A Little Book with Big Ideas

Chess Not CheckersA review of Mark Miller’s book, Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game

I have been a fan of Mark Miller’s ever since I heard him speak at a workshop many years ago in Florida. When I first heard him, I wished that his insightful content was available in book form. I heard him speak again several years later and was delighted to hear him say he was working on a book. That was five books ago. Each of his books has hit home with me and helped me grow as a leader. His latest offering, Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game is no exception.

This book continues the fable style that is popular among business authors today. We ride along on Blake’s (a character from previous books) leadership journey as he accelerates his pace as a leader by taking over as the CEO of a small company. Blake soon finds that leadership at this level is more complex than it was in previous roles. The rest of the book describes four moves leaders need to make in order to up their leadership game. I won’t regurgitate the content here. There are other reviews that do that and I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. It’s an easy read but has powerful principles that have big impact on how we lead.

Here is how the book impacted my leadership development:

  1. I will plan my departure from the organization my first day at the organization.

As a leader, one of my main jobs is to identify and invest in other leaders. The question that I ask myself is, “What do I want the leadership bench to look like when I leave?” If I have a hard time identifying leaders from day one, I have my work cut out for me. If I can identify a few key people with leadership potential, I can then devise ways of helping them tap into and refine their leadership skills. One principle in the book is, “Bet on Leadership.” For me, that means I need to invest in leadership by talking about leadership and offering resources to help people grow as leaders so that the day I leave the organization, another leader can easily step up and take the group where it needs to go.

  1. I will focus on WE not ME.

We are weary of hearing about selfish CEOs who command multi-million dollar contracts and ride around in corporate jets. It’s easy to get caught up in the perks and power of leadership and forget about the teams we are leading. Leadership is not about us. It’s about the people we lead. Our role is to serve the people under our care. Too often we have seen walls that are built between the leader and the team. In the book, the principle that counteracts this tendency is, “Act as One.” The people we lead need to see and believe that we are on the same side as them. As with most other things, it comes down to what we do rather than what we say. We’re all pulling on the same side of the rope.

  1. I will be humble enough to find a mentor who can help me at this stage of my growth.

The great thing about leadership is that we are never fully formed. There is always room to grow. In the book, Blake gets a new mentor who helps him in his current situation. I’ve found it a matter of Providence that the right mentors come into my life at the right time. There are mentors whom I no longer need because I have learned and gleaned all I possibly could from them at that stage. As my leadership growth needs change, so does my need for specific mentors. We can never believe that we have arrived as leaders, but instead are asking, “Who can I learn from at this stage of my growth?”

Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game challenged me and I will be using it as a resource for many years to come both for myself and for those I lead. I am going to be sharing this book with every person on my leadership team.

promo_01Thank you, Mark for stirring up the potential in those of us whose task it is to continually elevate our leadership game!

 

You can check out a trailer for the book here:

 

The Danger of Experience

robotSometimes I wish it was still the 1960’s. It was the days of the television show Lost in Space. In this cinematic gem, there was a robot who looked after a young boy named Will. In only one episode, the robot warned Will of impending danger by saying, “Danger, Will Robinson!” The saying caught on and reached catchphrase status uttered to warn someone when they are about to make a mistake or are overlooking something.

As leaders, we need that robot’s warning. Here’s what I mean.

As we grow in our leadership skills, confidence rises. We reach a point where we have experienced a variety of difficult situations. We celebrate the successes while grieving the losses. We become comfortable in our leadership skin. We begin to think we have this leadership thing mastered. That is the point where experience can be dangerous.  At this place, stagnation can set in. We can analyze situations and think to ourselves too quickly, “I know what to do here. This is like the time I…”(insert leadership problem and canned solution here). Cue the robot.

Every organization wants a leader wise enough to handle situations that come up. That’s where the rub comes.

Reality says there are going to be situations that come up that even the most experienced leader has not seen before. Then what? A classic example is how United States leaders responded after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. No one had ever seen anything quite like this before. There was no frame of reference. But soon we began to see true leaders step to the forefront to get our nation back on track.

know the answer

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Experience and wisdom are not the same things. I have known leaders who have one-year experience, twenty times. They have a hammer and every problem they encounter looks like a nail.

Other leaders I know have little experience but are blessed with “wisdom beyond their years.” That’s the kind of leader we want to lead our organization. We want leaders who can figure it out when they haven’t seen the situation before.

That’s the kind of leader we want to be. Yes, experience matters but it becomes dangerous when we rely on it too much to the exclusion of wisdom. Wisdom wins every time.

I like what Ed Catmull of Pixar says in Creativity, Inc.: “Engaging with exceptionally hard problems forces us to think differently.” If we find ourselves not thinking differently about the problems we encounter, if every problem is a nail, then perhaps we’re not engaging enough in the problem but relying too much on our experience to save us.

Great leaders engage wisdom to help them solve problems and let their experience speak for itself.

How Leaders are Like Video Game Designers

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was a case of mistaken identity.

I walked into my local Papa John’s to pick up a carryout pizza. I’m too cheap to pay for delivery and tip the driver. My order was delivered to the counter quickly and I paid. As the well-intentioned young man behind the counter was handing me the receipt he said, “Thank you for your service.” I smiled and nodded, not knowing what he meant. It wasn’t until I got to the car that it dawned on me. He mistook the Dallas Cowboys star logo on my coat sleeve for a United States Air Force star. I live near a United States Air Force base so it is not uncommon to see our service men and women around town. Easy mistake.

I have to admit I felt guilty for getting praise I didn’t earn or deserve. I don’t want to take anything away from the brave men and women who volunteer to serve our country.

I was raised to believe that you strive to do your best because it is the right thing to do. Give your best effort as a matter of pride not as a matter of praise. Applause is something you earn for being exceptional.

Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I remember going through some old boxes with my father. Years earlier, he served in the United States Marines Corps and the box contained mementos of his military days. He did his basic training at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Several shiny items in the box caught my eye immediately. They were marksmanship qualification badges that he earned while enlisted. He reached the highest rank of expert and was rewarded for his skills.  I don’t recall seeing a medal just for showing up.

As leaders, we have some people on our teams, who think they deserve a medal just for showing up. They have been praised for doing the minimum or taught to believe everyone should get a ribbon. These low expectations work against us.

We fail as leaders when we allow low expectations to continue unchecked.

The art of leadership means finding the delicate balance between high and low expectations for our organization. If our expectations are too low, we can unwittingly impede their progress and allow them to be lazy. Our organization will suffer from mediocrity and our team members will quickly disengage from meaningful contribution.

On the other hand, if our expectations are unrealistically high, our organization will have little to celebrate and team members are in danger of becoming exhausted and discouraged also resulting in disengaged team members.

When our expectations are just right, we see a steady progression of growth in both the organization and the individual team members.

We have that in common with video game designers.  A game designer knows that if you make a game too easy, people are going to get bored and not play. If you make it too hard, people won’t continue to play because they don’t see progress. The key is making each level challenging enough to entice players to stay engaged so they can progress to the next level.

So how do we walk find this fine line?

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are a couple ideas:

  • Build relationships with people on your team, so you know what motivates them.
  • Set a baseline of minimum expectations and communicate them regularly.
  • Praise progress rather than low performance.
  • Reward people when they do an excellent job.
  • Find ways to help people step up.

People will rise to the level of our expectations.

What expectations do you have for your team members? Which team members are doing well and which ones are demonstrating an attitude of entitlement for just showing up? How long can you afford to allow low expectations to impede the progress of the team?

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you keep challenging your teams.

Living the Dream!

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It has been a long held dream of mine to become a published author. These days it is easier than ever, especially when it comes to self-publishing. I asked self-publishing expert, Catherine Ryan Howard what was a good starting amount of money to set aside to get started in self-publishing. Here is what she said:

1) It’s different for everybody but $1k is a good average for a self-pub budget.
2) Main costs: professional polish (editing), cover design & e-book conversion (optional).
3) Self-publishing = business. Your book = product. That $1k = investment.
4) Investment = risk. If you can lose it, don’t risk it!
My dream to publish is still alive and that dream will become a reality! If you are interested in self-publishing, Catherine’s book, SELF-PRINTED: THE SANE PERSON’S GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING, is a great place to start!!
More about Catherine Ryan Howard:
Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer, self-publisher and caffeine enthusiast from Cork, Ireland. SELF-PRINTED: THE SANE PERSON’S GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING (3rd edition) is out now in paperback and e-book and available from Amazon. Follow the #selfprintedsplash on Twitter today (Friday 24th) and/or visit www.catherineryanhoward.com for chance to win an amazing prize that will get your self-publishing adventure started!
“SELF-PRINTED is my self-publishing bible. It taught me how to format, create and upload my e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks. It showed me practical things such as how to build a website/blog and how to promote my books. More importantly, it taught me how to compete with the professionals. Just look at the results – The Estate Series has sold nearly 100,000 copies and following that I got a traditional book deal with Thomas & Mercer too, so I’m now a hybrid author. Jam-packed full of hints and tips all in one place, I’m always referring back to it. In a word, it’s priceless.” – Mel Sherratt, author of The Estate Series and DS Allie Shenton Series

Monday Quick Tip ~ No Mo FOMO

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lau Tzu, Chinese Philospher

FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out has become a popular phrase that expresses our desire to be engaged with life and what is happening around us or on social media. It sometimes causes people to do stupid stuff. It can sometimes make people feel worse about their lot in life.

As one who tends towards perfectionism, I try to tackle FOMO with a “perfect” plan. The problem is that reality kills perfect plans every time. Perfect plans are an illusion.

As a leader, I want the right people in the right places at the right time, so that my organization hums along with speed and efficiency. But, once again, reality trumps plans. We discover that people are human. They make mistakes. We misjudge their capabilities, setting them up for failure and things come to a screeching halt. All of this failure gives us pause before we start again. We can become so paralyzed that we never get around to starting again.

Funny thing, the longer we wait to start, the further behind we get. Not taking action becomes inefficient. Not taking action means we are missing out.

Today is the day to start. Today is the day to tackle FOMO with a single step. Once we give up our perfect plans, we are free to figure it out as we go. I’ve discovered that the more I think I have it figured out, the more closed I am to suggestions and better ways of doing things.

We all have things we say we are going to start “someday.” What if someday were today?

What project, activity or relationship do you want to take one step towards in order to get momentum started?

It won’t be perfect, but neither will we be missing out on making our unique contribution to the world.

We need you to take that one small step…today.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Set the Pace

Richard Petty Rookie Exp

He who hesitates is lost. 

Adapted from Joseph Addison’s play Cato (1712):”The woman that deliberates is lost.” 

One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life was driving a race car around the Atlanta Motor Speedway in excess of 150 mph.  I was fortunate to take part in a morning session of the Richard Petty Driving Experience.  After a short instruction period, we were led to the track to take our place behind the wheel of a 600 horsepower speed machine.

In session one, I ran 8 laps before being brought in for some coaching by an instructor.  He told me, “You are getting too close to the pace car. Make sure you follow his lead and don’t get so close.”  I kept my distance and did better the second session.  My lap speeds by 10 miles per hour.

It’s been said many times, “Speed of the leader; speed of the team.” We, as leaders, set the pace for our team members.  This is where leadership becomes an art.

If we move too fast for our team, we run the risk of losing touch with those who are following.  Team members become tired from trying to keep up.  Eventually they become discouraged and quit.

If we move too slowly, top team members become bored.  Other members get distracted and have a hard time staying on track.  Petty squabbles and divisions soon cloud pursuit of the mission.

When we find the right balance of pace, the organization’s mission is accomplished in a way that energizes those who follow us.

Balance is the result of knowing ourselves as leaders.  Do we demand perfection or have expectations of our team members that are too high? Do we know the strengths and limitations of our team members?

As leaders, we set the proper pace so that our team members feel great about being a part of our team and accomplishing the organization’s mission.

What tips do you have for setting the right pace? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Be Fooled by Sunshine and Roses

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are not always what they seem… – Phadeus, Roman poet

I attended a gathering of leaders recently in which we were going around the room telling how things were going within our teams.  Each of us, except one, stated some good things that were happening as well as some things with which we were struggling.  When it came to one leader in particular, this leader shared that everything was going great!  Wonderful! Good things were constantly happening!  All said with a smile that betrayed believability.  I knew first-hand that things were not in fact all sunshine and roses.  Things were quite the opposite.

As I reflected later on that meeting, I realized that the combined experience of the leaders in the room was over 80 years.  Yet, here was a leader who chose shut off any wisdom from   other leaders in the room who had wrestled with the very same issues and had grown through them.

Why do we unintentionally spurn the wisdom in the room?  Is it to make ourselves look better because we feel inadequate?  Do we want to appear as leaders who have it all together?

None of us have it together.

None of us want to see other leaders fail.  As leaders, it is in our nature to see others succeed, even those in “competition” with us.  We don’t want other leaders to make the same mistakes we did.

When things on our team are not sunshine and roses, the sharp leader is not afraid to admit it and glean from the wisdom in the room.  Instead, they embrace it.

What wisdom can we gather this week that will help us grow in our leadership?