Monday Quick Tip ~ Think Beyond the Obvious

Image courtesy of Idea go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A drowning man will clutch a straw. – 19th Century Proverb

We’ve heard it said often that “desperate times call for desperate measures.”  I’ve found in leadership that the default mode in stagnant organizations is “desperate times call for comfortable measures.”  We tend to do what has worked in the past without considering that times, people and conditions have changed. The familiar approach ends up becoming the straw that the proverbial man grasps while sinking.

A better approach is to think beyond the comfortable obvious.  Lately, this idea has smacked me in the face to wake me up.  Here’s what I mean:

  • In the movie Moneyball, Billy Beane (Played by Brad Pitt) argues with his scouts telling them that they can’t choose new players the same way they used to.  They have to think differently.  They have to define the real problem. To the scouts, the problem is obvious. But to Beane, it is something entirely different.
  • In the DIY television series, The Vanilla Ice Project (http://www.diynetwork.com/the-vanilla-ice-project/show/index.html), Rob, (A.K.A. Vanilla Ice) buys rundown Palm Beach mansions and renovates them. I enjoy watching the show because he is continually thinking beyond the ordinary to add what he calls the “wow factor.” It’s a way of thinking beyond the obvious.  Having seen firsthand, two of the homes he has redone, he has definitely succeeded.
  • In the late Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, he tells about an assignment he gave his Carnegie Melon students to virtual reality world. They could not use shooting violence or pornography.  Realizing the default mode for 19 year old males is to create a game with sex and violence, he required them to think differently. He was amazed at what they came up with when they thought beyond the obvious (“They Just Blew Me Away,” Pages 120-122).

As leaders we help define reality then help our team members think beyond the obvious.  If team members were already thinking that way, they wouldn’t need us.

Our challenge as leaders is to throw the life ring of extraordinary thinking so that clutching a straw becomes impossible.

How will you help your team members think creatively this week? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Monday Quick Tip ~ Shake and Stir for Best Results

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A rolling stone gathers no moss. – Publilius Syrus, 1st century writer of Latin maxims

In the organization I lead, we’ve been going through a time of assessment and transition.  My days have been filled with charts and graphs of income and expenditures. In my research, I’ve discovered the health of the organization is not as robust as people in the organization believe. So it became my job to shake things up and (as Peter Drucker says) define reality.

We have all seen the snow globe that looks calm and serene when the snow is settled at the bottom. No disturbances and a clear view.  But that’s not what snow globes are designed for.  The beauty comes in the shaking. Flecks of snow descend, hit beams of light and beauty emerges.

That’s part of what it means to be a leader.  Leaders shake things up to see what beauty appears.

After my report to the leaders about our organization, I expected some disagreement and push back. I got some minor comments.  But the leaders among the group responded by saying, “that was exactly what we needed to hear.  Keep shaking and stirring us.”

There are a couple different interpretations of the rolling stone proverb listed above.  The one I like best says that people are always moving and looking for freshness and creativity.

There is a restless streak in leaders. We are always on the move in our own growth and in our leadership of the people we lead.  To allow moss to grow is to become stagnant.

For best results this week, shake a few things, stir a few others and watch what happens.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Supertrooper/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Life Skill 101 advice for those of us who want to live a meaningful and profitable life is to “find a need and meet it.”  The world is full of opportunities brilliantly disguised as needs.

Life is exciting when need meets creativity.  The old adage is true: Necessity is the mother of invention.

One of my newly discovered fun websites is www.quirky.com where creative ideas are turned into useful products that help us in our daily life. (I “need” to win the lottery so I can buy all the stuff in the Electronics and Power section.)  Admittedly, we could argue all day about the need for an egg tray that lights up, but for the most part there are smart, simple solutions to the challenges we face.

What needs are you facing this week that have to be met?  You are already half way there, because you’ve identified the need.  Once we figure that out, our creative juices start flowing to come up with a workable, practical solution.

I once heard leadership author and speaker Mark Miller (http://greatleadersserve.org/) say in a workshop I attended, that “not every creative idea is a good idea.”  Once we have identified the need, the next step is coming up with an idea that actually works.

Most times, trial and error is the only way to find out what works and what doesn’t.  It seems obvious but it’s human nature to try to find a shortcut.  It strikes me as ironic that we try to find a shortcut on the way to designing a shortcut.

This week, get ready for some creative solutions to come your way.  Test those ideas to find out if there is a good one that actually works.

Who knows, you could be on the verge of the next million dollar idea that changes the way we live.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Cross the Bridge Until You Come to It

Image courtesy of Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Phonsawat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As leaders we are people of responsibility.

We plan.

We worry.

We take risks.

We think ahead.

We try to stay at least one step ahead of our followers.

I’ve discovered that my “futuristic” strength (See Strengths Finder 2.0 and Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath) has a downside in that I can sometimes imagine problems and challenges where none exist. When that happens, my energy is redirected and drained.  I lose focus on the present.

Planning and thinking ahead is important, but we live in the here and now.  We can live in the “there” and miss the “here.”

We can get so far ahead of our team members in our thinking that we miss what is happening in their lives now.

What’s the value in not crossing the bridge too soon?

We can be flexible and adjust as needed.  Conditions change constantly.

Things happen to us that are out of our control.

If we rigidly adhere to a plan, we may take a path that no longer meets our goals or the needs of our team.

Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it is a reminder to be adaptable enough to make adjustments as conditions change.  It’s also a reminder to not allow unnecessary worry to drain our energy.

There are times when leaders are like the captain of a speed boat that takes a direct line across the lake.

There are other times when leaders are like the captain of the sailboat that has no direct path, but adjusts as the conditions change.

What bridges are you crossing that you have not come to yet?

Monday Quick Tip: Do it Well!

Glass Blowing

Image courtesy of worradmu/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” ~ English proverb

This past weekend, I got to attend my first Renaissance Festival (http://renaissancefest.com/).  There were jousting demonstrations, comedy and danger shows and lots of opportunities for shopping.  One of the highlights for me was watching a glassblowing demonstration.

The glassblower formed a beautiful tumbler using a few simple elements: air, heat, a metal pipe, water, and molten glass. What was not simple was the amount of skill he used to accomplish his art.

He made it look easy, but it took him countless hours to perfect his craft. He mentioned during the demonstration that he started glassblowing in 1968.  He was poetry in motion as he combined the right amount of air, timing and centrifugal force to create his masterpiece.  He explained that the incorrect temperature or the wrong timing could shatter the glass.

Developing our craft as leaders takes time.  There is an art to leadership that can’t be acquired in a book.  It is learned through years of well-focused practice.  Leadership as art is not accomplished by the quick fix.

This week, focus on doing leadership well by getting better at just one thing.

What is it for you?

What is the one thing that you could get better at this week with a little focused practice?

A lot has been made about the 10,000 hour rule. That is overwhelming.

Masterpieces are formed an hour at a time here and there. We can do that.

Do it well. It’s worth it.

Do it with excellence, because “good enough” only leads to shattered glass.

 

What will you get better at doing this week? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Whew! That was Close: A Leadership Lesson from a Crash

B1 BomberLiving within earshot of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, it is common to hear fighter jets roaring by overhead.  I’ve gotten used to it.  On Monday, August 19, 2013, Ellsworth was in the national spotlight when a B-1B Lancer Bomber crashed in southeastern Montana.

Fortunately all four people, including the two pilots and two weapons system officers ejected and parachuted to safety.  No one on the ground was hurt.  The aircraft was not so lucky. It was a total loss. Or was it?

For the men who flew the plane, I imagine they were not thinking of having to rocket  themselves out of it on a high powered ejector seat. They were prepared should something happen, but it was to be a routine training mission.  When I saw the news reports I thought, “Whew! That was a close one!  It could have been much worse.”

I thought about the times in leadership when we’ve narrowly escaped a disaster that could have taken us out of the game but didn’t.  For example, when we almost hired the wrong person for our team.  Or when a deal broke down in negotiation and we found out later the other party in the deal was caught cheating.  Narrow escapes and dodging bullets, such is the life of a leader.

Sometimes we get lucky in leadership and that’s okay.  But we need more than luck to be a successful leader.  We need skills to adapt when crisis occurs.

There are times in our leadership life when a seemingly routine event goes wrong.  In those moments, we have to adapt our mode and style.  As Todd Henry says in The Accidental Creative, we need to be “brilliant at a moment’s notice.”

The training mission suddenly changed when the plane went down.  It went from a training mission to search and rescue to recovery of the parts of the plane to an investigation as to why the crash occurred.

Yes, it could have been a lot worse, but it can be a lot more because of what we can learn from the crash.

This is what it means to be a creative leader: when crises occur, we adapt to the changing mission and learn all we can from it so we can be better in the future.

Our mission may change today.  Are you ready?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you have developed your adaptability skills.  Leave your comment below.

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.