I Think I Need Some Leadership Chocolate

We’re going to talk about “decision fatigue” during LeadershipChat this week (8 pm ET Tuesday), and for me, this is a timely subject.

Rarely will I strongly recommend that people read a long, in-depth newspaper article. However, the basis for our topic is this fascinating NY Times article on the subject of decision fatigue by John Tierney, which outlines a fascinating premise – that our capacity to make decisions declines over time as we become fatigued by decision after decision.

There’s also some great justification toward the end of the article for keeping some chocolate at hand if you’re a decision-making leader…!!

I’ve done manual labor, which is physically fatiguing, and I’ve done mental labor, which creates its own weariness. But nothing has created more fatigue for me than being a husband and father, while simultaneously being an entrepreneur.

Responsibility. Leadership. Decisions. Initiative. 24/7.

As the article describes it, you get to a point where resistance becomes low, and the default/status quo gets chosen more often out of sheer fatigue.

While I haven’t had a chance to think it all the way through, I suspect that two other streams of fatigue can exacerbate the problem:

  • Failure fatigue – where professional setbacks outnumber successes, and
  • Delay fatigue – where success or goal fulfillment seems to perpetually stay just out of reach.

I don’t have any great answers here, but I certainly see the problem in my own experience! And I hope our discussion during the chat can provide a boost of much-needed leadership chocolate.

Be sure to read Lisa Petrilli‘s take on decision fatigue in her post, The Best Time to Ask Your Boss for a Raise (hint: it’s not late afternoon!)

Make your decision to join us at 8 pm ET Tuesday nights for LeadershipChat on Twitter. You’ll find a very smart and highly-motivated group of professionals who want to bring humanity and reality to leadership!

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It’s Not About You

Almost two years ago, we sent our second son off to U.S. Marine Boot Camp. It is safe to say that, up until that time in his life, it was all pretty much about him – you parents of teens get my drift?

Thirteen weeks later, it wasn’t.

One of the first lessons of the military is that it is mission first. It is your teammates first. In fact, during the first stage of boot camp, the recruits cannot use the first person singular. They cannot say, “I….” – it has to be, “This recruit….”

We can rightly praise a number of leadership principles or practices, but nothing is more central than this other-centeredness. Disastrous leadership decisions based on short-term, selfish motivations take their toll every day in the arena of business.

I’ve just begun reading the highly-acclaimed book Reckless Endangerment, which takes the cover off the people and practices that lead to our recent economic meltdown. The me-first, greed-driven, short-sighted thinking described (and the book names names) is the exact opposite of genuine leadership – and some of these folks are still in positions of national influence.

Yes, some aspects of military leadership style need modification for the business world. But we’d be far better off if no company ever promoted an “all about me” individual into leadership, no matter how gifted or successful in other roles they may be.

We don’t need more recklessness. We need unselfishness. People who adhere to a higher mission than, “me first!”

Join us tonight (July 26th) at 8 pm ET for #LeadershipChat on Twitter. We will focus on the topic of “Military Leadership – Lessons We are Truly Meant to Learn” and will feature Guest Host, Wally Bock. Here is Wally’s summary post about tonight’s topics on his Three Star Leadership blog; also be sure to read my co-host Lisa Petrilli’s moving post entitled Leadership Lessons from Heroes, the Bravest of Men.

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

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Enchanting Your Employees

Guy Kawasaki opens Chapter 10 of his most recent book, Enchantment, with these words: “Here’s another Japanese word: bakatare. It means ‘stupid’ or ‘foolish,’ and it’s the perfect description of people who think disenchanted employees can enchant customers.”

Wow. Bold statement. I happen to think he’s right.

Lisa Petrilli and I have invited Guy to be our guest on Tuesday, July 5th for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET), and we’ll be talking about Enchantment. One topic we’ll address is the under-appreciated role of enchanting employees.

My experience over the decades with employees and other organizational leaders is that very few “get” this. They’re too busy treating underlings as a means to an end to really value them. And how will employees then treat customers, partners, and suppliers? To ask the question is to answer it.

Guy proposes that we provide employees with a MAP – an opportunity to achieve Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. More than mere money, people are driven – enchanted – by these higher-level motivators. And when they are empowered to serve the customer (not just a rule book), they will care about their work.

Many of us have walked into Apple stores. And most of us have been forced to experience the Department of Motor Vehicles in our respective states. Where did you find delight and enchantment among employees? Here’s the challenge – how could a DMV actually provide a MAP for its employees?

Join us as we discuss leadership enchantment tonight on Twitter. And if you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Guy’s compact guide to Enchantment – it’s sure to make you more….well, enchanting! (special offer here; my prior video blog review of Enchantment here).

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

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Unconstructive Feedback – A Leader’s Guide

When Lisa Petrilli and I launched Leadership Chat last year, one of our hopes was that we would, at times, provide a point-counterpoint perspective.

Turns out that we actually agree on an awful lot, though we do tend to approach things from different angles.

But this week, we’re on opposite sides of the fence. Lisa writes about Giving Constructive Feedback in this 8-point post. And that’s all well and good – but what about those leaders who really want to excel in Unconstructive Feedback? Who’s giving them guidance?

I am. So, in the interests of conforming to the recently-enacted No Stupid Left Behind Act, here are my eight counterpoints:

1. Delay is critical. Disassociating feedback from action will help create the desirable sense of confusion that keeps employees on their toes. It is best to wait a day, a week – even a year – before telling George, “Hey, that time you talked about our company history in the presentation to that client? – it was too long-winded.”

2. Keep it vague. What you want is maximum guilt feelings spread over the widest possible range of behaviors. Instead of focusing on a specific typo in an email message, and the potential confusion that it may have caused to a small group of people, simply say, “Your writing leaves a lot to be desired.” That sort of generality will encourage better performance in all circumstances!

3. Focus on the abstract. Instead of looking at how a particular behavior impacted a particular circumstance – the why and how – move to higher levels, such as, “You’re a superb demotivator. Why don’t you stop it?” That way, any number of behaviors and attitudes can be ranged under one overarching criticism.

4. Exaggerate everything, being sure to put each criticism in the worst possible light. Remember – people don’t understand context. So just bring the maximum firepower for maximum effect. The question you always need to ask yourself: “Can we go all scorched-earth on this transgression?” Make it memorable!

5. Make it hard-nosed. Underlings have to be kept in line. You’re not there to make friends. You were made a leader to enforce policy. Period. Remember – you can’t fix stupid, but you sure can enjoy yelling at it!

6. Keep ‘em guessing. While criticizing undesirable behaviors, be sure to leave the alternative along the lines of, “I’m really expecting you to do better.” That way, they never quite know if they’re getting it right, which could lead to complacency.

7. Monitor behind closed doors. Tell them they’d better get it right, and that you’ll be watching. They were hired to do a job and they need to know that you’re not there to babysit. If they want a coach, they can go back to high school and join the football team.

8. Let them know that they are right on the bubble. The best workers are those who fear for their jobs continually. Use the word “expendable” liberally when upbraiding them for their marginal performance. This will extract the maximum effort from their dissolute souls.

Lisa, I know you meant well. But, really – I have far more “leaders” on my side. My principles are embedded in so many organizations, and they are passed down from generation to generation by countless corporate scribes and practitioners. In fact, I’ve been meaning to tell you – all of your blog posts really leave a lot to be desired – I’m expecting better! :>}

(yes, dear readers, all of the above is sarcastic spoofery. If only it weren’t so common in practice, however!)

So, what do you think – Steve’s view of feedback, or Lisa’s? Join the discussion on Twitter tonight during #LeadershipChat (8 pm ET) and let’s talk about how to give constructive – or not – input.

(Image credit – Wilted Rose)

PLUS – big news! Special guest host joining us for next week’s LeadershipChat (July 5th) – author and all-around smart fellow Guy Kawasaki (we’ll talk about leadership principles from his book Enchantment). Don’t miss this one!

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Terry Starbucker and Leadership

Tonight, Lisa Petrilli and welcome Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie to LeadershipChat as a co-host.

While both of us typically write a topical “warm-up” post for the Monday/Tuesday before each weekly chat, today I’m going to take a slightly different tack (Lisa’s excellent post is here: Three Leadership Secrets for Building a Great Team).

I’m going to tell you about Terry, the man I’ve come to know over the past few years.

Terry is one of the bloggers I stumbled across early on in my social media voyage some 4+years ago. If memory serves me correctly, we actually met for the first time (face-to-face) at Blogger Social ’08, a watershed event for many of us who were involved in marketing-blogging in the early days.

What has always struck me about Terry is that he’s for real. What you see is what you get (well, except for the name change – ask him about that story sometime!) On his blog, you see friendly, thoughtful, upbeat, approachable. When you meet at a Starbucks in Manhattan, or at an event like SOBCon, what you get is friendly, thoughtful, upbeat, approachable.

Some people go through life with a fin out of the water – always looking for how to make a killing, and perhaps deigning to speak with you if you appear to be a suitable means to an end.

That’s not Terry Starbucker.

Terry is loyal, supportive, and steady. A wise.businessman and a friend.

And that’s why you want to join us for an on-line discussion about leadership, with Terry, tonight at LeadershipChat (8 pm ET on Twitter. Hashtag: #LeadershipChat). If you want to get a nice snapshot of Terry’s top thoughts on leadership, download and browse through the quick-read free e-book on his site: Leadership From A Glass Half-Full.

Don’t miss the chance to meet Terry if you haven’t already. He’s the real deal.

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

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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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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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Inspiring Loyalty

A recent NY Times article – you’d almost think they’d known about this week’s LeadershipChat topic and planned the timing – described the Shifting Definition of Worker Loyalty. It’s a good overview of the many reasons why the old business contract is null and void – companies no longer earn long-term employee loyalty, and employees are learning not to expect Big Brother Employer to take care of them from cradle to grave.

Whether this loss of MAS (Mutually Assured Symbiosis) be interpreted as good or bad, it just is. And it brings up the question – what can a leader do to build and inspire loyalty within a company? (note the two verbs – build and inspire.  “Assume” doesn’t cut it anymore).

There’s no magic bullet, but I think people will open the wallet of loyalty when they see these three things:

  1. A mission worthy of their affections
  2. A culture worthy of their attention
  3. An example worthy of emulation

If your company is just providing good or services in order to perpetuate its own existence, that’s not going to inspire anyone who aspires to higher purposes. And as soon as something better comes along, there will be few ties of loyalty – after all, it’s just a job, not a mission.

On the other hand, many employees have refused better offers, or come back to the fold, because there was something special in the company culture – something that makes people actually want to come to work and be part of it.

And then, something very powerful – a leader who is a great example inspires loyalty because people instinctively want to follow and learn from someone who is blazing the trail ahead. There will be little loyalty to a mere functionary with a title – but far more attachment to an example who walks the talk and inspires greatness.

That’s all the high-falutin’ stuff. Now, let me turn to one very simple action – which anyone can do – that engenders loyalty. It so simple, that it’s easy to overlook.

Notice people. And let them know that you notice them.

This link came across my Twitter stream today. Look at the number of Twitter followers Trey has. Do you have any idea how much it means to me to be called out as a Twitter BFF (we’ve only met IRL once, btw)? And do you think that, just perhaps, I might feel a deepened sense of loyalty to my pal in South Carolina for noticing me publicly? (but Trey, that pink jacket…I dunno, maybe it’s a Southern gentleman thing…)

What are your thoughts on Leaders who inspire loyalty? That’s what we’ll be discussing during #LeadershipChat on Tuesday, April 26th at 8 pm ET. And, be sure to read my co-host Lisa Petrilli’s post Leadership and Loyalty: Why it Must Start Within You.

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What is your Leadership Mission? Is it Greater Than Yourself?

Let’s say you’re a professional (if you’re reading this blog, you probably are). You have skills, you have a job, you’re making a living to support yourself and perhaps a family.

Let’s say you’re a Regional Director in a corporation.

What is is your mission?

“I’m here to earn the best living I can.” OK, that puts you in a pool of about 7 billion.

“I’m here to get to the top.” Common, if not particularly noble sentiment.

“I’m here to come alongside others and enable them to reach their full potential.” Whoa! That’s someone breathing some rarefied air.

Leaders who practices what Steve Farber calls “Greater Than Yourself” (GTY) Leadership aren’t simply in the game for themselves. Their goal is nothing short of equipping others to become even greater than they are. And if you’ve been in the career world for any length of time, you know just how rare these people are.

Do you see how, whatever your position – corporate manager, solopreneur, teacher, parent – the principles of GTY living and leading apply? The need is universal, even if the practitioners are few!

So, we’re going to talk about this theme during #LeadershipChat this week, and encourage one another to embrace that mission. Lisa Petrilli and I are very pleased to welcome Steve Farber (who wrote the book on GTY Leadership!) to join us as a guest host for this lively discussion.

For a nice summary of three key principles of GTY leadership, read Lisa’s blog post this week (Greater Than Yourself Leadership: How to Change the World). Then join us at 8 pm ET and get to know the extraordinary community that is LeadershipChat on Twitter. Just follow the hashtag #LeadershipChat, and jump right into the discussion!

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!

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Do Customers Need to be Led?

The short answer to the above question is: of course. If someone is in one place, and needs to be drawn to a different place, that means exercising leadership.

However, there’s a whole different relationship involved. If you’re leading employees, there are built-in motivations, and a hierarchy of authority to enforce leadership. Not so with customers (or others where influence is more indirect – volunteers, collaborators, etc.)

Let’s say you are a graphic design consultant, and you have been hired by a customer to create a website design. You know what works on the web. You know what color schemes are appealing to the eye. You know about typefaces and layout and all that other juicy designer stuff. Yet your client wants you to put a 1,000-word marketing dissertation in 8-point type on a black background. With 14 references to Justin Bieber because they read an article on a plane once about keywords and SEO. Does this customer need to be led?

To ask the question is to answer it. And just replace the details with a hundred other business scenarios, and you’ll see that we need to lead customers every day.

As a consultant, I am leading my clients all the time. I have no value unless I’m leading them in the direction they need to go. Here are three basic ways in which I seek to lead a customer:

  1. Listen and ask questions. Put on your therapist hat first. Draw out the thoughts and goals and ideas bubbling in their minds (yes, typically, that is the way it is – very few customers actually come to you with a pre-packaged blueprint. Why do you think  they called you??)
  2. Steadily direct the questions and conversations to this one main point: What are you seeking to accomplish? It is amazing how many questions and ideas appear in a different light once you help the customer reach that one-sentence statement of purpose.
  3. NOW begin to apply your expertise to answering that question. Believe it or not, by playing the therapist and then clarifying the issue, you have attained a leadership position far greater than if you trotted our all your qualifications and pointed to your wall full of awards. Customer resistance is removed, not by intimidation, but by understanding. People are ready to hear your expert point of view and recommendations once they see that you’re standing right next to them, helping them see the main goal with 20/20 vision.

I have an accountant, and a financial planner. I want their expertise because I don’t have the bandwidth or interest to mess with all that financial stuff. They are both younger than me (I used to lead one of them in his high school youth group!). And I gladly let them lead me, because they can track and think about issues that I can’t or won’t. They ask the right questions, and show their ability to come up with a plan. Now I have one less worry.

Customers want to be led. They want one less worry. And you’re the answer – right?

Join us on Tuesday nights for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET). And, before you pull up a seat at the table tonight, read what my lovely and talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli, has written about this topic, drawing lessons from the life of Abraham Lincoln! 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!

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Valor-Fuel

On this week’s LeadershipChat, we’re going to be talking about Valor in Leadership. My co-host, Lisa Petrilli, gives a nice summary of her thoughts on her blog post this week (Three Lost Truths about Valor in Leadership).

For my part, I’m going to narrow the focus down to one aspect that is crucial to the exercise of valorous leadership. It’s what we can call “valor-fuel” – a conviction about what is right, and commitment to do it at all costs.

When we see bold, sacrificial, heroic courage in a leader, we are deeply impressed (think about the movie Braveheart). But what gives a person that sort of backbone? Are they taking valor vitamins with their Cheerios? Is it an inborn trait?

I don’t think so. It’s principled conviction. It’s dedication to a transcendent cause. It’s conscience joining hands with action despite all inner and outer opposition.

And, it’s rare. Look at all of our so-called leaders and ask yourself – where do I see this type of William Wallace-style bravery? Who is demonstrating Eric Liddell-like conviction?

While a certain level of pragmatism is warranted in the navigation of life, the valiant leader knows that commitment to principle is the lighthouse. Even a timid soul can be bold as a lion when driven by a sense of right and wrong. So-called leaders whose moral compasses swing wildly according to the conditions and opinions surrounding them may be able to exercise influence, but they will not be known for valor as leaders.

That title is earned, often at great personal cost, and with a willingness to endure headwinds. The valiant leader doesn’t poll others to find out what is right and wrong. He or she shows others by a commitment to principle.

Valor. May we aspire to nothing less.

Join us on Tuesday nights for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET) – 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!

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Inconceivable! The Princess Bride Guide to Leadership

It took 20 years of study, but finally it’s out – Inconceivable! Tapping into a rich vein of wisdom from the iconic business video The Princess Bride, this indispensable volume will thrill and inform every leader who is seeking the answer to the question: “I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using?”

Or if you’re thinking about going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line…

You’ve heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates? I’ll tell you what I think of them in light of this stellar business guide, in the video review below.

Here is my 5-star video review of this important handbook:

Critics are raving about Inconceivable, even if the word does not mean what they think it means:

We will be seeking to get the author to co-host an edition of the weekly LeadershipChat, if he’s not swamped.

The book is relatively small, but the ideas are of unusual size. Pick it up, especially if you have no gift for strategy, and your job is at stake. It’ll be a miracle!

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Let’s Kill Some Giants

I recently had the opportunity to read through Stephen Denny‘s new book (pre-release copy), Killing Giants, which takes up the theme of effectively designing your business and marketing to take on the “big boys” in your marketplace.

Stephen is an experienced marketer who spent over 20 years working with major brands before launching out on his own. I ran into him several years ago on Twitter and have always enjoyed his thoughts. He has been a regular contributor to LeadershipChat and he will be talking about his ideas on leadership with us this week (see below).

This book’s a keeper. And not only because I am a fellow entrepreneur and status-quo rattler, but also because the format of the book makes it easy to digest. See ordering information for Killing Giants at the bottom of this post. In the meantime, here’s my video review:

Stephen will be our guest this week on LeadershipChat, where we will discuss Leadership and Decision-Making (Tuesday, March 29, 8 pm ET, #LeadershipChat on Twitter). Please be sure to read the preparatory post written by my talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli (To Kill a Giant: Leading David against Goliath)

Want to know more about those 10 Strategies? I thought so. Here’s a sneak peek at the Table of Contents:

Order Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry wherever you buy books:

In the US: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BAM! | Borders | Indi Bound | 800 CEO READ

In the UK: Amazon | Waterstones

In Australia: QBD | Emporium Books | Angus & Robertson | Big W Entertainment | Boomerang Books | Booktopia

In New Zealand: Mighty Ape

In South Africa: Loot

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Can Success be Predictable?

According to Les McKeown – yes, it can. His book, Predictable Success, explains in step-by-step fashion just how that is so.

On #LeadershipChat this week (Tuesday, March 22, 8 pm ET) Les will be joining us to talk about Why Leaders Fail. And one surprising perspective is this: failure may simply be a function of not understanding the phases a company goes through.

My #LeadershipChat co-host Lisa Petrilli has given a very nice summary of the content and message of the book (Lisa’s blog post here), so I’m going to focus, in this book review, on something different. In a word: Narrative.

I was struck right away, in the Preface to the book, how Les was telling a story – his own story about arriving at the conclusions he’s come to. Then, throughout the book, he uses narrative – telling the stories of businesses and people that illustrate the meta-narrative – to make his points and keep the reader looped in.

But, ultimately, Les’ entire thesis about the way businesses evolve is one big narrative (see the graphic below), and that is one of the major appeals of his book. Narratives help make sense of that which is confusing. I’m sure it may seem simplistic to some, but Les gives a pretty convincing case that there is a predictable arc in how businesses can grow into success, and decline into failure. Fact is, I have seen and been part of Early Struggle, Fun, and Whitewater stages, and his narrative regarding those common experiences is eerily spot on.

For the leader of a company struggling to stabilize into patterns of growth and success, I highly recommend giving this book a read. You might be surprised at how often you find yourself nodding in agreement, or striking your forehead as a key insight into the obvious flashes by. Video summary below:

Please join Lisa Petrilli, me, and our guest Les McKeown for our table talk at LeadershipChat (8 pm ET this Tuesday evening). It’ll provide a wonderful excuse to get off the Treadmill!

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Leadership and Culture – Take it from the Top

When we are young and idealistic, and first begin to work inside a company or organization, we tend to think that anything is possible. Of course, company leadership will change direction as new challenges arise and common sense prevails.

Of course! Yeah, sure…

Over time, we awaken to the fact that organizational culture – that way of thinking, feeling, and behaving, that set of expectations and motivations and worldviews that inexorably shapes the group – is a far more powerful force than common sense. Or our superior ideas. And it comes right from the top.

The leaders set and maintain organizational culture. Not the worker bees. You’ll either find it pleasant (or at least tolerable), or you’ll need to move on. If you stay in a culture that is a serious mis-match, you are asking for misery.

Why do existing cultures tend to have such a powerful and enduring influence? Here are several reasons – perhaps you can add others in the comments.

  1. Most leaders don’t like to be challenged – either personally, or in fielding a potential threat to the status quo. Change hurts.
  2. Over time, those who tend to embrace the values and attitudes of the organization rise to the top, and non-conformists are weeded out. Cultural self-selection reigns.
  3. People prefer to take on external “enemies” (competitors, market conditions, customers). It’s always easier to go after what’s out there, instead of doing the immensely difficult work of re-shaping internal culture.
  4. Most organizations were built around hierarchical models that were a response to the market conditions of the time. Large swaths of “the way it’s done here” are now assumed, even though the world has now moved well past the point where those things make any sense.

While it is possible to engineer some levels of change from a lower level of the organization, by and large, if you sense that there isn’t an openness to having the corporate culture questioned and improved, the end result will be beating your head against a wall. And, with the additional bonus of being viewed as a malcontent. Better to read the writing on that wall early on, and find a place to belong that is a “fit;” or, if you can, start your own company.

Those that hold the reins of power set the tone. Period. Be careful that you don’t just accept a job offer. Take a careful look at the leaders and the culture they are setting. And ask yourself with brutal honesty: Will I fit?

Because the culture isn’t going to change for you.

We’re going to be talking about Leadership and Culture this Tuesday (March 8th, 8 pm ET) during #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Be sure to read the thoughts of my co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on this topic. And, take a look at our brand spanking new LeadershipChat website, which we’ll continue to expand with new features in the coming weeks.

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Leading With Fear

If you’re a leader, you’re going to lead with fear. I don’t mean  you’re going to use fear as your weapon of gaining compliance – plenty of faux leaders do that and the results are easy to predict. No, I mean that you are going to have to face your personal fears head-on, and lead right through them.

In fact, if you don’t lead with some measure of fear still percolating inside you, then you’re probably in need of psychological evaluation.

We want our leaders to project confidence, and when we lead, we want to feel and radiate that confidence. But does this mean fearlessness? No, it does not. Confidence is the readiness to take the next step despite not knowing (with certainty) all the implications. Fear resides exactly in that same place. Carrying responsibility for others into unknown places with no guarantees is a recipe for fear. Welcome to leadership.

Now, I get what my brilliant #LeadershipChat co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, writes about tapping into the feminine side of things as a pathway to overcoming fears. But I quite believe that, in many cases, the masculine side is just as important, perhaps even more so.

Suck it up. Face it. Walk right over it.

Some fears aren’t going to yield to self-analysis and enlightenment. Like locked doors, they just need to be kicked in. Putting your boot into it is sometimes all the enlightenment you need – “Hey, I can do this!”

You don’t have to be weak to acknowledge your fears. In fact, that is a manifestation of strength. Weakness is choosing the false security of inactivity over the nobility of taking action despite risk.

Fear – I say, bring it on! If we’re not feeling some measure of fear, perhaps we’re not taking on much of a challenge…!

(Join us for #LeadershipChat Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET. This week, on 3/1, we’re talking about how fear impacts the ability to lead. Join the (very human and transparent) LC community and enrich the discussion with your thoughts!)

(Image credit)

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What to Expect at LeadershipChat

During this week’s LeadershipChat (transcript) on Twitter, I noted one tweet fly past that indicated that there was not much “actionable” in the 1-hour discussion.

That observation was only partly true, but it made me think: people coming into a LeadershipChat discussion may not know what to expect, and it’s a good idea to level-set by explaining what we’re cultivating in this growing community discussion each week.

So, let’s start with the Nots. Here’s what not to expect on Tuesday nights at LeadershipChat:

1. Don’t expect a nicely packaged action plan. This is a weekly cocktail party and discussion on specific topics, with the kinds of side conversations, disagreements, and budding new friendships that you’d expect at any get-together. Nobody is there for a corporate strategy meeting.

2. Don’t expect rah-rah groupthink. We’re there to explore, and push on ideas, and break some new ground. Each week, you’ll typically see one or two tweets starting with the word, “Disagree.” When that stops, we’ve lost our way.

3. Don’t expect to keep up with everything. It’s a very free-flowing discussion area – you need to latch onto a few people and topics each week, and pick and choose your interactions. Otherwise, it’s just too much to digest.

OK, now – here’s what you can expect:

1. Expect a warm reception. This is a very friendly, warm, and inviting group. We (Lisa Petrilli and I, the co-moderators) have sought to cultivate an atmosphere that is like a Tuscan dining room. LeadershipChat is not just information exchange – it’s a virtual get-together of people who really like each other’s company. You’re welcome to lurk in the shadows for a week or two just to get used to it, but really – we’d rather you just dive in.

2. Expect to walk away with one or two jewels each week. While you may not get a 10-point action plan, you will be able to learn some important, 140-character-sized perspectives from some very smart people who are contributing.

3. Expect some banter. It’s not all “on-topic” – you’ll see jokes from our Italian contingent about cannolis; you’ll see certain members ripping on each other for being absent the week before; you’ll see all kinds of mutual greetings during the first 10 minutes, etc., etc. You know – like family.

4. Expect to be pushed out of your comfort zone. We’re trying to explore topics on LeadershipChat that can be a bit provocative. We’ve discussed male and female roles, the place of love in leadership, macho-style leadership, mentoring, jerks (yes – jerks), squelchers – and we’ll continue to fearlessly explore topics together that some may feel squeamish about discussing in a corporate leadership environment.

And, while we’re discussing this – all you LeadershipChat folks feel free to give your thoughts in the Comments – what do YOU expect at LeadershipChat on Tuesday nights?

So this, at least in part, is what you can look forward to when you join us (every Tuesday night, 8 pm ET on Twitter – use the hashtag #LeadershipChat). We look forward to setting a seat for you at the table!

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Heart Leadership

We often think and talk about leadership in terms of characteristics, skills, behaviors, and traits (both innate and cultivated). And that is a major part of leadership (want a list of 50 traits to work on? Here you go!)

But underneath all that, and actually underlying much of what is in that list, is something else. The heart of a leader.

The best leader is seeking the greater good. The best leader puts others first. That’s not a matter of mushy Hallmark sentimentalism, or unrealistic romanticism. But it is, at core, an expression of love.

Leadership – true and enduring leadership – is an act of love.

I would argue that passivity, and drifting with the tide, is an outgrowth of nothing other than selfishness or fear. Taking a situation in hand and helping others reach higher and accomplish more is a risk. It’s hard. It’s pro-active self-denial, and it sometimes requires what has come to be called “tough love.”

It’s giving of yourself, and that is the essence of love, is it not?

I love my children. It is my responsibility to lead them, however imperfectly (I’ve got a looooong way to go on that list of 50 traits!). And that has meant, at times, some very non-sentimental moments and extended periods of agony of heart. Even when the older ones were given a timeline and a blueprint for their future departure from the nest, they always knew I was heart-committed to them, and that I wanted them to become the best that they could be.

Now, a family is not equivalent to a business, and sons are not the same as employees. But leadership is leadership. A mere functionary who exercises authority from an assigned position of leadership may hope for some level of compliance. People may “follow” for a season.

But a leader-from-the-heart gains a following that goes beyond external compliance. We want to follow, not simply because we see an admirable  example, but we feel a genuine commitment to us and respond to it. And I’m not sure any further words on my part can do this justice, because it’s “better felt than tell’t!”

We’re going to be talking about Leadership and Love this week during our weekly Tuesday night #LeadershipChat discussion on Twitter (8 pm ET). Please join us; and before you do, I recommend you also read the perspectives of my co-moderator Lisa Petrilli (Three Truths about Leading with Love) in preparation.

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Do You See What I See?

Probably not. Because when it comes to vision, the best ones are homegrown.

This week, on #Leadership Chat (a weekly Twitter discussion group, Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), we’re going to talk about vision. But maybe let’s not just talk about it, OK?

We all know that great leaders have vision, and if it’s a worthy vision, they rally others around it. That’s a given. But let’s assume that everyone in the growing LeadershipChat community is actually looking ahead at 2011, not just with goals and resolutions in mind, but with bigger picture visions.

What’s yours? Here’s mine: My Declaration of Independence.

Fact is, we’re not going to refine and implement our big dreams without the help of others. So let’s give our missions some thought ahead of time, band together to share, and discuss how we can put feet to vision. And, be sure to read the thought-provoking blog post by co-host Lisa Petrilli on The Secret Engine Behind Empowered Visions. <—We are of one mind in our thinking here.

Because I’m going to follow my vision, but I’d also like to see what you see. Maybe we’re heading in the same direction together!

Please join us tonight, Tuesday January 4 for our first #LeadershipChat of 2011 (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions). You’ll find a warm welcome and a thoughtful community of friends who not only think different, but also seek to “do different”!

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The Passionate Leader

Confession: I don’t much care for cheerleaders.

I mean, nothing against any particular cheerleaders personally, but the whole idea of some formulaic whipping up of crowd enthusiasm really leaves me cold. As does anything that smacks of manipulation and insincerity.

Faux enthusiasm is not genuine passion.

So if passion isn’t some fly-by-night outward expression of manufactured emotion, what is it?

It’s the coach who so deeply believes in the abilities of his team, and in the value of working together to win, that his eyes and voice inspire his players to do better than they think they can.

It’s the Army captain who believes so much that the cause of his nation is right, and that evil people must be stopped, that he inspires his troops to sacrificially charge ahead with him through danger and hardship.

It’s the lonely pastor of an obscure little flock in middle America, who believes that God and eternity and sin and redemption are absolutely real, and who inspires his handful of fellow travelers to press on through each day’s trials.

It’s the business leader who believes that there’s a better way, who seeks to create that better way, and who inspires investors and employees and customers to buy in to that vision and make it come to life.

Passion grows out of believing. It grows into inspiration. It has the distinct feeling of compulsion about it – it doesn’t bother with could be, but proceeds directly to must be without passing GO and collecting $200.

Many can be paid to pick up the pom-poms and give a few cheers for the team. A truly passionate leader is not a hireling, however, auctioning off abilities and some manufactured enthusiasm to the highest bidder. He or she is a believer. Who inspires, not employees, but followers.

Passion is fueled by vision, by a sense of right-ness, by a restless dissatisfaction with the status quo. Passion can be as loud as an opinionated talk show host, or as quiet as an unknown researcher laboring for years at her bench to find new ways to treat diabetes. Passion can be found at at a Silicon Valley startup or in a Virginia Beach nursery, each patiently building and shaping and investing in the future.

Passionate leaders aren’t leading cheers. They’re leading disciples.

Agree? Disagree? This Tuesday night (8 pm ET), we’ll be discussing passion and leadership for our weekly #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Before the magic hour, be sure you also read Lisa Petrilli’s post on passionate leadership.

(hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Navigating Uncertainty

Like most of us, I’ve come to many crossroads in my life involving profound uncertainty. Having a billboard outside my window giving clear direction would have been really convenient; however, leadership often involves navigating through a sea of questions, without a clear map or working compass.

Despite the surrounding fog, it is the responsibility of the leader to have a compelling vision and be prepared to move forward. How to do that when there are more questions than answers?

I’ve come to rest on four general pillars to help set direction:

  1. Gut instinct
  2. Wise counsel
  3. Awareness of long-term trends
  4. Providential circumstance

I realize that it may not have the panache of an MBA-fueled analysis, but the longer I live, the more I trust my gut instincts. A leader should have a moral and common-sense internal compass that is honed over time, whereby opportunities, threats, and general direction are seen at least in outline form, if not with perfect up-front clarity. If your modus operandi is to cut corners, lie, cheat, and hurt others in order to get short-term gain, however, I don’t recommend you rely on your gut instincts. That’s a compass that doesn’t recognize true north.

Getting wise counsel from others is a sign of a real leader, who is humble enough to understand his/her limitations, and who recognizes the value of multiple perspectives. I have no idea how many mistakes I’ve been spared through the wisdom of others. It is not weakness, in uncertainty, to try to gain light from as many luminaries as you can. It’s just smart.

One reason that it is important for leaders to read and think widely is because it brings awareness of long-term trends. Leaders understand what is fueling large-scale cultural movements, and are better able than others to discern what is an enduring trend, versus a short-term fad. When the particulars of today are uncertain, an effective leader is still navigating by those things that have the aura of inevitability and growth.

It’s highly unlikely that the best opportunity for me or any company I’d work with is to be found in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Why? Because I am here, with a particular set of skills, tied in with a certain network, located in a sphere of labor and opportunity by providential circumstance. When in doubt about where to lead, be certain that it probably involves leveraging your present circumstances to create the future.

What do you think? This Tuesday night (8 pm ET), we’ll be discussing Leadership in the midst of Uncertainty for our weekly #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Before the magic hour, be sure you also read the perspectives of my wise co-moderator, Lisa Petrilli, on her blog.

(hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Leadership, Strength, and Vulnerability

If it’s just a job, being vulnerable can be an option. You’re trading work for money, you’re performing designated tasks toward defined ends, and perhaps you can hold the core of your soul back behind the fortress walls, where you won’t be open to attack and hurt.

No so easy when you view your work is a calling, a cause, a mission, a personal commitment. And when you believe that 360-degree humanity ought to be part of leading and working, then some degree of vulnerability is inevitable.

So – how much? Is vulnerability a good thing in leadership? Does it need to be counter-balanced?

This will be our topic of conversation during Tuesday’s #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET). I co-moderate this weekly event with my talented collaborator Lisa Petrilli, and here is her blog post on the subject. From the 30,000-foot level, here’s my on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand take:

  1. Effective leaders need to be human. People follow people, not robots, and being human means showing your imperfections. It means risks, mistakes, emotional engagement, and the readiness to expose enough of yourself that people trust and relate to you as a person. No vulnerability = dishonesty, and you might get some short-term results, but in the end, you’ll stand (and topple) alone. However…
  2. Certain types of leadership require far less personal vulnerability, and far more projection of strength and determination. My Marine son does not need an easily-wounded soul to be his leader into battle. He knows that his leaders are human, but when you are under fire on hostile ground, you need an icebreaker to press through the opposition, not a canoe. At times, leaders (yes, in business also) have to give vulnerability a back seat, to en-courage followers to bold and even risky action.

Think of vulnerability and courageous confidence as two water spigots, each with different temperatures. Effective leadership is not an either-or, it’s knowing that both will be needed, and wisely understanding what the needed mix is at the time. There will be occasions when one is mainly suppressed and the other projected, because those who follow need to see both. Many people want to be led, and they want to be led by someone who gives confident and bold direction. Vulnerability has its place, right beside courage. But projected weakness emboldens competitors and dispirits teammates who are looking for a rock to stand on, not sand.

A key element of effective leadership is earning respect. John Wayne may not have been a prime example on the big screen about exposing vulnerability. But you sure wanted him in the foxhole next to you when the rubber met the road!

Join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Courageous Leadership

Courage is the willingness to act according to one’s convictions.

It is not lack of fear – it is refusal to be paralyzed by fear.

It is not recklessness – it includes a clear-eyed view of the risks, and a readiness to go forward anyway.

It is not exclusively male nor female – macho guys can be enslaved to peer pressure, while feminine gals can stand as strong as a lion.

Courage says, “I’m going to do this because it is the right thing to do.” Would that we had more courage in business leaders!

What would it look like?

I think that, fundamentally, it would look like a thorough and practical commitment to the Golden Rule, instead of the Gold-in Rule.

Golden Ruletreat others the way you’d wish to be treated

Gold-in Ruledo what’s necessary to maximize my gold

Here’s the Courageous Choice in business: Do I do what’s right? Or do I do what is expedient to try to ensure maximum short-term (income/profitability/bonus/stock price/etc.)?

The courageous business leader looks at the long-term, looks at the good of clients/customers/employees/stakeholders, looks at the Golden Rule, and chooses to do what’s right despite unpopular consequences.

The cowardly leader looks at the short-term, at his/her own wallet, at the not-so-best-practices of other companies that get away with stuff, and decides to lie, misrepresent, cheat, engage in false marketing, and do what he wouldn’t want done to him in order to maximize immediate income.

In last week’s #LeadershipChat, we began to touch on business ethics. I don’t think you need an expensive MBA class to learn that. Fundamentally, you need the Golden Rule and courage, and the clear vision that comes with a clean conscience. Start with that, then worry about nuanced choices later.

And, in my opinion, those leaders and businesses that apply the Golden Rule will, over time, have plenty of Gold-in to follow.  Because there’s ROI to earning rich dividends of trust. Do they teach that in business schools anymore…?

What do you think? Utopian ideals? Or is this actually attainable?

Read what my co-moderator Lisa Petrilli wrote this week about courage. Then join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Leadership, and the NPR Firing Fiasco

Juan Williams had one of those “transparent moments.” He said something that sounded politically-incorrect (when extracted from its context). He wandered off-script from the acceptable speech codes of his politically-partisan bosses. He was diagnosed as a bigot and summarily fired by those paragons of tolerance and free speech, National Public Radio.

In some countries, leadership and censorship have always been affiliated. But here…?

Society’s grievance groups will always call for the scalp of anyone that speaks uncomfortable truth in plain terms, because they make no distinction between honest humanity and evil bigotry. But radical Muslim clerics didn’t even have a chance to issue a fatwa on Williams before the imams at NPR tossed the apostate under the bus. After all, he’d committed a capital offense – being himself. Showing some transparency that didn’t conform to the NPR template.

And isn’t that what effective leadership is all about? Keeping the troops in line and punishing those who violate the canons of controlled speech?

On the Twitter #LeadershipChat tonight, we’ll be discussing how leadership operates in this dawning era of increasingly-public transparency. There are new challenges in the area of corporate leadership, brought on by the transparency encouraged (and sometimes, the exposure forced) by our always-on, unfiltered media networks – including our rapidly-growing social networks.

Juan Williams revealed something of himself and paid a price. NPR certainly exposed something of itself and is paying a price in the public discourse. So how do we lead, and how do we express our own humanity, in an environment where transparency may clash with (in)tolerance?

Read what my co-moderator Lisa Petrilli has to say about this topic. Then join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Leadership and Power – Let’s Chat!

Tonight, Tuesday Oct. 12th, will be the inaugural #LeadershipChat on Twitter. If you’ve missed the prior notifications, here is where I announced this joint venture with my co-conspirator Lisa Petrilli. #LeadershipChat will be held at 8 pm ET Tuesday nights, starting today!

Our approach will be to take one highly discuss-able topic, and before the chat, write up our perspectives (usually it will spring from an article by a third party). Here is our theme this week: Leadership and Organizational Power. Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer is interviewed for this piece called The One Thing You Need to Get Ahead, and we both have strong reactions to it (please read it for yourself ahead of the chat!)

Here is Lisa’s post yesterday on her blog (which is excellent, by the way – subscribe if you haven’t already)! Below is my video-blog reaction. I really REALLY wanted to do a scorched-earth evisceration of the article but instead, tried to be at least halfway civil (no guarantees on restraint tonight – it might get pretty free-wheeling)! It’ll be interesting to hear your reactions and perspectives as we discuss it.

These links should be enough to get your wheels turning for the chat! Grab a glass of wine and let’s talk – just search on the term #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions. It’s one fun and fast-paced hour)!

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