As much as I love all the science, academia, and psychology of leadership development, and believe me I follow a lot of it, I often find the biggest achievements come from simple steps. I call these triggers.
I had a client recently who was tasked with improving his executive presence. He had developed a reputation as having a somewhat short fuse when it came to interactions in the field.
In his defense, he works in a labor-intensive industry, with much of the workforce being trade skills and blue collar. Nothing wrong with that picture other than you must understand confrontations can be lively.
My client had a tendency to meet his folks on their level whenever prompted by conflict.
As we worked through his options for changing his style and approach, we discussed specific instances and role played the scenarios. After we had explored his options, I asked him “How do you think you will be able to effect this behavior once you’re back in the field?”
He was stumped for a moment. He really couldn’t think of ways to make it work.
The choice was simple. Either react the old way or respond with the new framework and mindset.
I suggested he think of a trigger. It was going to be easy to know when a confrontation was about to begin.
I asked him if he thought he could decide begtween two simple choices; either “on” or “off”. What I meant was, decide whether the employee reactions were “on”, as in, “I don’t like this instruction, but…. I can see why I need to do that.” That is an “on” position.
If the employee is totally opposed and becoming aggtitated, then the matter is “off”.
He agreed that would be easy to process.
By knowing whether the moment was on or off, he could choose to use his new methods for dealing with “off” situations.
The central theme we had landed upon was “an executive must act as he should, not as he feels.”
When circumstances were looking like they were in the “off” position, he needed to be extra diligent to be MORE executive about the situation, refrain from responding in-kind, and become the peacemaker rather than another combatant.
By not forcing himself to have to think too deeply about the situation, he could rely on simple on/off logic to know which response was appropriate.
It worked very well.
After all my years of business and community leadership, I firmly believe there is a great deal you can accomplish as a leader with good common sense. That’s why I call my blog “Leadership Powered by Common Sense.”
Again, I love the brain science, emotional intelligence, psychology and all other facets of effective leadership study. Yet when you are in the heat of battle, you need simple, effective triggers to guide your response.
Question: What are some triggers you can use in your leadership to become a more effective leader? Leave a comment.
Here’s a life lesson that needs no embellishment….
In Nashville, Tennessee, during the first week of January, 1996, more than 4,000 baseball coaches descended upon the Opryland Hotel for the 52nd annual ABCA convention.
While I waited in line to register with the hotel staff, I heard other more veteran coaches rumbling about the lineup of speakers scheduled to present during the weekend. One name, in particular, kept resurfacing, always with the same sentiment — “John Scolinos is here? Oh man, worth every penny of my airfare.”
In 1996, Coach Scolinos was 78 years old and five years retired from a college coaching career that began in 1948. He shuffled to the stage to an impressive standing ovation, wearing dark polyester pants, a light blue shirt, and a string around his neck from which home plate hung — a full-sized, stark-white home plate.
After speaking for twenty-five minutes, not once mentioning the prop hanging around his neck, Coach Scolinos appeared to notice the snickering among some of the coaches. Even those who knew Coach Scolinos had to wonder exactly where he was going with this, or if he had simply forgotten about home plate since he’d gotten on stage.
Then, finally …
“You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he said, his voice growing irascible. I laughed along with the others, acknowledging the possibility.
“No,” he continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”
Several hands went up when Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room. “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches,” more question than answer.
“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth league? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”
Another long pause.
“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another reluctant coach.
“That’s right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is the home plate in high school baseball?” “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident.
“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?” “Seventeen inches!” we said, in unison.
“Any Minor League coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball? “Seventeen inches!”
“RIGHT! And in the Major Leagues, how wide home plate is in the Major Leagues?”
“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls. “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?” Pause.
“They send him to Pocatello!” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a seventeen-inch target? We’ll make it eighteen inches, or nineteen inches. We’ll make it twenty inches so you have a better chance of hitting it.
If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”
” … what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?
The chuckles gradually faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold. He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw something.
When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows. “This is the problem in our homes today. With our marriages, with the way we parent our kids. With our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”
Then, to the point at the top of the house, he added a small American flag. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful, and to educate and discipline our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate! Where is that getting us?”
Silence. He replaced the flag with a Cross. “And this is the problem in the Church, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, only to have such an atrocity swept under the rug for years. Our church leaders are widening home plate!”
I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting and how to run better practices, I had learned something far more valuable.
From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself and others accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.
“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. “… dark days ahead.”
Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at the age of 91, but not before touching the lives of hundreds of players and coaches, including me.
Meeting him at my first ABCA convention kept me returning year after year, looking for similar wisdom and inspiration from other coaches. He is the best clinic speaker the ABCA has ever known because he was so much more than a baseball coach.
His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players — no matter how good they are — your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.
Yes, I’ve seen my share of clever prank notes and ruses to get me going today.
HOWEVER…. One stands heads and shoulders above them all.
Marketing guru Ryan Deiss, of Austin, Texas, wins the world championship in my book. I’ve known Ryan for several years. As I began building my blog, I joined his Digital Market programs and found tons of valuable material.
Color me curious when bright and early this a.m. I get an email announcing “RYAN DEISS IS FAKE!”
The Video Proof
It goes on to share a video blog about researchers uncovering secret truths about his existence. Some even point out false credentials from the University of Texas “calling the registrar and finding no such name on record.”
I knew it was April Fools Day, but I admit this one had me going, given the professional look and feel. And the extent of the effort. Well, sure enough, it was a prank. But what a great idea.
I haven’t seen his web hit rates today, but I’m guessing even his numbers are off the chart. Just brilliant.
Now, here’s my question to you. How do you feel about such a tactic? Pro or schmo? Leave a comment.
The life of a manager/business leader certainly has its benefits, but there are downsides to being a leader too. Not long ago, I received an email from someone who had served on a large project with me. Their recall of my leadership role was, let’s say, “less than flattering.”
The project in question was a large one. We started with a team of 457 professionals and grew it to over 700 before the project ended. I was the lead executive running the show.
The effort called for organizing 9 different work teams, handling 9 distinctly different focus topics and work plans. In the middle of it was a just-in-time software development project. That alone would have been a big enough challenge all by itself.
The work was spread coast to coast in 4 large work centers. To say we had occasional personnel problems would be an understatement.
My duty to lead and manage this group was a really big challenge. Thankfully, I had a close, but effective support staff with me. My deputy, second in command, became my traveling problem solver.
Back to the Email Message
This blog is about leadership. I share experience and learning from 30+ years in the trenches, on the front lines. So, yes, I try to be some type of sherpa.
The person who wrote me the email actually said I was a hypocrite for writing about management and leadership becasue he had a very clear recall of my role there.
He went on to call me one of those “stiffs” who sat in the glass offices and didn’t come out much. While some may say I fell short in a few areas during that project, getting out and around to the work teams was not one of the failings. In fact, my support crew saw me early in the morning then seldom saw me until late in the day.
Keeping on the Move
Why? Because I was moving from team to team, meeting to meeting, or training to training, dealing directly with the teams and their unit managers. I was as much cheerleader for the vision of the project as I was operator and executive.
Frankly, I am proud of the project and the team we recruited. I met some amazing professionals who worked tirelessly to accomplish our goals, all under a tight time clock of deadlines and deliverables. The fact that some who were present either didn’t see it this way or have their own different opinions are just reality.
I am a Realist
If I’ve learned much of anything in my years as an executive, I’ve learned you have to be real about people’s expectations. You will never win them all. I am convinced that if you recruit three people to be on the same team, you will find one negative Ned or Nelly. Heck, this can even happen just hiring two people.
The Challenge as a Leader is Threefold
First, you must do the best you can at recruiting and selecting people for your team. For a small business, this can be the most difficult challenge an owner undertakes. It is certainly true in big business too. You will not win them all here either, but you can do things to make better selections through detailed screening, background checks, and by giving practical tests to applicants.
If you have specific skills you need to be performed, you have to test for those skills. The “soft stuff” like customer service can be a bigger challenge. After all, people have learned how to ace interviews and smile pretty. Yet, once they land, you can only wait to see whether they fit correctly into your roles and execute on the duties?
Equip to Win
Next, you must equip them to win. As a leader, you must impart the best information you can provide to help them understand the job, the requirements, and winning factors that work for the specific need you have them fill. That is on you as the leader to provide this understanding.
As soon as an employee demonstrates an unwillingness to embrace the framework and perform against the standards, you need to begin remediation actions. Whether that is retraining, reassignment, relocation, or removal, the manager must move swiftly to eliminate the lingering impact of an underachiever.
Lastly, there will still be those who hate your leadership. Regardless how much you work to win the hearts and minds of your team, you will have some who don’t get it. No leader anywhere should expect of themselves the ability to win everyone over. There are just enough personalities in this world to occasionally find the ones who won’t mesh well.
I like to say it’s not right or wrong, it’s just different. When you identify the difference, you have to accept it for what it is.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
On occasion when you get some really negative feedback from a former employee (or current one), take it with a grain of salt. They pay you the proverbial big bucks to have the thick skin to take it.
Let the haters hate – It’s what they do.
If there is substance in the feedback, embrace it. Use the input to improve your leadership skills. However, when you know you gave it your best shot, proven by the feedback from those who mattered at the time (your client, your boss, and the team around you) forget about the Hater. Haters will hate. That’s what they do.
Be bold. Be strong. Don’t let one loud voice drown out your ability to make a difference for everyone else.
Oh, by the way. After over 30 years managing and directing thousands and a current day social media following of over 100,000, I’ve gotten two such letters in five years.
Not bad. Not bad at all. (President Whitmore – Independence Day)
People in management and leadership deal with problems all day long. Plans and projects get started, procedures are written and taught, but things go wrong. You’ve got a problem.
Challenges present themselves in so many forms. People problems, supply problems, customer problems, and so on and so on.
A lot of physical and emotional energy gets spent solving problems. For managers, problem solving is a big part of your job description. It can be argued that management is nothing but problem solving. Yet there is one thing that I find curious about most problems.
Usually, the problem is not the problem. The problem is the way we are thinking about the problem.
Our mindset drives so much of our approach to problem-solving. Honestly, we are biased by our prior experience and beliefs. Here are a few examples:
If the problem involves money, does our view about money trip us? (see How Much Is Enough)
If the problem includes certain people, do we have an attitude about that person or persons?
If the problem is about a client, do we have a particular view of that client based on prior dealings?
In what ways do you hinder your problem solving with your own biases? That’s a tough question. Seeking open, objective opinions about problems can be refreshing.
Victor Emil Frankl (1905 – 1997), Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, devoted his life to studying, understanding and promoting “meaning.” His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how he survived the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it.
He went on to later establish a new school of existential therapy called logotherapy, based in the premise that man’s underlying motivator in life is a “will to meaning,” even in the most difficult of circumstances.
In some of Frankl’s work he describes our viewpoint as being so critical to understanding the things around us. Here’s a diagram to explain this thinking.
In this drawing, the cylinder is the “thing”, the problem or the issue. From one view, the issue looks square (see left side). Yet from another view, the issue looks round (see bottom).
Either of these outside views is not wrong. But they are not complete
The Real Question
The next time a problem presents itself, ask yourself whether the problem is really the problem. Instead ask “is my way of looking at life the real problem here”?
Question:How did you look at your last big problem? Was the outcome what you expected?
It’s hard to believe you can run into a successful executive who is 180 off the mark on a certain topic.
I once had a client company who was struggling with the aftermath of undergoing a rapid campaign of acquisitions. Eighteen months into post-merger activities they were hemorrhaging money.
My job was to reassess certain alignment issues and evaluate immediate changes to stop the bleeding.
As a result of a SWAT Team-like blitz through the company, I was sensing a disconnect with one of the key executives. He was their CIO. He and I just couldn’t seem to get on the same page.
Now I’ve been told I’m a pretty good business communicator, but this guy had me doubting myself. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to better communicate with him.
The AH-HA Moment
Then one day the AH-HA moment happened. We were in a meeting where the issues revolved around strategic planning and decisions about tactical ways to execute those plans.
When I presented the blueprint I had crafted, the CIO went ballistic on me. He told me I was full of something organic. Then he proceeded to rip my plan. His chief complaint was that I had it all backward.
He took my information and began going point by point telling me my details were all misclassified. In his mind, my strategy was the tactics and tactics were the strategies. He threatened my termination if I wouldn’t change the structure.
This may sound pretty elementary, but if you think about it, missing this basic alignment does make a plan look way off base. Plus it prohibits any form of constructive communication to solve business problems Sadly, he was blatantly wrong.
I attempted to politely disagree, but he became more irate. It was clear his understanding of strategy and tactics was 180 different from all my training (including 12 years of military training where strategy and tactics can create actual life and death circumstances.)
Yes, I left the assignment not long after this confrontation. I had decided this kind of management was part of their difficulty.
I use this example to make one key point. As leaders we must get straight on principles, terms, and vocabulary we choose to lead our teams. If we want to rely upon basic business principles, we must be clear on the meaning and the actual significance of things.
To NOT achieve this kind of clarity sets us up for extreme confusion of others and total credibility loss when others know better.
We All Make Mistakes
When a mistake is uncovered, we need to be open enough to admit it. Digging in and demanding that others around us change their view of the topic only serves to prove what a goof you might be.
“‘Tis better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” ~Mark Twain
Great leadership requires effective communication. Your ability to speak with a commanding voice and unshakable certainty is not the skill required. Rather, you need clarity in your message; something that rings true when talking about basic business principles and standards.
Two business owners were talking. One was having a pretty good run with his new, and growing business. The other had suffered a series of bad turns and hard luck.
The one with the better business asked, “So now do you feel like an entrepreneur?”
The other answered “Heck no. I feel like a pile of manure.”
Running your own business is not for the faint of heart
It takes a whole lot more than a smart new idea to make a business tick. If yours is a wild and disruptive idea (think Uber and AirBnB) you may truly have some potential, but you will quickly find that the details of finding money to make money and managing everything can really be a bigger challenge than you ever expected.
Several times a year I speak to audiences on college campuses. After my talks, I get the usual line of attendees who want to ask questions, make comments, and otherwise share things.
It never fails that I get a student or two who is convinced they will conquer the business world as we know it with their new idea. I ask them to explain. So far I have never heard anything earth shattering.
I am not sure if that is because we don’t teach enough creative thinking or whether we are truly failing to impart the full truth about what it takes to make a business go.
Sidebar: As I write this, it occurs to me that many of the more famous entrepreneurs of our modern era never went to college or never finished (think Gates and Zuckerberg). I digress.
Getting the Entrepreneurial Bug
There are those among us who are natural entrepreneurs. Others get the idea after spending too many years working for others. For me I caught the bug early in life. I watched my single Mom quite a stable, secure job to live her dream.
Mom was a gifted interior designer. She did that work for other companies before setting out on her own. Slowly but steadily she built a well-respected and thriving business. Solopreneur she was long before that was a thing.
I wrote about the 10 things she taught me. See that article here.
I’ve had the opportunity to start three businesses and three non-profits. Each one was a labor of love. Believe me when I say I didn’t do it alone.
Somewhere along the way mentors had taught me one key principle. Ideas are great, but before you commit big resources (and energy) test it with several faithful advisors.
If you can get them interested, then you might have something. Otherwise, it’s just a dream.
To All the Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Here are my simple rules of entrepreneurship.
DO – live your dreams, but be smart about it. Test your ideas with a few trusted advisers. Be open to their honest feedback. Tweak your plan if it looks like you must.
BUT – don’t get totally discouraged. Dogged determination does create some very exciting possibilities. (I still don’t understand how Jeff Bezos survived the first 10 years of Amazon).
EGO – Your ego is good when used the right way. Watch who you alienate as you grow your idea. You will need friends sooner than you think. NEVER take yourself too seriously.
There is a story about Thomas Jefferson when he was President. He and a group of close advisors rode horseback across the countryside. They came upon a river swollen by recent rains.
On the bank was a man without a horse. He gazed at the river not knowing how he would get across. One by one the men on horseback started across. Each making it to the other side.
Finally, it was Jefferson’s turn. The man asked if he could jump on with Jefferson and ride across. Jefferson obliged.
Once everyone was across, one of the other riders asked the man why he chose Jefferson; asking if he knew Jefferson was the President.
The man said, “President? I didn’t know that. I just knew his face said YES while all you other guys’ face said NO.”
If you’re in a leadership position, do you have a YES face?
Think About It
Think about the times a senior executive presented a new plan or a new vision but had a stern, perhaps sour face; a NO face. How hard was it to believe in the plan?
Look at the picture below. Which people could you relate to the best?
Executive leaders need to think about their face when they make announcements, hold discussions, and conduct meetings. The look you have says much more than the words you speak.
Tell Your Face
I had a coaching client who was sharing with me the great excitement of the new job he just got promoted into. He was gushing about the team and the opportunity. He was assuring me he had great admiration for the people and the purpose. Yet he shared this whole story with a stoic face; no grin, no emotion, just power words about the positive aspects of the opportunity.
When he was finished talking, I asked if he really believed all the things he just told me. He assured me YES!
I said, “Then tell your face.” He was stunned. He wasn’t sure what I meant. I explained.
His content was positive, but his context was wrong. The look on his face lied about the message.
Think about this the next time you need to talk with your team or your crew. Get your face in line with the message.
If this makes sense, leave a comment. Tell us about a time when you had to get your “Yes face” on.