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Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Is Your Project a Self-Eating Watermelon?

self-eaten watermelon

What is a self-eating watermelon? Definition : A project that contains enough seeds of success right within its own boundaries.

How many of you work for or in a self-eating watermelon project or organization?

self-eaten watermelon

I doubt many would say yes. You see I hear a lot of excuses why a project fails.

Outside influences get a big part of the blame. Low budgets, poor facilities, bad technology, broken tools, weak ideas… the list goes on and on.

What about bad leadership, or no leadership? Any organization that suffers a leadership gap is destined to miss the self-eating watermelon kind of success.

Great leaders can overcome basic obstacles. OK the tools may be dull, the budget may have gotten cut back, the building is second rate. Many great world changing events have happened with far less in terms of physical resources to do the work.

An Old Story

Leadership made the difference. I’m old enough to have been a student of the great war, WWII. Leaders like Dwight Eisenhower or Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill looked at the mess the world was in and saw a vision. They dug deep into core principles both human and domestic to design the way out.

Leaders like these inspired thousands to stand up and fight. Troops fought with second rate gear sometimes. Warm clothes and rations were scarce. Yet the forces that were mustered heard the call and forged ahead, securing victory for a free world.

If you get a chance, go tour Churchill’s bunker underneath the streets of London. By today’s standards, you just cannot imagine suffering years of isolation running the war effort from there. But his team and the plans they made were a true self-eating watermelon project. The seeds of success were grown right there.

Those who helped the effort saw a clear picture of the need. Churchill had his detractors. He was a classic modern day politician with a large percentage of the country not voting for him, yet his leadership shined brightest when the country needed it the most.

He rallied the support when it was needed. His influence on the situation was undeniable.

The Newer Story

A seldom told tale comes from banking. In the 1980’s, the automated teller machine was blazing its trail into our lives. The hardware was operating before the software. While each bank could purchase their own machines for use by their customers, there was no access sharing between banks.

I worked for a large regional bank called Texas Commerce. We had 71 locations spread across Texas. We were one of the three largest banks of our kind at the time. You have to realize we did not yet have interstate banking laws, so each state had its own banks; leave the state without cash, and you might be stuck for a while.

I was sitting at the table when our Chairman, a banking legend named Ben Love, was presented a plan to operate these ATM machines. Again, understand this was the very early days of the idea. Ben heard all of the pros and cons, saw the numbers, but decided to pass on the opportunity. In his mind, there were far too many variables, yet unknown.

In the case of the self-eating watermelon, no one knew what the seeds of success needed to include. Ben took a pass, but specifically told the team to stay vigilant, watch the other guys try, then, when the time was right, we’d jump in.

It was almost two years later that we took our dive. And dive we did. Not only did we enter the market, but we crushed it, becoming the founding members of the PULSE Switch. You see the network required to connect all of these machines needed to be built. We needed a technological super highway to carry the transaction data from one machine to the next, regardless of which bank sponsored the machine. PULSE solved that.

As a founding member of PULSE, we also captured a large share of the transaction fees that went with each swipe of a card. It was a huge play for the bank and banking in general. Yes, I know ATM’s are a given these days. No one thinks about this card or that, which network it runs on, or who gets what, when. The old model blazed the trail to create a new normal.

Ben Love had other historical accolades too. He championed branch banking and interstate banking, exerting a strong influence in the Texas legislature to pass the laws needed to open the borders for eventual e-commerce. His ties to New York banking led to the eventual merger of our bank with what is now JP Morgan Chase.

Ben Love

The seeds of this monumental success were sown into the very fabric of who and what we were as a bank. That, my friends, is leadership. Now, let it be said, Ben Love had his detractors too, just like Churchill. Not everyone who ever worked for Ben left with a positive appreciation for Ben’s ways. But you cannot deny the influence he had at so many levels.

Leadership Is the Key

In summary, there are no self-eating watermelon projects or organizations that exists without strong, capable leadership. It is the presence of leadership that steers the course, musters the resources, and wins the day.

You can be a manager, flipping switches, making a few things happen. But leadership takes the venture much further than mere management can.

If your project needs a few self-eating seeds implanted, call me for some ideas on ways to grow your team into this self-actualizing champion of your industry. You can grow your leadership ability, let me show you how.

Footnote: I was introduced to the “self-eating watermelon” terminology by Kent Cummins of Magic Hotline. Kent is a renown speaker and author.

Do you suffer from Bright Shiny Objects?

Bright shiny objects distract us right? Too many leaders suffer from an occasional bout of BSO Syndrome, chasing bright shiny objects. A leader’s focus must remain clear.

What are some bright shiny objects?  I am not talking about material things, although those certainly can distract. I once knew a CEO who had a large 10 foot mural of a road racing bicycle he owned hung in his office. Seriously, a 10 foot picture of a bike, with pedals and chains. Kudos to him for his dedication to cycling, but seriously. How distracting was that mural?

The notion of bright shiny objects means the shifting of focus from the central track we need to be operating on to less than significant efforts that rob energy and effort from the venture. In one word, distraction.

When we fall prey to chasing BSO, we lose sight of the plan we are on, priorities slip, even relationships change. We can get blinded to the lure of the BSO.

There’s a funny thing though. People subject to frequent BSO syndrome usually don’t even know they do it. Why? They are too busy bouncing from one object to the next.

When you are tasked with leading a team, you have to be ever-vigilant for BSO distraction. They come in many ways. Here are the key ones:

YOU GET LOST

You as the leader find and see some BSO, so you get lost. Your attention shifts away from the primary direction. You take a detour. You become the one with glazed vision and a fixed stare, looking at the new thing, unable to refocus on the key elements of your work.

I have attorney friends who often complain about clients who miss the critical aspects of a legal fight because they are more focused on the BSO elements instead of the bigger picture. Big cases have been lost over BSO chasing mentality.

THE TEAM GETS LOST

A whole team can get caught up in some form of bright shiny object, causing a herd mentality. When the masses shift on you, their leader, you have to rein it back in again. By over-communicating core values, vision, and direction, you reduce or eliminate the risk of the team shifting away from you to chase a BSO.

[shareable cite=”Doug Thorpe”]Being proactive rather than reactive can eliminate the herd mentality.[/shareable]

Fortunately, team shift caused by bright shiny objects is rare. In most cases, a team shift is not about bright and shiny things, but doom and gloomy things. Bad momentum can cause a whole team to shift. But that’s another topic.

THE MARKET GETS LOST

This may be the toughest form of BSO Syndrome to fight. When a whole market shifts to the next big thing, you have to be ready to make informed decisions about whether you want to take your business in a different direction. There is a fine line between waiting out a temporary shift (a true, but temporary, flight to some BSO) versus a real change in a market.

Kodak infamously missed the digital photography shift. Digital wasn’t just some BSO, it was a disruptive progression of change.

Being too dedicated to avoiding all bright shiny objects may leave you behind or totally out of a market. Occasionally what appears to be a BSO may need to be carefully evaluated after all. This is especially true with shifts in the market value of your product or service.

The Best Solution

The best way to avoid distraction from chasing BSO is to maintain an awareness of your priorities and purpose. Allow for frequent checks on the primary objectives you have set in your plan. Be true to to those efforts first. Be open and honest with yourself and others about chasing bright shiny objects. As a leader you must have a feedback loop provided by trusted advisors who can call you out on a venture down BSO Lane.

[reminder]Leave a comment and share your latest story about bright shiny objects.[/reminder]

Also, I have some limited times during the day that I am willing to take calls to answer questions from the tribe here. To schedule your call, just click below.

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Leadership: Too Big to Do Right?

As a business writer it is just waaaayyy too easy to take a swipe at United Airlines right now. I’ll let the other writers do more of that. The situation we have all watched unfold at United is indicative of a host of leadership issues and the colossus that is a company the size of United.

Courtesy 123rf.com

During the financial crisis of 2008, we learned the phrase “too big to fail”. That reference included the big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. It also included the likes of Ford and General Motors. The notion of too big to fail implied that the demise of one of those companies would have detrimental ripple effect on the whole economy of the U.S. and perhaps parts of the world.

It didn’t happen so we still don’t really know if the theory would be true. Too big to fail begs another question. Is there such a thing as too big to do right? With this I mean doing the right things on a consistent basis, day after day, regardless of schedules, circumstances, or prevailing winds of change.

A Clear Fail

United clearly failed. Others have done so too without the same level of scrutiny. I won’t bore you with that list; you can fill in your own names. You likely know some.

Too big to do right is a present force because, as a company grows, the span of control that can be exerted by a core team of leaders expands exponentially. When you grow beyond a single facility under one roof where a company team meeting can be held, you begin losing control.

As the leader, you have to rely upon layers of other managers who have been selected presumably for their alignment with the company’s vision and principles. Then you add the workforce. Not to be insensitive, but the idea of needing to put butts in the seats can often degrade your precious value system. Depending on the geography where your facility gets placed, you may not have the abundance of available workers to meet your definition of mission.

The “Good to Great” (courtesy of Jim Collins) references to getting the right people on the bus breaks down because there just aren’t enough of those people to be found. Deadlines approach, projects need to be completed, production schedules dictate warm bodies to finish the work, so compromises are made. Pretty soon, the workforce is not in step with leadership.

Legacy Creep

Then there is a legacy creep factor. Assuming a legacy of good performance, doing the right thing even exists for a company (as it once did with legacy Continental before the United merger), the long run impacts of continuing growth and expansion or merger can introduce wholesale influencers that derail the legacy success. The legacy by itself is just not strong enough to overcome the new circumstances.

Do the right things

I happen to know that there was a prevailing concern after the Continental United merger that the non-union teams from Texas were met with severe push back from the unionized crews in Chicago. I’m not making a statement one way or the other about unions, I am just saying it was a beast of a conflict that undermined all the things that Continental leadership tried to do at the time. Again, recall that Continental, a rising entity, bought United, a failing entity.

Company Culture

This brings me to my final point. Building a company culture is critical to the creation of a ‘do things right’ mantra. It is now, and will always be about the people. Not the process, not the procedures, and not even about the regulations. When we as leaders have to dumb down the execution of the purposes for which the company was founded, we risk the evolution into cases like United’s embarrassment.

The people we select to represent the company are the first and last frontier for successful execution of a company’s mission. It is a daunting task. The cultural differences that walk through our doors impact the ability to blend those cultures into a cohesive matrix for delivery of goods and services.

Look at recent articles emerging about work conditions at Amazon and even expressed concerns about the culture at Google. Big can get out of control.

Managing and coaching the workforce for accomplishment of common goals is no easy feat. One can argue it takes immensely strong leadership to do that.

At what point does a company get too big to do right? The mix and swirl of the people issues caused by the vast diversion of geography and socio-economic factors makes the possible combinations of factors working against you far greater than the things working for you. It’s a whale of a job.

Do I give United CEO a pass on this? Absolutely not. At this point, there are only two choices: new leadership or dispersion of the entity, to slim it back for effective control. I’m guessing shareholders will vote for new leadership, still hoping bigger is better. Or is it?

How Do I Find Personal Growth?

Personal Growth

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Every year, people spend a lot of time and money learning how to work their goals; setting goals, making goals stick, and achieving their goals. I think there’s a different, more meaningful question. What about setting your sights on growth?

When was the last time the question you asked yourself was not about setting goals to do more, but being more.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth

 

Have you maximized your full potential? Are you capped out? Guess what? Even if you genuinely believe you are performing at the max, I guarantee you there is another level out there. Whether the metric has to do with career, family, finances, business, faith, or any other domain we live in, there is always room for growth.

Whatever your habit and process may be for goal setting each year, try changing the context. Set sights for growth. You can still get a lot done in respect to the things that normally make the goals list, but change the focus on why you are doing these things.

Set your mind for growth. You can decide to grow personally, professionally, financially, spiritually, or most any other dimension of human existence. But please think about growth.

The first most common hindrance for growing is the fear of failure. What if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I miss the mark?

Here’s the real truth. There are two kinds of fail.

TYPE A:You try. You fail. You learn from it. You try again. This isn’t really failure. This is Learning and Growing.

TYPE B:You try. You fail. You don’t learn from it. Or you learn the wrong lessons. THIS is Failure: Trying to make the unworkable work.

Cycle to reach Growth
Cycle to reach Growth

The hard part is this:When you’re in the thick of it, with muddy boots, a scratched up face and torn coat, it can be hard to tell if you’re Learning or Failing.

Here are some observations from my own experiences both Learning and Failing to help you do more of the former and less of the latter.

When you pride yourself based on who you associate with, you’re Failing.
When your pride flows from an Inner Knowing that you’re doing what you should do when you should do it, you’re Growing.

When you try to be the person other people expect you to be, you’re probably Failing.
When you slow down and figure out what you really want first, you’re Growing.

When you look for the Right Way to Succeed, you’re probably Failing.
When you study the principles to understand why things work when they do and don’t when they don’t, you’re Learning.

When you flit from one info product or teacher to another, and never really mastering what any of them can teach you, you’re Failing.
When you read, listen, and apply what you learned from one teacher before going on to another, you’re Growing.

When you worry that you are inadequate in some important way, you are Failing.
When you know that the mind game is to see how far you’ve come – and not how far you still need to go – then you’re Learning.

When you try to do it all yourself, you’re probably Failing.
When you surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you and you learn from each other and hold each other to a higher standard, you’re Growing.

When you believe the talking heads on TV, you’re probably Failing.
When you ignore them and believe those who have done what you want to be doing, you’re Learning.

When you think the problem is your spouse, you’re Failing.
When you realize you’re probably guilty of the same actions and more, you’re Learning.

When you take responsibility for things you can not control, you’re probably Failing.
When you take full responsibility for the things you can control, you’re Growing.

When you fear man and forget God, you’re Failing.
When you remember that you are here to serve God by helping your fellow man, you’re Growing.

When you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself you’re Failing.
When you hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others, you’re Learning.

When you’re busy, busy, busy and not making time to think deeply about what you really, really want… you’re Failing.
When you regularly make time to reflect. To think. To ponder. To question…. you’re Learning.

I’ve made all these mistakes and more.

And the greatest gift is to become aware of them, so we can learn the lessons and keep on moving. Set your sights on ways to grow. Growth as a person, a mentor, a leader. We all have untapped capacity that can only be realized by stretching outside of our normal day-to-day habits and beliefs.

Go for it!

[reminder]Share ways you have recently pursued growth in your own life.[/reminder]

If you’d like to talk about this idea, just let me know some times that work for you. Click HERE

Disclaimer & Attribution: Portions of this text are attributed to Dov Gordon. Dov is a friend and fellow coach/teacher. Check out his blog too.

 
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