Leaders: Are You a Pretender or a Contender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers and leaders who are pretenders versus contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstance has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunity through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunity with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

team building via trust

I’ve coached hundreds of business people helping them develop more effective leadership skills. Whether you own the business or you’re climbing the ladder in a larger corporate setting, you can benefit from finding a close, confidential advisor to help you develop the extra skills that make a difference. Use the contact forms here to reach out. Let me introduce you to my proven programs for leadership growth.

Leaders: What Holds You Back?

It’s the Leader’s responsibility to make the big decisions. Yet there are times when leaders freeze. They can’t make the call. They can’t pull the trigger. What holds them back?

In my early career I was a banker. We had a saying. “There are old bankers and there are bold bankers, But there are no old bold bankers.”

Bankers were supposed to be the pillars of strength in the community. Seldom was the banker looked upon as the guy on the leading edge. Being bold and daring was typically something no one did.

Taking Risk

The issue at the center of the matter is risk. Take the risk or not take the risk, that is the question.

The same holds true for decision making in general. Every choice has its consequences. We teach that to our kids. You make a choice and something is going to happen; good or bad.

In business, the choices might make or break the company. Should we expand? Could we relocate? Should we sell or merge? Add staff or cut back? Hold firm or change?

The list goes on.

But what holds us back?

Here are the main reasons decision can be so darn hard.

Fear of failure or being an outlier – not everyone is a natural risk taker. The self-talk going on inside our brains keep us from being bold. The messages may even go all the way back to childhood, when you were told ‘you’re too slow, not smart enough, not good enough.’

Maybe you were brought up being told ‘you should never bring attention to yourself’.

Making the big decision may do just that; bring a lot of attention.

Fear of reputational risk, internally and externally – Businesses of all sizes have something called ‘reputational risk’. You work hard to build brand identity or at least you should be working on that. Having a solid brand identity is your reputation as a company. Taking a departure from that identity can hurt your reputation.

Think about 2010 and British Petroleum’s Texas Gulf rig fire Horizon. It brought severe reputational risk and brand damage to BP.

Lack of resources (human and capital) – This is possibly the biggest reason decisions get stalled. Whether fact or fiction, the sense that resources are lacking causes many delays and misses when it comes to key decisions.

reviewing numbers

Fixed way of thinking (mental schemas) – Companies with a tradition or legacy get lulled into one way of thinking. As an example, having a large fixed asset base does not guarantee you will make money by simply ‘not screwing it up.”

Competitive decisions must be made daily to keep your winning edge. As the times change, so must your ways of thinking and guiding the organization.

Defining “Bold” – The meaning may vary according to the individual. When a leader senses it is time for a ‘bold’ decision, the level of boldness may be limited to just his or her mindset.

Sharing the idea with your team may reveal the idea is not so bold after all. It’s just a necessary choice about next steps.

Groupthink can lead to complacency – This too is a big derailer for great decisions. If you are a leader committed to team empowerment, you want the whole team to weigh in. That is a noble idea most of the time. But habitual development of a group-think mindset can lead to a false sense of security.

The Leader is still on the hook for the final decision.

groupthink

Lastly, being bold would not be received well by the organization (or the Board). You might possibly even get penalized for stepping out there. This is a simple reality about leadership. You ARE on point. You were put there to make decisions.

Not all of your choices will be applauded. That is your risk of being the leader.

Take Inventory

I challenge my executive coaching clients to periodically re-calibrate by reviewing their decision making patterns. The question is whether the recent decisions have been consistent with the picture of the leader they want to be, not the leader they’ve been before.

Staying true to the leader you want to be should drive your decision-making process. You can still incorporate all of the team dynamics you want, but the final choice rests squarely on your shoulders.

That’s why they pay you the big bucks! (OK, that’s funny for many of us.)

The Perfect Tool in an Imperfect World

Managers are worried about their remote workers. If you’ve never had anyone work away from the office before, it can be unnerving. How can they trust what is going on? Are hours being used wisely? How can I make everyone more accountable?

On the flip side, employees who work remotely worry they are not going to be given credit for the effort they spend and the work they produce.

Having this air of uncertainty doesn’t help anyone feel productive. I’ve heard of talk about upping your communication. What does that mean? More zoom?

Leaders providing clarity of purpose, assignment, and mission must have ways to drive accountability. Simply talking more won’t get there.

It’s not a perfect system.

How can the two sides connect to provide clarity of expectations and certainty of delivery? Well, you can have daily zoom calls, but who wants to do that forever?

You could build a giant database but who needs that burden piled on top of the already difficult process?

There is actually a very simple yet elegant system I’ve used for years. Calling it a system may scare some people away already. Maybe process or habit is better.

Explaining the Solution

The process is called Big 5. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time I’ve written about this before.

But now is an especially significant change in workforce activity.

Big 5 can be the missing link for all you leaders who are worried about productivity and workers who wonder whether the boss knows your value.

Here’s how it works.

On a regular basis, every employee (managers included) writes out five goals or expectations they have for the upcoming month. These would be your ‘big rock’ priorities or ‘must wins’.

Next you write down your five biggest achievements for the past month.

Neither of these sections is long text in paragraphs. No, it’s simply bullet listed items.

You can add some comments about resource needs, constraints, etc. But focus first on goals and accomplishments.

Then send it to your boss.

gratitude smile

The boss can review and give feedback. It becomes a flash moment of coaching between manager and employee.

“I like your goals 1 thru 4, but let’s talk more about number 5.”

“Wow, I had no idea you got so much done last month. Thank you for such a big contribution.” Or…

“Sam I like what you can do for us. However I see you’ve been struggling with this remote working environment. Let’s talk about ways I can help you.”

When the next period rolls around, the things you said were goals should become accomplishments. Now, you update the goals.

Take really big, longer term goals and break them down into those bite size tasks.

Frequency of Reporting

Usually, when I teach Big 5, we start with monthly check-ins. However, with the massive change in the workplace, like what we have right now, you might ask for weekly updates.

I once ran a large project with very high velocity, rapid-fire activity. A weekly check-in made more sense. I was providing my client with a status report every Monday, so I had my team do a weekly Big 5.

When they left on Friday, they dropped me their individual reports. I could compile them into a summary picture I gave the client on Monday.

It was powerful, productive, and very effective. Huge goals were achieved, deliverables were met, and the client was very happy with the results.

What About Me?

You might be saying I don’t have a team, but I do have a boss.

Ok, write your Big 5 and give it to the boss. When he/she says “What’s this?” Explain it to them. Say you want to create more clarity and you believe this can help.

That is exactly how I was introduced to Big 5. The colleague who created it actually worked for me many years ago. We were going through tumultuous times in our industry and days flew by.

Finally, one day he dropped a printed copy of his report on my desk. Sure enough, I said, “What’s this?” He explained. We had a brief discussion about the content. He left with perfect clarity of my expectations for him and his team.

Next month he was back again with an update.

And we thrived after that with better clarity, alignment, and a sense of achievement. Sure, we had meetings in between, but the big objectives were being conquered.

Fill the Gap

If you are worried about the productivity of your team, introduce the Big 5 process. If you don’t think your boss understands what you do, give them a Big 5 report. Rinse and repeat.

I’ve added a special online course to my curriculum just for Big 5. If you are interested in learning more, click here. I am offering a special 40% discount for readers of this blog. Yes, regularly $47 now just $27 while this article is in circulation until June 15, 2020. Again, click here to take advantage of this exclusive offer.

Big 5 has even replaced employee ranking and annual assessment tools. If you’re doing Big 5 monthly, when the annual review comes around, you have 60 data points to discuss. That, my friend, is powerful.

It’s by far not a perfect work world right now. Why not use a more perfect tool to manage the crisis?

Big 5 Performance is created by Roger Ferguson of ISIHRConsulting. Big 5 has an app to automate the process. It even manages the reporting with the next level up managers. If the app is something you want for you, your team or your company click here.

6 Great Questions to Lead Your Team

Being a leader requires the ability to build rapport with your team. Those following you must have good reason to do so.

Every time you have a one-on-one talk with your employees, you have a big opportunity to add to and build that individual rapport.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, too many teams are separated, working remotely, and having trouble connecting. Or do they?

The very best leaders I know have been using the following six questions (and then some) to stay connected, stay in communication, and thrive during this period.

Use this in some form or another every time you get that golden opportunity to talk to each individual on your team.

The 6 questions are:

Where are WE going?

Ask this intentionally so that the employee or follower is able to express in their own words their understanding of the current state. Let them tell you what they understand to be the mission and direction.

If the answer catches you off guard, then maybe you have a big disconnect that needs to be handled immediately.

The “we” here is about the team. Be sure to gauge whether the individual’s understanding is in step with the team direction you hope for.

Where are YOU going?

This is a logical follow-up to #1. If the person expresses a correct team direction but shares a personal variance in what they think is happening, then you have another opportunity to connect and correct.

The where are you going question also measures engagement. When an individual has begun to disengage with the team, they must be offered the opportunity to reconnect.

What do you think you are doing well?

This is a great opportunity to let the individual team member express their pride for what might be working for them. Let them share their focus.

Again though, if there is a bit of misalignment, this is the perfect opportunity to realign, recalibrate the role and the duties to set the path for better performance.

By allowing the person to share, you open the communication letting them state in their own words the accomplishments they view as significant.

What are some suggestions for improvement?

Open the door for individual dialogue about ways to improve things. The people who are on the frontlines see things differently than you. Be open to listening to these observations. You just might get the next great idea.

How can I help?

This may be the most powerful of all questions a manager/leader can ask a follower. Letting them know you are there to help is the biggest proof of your commitment to seeing them succeed.

This is an especially important question during remote working conditions. 

Don’t ask it if you don’t mean it, but use it sincerely and you will see team commitment rise significantly.

If something is suggested, you must follow through to get it resolved or delivered. Don’t let this golden opportunity fall flat on its face from your inability to deliver.

If the ask is too big, then say so. Explain what the limitations are, but be real. Let the person know they were heard and that you understand.

What suggestions do you have for me to be a better manager?

This is last but by no means the least of these 6 questions. Again, your hope should be to receive sincere feedback. Your response should be an open acceptance of what you get told.

If all you do is ask the question but recoil, then you’ve missed the opportunity.

However, if you take the suggestion and do something with the feedback, you build great rapport and trust.

Speaking of Trust

Trust is at the root of the best performing teams. Building an atmosphere of high trust keeps the whole team engaged with you as the boss. Having the rapport through regular, recurring one-on-ones with your team, using these six questions, will keep the trust growing.

In a recent study conducted at Google, they spent two years researching what made some of their teams perform better than others.

The overwhelming answer was “psychological safety” or TRUST. When teams created a safety net of trust, team members performed at much higher levels.

I’ve developed the following model to help explain the six elements for building and maintaining trust within your team. This model has been used by industry giants in several different settings. 

Team Trust

When trust is present, people can accept bad news. They won’t necessarily like it but they can better accept it when they know you have their backs. They get to that end by seeing you make the effort to build the rapport at each chance you get. As rapport improves, so will the trust they have.

Call to Action

If you are a manager or executive who needs a little help with any of these ideas, perhaps a coach can help. To learn more about the coaching I do, schedule a call to speak with someone about the programs and ways we can help.

Are You Ready to Take a Chance?

As businesses across the globe begin to ponder their choices for reopening in a post-COVID-19 world, people will be faced with choices. While governmental restrictions dictate some of those choices, it appears all other choices will be left up to the owner/manager. Are you ready to take a chance?

The choices will involve taking chances. How are you set for taking a chance? Here are just a few of the situations I am seeing among the businesses I serve.

Leader making choices

Social distancing is still going to be a ‘rule of the road’. Large companies with grand office footprints are talking about limiting on-site presence, at least for the near future. Ideas like allowing only those employees with enclosed offices to return to work first. Cubicle workers will stay home a bit longer.

Restaurants are looking at separating tables by six feet, reducing seating areas. Stores may keep the Plexiglas panels they have installed at checkout stands.

As an executive, leader or manager making these choices, you create a risk for taking the chance to do something one way or the other. How will you handle that?

The Basis for Decision

Responding to the post-crisis world will be testing your leadership resolve. Do you have the ‘metal’ to stand firm in your convictions about the right thing to do? Clearly acting too soon to deploy large numbers of employees, patrons, or traffic in your facility may tag you an outlier. Are you ready to accept that risk?

The process to make these choices will demonstrate what you have been made of all along. As John Maxwell says:

“Experiences make us, but crisis reveals us.”

How will you be revealed in the face of the crisis around you? As the world finds its new normal, will your leadership character be strong or weak?

Core and Edge Thinking

There is a good explanation for dealing with taking chances as a leader. It has to do with the agility you have in moving from your core out to the edge. Let me explain.

Your Core is the center of your leadership framework. It is made up of all your beliefs, values, and relational experiences. The core includes your technical training and experience too. Likely you have worked hard to develop your leadership core. Just like working on your body’s core at the gym, having a strong leadership core makes you a better leader.

Diagram of core-edge-agility

Your core provides the foundation of who and what you may be as a leader. It inspires your own sense of right and wrong, weak and strong.

However, your core can become your comfort zone too. You might be one who finds safety in staying very close to the core. This can be the downside of relying too much on core strengths.

Then There’s the Edge

For every one of us, there is an edge out there. The edge is the horizon of opportunity and challenge. The edge is where new growth happens. It is often an unknown situation or circumstance.

This is why taking a chance is a good example of being on the edge. The risk that is associated with going out to the edge is what makes leadership challenges so significant.

Explorers love the edge challenge. Finding new horizons.

That is why your willingness to go out to the edge is as much an indicator of your leadership prowess as is your core strength.

Agility

The third dimension of this model is called agility. Agility is a leader’s ability to move smoothly from core thinking to the edge and back again.

On one hand, being willing to freely go out to the edge is good, but if you get stuck there, you’re in trouble. You have to be able to get back to your center, your foundation. Think about Apollo 13.

taking a chance with core, edge and agility

Agility is the beauty of good leadership. Keeping your values high yet exploring new opportunities to grow and prosper your team, your work, and your business. By gracefully going to the edge while maintaining clear visibility of core strengths, you become a trusted leader.

Back to the New Chances

The new normal we are looking to establish represents the edge for all of us. The way we define the edge may be different, but it is an edge nonetheless. If your core cries out for certain values and expectations, but the edge is not clear, you are dealing with taking a big chance.

Your agility will be the factor that determines your success. Ask yourself what it will take to move forward.

Will an old habit of decision making fail you in this new crisis? Will you be afraid to take chances?

Or can you effectively, maybe even boldly, make the right decision to choose next steps for your business? By exercising your agility you can go out to the new edges, do what you have to do, then know you can always return to your core for strength.

Note: Core, Edge, and Agility concepts courtesy of Lee Hecht Harrison

Certain graphics courtesy of 123rf.com and unsplash.com

Have You Found Your Edge?

doug thorpe leadership coach

The global pandemic has caused everyone to rethink their normal. Finding a new normal has become a worldwide goal.

While there is talk of returning to some kind of old normal, I wanted to challenge you with a simple question.

Have you found your edge or are you standing at the edge?

Let’s tackle the dark side first. Standing at the edge describes a sense of being on the brink. For example, young parents of school-age kids are really expressing the sense of being on the edge. Confinement has been a bit too close for them.

Others have talked about the fatigue of living a groundhog day over and over.

I’ve had coaching clients, leaders in big organizations, admit they weren’t quite prepared for what remote working would do to them and their teams. And I’ve worked with small business owners who have made very tough decisions about releasing staff and cutting back or closing temporarily, if not permanently.

The pandemic has caused concern at many levels. Yet the word I hear most often is resilience. Staying resilient keeps us away from the edge.

The Upside

Finding your edge is a whole other story. The pandemic has birthed some great ideas and some creative solutions for sure.

Just look at the explosion of the Zoom platform. Many businesses large and small have resorted to using the zoom conference. Schools are relying on the video connection to keep teaching students. There are even parodies of zoom video chats gone wrong.

Some of the small businesses I work with have gotten very creative. One retailer who lost all access to her storefront due to a mall shutdown has resorted to home delivery of her products.

A restaurateur discovered a market for one specialty dish that can be prepared in a more commercial kitchen. They have plans to close their regular restaurant and rely solely on the pickup and delivery of the new dish. This results in almost a 5x margin gain by eliminating the rent for the sit-down restaurant. Plus gross sales have tripled.

My larger company clients are finding an interesting phenomenon. While people admit to missing the interpersonal contact an office setting provides, productivity has increased. The crush of meeting after meeting has settled into a focused format that is highly effective and productive.

Companies who formerly feared allowing staff to work from home are finding the reliability to be refreshing.

People are finding a new edge of efficiency, productivity, and profitability. How long will it last? Who knows? Right now the lessons learned by many are being translated into possibilities for a new normal.

Where are you?

Standing at the edge? Or on a new, more meaningful edge for competitive advantage, effectiveness and gain?

Leaders can make the difference.

Here are five ways to find the right edge.

Be open to change – there is no point in fighting the reality of where we are. Follow the guidelines and roll with the flow.

Over-communicate with your people – don’t let anyone on your team get truly isolated. Communicate even when you have nothing new to say. Tell them that.

Ask for ideas – let your team shine during this period. Open up the lines of exchange of ideas and solutions. Think outside the box. Heck just crush the old box.

Be fearless – don’t get afraid of new ideas that radically impact your work as you once knew it. The new alternative could increase your profitability, your brand, and your effectiveness.

Stay resilient – here’s that word again. Don’t let disappointment or frustration get the best of you. Be flexible and ready to respond.

Are You Focused Deep or Wide?

If you start talking about leadership, you may get several different reactions; everything from eye-roll to serious looks. Regardless of the guru you follow or the school where you took leadership training, there is one key question that remains.

Will your leadership ability be deep or wide?

If you’re thinking about big organizations with high headcount and multiple lines of business, you are thinking about wide leadership influence. This includes large communities or tribes where your influence can be experienced.

However, if you think in terms of the immediate circle of your peers and direct reports, then you are thinking deep leadership.

There is not really a right or wrong to either of these two schools of thought.

Wide Leadership Thinking

As the name implies, wide leadership reaches far. The edges are way out there. You might be hoping to influence or impact a large population, whether that’s within your company or inside an industry.

Your idea of a vision has a really big scale to it. You are wanting to leave behind or accomplish making a big difference.

Ironically, a great leader with a wide vision isn’t necessarily thinking about numbers of followers. Instead, they focus on the need. Their heart centers on service.

The best picture is that of the pebble cast on a calm pool of water. The place where the stone hits the water causes ripple effects that have energy enough to reach the far edges of the pond or lake. If the pool was perfectly still, a single stone will create ripples that are seen the whole distance beyond the center of that circle.

Great leadership creates ripples of influence and impact in the hearts and minds of the ones who stand in the outer bands of the circle surrounding the leader.

The Deep End

Deep leadership is limited in numbers. It is a more personalized experience, dealing with a few.

In business, we think of it as our “direct reports”, those who are assigned directly to us with whom we have a day to day contact.

Mentoring someone is a deep leadership happening. The leader will be pouring wisdom, encouragement, and experience into the individual, one on one.

Deep leadership impact will be life changing for the recipient. Perhaps the influence will be limited to just a few nuggets of truth or learning, but the substance will be powerful. The person receiving the lesson will be forever changed.

The Best Do Both

The best leaders I have ever known or studied do both. I’ve tried being that kind of leader in what I do. I’ve tried teaching it to others.

When you take on a position of responsibility, you have to make the team work first. Your influence should be the deep kind. You must feed and nurture those assigned to you or hired by you. It is up to you to explain the vision and purpose.

You’ll be doing individual development of those around you.

As the team becomes productive, you can shift your focus to the wider perspective.

Your business may have many layers and your team is just a part of the bigger picture. Your influence as a leader can be felt by others outside your team. You do this by supporting other units or departments.

If you own your own business, you have to get it up and running smoothly (deep leadership) before you reach too far outside into the community to make yourself known (wide leadership).

A Pivot

I could go on about this and maybe will in another installment later. But I need to interject something.

I had this article in my writing queue for some time. My calendar was clicking by and my process to go to press was running normally. Then it was time to polish this one off and prep it for release on Sunday, April 12.

It hit me.

That Date is Easter.

Then it hit me again. What better an example of deep and wide influence than the story we know about Jesus’s life.

I intentionally do not force my faith and beliefs on you my reader. Nor will I start now. But please allow me a moment to reflect on this, a very significant holy date for many.

The story of Jesus began with him assembling a small group, twelve to be exact. His intent was to go deep with teaching, mentoring and messaging. He attempted to dispel many teachings of the day and bring better clarity on the subject of God and Heaven.

The disciples as this group later would be called, didn’t always get it at first. It took many tries to explain and demonstrate the principles to them. They eventually did get it.

Then focus turned to a wider audience. A gathering in a town square, a following on a hillside. The pebble was thrown into the lake and ripple it did.

The twelve are gone. Yet, the legacy created 2000 years ago remains.

I don’t judge your beliefs. None of this is an attempt to sway you otherwise. Yet for those who do believe this story and these teachings, the model is perfect.

Leadership delivered deeply to a few had impact far and wide on many. Today, we as leaders can do much the same.

OK most of you will not start a movement or create a global cause. But you can be the leader your team and your community need right now.

I encourage you to reflect in this Easter season.

Where does your leadership stand right now? Deep, wide or both?

Come Home Before Dark

welcome sign

Lately, I’ve been reminded of a saying I once used to guide my kids. The phrase was ‘come home before dark’.

When I was younger, we’d play outside seemingly forever. When we asked to go outside, our parents always said: “Come home before dark.”

That was a literal meaning. Once it was dark, if we weren’t home we were in big trouble.

As I grew into adulthood and began having children of my own, an old preacher taught me something new about this phrase.

The words home and dark have a deeper meaning to explore.

Come Home

Coming home is about returning to safety. It’s a center of being. As a kid, it was the place I lived. There was love and warmth at home.

I could reconnect with who I was at home. The world around me could be throwing flaming arrows, but the home was a fortress.

Home was where values were formed. At home we could have honest, loving talks about the things that I worried about.

Dark

When something gets dark, there is trouble brewing. Bad things happen in the darkness.

Dark journey

You hear people talk about others and say ‘they just went dark.” Lights out, no response.

The Instruction

I wanted my kids to know that they could always come home before dark. My wife and I would be waiting to take them in, give them security, and talk through whatever we needed to talk about.

One night our doorbell rang about 2:00 a.m. We stumbled out of bed to find our middle son (family of 5 kids). He was in his early 20’s, already graduated and living in town with a roommate.

We could tell he had been drinking, but his first words were “You said come home before dark.”

We said “Sure, glad you did. What’s going on?”

He proceeded to tell us about a party that was going on in his apartment. Suffice it to say it had gotten out of control. The roommate was a college friend. They had invited other college buddies to join.

Plenty of drinking followed. Behaviors got wilder and wilder.

My son said he had tried to calm things down. He had left his fraternity lifestyle behind the day he walked across stage to get his diploma. Clearly, these others had not.

He sensed the night was not going to end well. Even with his own influence of alcohol, he remembered the words ‘come home before dark.’ And that he did.

As it turned out, later that night, neighbors in the apartments called police. Some arrests were made, but my son was home safe, out of the darkness.

So What

Why do I share this story with you in a blog about leadership? It’s because I believe leaders guide people home before dark.

A leader establishes a home base; somewhere people want to be. Yes, they may venture out on their own to explore new opportunities, new tasks, new direction. But when they sense the darkness, home is where they should turn.

Is your team environment a safe home to shield your employees from their darkness?

Have you communicated to them your desire that they consider your place a home?

I realize some will read this and say “You have no idea what my home life was like. It was darkness all its own.” To those I say, I am sorry to hear that. Why don’t you create a new home? Surely you will have people around you who need that safety and shelter.

I’m not going to lie when I say this article was prompted by the world we’re in right now, the corona virus scare. It is scary.

We need leaders who will stand firm in their conviction for choosing the next right step toward creating calm, creating safety, and helping others through the storm.

Will you be that leader, right where you are?

Help others come home before dark.


For anyone who feels in darkness over a job loss, I’ve just released my book on job search called “STRIVE“. It’s a practical guide to effective job search, even in tough times. This program was born in the crash of 2008 when we had double-digit unemployment. STRIVE helped thousands, yes, thousands of job seekers reconnect with their sense of personal purpose so they could find the right job. Share this info with your friends.

strive job search

What Do You Do with a 3-2 Count?

baseball batter aand catcher on 3-2

In baseball, there is something known as the 3-2 count (three-two). It means three balls and two strikes. It means the person who is up to bat has only the next pitch to get something done.

Three strikes and you’re out. If the pitcher misses the strike zone and the batter waits to swing, it will be called a “ball” and the batter gets to walk to first base.

While all pitches in baseball count for something, there is nothing like the three-two moment to feel the pressure rise.

In Business

The same is true in business. Managers and leaders have to make decisions all the time, but only some of those are real “3-2 decisions”.

What do you do when you realize the situation is a 3-2 moment? Some managers freeze. They ask for more data. Or they try to stall in some other way.

Other leaders are quick and confident to jump in and make the call.

What makes it so much different?

According to John Maxwell, the 3-2 count results in something he calls “PGE results.”

Pain, gain, and experience. The outcome of the decision you make in a 2-3 moment results in PGE.

Pain – the results might be painful. The results can be painful to you, your team, the company, and even the community you serve.

During Hurricane Harvey in the Texas Gulf Coast area, a tough 3-2 decision had to be made by the Corps of Engineers. Two large dams northwest of the greater Houston area were about to burst from being overfilled by 52″ of rainwater.

A 3-2 decision was made to intentionally release water from the flood gates, pouring into thousands of homes downstream. Billions of dollars of damage happened.

Yet, had they NOT opened the gates, the entire structures could have burst, flooding out most of the entire Houston area, some 6 million inhabitants.

It was a very painful result for some, but it saved so many others.

baseball batter aand catcher on 3-2

Gain – the results will be rewarding. Good decisions can result in a miraculous gain. Once I was flying some friends in a small single-engine airplane, a Piper Arrow.

The weather had changed from good to bad as we approached our destination. Plus the winds had picked up and shifted to crosswind conditions.

Crosswinds are the worst kind of wind to land a plane. It means the wind is blowing across the runway, causing a force that pushes the plane sideways while you are trying to follow a straight line to land.

I took in all of the information I needed from the tower about landing that day. I set up my final approach and begin a severe crab angle to land. Crabbing involves turning the plane at as much as a 45-degree angle to the straight line of the runway.

With the angle, you fight the crosswind until the last possible moment when the plane has to be turned into alignment with the center stripe of the runway. I won’t go into all the details, but we experienced a textbook crosswind landing that day.

My pilot training had prepared me to do that landing in a definite 3-2 situation. My passengers appreciated the fact we got home safely without incident despite the bad weather that day.

Experience – Working through a 3-2 decision gives you added experience. Experience alone is not a good teacher. Informed experience, studied and analyzed gives you better instruction.

Whatever the outcome, the experience from making a 3-2 decision needs to be evaluated and reviewed. What you learn, once properly vetted, can be applied to future decisions.

In the baseball story, if the batter strikes out on 3-2, he will review the video replay of that at-bat. Anything he can find about his stance, his swing or his posture, will help to improve the odds of making the next 3-2 situation have a better outcome.

Managers and leaders have to stay sharp for 3-2 conditions. As I write this, I’m hearing leaders expressing concerns for their people, businesses and families. Rightfully so. There is so much uncertainty.

This is one giant 3-2 situation. Use your informed experience to muster the training and resolve you need to make good decisions for your team, your family, and your community.

Be strong, stay well.

Are You Managing Your World or Is Your World Managing You?

managing world

With so many of us confined to limited movement during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been touching base (OK touching is a bad word) with colleagues, clients and close friends. The gist of the discussions have to do with “what do we do now?”

An old title from my archives came to mind. I thought I’d dust it off and share. I hope this thought will be helpful to you as you figure out your “new normal.”

Here it is from  the vault.


We all suffer the daily grind. Some days are better than others. For anyone in management or leadership, you need to take a pause to make some critical assessments. I like to call it recalibration. This is a key leadership quality.

Let’s face it, the demands on your time and your life can get overwhelming. In today’s tumultuous market, we really never know from day to day what next may come.

A Story

In my consulting days, I was project manager of a very large engagement with over 600 consultants working for me. It was a coast to coast assignment with teams scattered across 7 job sites. I had nine different work streams running concurrently, with cross-over dependencies between teams.

The hours were long and the travel compounded the pressure. The client was a large national banking institution and the mission was to help the bank respond to a critical regulatory mandate. To say the least, the stakes were great. It could have been easy to get overwhelmed with the scope of the situation. I confess, at times I did feel consumed.

Fortunately, my many years of prior training, both military and civilian, had prepared me for just such a mission. I was a long time practitioner of the principle I am about to share

If you let these pressures mount without routinely asking yourselves some essential questions, you run the risk of spinning off into some other orbit that you never intended.

I suggest that one of the most essential questions to ask yourself is :

Are you managing your world or is your world managing you?

The Frog

There is an old story of the frog in the pot. The story says that if you drop a frog in boiling water he immediately jumps out. But if you set him in cool water and slowly add the heat, he’ll boil to death. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to be like the frog.

boiling-frog

You have to gauge the temperature on a regular basis. Are you getting comfortable with the heat rising?

You have to pay attention to the circumstances around you. There needs to be the routine recalibration of your own role in the middle of the work demands going on around you.

React or Respond?

Here’s another point. If a doctor prescribes medication and I have a reaction to it, that is NOT GOOD. Yet if I respond to it, I am going to get over the condition. Just like with the medicine, being reactive to the things in our world really will not help the situation. Of course there are things that may happen that are totally unexpected. We have to deal with that.

At the core of this idea is the challenge between being proactive or reactive. The point here is that we should not let everything that happens become a topic of reaction. Truly we should be able to do some things to be proactive with what may come. Proactive people are better positioned to respond to the situation and manage their world. However, being reactive allows the events of the day to manage YOU.

So where do you stand? Are you more inclined to be in control of the things happening around you or have you started just reacting?

People Can Mess Things Up

people mess things up

You may think you have developed the best plan in the world to attack the next chapter of your life (ok, maybe just the next few hours). Then, what do you know, the very first person who walks into the office seems to blow the whole plan out of the water. What do you do?

Don’t react! Force yourself to pause and process the matter according to your plan. This is how you manage things rather than let things manage you.

Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why we so often feel overwhelmed at the end of the day.

Even if you are successful at maintaining the focus on your plan, it likely will take lots of energy and effort. But people who have been able to adopt a discipline for doing this find it becomes easier to do. If your outward aura is true to this inner control, the people around you will start to get the picture. Their demands will become less intrusive, plus they will learn they cannot get “the reaction” out you they used to be able to do.

LIFE IS A SELF-HELP JOURNEY

Managers getting it right

Maybe self-help books are not as popular as they once were. The truth is, this journey we call life is full of self-help moments. Rather than waiting on others to pitch in or hoping that circumstances may change, you need to take control of your own destiny.

Personal and professional growth only happens when you choose to make it happen.

At each and every step of the way, keep asking yourself if you are managing your world or does your world manage you? Take the time to recalibrate. Get back on plan.

Question: When was the last time you were able to stand back and realize your world was managing you? How did you regain control?