if your team has a bunch of people craving acknowledgement. Then it seems to the team that you can't trust the leader to acknowledge/recognize good work; so why do good work? Also, if every conversation (going back to point one) happens one on one, isn't it possible that your team is assuming that it is more unpleasant than pleasant?

My second suggestion here also dealt with the group dynamic. He needed to find a way to award/recognize good work in the team. I've mentioned military challenge coins, or certificates before in this blog. The point is that the team members start to feel appreciated, which is a step on the pathway to trust.

Now, in the long run, it is repeated behavior/actions that shows a person is worthy of trust. The leader needs to have values and hold to them. Time is your friend, and complacency the enemy. Take the easy path once, and you've destroyed everything you were trying to build. I know that my friend is trustworthy. I hope with these two potential changes as a starting point, his team will start to feel the same way. It is a long road ahead.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - How's Your Day

Everybody has those days where they are feeling dumped on...

That's So Takei

But this might be a little too literal...

But really, how's your day?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - Throw Another One

So often in life people are willing to throw snowballs (or drop dimes) and not necassarily realize where they were throwing (or what they were aiming at)...

From the Blog That's So Takei
The next time you think about throwing blame, perhaps you should think about this tiger. You never know what might come back at you...

Friday, March 2, 2012

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell-3

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 Process

From Wild Women of The Universe Blog

Many of us have heard the phrase "You reap what you sow." That in a nut shell (or acorn...) is what the Law of Process is about. Leadership is a PROCESS. It cannot happen overnight. Decisions are made, effects from that decision are felt, more decisions, more impacts, etc. etc. etc.

The issue is that each day decisions are made. Your decisions are evaluated by your team.  Over time your leadership is a track record that others will decide to follow or reject.

Another quote that is known by many would be "It takes years to build up trusts, and seconds to destroy." There are many derivatives of this quote, but they all say the same thing. As your decisions are evaluated, you are evaluated. You can have a lifetime of success and good decisions, wiped out by a petty moment, a single comment, or even a moment of vanity.

I am pretty sure that if you look at the news, you will eventually see a leader who "falls". Think about the last politician who was caught in a scandal. It's practically the "Flavor of the Week." These people were elected to represent and lead for their constituents; however, at some point they decided they "earned" some privileges, or were above getting caught. They might even get away from it for a while, but sooner or later the "leader" gets caught, and the reputation is destroyed. Years to reach that position, potentially decades to reach a position of trust, and it is literally destroyed, sometimes by a single tweet...

It isn't only politicians... CEOs, military leaders, they are all fallible. A leader must be vigilant and aware of his/her own decisions are all times.

I'll end with the thought that John Maxwell uses to begin the chapter: "Leadership is developed daily, not in a day."