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Plan Ahead

Counting Days on a Calendar

It is virtually impossible for you to outwardly reflect today the person you desire to be tomorrow, yet your internal reflection today determines who you will be tomorrow.     –mwgrigs

Not many years ago, the ubiquity of small, silicone wristbands and their WWJD mnemonic, encouraged all who read it to contemplate, “What Would Jesus Do?” The premise being to consider your actions in comparison with how he might have acted. Taking nothing away from the Man from Nazareth, sometimes the distance and differences of culture and religion, as well as the pressures of perfection, obscure simpler, more tangible principles. In this case, understanding the power of your choices and actions today for how they influence and shape your life tomorrow.

Do you know who you want to be 5 years from now? How about 10 years? What about 20 years from now? With any hope, everyone reading this post will have envisioned a “better version” of themselves in a future that is, in all reality, just around the corner. My question for you is this: What are you choosing and doing today that will be the raw materials out of which you will fashion that “better version” of yourself? Maybe WWJD is too fanatical. Maybe it’s not the religion you ascribe to. Regardless, ask yourself, “What would my ‘better self’ do in this situation?” Then act at once and be your better self!

We have little difficulty planning ahead for the purchase of a home, charting a vacation, or anticipating the newest iPhone release. However, when it comes to planning our life we grossly underestimate the power of cause and effect and subsequently have to play catch-up, all the while lamenting, “If I had only known.” Our chief error in this line of thinking is that we believe we can cheat time, forgetting that every oak tree is a testament of the acorn “acting like the mighty oak” all of its many, many, many days.

Plan ahead. Begin to think and act today as if you were already your “better self,” and lo, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years from now, you will be that person. If you knew twenty years ago where you’d be today, how different would your decisions have been?

Love Thy Staff

Group of diverse office employees

Several years ago I attended a seminar hosted by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin called, Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement. As you can imagine, several of my law enforcement peers opted not to attend because they got hung up on the word “emotional.” For them, it was too mushy and gooey a word to provide any real substance. Turns out, it was one of the most informative seminars I’ve ever attended; I truly believe everyone, not just law enforcement, can benefit from his teaching.

The English language has trigger words, like emotional, that get hijacked by our pop-culture filter, leaving us with a very narrow understanding of their meaning. The word love is another such word. We steer away from its use because of its mushy, ushy, gooeyness and end up with only a cursory understanding of its meaning and, more importantly, its power.

If you’ve read my blog posts for any length of time, you’ll know that I strongly believe leaders can be found at every level within an organization, not just within positions of authority and title. While I believe this message is beneficial for every leader in every circumstance, for the moment, allow me to direct my thoughts to those leaders who are actually in positions of authority and title, having subordinates or employees, and say: You must love your staff!

All too often we think of love in terms of emotional endearment and affection (mushy, ushy, gooeyness); a liking if you will. Therefore the statement, “Love your staff,” runs contrary to our contextual comprehension of the business environment. This is especially true when we realize that we don’t necessarily like all of our employees; and we certainly don’t like all of them all of the time. So what does it mean?

I define love, in this context, as the ability to deliberately choose right and positive actions toward a person or thing. It is a word of action, not feeling. Choosing to love, then, gives one the opportunity to supersede personal feelings and agendas and rightly relate themselves to any circumstance.

Let me explain by way of example. You have an employee who is habitually tardy. You give them a pass the first two or even three times, then they stop even attempting to get to work on time and certainly show no remorse for their tardiness. This brings their reliability into question, is unfair to their coworkers, and compromises the organizational mission—to say nothing of taking advantage of your benevolence!

There are generally two reactions to this type of behavior. The first is one of heavy-handedness, which seeks to punish the employee for flagrant policy violations—an example must be made! That reaction likely comes from bravado or false courage and does not reflect authentic leadership. The second is one of continued permissiveness, never addressing the matter directly. That reaction likely stems from fear or uncertainty and again, does not reflect authentic leadership. There is a third option, motivated by love, which is one of right action. This response points to authentic leadership, whose genesis flows from a desire to see the employee’s behavior modified in such a manner that they rightly relate themselves to policy, coworkers, and mission. In other words, it comes from a desire to see the employee do right.

Loving our employees—rightly relating to them—is easy when things are going well. When things are “broken,” however, there’s a tremendous temptation to react negatively and inject our own feelings and agendas. Authentic leaders are those who seek always to encourage others to strive to attain higher and better ways of being and doing.

Loving your staff is not about emotional feelings; rather, it is about desiring their greatest good.

Winning the Battle Between the Ears

Battle Between the Ears

4:30 a.m. comes very early in the morning! The alarm sounds off breaking the warm, cozy silence and dares me to hit the snooze button. Time to get up! What follows is an amazing volley of justifications and excuses for why I should stay in bed. You don’t really need to go to the gym. Who are you trying to impress anyway? It’s not like you’re training for the Olympics!

Raise your hand if you’ve had that conversation with yourself…okay, put your hands down. This is an all too common dialogue we have with ourselves, whether trying to quit smoking, learn to play the ukulele, or implementing any program aimed at tighter abdominal muscles.

One of my oldest friends is a volunteer strength and conditioning coach for a high school football team on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. While the players may think that he’s there to help them get stronger, run faster, and play harder, the real conditioning those kids are getting is one of leadership and success.

He tells his players that before they can win the battle on the field, they must win the battle between their ears—not just today, but every day. He knows that late in the fourth quarter, the mind will fabricate all kinds of reasoning and justification for quitting. Too tired. Not strong enough. They’re a better team. You can’t win. He knows the mind will spew vile thoughts of defeat, just to test your resolve and see how determined you are in achieving your goals. A few will overcome; most will succumb.

The reality of life is that the biggest challenges we face are not external, but internal. It’s overcoming the obstacles of our own thoughts. Most people’s financial problems have nothing to do with math. The majority of relationship challenges are not about Mr. or Mrs. Right. And nearly every leadership problem has the mind at its root, not lack of skill.

Winning the battle between the ears is what Steven Pressfield calls “doing the work,” in his book The War of Art. It is settling the argument in your mind and doing what needs to be done. Not just today, but every day.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habit.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tse

Leadership is an Attitude

eagle-in-flight

After a long and relatively successful career in the marketing and design industries, I stepped away and took a gamble on something I had always wanted to do and became a police officer!

I faired well in the academy, excelling in the mechanics of being a police officer, but once I hit the streets I quickly realized that I knew very little about actually being a good cop. It took a great deal of time and patience with myself to learn the ways of being a good cop. I gained all the tools I needed in the six-month academy course, but learning the why’s, when’s, and how’s of using those tools was something the academy couldn’t teach me; I had to develop it in myself.

That’s the real essence of being a leader: learning the why’s, when’s, and how’s of using all of the tools on your belt. Having advanced skills in team dynamics or conflict resolution means little unless you can rightly recognize when those skills are needed and appropriately apply them. Using the wrong skill at the wrong time can be as devastating, even more so, as having no skill at all.

The chief discipline I employed to help me become a good cop, is the same discipline anyone can use to become a great leader, namely developing a positive mental attitude that accepts nothing less than excellence. Developing that attitude helped me move past all of my cadet failures—and achievements—and strive to be the best I could be. That same attitude can transform anyone—regardless of position or title—into a formidable leader capable of accomplishing whatever they set their mind to do.

Cultivating an attitude of leadership is necessary for accomplishing any good and positive endeavor in life. What type of attitude are you cultivating?

Etymology Word of the Day: Choose

Etymology Word of the Day Banner

Choose (chooz) v. Old English ceosan “choose, seek out, select; decide, test, taste, try; accept, approve” (class II strong verb; past tense ceas, past participle coren), from Proto-Germanic *keus- (cf. Old Frisian kiasa, Old Saxon kiosan, Dutch kiezen, Old High German kiosan, German kiesen, Old Norse kjosa, Gothic kiusan “choose,” Gothic kausjan “to taste, test”), from PIE root *geus- “to taste, relish”.

As we arrive at the end of the first month in 2014, countless resolutions have been made and a staggering number have already been broken. As one year comes to an end and a new year commences its run, it’s a natural occurrence to take inventory of past doings and look eagerly toward fresh beginnings. Resolutions, personal promises, and zealous vows are a plenty as we strive to distinguish the new year, with its blank slate and promising opportunities, from all of our less-than-stellar achievements of bygone years. In search of a higher quality of life, greater discipline, and more saintly behavior we longingly hope that this year will be “the one.”

As much as it may seem like success (in all of its manifold meanings) is an elusive dream reserved only for those who are graced with special genes and the luck of the gods, the foundational ingredient to any success recipe is choice. It’s really that simple: Make a choice and see it through.

Our lives are the result of the maturation of our many choices—and their resulting rewards or consequences. Like a garden being a direct result of the type of seeds planted in it, the choices we make direct and shape our lives with near mathematical exactitude.

Sadly, the majority of people believe that success eludes them because of their environment, heredity, bad luck, or any host of reasons. The more likely answer, however, is that success remains afar off because people simply haven’t chosen to be successful. Have you determined what success looks like for your life? Have you then also determined what choices need to be made in order to achieve that success?

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Etymology Word of the Day: Discipline

Etymology Word of the Day Banner

 

Discipline (disuh-plin) n. – early 13c., from Latin disciplina “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” from discipulus (see disciple). Old English discipul (fem. discipula), Biblical borrowing from Latin discipulus “pupil, student, follower.”

As a military veteran, discipline has deep meaning for me. From regimented physical training, to rigorous instruction and repetition, to the scrutiny of checks, double checks and more checks, discipline framed my world.

Quite often I hear from people who incorrectly associate discipline with rote, mechanical movement; the kind of repetitious, habit-forming work that can be performed by mindless drones. Military discipline, as with leadership discipline, stands in stark contrast with that kind of robotic responsiveness. Rather, discipline is about purposeful, deliberate, and intentional movement.

To be disciplined, as a leader, is to carefully consider matters, weigh them out, and then act accordingly. Discipline, in this regard, allows leaders to respond to situations, rather than react to them.

The disciplined leader is the consummate pupil, student, and learner, constantly assessing circumstances, people, and environment. Rigorous attention to that which is in the leader’s charge develops within them a confidence and strength to respond with deliberate decision-making and practiced purposefulness.

Etymology Word of the Day: Decide

Etymology Word of the Day Banner

 

Decide (dih-sahyd) v. – late 14c., “to settle a dispute,” from Old French decider, from Latin decidere “to decide, determine,” literally “to cut off,” from de– “off” (see de-) + caedere “to cut” (see -cide).

“Waiting hurts. Forgetting hurts. But not knowing which decision to take can sometimes be the most painful.” ― José N. Harris

“The hardest thing about the road not taken is that you never know where it might have led.” ― Lisa Wingate

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ― Roy Disney

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” ― Yogi Berra

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” ― Michelle Obama

“When faced with two equally tough choices, most people choose the third choice: to not choose.” ― Jarod Kintz

“Whatever you decide, don’t let it be because you don’t think you have a choice.” ― Hannah Harrington

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.” ― Elbert Hubbard

Leadership Lessons from Country Music

country-music

I like country music.

I don’t listen to country music, but I like it.

I grew up in a musical family. My mother and father both played the piano. My siblings and I each played a musical instrument. My brother, the youngest of the bunch, was even a finalist on American Idol! And while I learned how to play the trumpet in the 4th grade band at St. Mary’s, my contribution to the world of music is being the great appreciator!

I can keep time with the best of them, but I have the dickens of a time hearing and understanding the lyrics of most songs. Sure, who hasn’t butchered the lyrics to Dan Seals, I Really Wanna See You Tonight? But my wife almost choked when she first heard me proudly belt out, “…move out to the alps…” in lieu of the correct lyrics of Zapp and Roger’s, More Bounce to the Ounce. (I always wondered what the draw was to the Swiss mountainside!?)

There are three reasons why I like country music and many leaders would do well to adopt these principles:

  1. Easy lyrics
  2. Simple harmonies
  3. Learnable rhythms

Easy Lyrics
Can people understand what you’re saying? I worked for a manager once who had uncanny business acumen; however, his communication was unrefined, brash, and crude. He had difficulty clearly communicating to the team where we were headed, why we were going there, and what we were going to do when we got there. Needless to say, no one liked the song he sang and certainly no one wanted to “buy the album.”

Simple Harmonies
Few things are more aurally appealing than a tightly harmonized vocal group. Harmonizing is about blending differences in a unique way so that while each individual note supports the whole, no one note can be distinguished apart from another. Leadership invariably finds ways to blend the group into a single, harmonious unit, while maximizing its diversity. Success is birthed in simplicity, not in complexity. Intricate, abstract plans rarely provide enough “surface area” for people to grab onto and hang on. Simple, well-defined plans can help everyone stay in step and in tune.

Learnable Rhythms
Life is more than motion, it is rhythm. There is a choreography to our day to day existence, even in business. The ebb and flow of communication, the give and take of teamwork, the wins and losses of sales, all contribute to the rhythms of the organization. Leaders who establish a learning environment create better outcomes for both their people and the organization. What is a learning environment? One in which mistakes and errors are not treated as failures, but as opportunities to grow and evolve.

Whether you’re a fan of country music or not, it’s hard to deny that the insights it offers on leadership are worth exploring. So grab your boots, tune up the ol’ slide guitar, and go make some music. Yee haw!

Day 3 Summary KMWorld Conference

Today signaled the end of the 2013 KMWorld Conference. It was a fantastic conference; Jane Dysart and team did a wonderful job! Today’s closing keynote speaker, Daniel Rasmus, brilliantly distilled 10 (actually 12) great lessons from Angry Birds for knowledge management practitioners (KMers). His last lesson sums up his keynote and really drives home what KMers are trying to accomplish: Repackaging something you think you have mastered forces you to challenge your assumptions about what you know and what is important.

Day 2 Summary KMWorld Conference

Day two of the KMWorld Conference began with an entertaining and informative keynote by Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge Network. This was my first time being exposed to his theories of cognition and learning, but was very impressed. One statement he made sums up my sentiments precisely regarding technology, “Technology should be an augmentation of human capabilities, not a replacement of them.” Oh, that we would learn to use technology for the tool that it is, not an end in itself.

Facilitating Organizational Change: Commitment

drucker

And so we’ve come to the end of the four stages of the change process.

This last stage is the hingepin that holds the others together. While change most certainly cannot be sustained without any of the other stages, no amount of intensity or passion in the other three can substitute for a lack of commitment to the overall process.

I read a book many years back by author Eugene Peterson called, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The title piqued my curiosity and what I found was a testimonial to perseverance, commitment, and endurance. These characteristics are even more meaningful when contrasted against our technology-ladened, instant-gratification societies. These traits are vital within change management as well.

Growth occurs organically, not mechanically. Change, as it mimics growth, is a marathon, not a sprint. That may sound cliché, but it’s true nonetheless and it demands that perseverance, that commitment, be the order of the day.

Understand that every member within the organization—in their own way—will test the resolve of those who desire change. This is because culture—not policy—drives behavior and motivation in the organization. This is important to note because every vision, mission statement, or executive campaign is destined for failure if it does not first acknowledge, and subsequently address, the culture.

Fear of loss, triggered by change, can lead to opposition and a kind of possessive hoarding of organizational resources, rather than a liberal outflow of them. Subsequently, if a strong enough sense of loss is felt, members will find ways—both deliberately and unintentionally—to impede and suffocate change. Commitment is the cure.

By establishing commitment early on, and by allowing it to endure repeated assaults and testing, demonstrates the resolve of those initiating change and creates new, stable pathways for individuals to advance their careers and establish familiar patterns.

To recap: change begins with acknowledgment, is gauged through assessment, bolstered by planning, and sustained through commitment.

The process is infinitive not linear. You must continually pass through each of these stages and realize there is likely no finite destination. After you’ve lost those 25 extra pounds, what then? After you’ve learned how to play the violin, what’s next? Once you’ve reduced your turnover, increased profitability, and improved customer satisfaction, what will your sights be set on then?

The process is never-ending. Wash, rinse, repeat!

Facilitating Organizational Change: Planning

eisenhower

In the last post, I spoke about the need to objectively assess both where you are currently and where you want to be in the future. I want to emphasize once more, the importance of being as objective as possible when making your assessment. Don’t allow past experiences or biases to influence your assessment; rather, let the information stand on its own.

The third stage of the change process is planning. Here, you begin to interpret your assessment and wrap context around it. What impact will this have on the organization? How long will it take to reach your goals? What will you need to get there?

Using our roadmap analogy again, if the goal is travel from Kansas City to Chicago, and your assessment finds you in Joliet, well, things are looking mighty nice. However, if you find you’re only in St. Louis, you’ve still got a long road ahead of you. The point being: without the assessment, you won’t know what needs to fit into the plan, and without the plan, the assessment is pointless.

Your plan of action must take into account both the current state of the organization (where you are) as well as the future state of the organization (where you want to be). Additionally, a sense of urgency must be conveyed.

Urgency is a nod to the first step of the process, during which the necessity for change is acknowledged. Without a sense of urgency, the corporate economic value of the need for change plunges significantly. The caveat is to convey a sense of urgency, not haste.

Haste makes waste is an axiom. As I mentioned previously, you will discover trouble spots that almost beg for your immediate attention. Exercising patience and restraint, rather than reactionary bravado, will prove more beneficial in the long run and will save both time and resources.

The planning stage has two goals: Collaboration and Solutions.

It is almost a universal fact that organizations cannot be coerced into change. A common change strategy in organizations today is that of buy-in. Yet, the concept of buy-in may be too dictatorial. What we need is collaboration.

Collaboration draws all of the stakeholders together and by definition necessitates group input and effort. Buy-in implies that the plans and strategies are not inherent; that they are external and must be adopted. Collaboration promises origination.

Collaboration asserts that the ideas for change already exist within the stakeholders and are waiting to be expressed. Where collaboration thrives, not only will that organization embrace change, it will create its own opportunities for making change a reality.

Finally, the plan of action must acknowledge the difference between people solutions and systems solutions. Failing to recognize this difference, or worse, recognizing it, but failing to handle them accordingly, is one of the major reasons organizations are unable to sustain their efforts to affect change.

People and systems must be treated differently. This is a truth that cannot be ignored. Additionally, people and systems can never be used interchangeably to solve challenges.

The primary lesson here is realizing that people solutions are not more important than systems solutions; however, they must precede any and all systems solutions.

As President Eisenhower alluded to in the above quote, flexibility is an absolute. When planning your route from Point A to Point B, you must be prepared for potholes, detours, traffic jams, and the occasional multi-car pile-up. Those challenges are never an indication that you chose the wrong route; rather, they are opportunities to demonstrate just how badly you want to reach your destination!

Day 1 Summary KMWorld Conference

The first day of the KMWorld Conference brought many great thoughts to the fore, perhaps none better than the question posed by innovation-phile Gordon Vala-Webb, who simply asked, “Are organizations dumb?” I do believe that organizations employ incredibly brilliant individuals; however, those same organizations are rarely capable of making their collective sum as brilliant as their individual parts.

Facilitating Organizational Change: Assessment

harrison

Once you’ve acknowledged that change is a necessity, the next step is assessment. It is important to understand the assessment stage is not about solutions, faultfinding, strategizing, or any one of a host of knee-jerk reactions so common among leaders and change agents.

Assessment is merely the act of “determining.” Specifically, determining where you are and where you want to be. The assessment is not inherently positive or negative—it just is what it is.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but I really want to drive home the importance of allowing the assessment to simply provide the necessary data for making decisions and plans. Interpreting the data and finding context can be done later. What’s critical in this stage is identifying the starting and ending points.

Let’s see if I can illustrate what I mean with this example: A grown man measures 4 feet and 11 inches. Is he tall or short? If his desire is to be an NBA power forward, he will be vertically challenged to be sure. However, if his goal is to be a champion horse jockey, he’s probably sitting pretty. Until the context is provided, he’s merely 4 feet and 11 inches.

While context is vital, it’s imperative to leave it out of the equation at this point. Doing so helps you to view things objectively, which may prove in the end seeing as an asset what context might have marked as a liability.

In addition to identifying where you are and where you want to be, this is also the time for drafting your roadmap. The role of the roadmap is to identify the myriad possibilities of getting from Point A to Point B. If you want travel from Kansas City to Chicago there are numerous routes that can be taken; there are direct routes and there roundabout routes, scenic routes and speed routes, interstates and back roads. The route you choose will be determined by what you want to accomplish on your way to Point B. (Remember, the journey is just as important as the destination—perhaps in many respects even more so!)

The roadmap can only provide you with a macro view of your starting and ending points. It can tell you where to travel, but it cannot tell you how to travel; that is reserved for stage three: Planning.

The greatest challenge in the Assessment stage is exercising restraint and discipline in obtaining a truly comprehensive view of where you are and where you want to be.

While the temptation will be great, it is important not to be reactionary in this phase of the change process. It’s a mathematical certainty that problems will be revealed in specific areas, processes, or paradigms, which will clamor for—almost demand—spot adjustments; however, the root of the malady may actually exist elsewhere or deeper within the organization. Premature reactions usually have an adverse effect and are likely to cause further damage. Restraint and discipline are the order of the day.

Successful leaders exercise patience and wisdom and use the assessment stage to involve others, create buy-in, and act collectively. Only when all stakeholders are on board can you proceed into the next stage.

Creating a Bold Culture

Your organization will follow where the culture leads—not the other way around.

I really enjoy etymology. I’m kind of a geek that way, but that’s why I appreciate people like Doug Harper and his Online Etymology Dictionary project. I could spend hours on that site!

There’s a funny thing that happens when you learn the origin of a thing. It takes on new meaning, purpose and value. What once might have been obscured in ignorance or confusion is suddenly illuminated and made clear.

Golf didn’t make sense to me until I learned how to score it. HTML was just gibberish until I understood tags. Blogs were for techno-geeks until I started this one, and Beowulf was confusing until…well, it’s still confusing! At any rate, by peeling back the layers to understand a thing, clarity becomes a natural byproduct. In similar ways, business leaders who fail to understand that an organization and its culture are inextricably linked, often attempt to lead organizations with only partial understanding and less-than-optimal results.

I believe it’s incredibly important to know just how deeply an organization’s culture is rooted in order to learn how to influence and reshape it. I once read that, “…culture is rooted in the shared assumptions of the organization…” I agree with that because it’s those assumptions that determine how the organization will be run—even if that means running counter to operational policies. Make no mistake, culture—not policy—controls behavior and motivation in your organization. Why is this important? Because every vision, mission statement, or executive campaign is destined for failure if it does not first acknowledge, and subsequently address, the culture.

An organization’s culture provides its members with a corporate worldview. That is to say it provides members with a framework for what to expect, how to posture themselves, and how to make decisions within the organization.

One reason changing Organizational Culture can be so difficult is because the culture is tucked away deep inside the organizational mindset where it’s hidden from superficial examination. Unexamined assumptions can go unquestioned for years, as they silently calcify, making the organization rigid and resistant to change. Once they’re brought to light and scrutinized, however, they trigger fear and discomfort within influential members who have a vested interest in protecting those assumptions. For them, they represent safety, familiarity, and comfort, and do not require them to change.  Those influential members—both positionally and culturally—not only have the greatest to lose, they also have the positional and cultural authority to frustrate the initiatives of any would-be agent of change.

Fear of loss generated by change actually leads to a kind of possessive hoarding of organizational resources, rather than a liberal outflow of them. Subsequently, if a strong enough sense of loss is felt, members will find ways—both deliberately and unintentionally—to impede and suffocate change.

Organizational Change is hard, but creating opportunities for members to successfully confront the culture will return huge dividends and help develop and foster a #BoldCulture. A Bold Culture recognizes that conflicts within the corporate worldview point to deeper issues of understanding and value, and then creates space to proactively dive into those deeper issues; the expectation being the safe preservation of the organization and its members. The benefits of creating a Bold Culture can produce results that lead to a dramatic improvement of performance, scalability, and sustainability for the organization and those within it.

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