The Accountable Leader

Self-destructing leaders are nothing new. Sadly, it’s a very common thread throughout history – powerful leaders, celebrities, and other noteworthy people who are put on pedestals regularly fall off (or even jump off) the pinnacle.

Lisa Petrilli and I decided to probe this leadership problem for Leadership Chat this week – I’d urge you to read Lisa’s excellent post outlining the tragic mix of hubris and leadership.

There is one area of preventive medicine I’d like to focus on with this post. And that is the practice of accountability.

To be accountable is, according to Dictionary.com, to be subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable. In other words: no Lone Rangers!

Power and influence can easily lead to isolation. Mix in some hubris, some above-the-hoi-polloi arrogance, and you have a potent recipe for disaster.

For years, I have known about Harold Camping, and his Family Radio ministry (Mr. Camping is the guy who was predicting the rapture for earlier this month). Over the years, he has increasingly isolated himself from the broader church; in fact, arrogating to himself the position of being a prophet,  above the backslidden church at large. One failed prophecy about the end of the world in 1994 did not keep him from compounding his error, upon which he is now doubling down again. What’s going on here?

He is (apparently) not accountable to anyone but himself. Even – especially – spiritual leaders need accountability. No checks, no balances, no wisdom from sage advisers, no people willing to get in your face and tell you when you’re adrift – disaster looms. Don’t tell me you only answer to a “Higher Authority” (aka God). If you truly live in the fear of God, you have no problem being accountable to other human beings.

And this is hardly just a church problem. Whether it’s the intoxication of corporate power, or the vanity inflated by a rabid fan base, or the presumption that comes from feeling like one is a unique conduit of truth, the end result will be the same if there is no real-world, straight-shooting accountability. People end up thinking they can rape a maid, or seduce an intern, or skim some profits, or cover up all sorts of folly when there’s no-one to answer to.

So, what is a leader to do? It’s straightforward – have the guts and humility (and concern for your own reputation and the good of your family) to pro-actively gather some solid people around who will tell you the truth and kick you around a bit when you need it. And do it BEFORE you need it – once you rise up to a certain level of power, it’s that much harder to find people who will treat you as a peer.

And if your company has a Board of Directors that doesn’t notice when a company leader is buying $3,000 umbrella stands….it’s time to start over and build in some real accountability. We don’t need any more Tycos and Enrons around here…

Hubris or humility. You going to hew the line….one way or another.

Tonight at 8 pm ET, let’s discuss leadership and hubris! You’ll find the LeadershipChat community to be warm and supportive, people who are wrestling through the same things you are – and who, in small but growing ways, are learning accountability with each other.

And, to make your chat experience even more enjoyable, try out ChatTagged, a custom-made Twitter client for helping manage your on-line chat interactions!

(Image credit)

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Legacy Stuff

Look around you. Everything you see is there for a reason.

A past reason.

All the products, processes, methods, structures, and systems were created to meet needs.

Legacy needs.

Do not assume that what you see right now can truly meet present, let alone future needs. It’s all legacy stuff. Some of it is still relevant, and will remain so.

But a lot of it is status quo without a genuine purpose.

Don’t waste your team trying to conform to, or catch up with, obsolescence. Instead, ask what needs to be created NOW.

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Leadership at 2 am

On LeadershipChat this week, we’re discussing the things that keep a leader up at night.

My lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written an excellent post that gives the corporate/executive angle: Four Priorities Keeping CEOs Up At Night. I urge you to read her thoughts as we prepare for the Tuesday night on-line discussion.

I’m a solopreneur, and generally sleep pretty well through the night (now that our kids are older!), but as someone who is seeking to lead in a different sphere than a corporate hierarchy, there are definitely things that can cause tossing and turning. Perhaps you can relate.

1. Focus – A person working on their own, or in a small business, seeking to lead him/herself, clients, and partners, must first and foremost learn how to keep their eyes on the ball. The great trap of those in a more entrepreneurial environment is often distraction rather than disruption. Interrupted sleep regularly involves trying to decide between three divergent paths, each seemingly legitimate – and without a very sharp and clear focus, the leader can ping-pong back and forth between options, unable to set a firm direction (shameless plug for one my services: that is why a Brand Therapy session, where you identify your professional DNA and direction, can be so critical).

2. Isolation – This is a major problem for leaders at every level. Without a supportive and wise group of peers and/or colleagues, leaders can lose plenty of shuteye carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, with no mechanism for gaining perspective. Fortunately, social networking allows people to find like-minded leaders and to create a web of support and wisdom that can prevent the turmoil of isolated leadership. A few choice words from a different angle can sometimes resolve a conundrum that has interrupted a week’s worth of sleep.

3. Weariness – Those leading new or small endeavors are constantly creating, constantly pushing forward, leading every moment – and this can wear down our resiliency and lead to to very restless nights. Sometimes, the relative structure of a corporate environment, where you’re pulling only some of the weight in a more defined area of responsibility, sounds quite appealing – and, indeed, for some, it may be the right option. But for those looking to break new ground, the unrelenting nature of the  yoke we have chosen to shoulder can wear us down. When everything seems to depend on you – that’s a lot of pressure! And I don’t have a good answer for this one. Still trying to find equilibrium here…(suggestions??)

So, what keeps you up at night? Tonight at 8 pm ET, let’s discuss! You’ll find the LeadershipChat community to be very warm and supportive, people who are wrestling through the same things you are, and coming together to support one another (see point 2 above).

And, to make your chat experience even more enjoyable, try out ChatTagged, a custom-made Twitter client for helping manage your on-line chat interactions!

(Image credit)

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The 30-Year Connection

Who is that young kid with the babe in white?

Yep – that’s my bride and me thirty years ago today. My 30-Year Gift (on my personal blog)

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New to social networking? Feel free to download my newly updated e-book, Build Your Own Opportunity Network

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Touches and Tribes

The existence of social media doesn’t fundamentally change the essence of leadership – a leader is a leader with or without Twitter.

But social networks can dramatically impact the exercise of leadership. I’ll mention two ways that come to mind immediately; then, on LeadershipChat tonight (8 pm ET, #LeadershipChat on Twitter) we’ll discuss the topic as a community.

Touches

By being actively networked via social platforms, a leader can much more consistently deliver touches to employees, customers, and other stakeholders. The value of this is incalculable. Leadership is more than transaction and direction, it is relationship-building. Social networks provide a great format for reaching out and touching people on multiple levels, at any time. This pro-active accessibility will likely become, not a luxury item, but a norm in the coming years. Smart executives need to latch onto this low-cost, high-impact approach to more effective leadership.

Tribes

Traditionally in the business world, leaders were anointed through a process of working their way up through a corporate ladder – a hierarchy in which there were fewer winners at each level. While that model will continue to exist in many organizations, social networks allow for something very different – the bottom-up gathering of tribes. Leaders can now assemble like-minded groups of people who perhaps have little or no geographical or corporate connection, but who can work together toward a common cause. Tribal leadership will emerge in the coming decades as a radically new and very effective model of organization. Something as simple as LeadershipChat is an example of this approach.

These are just two quick thoughts – how do you see social networking impacting the way leadership is manifested? Feel free to share in the comments, and join us for the discussion on LeadershipChat tonight. And while you’re getting ready for that, be sure to read my co-host’s perspectives on this topic (3 Things CEOs Should Never Lose Sight of in Social MediaLisa Petrilli).

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New to social networking? Feel free to download my newly updated e-book, Build Your Own Opportunity Network

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Build Your Own Opportunity Network eBook – Updated!

I can hardly believe it was 2 years ago that I released this e-book, specifically designed to help business professionals get started with social networking.

The statistics and platforms have certainly changed, though many of the core ideas and much of the basic advice remains sound. There are lots of revised links to new resources in this refreshed version.

If you know someone looking for help getting started – feel free to forward this free resource along!

Getting Started Social Networking 2011

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Leadership Rails

From infancy, we all ride other peoples’ rails for a season, as we learn to navigate through life, and as our own self-awareness is developed.

But at some point, budding leaders have to decide whether they are best served – and can best serve others – by remaining on pre-established pathways, or by blazing their own trail.

Not everyone is cut out to lay down fresh rails – there is a tenacity and a thick skin required to follow a vision that may not be shared by others. But conscience, inward conviction, or out-of-the-mainstream ambition may compel a man or woman to blaze new trails.

There is no simple answer as to who should venture out, when, and how. And there are always a dozen reasons to play it safe. But eventually you may reach a point in the journey where you know that if you don’t act, you’ll always regret it.

As Yogi Berra might have said, when you reach that fork in the road – take it!

My LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli, describes just such a fork in the road in her life. Feel free to join the Twitter community that is #LeadershipChat on Tuesday night at 8 pm to discuss this topic!

(Image credit)

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The Five People You Meet at SOBCon

After SOBCon, you’ll notice a number of tweets and comments by people expressing regret that they didn’t go, and/or mentioning that they’d like to go next year.

To entice you to take action, let me describe the 5 kinds of people you’ll meet at a SOBCon gathering:

1. Business people – SOBCon attracts people who are doing business, not just making noise. If you want to make connections with fellow entrepreneurs, this is your place.

2. Doers – many conferences attract thinkers and talkers. The people who attend SOBCon are definitely thinkers, and many have no problem talking – but there is a bias toward action. If you want concrete inspiration, this is a place to find it.

3. Mentors – there is a surprising proportion of people gathering at SOBCon who will very generously give of their time and expertise. We all need mentors. This is a room full.

4. Up-and-comers – both years I’ve attended, I’ve been impressed by the number of folks who clearly have leadership and initiative written all over them. You can just see that they’re going to be speakers in a few years, with lots of success to share. It’s fun to see the flower in bud!

5. Humble Leaders – SOBCon really is a check-your-ego-at-the-door kind of gathering. However, that isn’t forced – it’s just that humble, servant-minded people tend to find each other and come together.

You can attend lots of other conferences and find, in isolated corners and pockets, these kind of people. But at SOBCon, it’s distilled – 100-proof quality. That’s why it’s my favorite gathering of the year. And you can commit, even now, to next year’s event in Chicago at a very low rate (not an affiliate link – I just think you should be there!)

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Numbers

When you’re involved in social networking, you can’t escape the emphasis on numbers. Especially if you yourself are a marketer, where traditional thinking is all about reach, and you feel the inward pressure to have more readers, more subscribers, more connections, and higher scores.

I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years, and it’s only been recently that I’ve begun to extract myself from the tentacles of this tidal force.

More isn’t necessarily bad. And, if your business model is based on reach (selling more books, affiliate links on a well-read blog, gaining speaking gigs, etc.) then greater numbers can equal bigger business.

But for most of us, attaining a mass audience is unrealistic. That means a feeling of inferiority at times, and various attempts at boosting numbers through techniques from the gurus.

Perhaps it’s time to question the core assumption, in your case and mine. Is it really all about numbers?

Or is the most important goal to gather high-quality people into a supportive tribe, and who can help co-create new business opportunities?

That actually takes real flesh-and-blood work – caring, interacting, networking – rather than link-gathering. You might not be in the upper echelon of number-boasters, but you will discover the real power of social networks.

Quality and quantity aren’t mutually exclusive, but I tend to think most of us are going to be better off concentrating on depth, not numbers.

Free yourself from attracting the masses and you just might attract the people who really matter. To you.

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A Tale of Two SOBCons

A Friend, two Tribes, and a Gift

I have just returned from SOBCon 2011 in Chicago, my mind and heart swirling with excitement fueled by memories, epiphanies, and new opportunities. And gratitude.

SOBCon is a gathering – I almost hesitate to call it a conference – orchestrated by Liz Strauss and Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie. It’s the kind of event where you roll up your sleeves, check your ego at the door, open your heart, and build professional relationships that turn into…all kinds of things.

[Review of last year's event]

This post is the story of what has transpired due to SOBCon, from the first one I attended (last year) to this one, which was held from April 29-May 1. It may be a bit long, and it definitely will be personal. It will also be a living illustration of what SOBCon is all about – being a catalyst for entrepreneurs.

One year ago in Chicago, I met Lisa Petrilli, and we became fast friends and collaborators. Shortly thereafter, she suggested we co-create something called #LeadershipChat on Twitter, which we launched last fall. Our approach was somewhat unique – building a climate and community that feels like a Tuscan family dinner table – and soon a pretty faithful tribe began gathering on Tuesday nights each week for these virtual meetings. New relationships were being forged throughout the months, and Lisa and I decided that it might be a cool idea to bring a handful of these people together for a REAL meal in Chicago just before the 2011 SOBCon kicked off. As it turned out, a group of 10 of us enjoyed a five-hour (!) afternoon lunch together laughing, talking, brainstorming, and utterly enjoying seeing LeadershipChat come to life at a very real Italian meal. With cannolis, of course (inside joke).

Also, I think I counted at least 7 people who were attending their first SOBCon this year due in large part to connections made via the LeadershipChat tribe. Since SOBCon is all about instigating new stuff, this brand of ROI can be called “Return on Instigation”!

During last year’s SOBCon, I was floating my long-standing dream among a few select friends about creating a professional referral network. I had already created my own referral business (Impactiviti) for pharma/healthcare, but what I really wanted to do was pull together a tribe of like-minded folks who could “matchmake” high-quality clients and providers through a much larger trusted-referral network. After a long pre-launch process building this in stealth mode (with Lisa and 5 others), the Connection Agency was made public – appropriately – the first morning of this year’s SOBCon. And, yes, a handful of the initial members have SOBCon/LeadershipChat roots.

So, thanks to SOBCon, we have a friend, and two tribes. What about the gift?

I have a growing and intense desire to see great people liberated to do their best work – using their best skills – in a business climate of trust. I believe a whole tribe of entrepreneurs can be unleashed with a powerful, supportive network. In fact, I feel that this is my life mission – but, as it turns out, I was working with one hand tied behind my back.

Because of a scheduling oversight, I had one extra day in Chicago before the LeadershipChat dinner. I had just written a post about Brand Therapy – it sounded like a cool name – and, figuring I might be able to do some good for a few folks with the free afternoon, I offered to conduct free therapy sessions for a few victims volunteers who wanted to get some clarity on their professional identities, direction, and brand. That happened Wednesday – and, over the next couple of days, similar conversations occurred with a few other people.

I’m going to let those folks, if they wish, describe those sessions in the comments. For my part, it finally forced something to the surface that I’d been struggling with for a long time.

This capability – helping individuals/companies gain clarity through analytical questioning and creative directive-ness – is a gift. We can acquire skills and knowledge, but there’s an element that almost seems like magic about a God-given gift. Using that intuitive skill to benefit others brings more unrestrained joy and fulfillment than anything else. But it also confused me – don’t agencies and career coaches charge huge amounts to come up stuff that just seems so clear to me after a little time talking?

I was so perplexed by this ability, so uncertain how to incorporate it into my business, that even when I’d be helping others see themselves clearly in the mirror, I was hesitating to see myself. That which was most intuitive – most me – made me uncomfortable.

So, it was a gift that a little group of people entrusted their thoughts and desires to me, because not only was I helping them gain clarity, they were helping me do the same. Sean will be a great DCAL; Greg will become the entrepreneur’s coach; Sara will build marketing starting with empty trays; Marla is the story-getter; Fred will become the pre-mortem problem solver. As for me, I guess I’ll be a therapist-adviser, which happens to complement rather well being the connection agent. Those who gain insight into their identity and message can also be connected to the other people who can help make things happen.

Thanks especially to Lisa Petrilli, Chris Brogan, Sean McGinnis, Jeanne Male, Anthony Iannarino, Greg Hartle, Fred McClimans and Patty Azzarello for listening to my visions, and putting to flight my perplexity. Your investment of time and your outside viewpoints brought both clarity and validation.

Maybe I’ll update this post with a list of the other great people I met, but right now, I have to go pick up one of my boys. Suffice it to say that many new friends were made. And, yes, I’m looking at you, Liz Marshall!

I feel a little funny that this tale of two SOBCons doesn’t include much of anything about this year’s SOBCon event itself – the great speakers like Michael Port and Carol Roth, the usual wonderful hospitality of Liz and Terry, the fun social events – others will be writing about all that, for sure. But I thought it might be fun to let you take a look behind the scenes and see the end result of SOBCon – transformation and business opportunity.

As many stated during the event, it really is all about relationships and network-building. And oftentimes, epiphanies.

That’s my story, and thanks for sticking with me to the end. Feel free to tell yours in the comments (or, if you prefer, feel free to use my post-conference review template from last year…!)

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