VIDEO: The Danger of Being Pigheaded

Being stubborn is part of being human.

This quality comes from the notion that an executive knows better than anyone how to run the business. He hews to his path even when it comes into conflict with reality. Such behavior is not ideology per se; it is egotism or, in plain language, pigheadedness.

Doing your own thing without regard to others can be ruinous in three areas: policy, process and people. Let’s take them one at a time.

  1. Policy is a catchall term that comes down to the phrase “the way we do things around here.” You could refer to it as culture but, in reality, it is less specific. Such norms and behaviors bind people together, but executives who put themselves first look at such things as policy as things to be ignored rather than obeyed.
  2. Process is the set of rules and procedures by which managers keep things running smoothly. While some processes are onerous, they very often exist for reasons of compliance with regulations rooted in fiscal, security and safety objectives.
  3. People refers to employees. Egotism can be ruinous when an executive develops an opinion of a subordinate that is totally subjective. The executive perceives the subordinate as an underachiever and, as a result, the individual is banished to oblivion.

Unless an executive is willing to let go of being pigheaded, only more trouble will occur.

First posted on Smartbrief on 6/01/2018

VIDEO: James Blake and Creating Grace

Retired tennis player James Blake turned the experience of being wrongfully arrested in New York City into two things good. One was a fellowship for victims’ rights.

The second is the book “Ways of Grace: Stories of Activism, Adversity and How Sports Can Bring Us Together.” It tells the story of men and women activists who defied authority in the cause of the greater good.

Inspiring as these stories are, they exemplify the concept of grace.

For believers, grace is both the knowledge of living in the spirit of a higher power. For laypeople, grace sense of self that enables one to maintain equilibrium in the face of hardship.

Grace for both is putting what you believe into practice for the betterment of others. And, for that reason, it resonates strongly with leaders.

Leaders who demonstrate grace are those who are first and foremost comfortable in their own skins. They know themselves, warts and all. They shore up shortcomings with people who can do tasks with better fluency.

Grace in all of its dimensions, most of all courage, is something that enriches a leader’s perspective making him or her at once admirable as well as accessible.

Grace plays to aspiration of followers. We want to emulate those we admire, and we seek to follow their example.

First posted on SmartBrief on 5/04/2018

VIDEO: What It Takes to Succeed as a Manager

oing what you love to do can be a long and painful process.

That is a lesson that comes through loudly and clearly in the remarkable documentary from Aljoscha Pause called “Trainer!”

To succeed in professional football (soccer), you need to do more than strategy and tactics.

1. Connect with players. No two players are alike, as the film makes abundantly clear. Some need clear guidelines; others are self-directed. Some need a kick up the backside; others turn off at discipline.

2. Manage your situation. Professional football clubs have a board of directors plus what we would call general managers. Coaches report to them. They must lead up — that is, deliver what the bosses what while at the same time achieve good things for the club.

3. Handle the distractions. Savvy coaches know how to play the media: Be accessible. They also know how to please the fans: Play to their needs and be willing to participate in club events, such as autograph signings.

Managers are just like professional coaches. They must learn how to bring out the best in their employees, manage up in order to achieve their objectives and engage with the community around them.

First posted on 5/18/2108

VIDEO: Nice Guys Are, Well… Nice Guys

Professional golf may be the only sport that rates its players on being “nice when no one is looking.”

Golf Digest gives an award for being a “Good Guy.” To win the award, a player must be “nice when no one is looking.”

Being nice is inherent to golf. Competition does not preclude courtesy.

Fans know the good guys from the not-so-good ones. The ones who smile and make eye contact, and will pose for selfies or sign autographs, are fan favorites. The ones who won’t, aren’t. Pretty simple.

What we non-pros can learn from such behavior is how to behave in public. And this is important for leaders, especially. Why? Because leaders like golfers are always on stage, even in their off-hours. For this reason, making nice is not a “nice-to-do” (pun intended); it’s a must-do.

Now, no one is perfect. Bosses, like golfers, lose their cool, but like the nice-guy golfers, they apologize for their behavior. They also seek to make amends by acting more nice — polite, courteous and approachable — the next time.

And, guess what? You’ll get nice in return, at least most of the time. And if you don’t, well, then suck it up. After all, not everyone plays by the same rules. But good guys always do.

First posted on SmartBrief on 4/20/2018

VIDEO: A Leadership Lesson in “Can” vs. “Should”

Can an executive be nasty, mean and selfish?

Of course, and therein lies an element of leadership that some leaders fail to grasp: the difference between “can” and “should.”

Good leaders never tolerate such discrepancies. They know they should hold themselves accountable by working shoulder to shoulder with employees. Failure to do so erodes their influence and ultimately any hope of getting people to pull together to get things done.

When leaders mix up “can” and “should,” they fritter away what all leaders must hold most dear: influence.

A leader must be able to influence the course of action in order to be able to develop a vision, stimulate buy-in, rally for execution and maintain the course. One can think of these things, but doing them requires the participation of others.

An executive who cannot distinguish between “can” and “should” is an executive who cannot effectively lead because he cannot effectively influence.

Note: Readers are welcome to download my infographic on the three Cs of influence.

First posted on SmartBrief on 4/06/2017

VIDEO: Why a Leader Steps Down

Coaches are hired to be fired.

Bob Stoops, longtime head football coach of the University of Oklahoma, inverted that dictum. He retired on his own terms. After 17 years of winning, including recent back-to-back Big 12 titles as well as a national title, Stoops stepped aside in 2017.

“The coaching life is like a relay race,” said Stoops in a statement, “and I’m thankful for my turn and am confident as I pass the baton.”

Stoops’ decision to retire raises questions about the nature of when and why leaders retire.

A leader’s legacy is a sum of pluses and minuses. Ideally, you want the pluses to outweigh the minuses so a leader retires from an organization that is thriving.

But when you know you have done your best, there is nothing more to say. Or, as used to be said upon the death of a king, “The king is dead, long live the king.”

First posted on Smartbrief on 3/23/2018

VIDEO: Facts Are Facts

Conflation is the mingling or merging of two or more different concepts to come up with another idea altogether.

When you combine two ideas to come up with something that improves understanding, conflation is benign.

When used in the context of advocacy, however, conflation can be malignant because the intention is to sow confusion, discredit an individual or perpetrate a conspiracy.

We believe what we want to believe; what we are conditioned to believe. The words of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan — “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”  ring hollow today.

The challenge for anyone in leadership today is to challenge the veracity of what they hear by immersing themselves in a diversity of thought so they come to hear ideas other than their own.

In turn, they may come to conclusions that are based upon solid reasoning drawn from proven sources of information.

Big order, yes, but a challenge every leader can embrace. Our times demand it.

First posted on SmartBrief on 3/09/2018

VIDEO: Obituaries Remind Us of the Legacy We Are Creating

As anyone who has read my columns over the years knows, I am deeply indebted to obituary writers.

I like drawing nuggets that illustrate aspects of the human condition and serve as role models — or sometimes caution lights — to the rest of us.

Our lives, if we are lucky, are a long string of hits and some misses that are woven across a lifetime of living, interacting with spouses, children, parents, siblings, friends and colleagues.

At a certain point, you feel you have lived awhile but when you read an obituary, you see that you can sum up a life pretty quickly in 500 to 1,000 words.

Even a long obituary cannot capture the entirety of a person’s life. Nor should it. What you are going for is the essence of a person. What did she do? How did she do it? How did she overcome obstacles? And what to people think of her then and now?

Such questions might serves as notes of reflection for all of us. Thinking about our end is really thinking about our legacy. We will be remembered by those whose lives we touched.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2/16/2018

VIDEO: Coaching the CEO

Good CEOs surround themselves with straight talkers, it can be helpful to bring in a person who is completely outside the organization. We call them coaches.

While a good deal of coaching involves an exploration of the inner self, it is my experience that many CEOs pretty much know themselves. So coaching focuses on what the CEO can do to help his team succeed.

Toward that end, here are three good questions I like to use.

  1. What are you doing today that will bring about a better future? We live in transactional times that demand transformational thinking. In other words, we act day to day but we must be thinking long-term.
  2. What are you doing to develop your people? The CEO sits atop the organization. She’s made it, yes, but now comes the hard part. What is she doing to bring out the best in her people? Is she coaching them?
  3. What makes you happy? Coaching does get personal. Being CEO is a 24/7 responsibility. It becomes a lifestyle where time is never your own. The pace can take a toll.

Coaching engagements, unlike marriages, are things of temporary convenience. Coaches help individuals think and act for the long term but do not expect to be there when the future arrives — for better or for worse.

First posted on SmartBrief on 2/02/2018

VIDEO: Own Your Mistakes

When you make a mistake, you take responsibility for it.

President John F. Kennedy assumed full responsibility for his role in authorizing at the Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. The ill-fated invasion, which failed to overthrow Fidel Castro, was initially planned by the Eisenhower administration. Kennedy did not make excuses.

People respect a leader who assumes responsibility for their actions. Contrary to what those who deflect blame believe, showing responsibility for when things go wrong is actually a sign of strength.

How so?

A leader who stands up and takes blame for the actions of subordinates is a leader who knows him or herself.

An executive who exempts himself from blame when things go wrong is a person that cannot understand what it takes to lead because they lack one attribute essential to leadership: integrity!

First posted on 1/10/2018