Taking One for the Team

Sea World vendorThe sun beat down on us as we sat in Shamu Stadium waiting for the Believe show to start at Sea World San Diego.  With a few minutes to kill before show time, I watched the vendors hawking toys, over-sized Sea World novelty cups, ice cream and assorted foods.  Suddenly behind me over my left shoulder I heard a commotion and turned just in time to see a red vested vendor dump his entire tray of popcorn bags onto the aisle steps.  A couple bottles of Pepsi he was trying to balance under the popcorn tray toppled over as well.  I felt for him. Blistering heat, big crowds and only a few precious minutes to make a sale, but now any potential profit he makes is bouncing down the steps.

From my right I saw a flash of red making its way up the same aisle steps.  It was another vendor who was working the ground level of the stadium selling Sea World themed toys.  He saw what happened to his fellow red vest and made a beeline towards him.  He urgently excused his way through the crowd.  Still holding his own tray, he bent down to gather the mess of remaining popcorn bags.  When the last bag was back in place on the tray, the popcorn vendor bobs his head in thanks to his fellow vendor.  At first, this mishap seemed like a small thing, but as I thought about it more I realized how extraordinary it was.

We’re taught to look out for ourselves.

We’re taught to compete.  The vendor’s job is to sell stuff to the crowd.  A successful day means sales and profits.  It’s a tough job because the people you are attempting to convince to buy your product have already spent a lot of money to be in the park.  Those same people have a variety of choices when it comes to spending their limited funds.  Rarely will a person buy toys plus drinks plus popcorn plus sunshades plus ice cream before a show. Realistically, people will buy from one maybe two vendors simply because they can’t afford more.  The vendor who came to the rescue gave up his opportunity for sales so that he could help out a colleague in need.  That’s pretty rare, but that’s exactly the spirit and attitude we are trying to foster in the team members we lead.

Create a sense of cooperation.

We’re trying to move those we lead to embrace taking one from the team to taking one for the team. The leader’s job is to create a sense of cooperation among team members in order to fulfill the vision.  Sure, that day the toy vendor probably lost a sale or two, but what he gained was greater in the long run, the trust of his colleague.  Success for him that day was not found in the counting of profits, but in the knowledge that he was a team member who could be counted on to help out when needed.  The day may come when the circumstance is reversed and the toy vendor needs the popcorn vendor’s help.  When it does, it will be the popcorn vendor who can be counted on to help.  When cooperation exists, a team is one step closer to achieving their goals.

“The greatest compliment you can receive is being counted on.” – John Maxwell

As a leader, what are some things you do to foster cooperation among your team members? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Book It!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
― Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ― Ernest Hemingway

We’ve heard it said too many times to count that “leaders are readers.” It’s one of the lessons they teach in Leadership 101. Read, read, read. As an introvert, this advice has been easy to take to heart and put into practice. I have friends and family members who don’t like to read and will never pick up a book to mine its wisdom. That’s okay for them. They can grow in their leadership in other ways. For the readers among us, we’ve found some benefits in reading books that we don’t get anywhere else. Here are a few of my favorites.

Reading books helps us stay current.

With the advent of the Internet, books are the slow turtle in the race for fresh information. The turnaround time from the submission of a manuscript to a publisher to when it is available for sale can take up to a year.  Quick information is available 24/7 on the World Wide Web. However, when we want to dig deeper into a subject, we rely on books to help us sort through the weight of research. When we read Jim Collins’ classic, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t  or Chip and Dan Heath’s, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work or Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, we have hours of the most relevant and best research on the topic at our fingertips. We have food for thought rather than a snack for skimming.

Reading books helps us observe different leadership styles.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and styles. The way John Maxwell leads and writes is not the same way Jack Welch leads and writes. (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious.) Through their words, we get a sense of who they are as leaders and how they approach the various leadership challenges that we all face. There is room for a variety of styles at the leadership trough. The diamonds are there for our choosing.

Reading books is fun.

This one varies in degree according to our personal taste. I find reading pleasurable while some of my extroverted friends find reading a chore. There is a joy in discovering new insights as I pore over the latest Malcolm Gladwell offering (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants). Fresh wisdom is mashed with existing wisdom in our heart and mind to give us a new creative edge.

Reading books gives us perspective into our situation.

One of my favorite authors is psychologist and leadership consultant Henry Cloud (Boundaries for Leaders: Results, Relationships and Being Ridiculously in Charge; Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses and Relationships That All of us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward; 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life).  When I read some of the composite stories of clients from his counseling practice or business consultations, I sometimes say to myself, “Thank God, I’m not that messed up.” Other times I say, “God, help me to be more like that person.”  Reading gives us perspective into our situation by helping us meet people we would not have encountered in daily life.  We would have missed out on some much needed perspective for our own situation.

Reading books affirms who we are.

This benefit is related to the one above. A couple years ago, Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs was a bestseller.  With any individual we read about, there are things we relate to and things we don’t relate to in their story.  I’ll never be Steve Jobs and neither will you. There was only one.  In the same way, there is only one you and only one me.  Reading helps to affirm who we are and who we are not.  It reminds us to celebrate our unique contribution to the world.

Reading books gives us practical ideas.

When we read great books like Todd Henry’s, The Accidental Creative: How to be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice or Peter Bregman’s, 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distractions and Get the Right Things Done, we’re taken to the toolbox of the author and shown what has worked for them. Because we share the human condition, their ideas may help us to be more effective in our leadership.  Even if we don’t use the same idea in the way it is presented in the book, it may spark a thought in our mind as to how we can handle a challenge we are facing.

We take the books that we’ve read, mix in our experience, combine it with our personality, add it all together with our skills and talents to be the creative leaders we are meant to be. Those that make a difference in the lives of those we lead.

What books have had the most impact on your leadership? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Action Steps:

Check out my reading list and add your suggestions below.

To go the extra mile see: http://michaelhyatt.com/how-to-retain-more-of-what-you-read.html

The Colors of Leadership

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net 


What’s your favorite color? One of the blessings of being human is the ability (unless you are color blind) to see things in color rather than in shades of gray. Our leadership styles display a kind of color to those we lead. Our leadership often has the characteristics of certain colors and it is those colors that our followers pick up on as we lead them. They don’t necessarily hear the words we say. Here are a few descriptions of leaders from my color palate.

The Blue leader – Those who study the psychology behind certain colors say that blue is the color of confidence and peace.  At their best, blue leaders instill confidence in the organization and in the direction we are moving.  We feel peaceful around this leader. The leader’s confidence in the organization and us help move the entire team forward.

Blue can also be the color of depression, discouragement or sadness. When someone is down we say they are feeling blue. At their worse, blue leaders are discouraged and that sense of disappointment leaks to followers. A feeling of doom and gloom spreads rapidly when it begins with the leader. I’ve worked with organizations whose atmosphere was greatly improved once the discouraged leader was no longer around.

The Yellow Leader – Yellow is the color of warmth and friendliness. Yellow leaders who are kind and approachable build great relationships with their followers. Rapport and likeability are key traits of this leader. It’s easier to follow a leader we like and who likes us.

On the downside, we use the term yellow to refer to someone who is a coward or afraid. Yellow leaders used in this negative sense are those who can’t make a tough decision because they are afraid of the consequences.  So no decision is made.  The irony is, of course, that making no decision is in itself a decision.  It’s tough to follow a leader who is so afraid of offending people their leadership stalls at every turn.

The Red Leader – Red leaders at their best have energy and excitement. Red is the color of passion and enthusiasm. I’ve owned a gray bicycle and a red bicycle. I was more motivated to ride the red one. To follow a red leader is to be on a journey that moves from place to place with speed and power. The red leader always has energy to charge the next hill and achieve the next goal.

The negative aspect of red is that it is often used to symbolize anger.  Writers sometimes describe characters as “becoming red with rage.” Ever try to respect an angry leader? I worked for a manager who was continually angry. He went around the office banging on stuff and hitting things when he got angry.  As followers, we never knew what was going to set him off.  This led to a sense of instability and tentativeness on the part of the followers.

The Green Leader – Growth is the key quality of the positive green leader. This leader has not arrived and is continually learning how to lead better. Leadership doesn’t demand perfection, it demands growth from failure. A green leader can get back up after a mistake, learn from it and do better the next time.

The adverse use of green refers to a person who is too new to leadership to have much of an impact. When we use the term “greenhorn” to refer to this leader, we mean this person is inexperienced, immature or easily led in the wrong direction. New leaders can be difficult to follow as they try to find their way around an organization. Patience and grace on the part of followers is required. Greenhorn leaders don’t need to be greenhorns for long, but they do need to stay green and learn from their mistakes.

The Orange Leader – Orange used in its most influential way conveys innovation, creativity and fresh ideas. Orange leaders are able to spot a new direction or come up with a new way of doing things that moves the organization forward. Orange leaders are open to new ideas that will help take the organization to the next level.

On the other hand, I’m thinking of the shade of orange from the 1960’s and 70’s. The kind of orange we see on Mad Men. Growing up, our kitchen counters were this color. Some say this color will make a comeback, but for most of us alive in the 1960’s and 70’s this is the color that reminds us of our past.  This undesirable color in a leader symbolizes that this leader is trying to lead in ways that have gone out of style. They are trying to use methods such as “command and control” that no longer work with today’s followers.  An ever shrinking tribe is the result.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes and colors. These are just a small sample of the ones I’ve seen in action. I welcome your thoughts on some of the colorful leaders you have experienced.