Posts tagged Leadership
I recently finished reading the Steve Job’s biography by Walter Isaacson and was blown away. I have read two other biographies by Isaacson over the years, Einstein and Benjamin Franklin - both were great. But this book surpassed both of those books. Why? Steve Jobs was a fascinating individual who many have called the Edison of our time. He is utterly influential and will continue to be long past his time here on earth. I think you could make the same argument for Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, so Isaacson seems to be on to something with his writing choices.
In the book Steve Jobs has influenced me with his thinking and how he did business. He never went to business school, he never even finished college. He went to college for a while and went to classes that he was not signed up for because he found them more interesting. I am not advocating skipping college, but I am advocating not confining yourself to boxes that do not make sense for where you want to head in life.
Steve wanted to help create a whole new world of personal computers and he was able to help do just that. I would imagine I might write a lot about him the next few weeks so view this post as more of an intro. Three things hit me over the head while I was reading this book:
1) Market Research is worthless when people do not know what they even need yet.
2) If you do not cannibalize your own product, someone else will.
3) Collaboration is fine, but if you invite everyone to the table, including people who do not need to be there, you will water down what might be a great idea.
The point I want to focus on a bit is market research. One of my jobs puts me in the middle of graduate higher education. It takes us a long time to bring a new product to market, and sometimes our products get watered down by immense collaboration. Not always, but sometimes this is clearly the case.
We are thinking about a new product that I think will be groundbreaking for us, and you know what? I could care less if we do market research. I know this product will attract and equip students who we do not get right now. I am excited.
I am more excited about how inspired I am by the Steve Jobs book, and his legacy. He influenced me greatly.
This week is a transition week for me in many ways. Hamline Volleyball - where I coach, our season ended last night and even though we lost, we had a winning season. We were able to double our wins (18) from last year, and our girls improved in many ways. But, as this season ends, it is a transition week for me going from doing volleyball everyday after my main job, to not having volleyball.
Weeks like these I often rush to fill the gap with more projects and stuff, but this week I choose to use as a week to focus, evaluate, and look out over the next quarter, year, and beyond.
Something that keeps ruminating in my mind is to focus on less, and have more excellence prevail.
Focus on less.
Hit your targets when there are fewer to hit.
Can you relate?
The Long View
I cannot believe it has been two weeks since I last entered my thoughts in this space. The last few weeks have had some of the more interesting challenges I have faced, or help others face, in leadership during my career. Those details of those events are not important, but suffice it to say the past two weeks took all of my ability as a leader to navigate.
What have I learned through these events? A lot. One thing that keeps coming to mind is the concept of taking the long view. I think I have written about this before, but the concept came back to me in a powerful way these past few weeks.
As a leader, be sure to look at all that has happened in a week, a month, a year, a decade to really rate where you feel you are at. If you are in leadership, and you are pushing for change, you will run into those who are, for whatever reason, change resistant. A great book on this issue some of you may have read is called, “Who Moved My Cheese.” I highly recommend it.
Seth Godin is a major influence on my leadership style and a while back he talked about the concept that if you want to lead you will be criticized, and if you want to blend in, you will be ignored. Your choice. I choose to lead and help make things better with the teams I am a part of, I would abhor being ignored. So, what that means logically is occasionally I see my fair share of criticism.
Types of Criticism
Here is the deal with criticism:
1) Sometimes we all deserve it because we just blew it, and it can be used constructively to get better at what we are trying to accomplish.
2) Sometimes it is unfounded and cuts us in a way that leaves a mark.
What do we have control over in both situations? How we respond. Sometimes we need to evaluate if the feedback or criticism is valid, and make adjustments as necessary. This is healthy and normal, and something I am working on getting better at as a leader.
But, when dealing with #2 make sure you ask trusted advisors if you are trying to see if the criticism is unfounded.
At the end of the day I go and hug my wife and son and make sure I put all things in perspective and not stress out over things that I have little or no control over. Trying to do the best I can, one day at a time.
Carpe Diem my friends…..
In my life I have had a series of mentors who have helped me become who I am today. Without those people, and their investment, my life would surely look a lot different than it does today.
One mentor that sticks out in my mind as much, or more than, many others was my college advisor Dr. GW Carlson. GW as he was affectionately known by students recently retired from teaching at Bethel University after a 40+ year career. I know I am not alone is saying he was greatly influential in my time as a student, and on into my life post-college. Let me tell you a story about GW, and how he helped reset my priorities in the face of me thinking I knew everything, and why I think he has all the marks of being a great mentor.
I transferred into Bethel University after two years at a junior college. At my junior college I did well enough to have a high GPA and make the President’s list. For sure I thought I was a pretty stellar student - but, Bethel University was much harder academically than my junior college was. During junior college I held down two jobs and still pulled a high GPA. I was under the misguided impression that I would be able to do the same at Bethel University. I was wrong. While working 30 hours per week at American Eagle I was not putting in the time necessary to excel in my classes. After my first semester my GPA was nowhere near what it had been at the junior college.
When I went to meet with my advisor, GW, he looked at me and the look he gave me is best symbolized by this image:
He in no uncertain terms told me I was acting like an, and I quote, “Academic Playboy,” and I needed to start taking school seriously. I remember thinking, who does this professor think that he is? Where does he think he can just tell me what to do? I left the meeting frustrated and a bit mad, but after I cooled down I realized he was right. He cared enough about me to tell me the truth even when I would not like what he had to say.
After that intervention I was able to buckle down and do much better in class, and forever thereafter look more seriously on the commitments that I was taking on and how they would effect one another.
What made GW a good mentor and why you should have someone like him in your life:
1) He was not afraid to tell the truth of the situation
2) He cared enough about me to tell me something that I did not want to hear
3) He was not so impressed with my talent that he did not push me further than I thought I could go
4) He did not need me to ‘like him’ and could be completely honest with me
5) He saw the future, what needed to be done to help me get there, and intervened at an absolutely key moment in my life
Do you have someone like GW in your life? If not, find someone. If everyone tells you what you want to hear, you will not continue on in your development.
Sometimes it literally takes me years to learn a lesson that is so obvious it just sits there in front of me but I cannot grab onto it. This past weekend I finally learned one of those lessons and I want to share it with all of you.
Many people want to be leaders. I work with lots of college students and if you ask them if they want to be a leader, many, most, if not all - will say yes! Yes, I want to be a leader. Yes, I want to be in charge. Yes, I want to tell people what to do and have them listen to me. I have been there, I remember wanting to be in charge.
Then, some people actually make it into positions of leadership and the truth hits them in the face. You have to build up your credibility before people will listen to what you have to say. You have to earn the right to be heard. You have to lead by example. Oh, so many good lessons I have learned over the years from experience and good mentoring.
One lesson that, as I mentioned before, just hit me like a ton of bricks is the leadership situations where you have to deal with a sticky situation. I am calling this the 5% of leadership no one really talks about. Employee problems, angry constituents, conflict resolution - you name it, if you are a leader, those things will roll up to you and you will have to deal with them.
This is reality. If you want to lead, you will deal with these things. I have been at it long enough to know this is true. Here is the lesson that I have learned in dealing with this leadership “5%”
1) If you learn to expect that these things will happen and are able to deal with them in a non-emotional way, you will not let those things run your life while you are dealing with them.
What do I mean by that? This past weekend I finally just accepted that there will always be a 5% of these issues that come my way as long as I am in a leadership role. When one of these things happens, I just put myself to work in resolving the issue but do not let it take over my life during that time.
If I do this, when one of these things comes up, instead of dread and sorrow I can just deal with the issue in a pragmatic way. Oh, it is one of the 5% situations? Ok, no problem, lets accept the fact that these things happen and get on with resolution.
This shift in attitude will help ease your stress during those times when you may be likely to get stressed out. I think that leaders who learn this lesson and figure out a sane way to deal with these issues will help them be an effective leader for the long haul without letting some of these issues become the 5% that take up 95% of their time.
Do you want to be successful? Here is a huge secret key that is so obvious many people overlook it:
You have to work harder than anybody else.
Let me repeat:
You have to work harder than anybody else.
Today I read a quick tweet from Rory McIlroy, the #1 ranked golfer in the world talking about how he was on the range early today practicing for a playoff golf tournament this week in Indiana. Rory mentioned something about being the early bird on the range and that the range was not crowded.
Then, I clicked on this link:
Who is on that range at some early crack of dawn time? Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. World ranked #2, and World Ranked #1 golfers. Does that surprise me? No, not at all. The best work harder than everybody else. Period.
Do they have talent? Yes.
Does talent win? Not without hard work.
Are they in the right fit? Yes.
Does fit matter? Absolutely. If you are not in the right fit, you may never get a chance to do what you do best.
Rory and Tiger work harder than other golfers who may have similar talent levels. Tiger also is a victim of his own success because now young up and coming golfers also saw what he did and worked harder, practiced longer and now the whole level of golf on the PGA tour is better than it was years ago.
If you are in the right fit, and you are not working as hard as you can, do not complain about having less than excellent results. Work hard, be the early bird.
During the past few weeks we have been working hard as a volleyball team (Hamline University) to get ready for the start of our season. There have been times when the coaching staff which I get to be a part of has pushed our team hard - past where they thought they could go. We also have been working on some of the less glorious parts of volleyball, blocking and digging, and being disciplined. Getting a big kill? Great, but you won’t have that opportunity without being disciplined.
This is probably my favorite part of coaching - pushing people past where they think they can go, and then seeing the payoff later - also watching the players see the hard work paying off and then believing in what you are trying to do - that, as they say, is where the magic happens.
Last night we were able to put all that hard work during the off season, spring season and pre season into both our matches. We went 2-0 and took care of the business we needed to take care of. But, I don’t think we would have been nearly as successful without the hard work that has been done during the past year.
Here is a picture of our team after both matches last night:
They did the work, they got the results - what are you doing now that is preparing you for what will come? If you are an achiever, this moment after reaching your goals is nice, but you are already on to the next thing. How do you keep motivating yourself to excellence?
Questions I am asking. For now, enjoy your Saturday! We have more matches to win.
Do you ever have times in your life where you get so zoned in on something the rest of the world does not exist to you? Is it hard for you when someone interrupts something you are doing once you have started? Do you find it easy to prioritize and then act?
If you answered any of these questions in a positive way, you may have the Gallup StrengthsFinder strength of “Focus.” What is Focus, according to Gallup?
“Where am I headed?” you ask yourself. You ask this question every day. Guided by this theme of Focus, you need a clear destination. Lacking one, your life and your work can quickly become frustrating. And so each year, each month, and even each week you set goals. These goals then serve as your compass, helping you determine priorities and make the necessary corrections to get back on course. Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal. Those that don’t are ignored. In the end, then, your Focus forces you to be efficient. Naturally, the flip side of this is that it causes you to become impatient with delays, obstacles, and even tangents, no matter how intriguing they appear to be. This makes you an extremely valuable team member. When others start to wander down other avenues, you bring them back to the main road. Your Focus reminds everyone that if something is not helping you move toward your destination, then it is not important. And if it is not important, then it is not worth your time. You keep everyone on point.
I have the strength of Focus at or near the top of my StrengthsFinder results. How does this play out in real life? It plays out constantly. Below is a short list of how I see this strength play out day to day:
1) I constantly am prioritizing and re-prioritizing tasks, my day, how I will get things done.
2) I have an innate ability to see what should be dealt with immediately and what can wait. (I also can help other people with this when they need help)
3) I am deadline driven, I will get it done before a deadline, pressure motivates me.
4) When I play sports, I can zone into whatever I am doing so deeply everything else fades to black.
Those are a few quick examples as I think about how I use focus to leverage it as a useful talent in my life. Like anything, strengths can also hinder you if you are not careful and here are some of the challenges I see in having this brain-wiring helping guide my days:
1) It can be hard to switch tasks once I get going on something, it is hard for me not to ‘finish.’
2) Sometimes when I am zoned in, I miss things that are going on around me.
3) People will start conversations with me and I miss things because I am not focused on them.
Those are not terrible things, just things I need to be aware of when I go through my day. My team, and other friends and family know to ask me, “Are you focused right now?” as a way of helping me not miss things. This is strengths management 101 - do you have skills around your talents that help you turn them into strengths? We can save that for another post.
This picture really helps illustrate how my brain works:
I am always focused on the horizon - where am I headed? How can I get there? If you have the strength of Focus you may be asking that same question. This picture was taken in Bozeman, Montana on the way to drive to Moonlight Basin ski resort for a day of hitting the slopes.
My life has been forever changed in a good way knowing more about how I am wired. My argument continues to be that the more you do to find out who you are and what makes you tick, the better chance you will have at success.
I think we only get one shot at this life, make the most of it!
Above you will see a very fun picture of my son, JD, last winter helping us shop at a local food store. This store has brilliantly provided small carts for little people who want to help shop. JD loves the fact that he gets to help and follow Mom and Dad around the store.
He gets to follow… he loves to follow and do what Mom and Dad are up to. Danielle and I are trying to figure out how to be good leaders of a now-preschool aged little boy. We do our best to model good behavior and consistency with our son. He, for the most part, follows along to our lead.
He is a good follower.
Except when he is not. Sometimes he is tired, at those moments he does not like to follow. Sometimes he is angry, those moments he wants nothing to do with following. Sometimes he is lonely, again, just wants to be comforted, not necessarily follow direction. And last but not least, sometimes he is hungry, and in those moments, look out, he wants food — NOW!
The story about JD could easily be the same story for me, and maybe you? How are you as a follower? Are you easy to lead?
We all have a boss. As I mentioned in my last post, I have a few. In all those situations I try and be a good follower. There are other times when I am in charge, and in those situations, I try and be a good leader and certainly appreciate the people who work with me.
I think if you do not know how to follow, you will never be a good leader.
It is only through following that you can learn what it takes to lead.
How can you become a good follower? Be faithful with what you are being asked to do. This assumes a few things about the role you are in:
1) The responsibilities that you have and relationships to execute those responsibilities are well defined
2) You know what is excpected of you every day in the position you are in
If you are in a good situation like I just described, then nail everything that your leader is asking you to do. Go over and above. Under promise and over delivery. Build up your credibility so high that when you screw up, we all do, it is not the end of the world.
I so appreciate the character of good followers. I try and be a good follower in every situation I am in. Are you?
As some of you know, I have the privilege of coaching volleyball at Hamline University here in Minnesota. We are in the midst of an intense preseason to get ready for the start of our regular season. Our coaching staff is hard at work along with our players trying to maximize and realize great potential of our team. One thing we use in practice is the electronic scoreboard in the gym to keep track of points in drills and time of drills, etc. There is always some reaction when the buzzer goes off and our drill is over. Did we meet our goal? Etc.
The use of the electronic scoreboard adds greatly to what our team is trying to accomplish in practice. It gives us parameters and a clear visual representation of where we are at compared to a goal and creates pressure as the time ticks away. It is so useful!
In the beginning of our season, our head coach, Audrey, had me setting up the control panel for the scoreboard and it was not working correctly. Here is what this control panel looks like:
The scoreboard kept going in and out and it would not totally do what we needed it to do. We could not figure it out. Audrey asked the person who helps us with these things what we could do to fix it. It turns out that there was another one of these units that was plugged in out of sight in the storeroom and we had two of these controllers plugged in at the same time.
What was the result? It did not work. The circuits were overloaded and the scoreboard just kept flashing, one message from one controller, and then another message from the hidden other unit. Not good.
What was the solution? One of the units had to be unplugged. At the end of the day one control unit had to be in charge - after we did that, things worked perfectly. We have been using it every day since.
This situation reminded me of leadership situations where who was in charge, or who was the leader, was not clear. I think it is essential for people to absolutely understand who is in charge, and of what. Who is the final decision maker for an area? Understanding this will only lead to better success as a unit or team.
A long time ago in one of my graduate school classes there was a well intentioned and naive classmate of mine arguing for systems without leaders and clear lines of authority. I could not see that being effective back then, and even more so do not see that looking back. We need clear lines of authority in order to accomplish tasks. If everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.
I am thankful for all the bosses I have, my wife :), Audrey my head coach at Hamline, and Dan my boss at Bethel, they help give me direction and set me on a course in different areas. I am glad there are only one of them in each area - it helps keep it clear for me as a spouse or employee.