Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wacky Wednesday - Any Guesses

Okay, so this one actually took me a little while...

Post your answers and see if you get them right! I think numbers 5 and 8 are the hardest. Enjoy the week.

Monday, April 30, 2012

When you ASSUME you make...

Well, It's been over a month since my last post. My apologies, a new job with new responsibilities can take up a lot of time. I will work out a new game plan for this blog and how to keep updating it, but until then I wanted to share an experience I had this weekend.

As many of my reader's know, I am a Toastmasters, and I think highly of the organization. This weekend I participated as Chief Judge for a Division Contest. Things went well once the event started. However, there were a couple of SNAFUS (Situation Normal All F@#$ Up) that could've been avoided.

The first problem was a lack of Communication among the officials of the contest. We had a Contest Chair (a very dedicated Toastmaster named Phil) and a chief judge. We also had a lot of participants. What we didn't have was communication. Nobody involved until the last 3 days really knew how many volunteers we had (or in some cases, how many were needed). We didn't talk about it. Instead it just hung there, because people "ASSUMED" things were getting done.

Now, I think most of us know what happens when you ASSUME something, but for those of you that don't:

"When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME."


Unfortunately this statement is generally more often true than false and it proved to be this weekend. 3 days before the event we realized we didn't have enough judges. Why, because the Contest Chair thought I was looking for judges and I thought he was. NO COMMUNICATION. So we scrambled to find people (and a special thanks to Rashid and Venkat for coming out to the contest and helping me!). We thought we found enough people, so this crisis was averted. 

The day of the contest, I arrive and Phil asks me if I have the judges paperwork, again I thought he was bringing it. Another scramble ensues. Phil leaves the library where the contest is going on (presumably to print the papers, I didn't realize he left because...) and I run to the computer stations in the library, get a visitor's card and print the paperwork there (thankfully Toastmasters International has all the contest paperwork available for download on their website). Just before the scheduled start of the contest, I have the paperwork and I start to work my way through the crowd. I bump into Rod, who is the division governor and he actually brought copies of the paperwork with him (well at least one of us was on the ball...). I go looking for my judges, who unfortunately haven't arrived. 

Fortunately, there are a lot of experienced Toastmasters in the room and everyone is willing to help. I wrangle up  a few volunteers who've been judges before and we are able to start the contest. 

Now, once the meeting started, things went well. I will say this, if there is one thing Toastmasters are good at, it is thinking on the fly (remind me to talk about Table Topics someday). But all of this could have been avoided if we followed just one item from C4: COMMUNICATE!

It was the lack of COMMUNICATION that nearly caused the contest to fail. Instead of setting clear guidelines and expectations, we all ASSUMED that the other person knew their job. Unfortunately, that will almost always get you in trouble. 

So, the next time you find yourself working on a project, event, task, whatever with your team, stop and look at your ASSUMPTIONS, then COMMUNICATE your expectations. If you don't all you are doing is guaranteeing the SNAFUs that will cause failure.

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."

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. 

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.