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    Dare to be Different: 5 Ways to Add Value to Others

    Dares are common among children at play. They dare each other to do something outlandish or out of the norm. But these same children may grow up and lose the nerve to take on some dares, because the societal repercussions are significantly greater as an adult.

    Differences are necessary in providing complementary traits to create a fully functioning system. The human body is comprised of many different internal and external parts, each with their own specific purpose, that follow the brain to perform smoothly. A symphony is comprised of many different sounding instruments, some with significant parts and others with smaller parts, each eliciting a beautiful sound, when properly following the conductor and the music.

    Google Images/Deviantart

    Google Images/Deviantart

    In the same way, each of us bring differences to our teams and organizations. We each may function in seemingly important ways, or in miniscule and replaceable ways, but nonetheless are each vital to the overall success of a team. Failure to share your full value with the team, may result in missing an opportunity for innovation, inability to meet clients’ needs, or overlooking costly design flaws. As leaders, it’s important to prioritize the growth and development of each team member’s differences to draw out their value to the broader organization.

    I had a stark reminder of this while watching a recently released movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith, which followed the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who discovered a neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease in the brains of deceased pro-football players. He named this chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and published it in a medical journal. Faced with public denial of his findings, he worked to raise consciousness about the long term risks of football-related head trauma.

    Five DARES Continue reading

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    Invest in Yourself: A New Year’s Commitment

    Many years ago there was a leader and queen of the country of Sheba. As the ruler, she had many people and resources under her command. But rather than simply take pleasure in her obvious wealth, she pondered how to better lead her people, and how to handle the challenges of her country. Someone told her about another leader named Solomon who was the king of Israel. Solomon was known to be very wise and might be able to help her figure out how to manage some of the problems she was dealing with.

    She must have been very concerned, frustrated, maybe even desperate to find a better approach to her leadership issues, because she planned a major trip to visit him and talk about it. Sheba gathered the currency of her country (many camels carrying spices, gold and precious stones), and along with numerous servants, traveled to meet with Solomon.

    google image

    google image

    When she arrived and sat down to talk with him, the understanding she gained was overwhelming. The advance reports of his wisdom didn’t even come close to matching her actual experience. Solomon not only understood her issues, he answered every question she had. His perspective and wisdom were so very great that he became a valuable consulting resource for her. She observed his leadership style and capabilities, the engagement of his employees, his organizational culture, and the mission and focus of his team. Solomon’s perceptiveness was so helpful to her in leading her country more effectively that she gave him an abundance of the expensive gifts that she had brought.

    While it’s difficult to measure her gifts in the context of her overall wealth, we do know that it was the best of her country’s resources, because no one else ever gave him such costly spices in so great a volume as she did. And in return, Solomon gave her all that she asked for.

    Here was a leader, someone already accomplished enough to lead a large organization, but who recognized the need and opportunity to learn more. She knew that she had to continually improve her competencies to more effectively build relationships to influence her team, and accomplish her organization’s goals and objectives. She yearned to talk with someone else who understood leadership challenges and would support her in her initiatives. The queen’s perspective on the resources she devoted to this was not about cost, but about making an investment in her own growth, that would pay off in many ways in the long run. Continue reading

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    10 Key Questions for Leaders – Part 2

    Leaders are faced with a myriad of issues each day, but one of their most critical responsibilities is to step back from the urgent and focus on the important. They must achieve a balance between the reactionary crisis mode and the proactive planning mode. This means pausing and reflecting on how they’re influencing behaviors to ensure the right outcomes. To accomplish that, there are 10 key important questions that, properly addressed, will strengthen both their leadership and their organizational effectiveness.

    10 Key Questions - Pt 1XI posted the first 5 questions in Part 1 several weeks ago on this blog. Here are the last 5 questions.

     

    1. Engagement. How do you engage your team in what you’re trying to accomplish? Engagement is based on an emotional connection that energizes those involved to work toward a common goal. Competitive rowing teams, known as “sculling in crew” require all rowers to move in exact cadence with the leader for an efficient stroke. The leader is responsible for steering the boat, encouraging the crew and monitoring the rate of progress. Everyone knows their role and knows who to follow, and engagement is an important key to winning. Contrast this with a scenario where everyone is rowing at their own pace. They’re working at it, and they’ll make progress, but not nearly as fast because their behaviors aren’t aligned. Similarly, as the leader you must ensure that your team clearly understands the goal and that their efforts are coordinated, collaborative, and complimentary. This means making sure they buy into why the goal is important, and contribute their ideas on how to best accomplish it.
    2. Innovation. Are you creating an environment that encourages new thinking? Innovation involves taking existing ideas, processes or products and combining them in new and different ways to meet customer or market needs. For example, electric vehicles are innovative. Some companies have innovation labs, or innovation hours (i.e. hackathons), but this approach ultimately needs to be embedded in the culture of the organization. New ideas must be nurtured and encouraged. Carl Winans, Co-Founder of Mega Tiny Corporation asked a good question at a conference I attended recently. “Are you creating or merely consuming?” In other words, do you just take in information and knowledge and use it, or do you integrate it to provide new and different output that is beneficial to others? Leaders’ interactions with employees should incorporate discussions on innovative topics, soliciting ideas, encouraging them to investigate the potential for success, and when appropriate, giving them a leadership role in operationalizing their ideas. This rewards innovation and reinforces the skills requisite for success.
    3. Power. Do people follow you because of your power and position, or because you empower them? If you were no longer CEO, VP, or holding your current leadership position, who among your team would still want to follow you? John Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership explains that at level 1, people follow you because they have to. But as you move to level 5, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. You only have power over others to the extent that they grant it to you, whether through an employment relationship, or because you meet a financial, emotional, social, psychological or physical need. Once you cease to fulfill that need, or they find someone else to fulfill it, you become effectively powerless. On the other hand, as a leader you can empower others, or give power to them, by providing them with responsibility, enabling them to do something, or equipping them to accomplish a challenge. Giving power to others generates a virtuous cycle of enabling, growth, commitment and engagement.
    4. Performance. What is the correlation between your effort and your outcomes? This is a sensitive issue, because all leaders like to believe that they’re exceeding the expectations of the individuals or groups to whom they’re accountable (and we’re all accountable to someone). But there are enough situations where no matter how intellectually capable or strategic the leader, their best efforts don’t move the needle forward as much as is needed or expected. Is their skillset incomplete? Is the internal business challenge too great? Are there insurmountable external economic or market forces that can’t be overcome? Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo in 2012 amid great fanfare about how she could turn the struggling company around. Three years later, the company has had to scrap its plans to spin off its extremely valuable stake in Alibaba Group Holding, and the market is currently valuing Yahoo’s core business at less than its cash on hand. While Mayer has upgraded content and worked to boost mobile revenues, some are publicly wondering how much longer the 6th CEO in 8 years will last. Opinions vary on how to return Yahoo to success, but the performance question is one that every leader grapples with at some point. And if the effort is not producing the right outcomes, it may be time to find a new opportunity where the leader’s contributions will align with strong results.
    5. Change Leadership. Are you leading your organization to be nimble, flexible and open to change? Change doesn’t happen unless the leader makes it a priority. Nikesh Arora, formerly responsible for all of Google’s revenue ($29B), and currently CEO-in-waiting at SoftBank Group of Japan, demonstrated this when he was first hired to run Google’s European operations in 2004. He doubled his initial 5-year revenue projection for the region, and created the analytical tools that were eventually implemented to track the financial condition of the global business. He’s known not to suffer fools, but his enemies respect him. Instead of changing his leadership style to fit into the company, Arora shrewdly changed the leadership perspective to mirror his own. He tells entrepreneurs “Anytime you can predict your trajectory, you should change it.” Change leaders don’t wait for external forces to drive internal business strategies. They anticipate the market, technologies, economy and customer needs; develop a flexible framework and goals for the future; then ensure that the right processes, strategies, technologies, and tools are in place to get there. Change leaders hold their organization accountable for results.

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    10 Key Questions for Leaders – Part 1

    Leaders are faced with a myriad of issues each day, but one of their most critical responsibilities is to step back from the urgent and focus on the important. They must achieve a balance between the reactionary crisis mode and the proactive planning mode. This means pausing and reflecting on how they’re influencing behaviors to ensure the right outcomes. To accomplish that, there are 10 key important questions that, properly addressed, will strengthen both their leadership and their organizational effectiveness.

     

    1. google imageDisruption. What is the disruptive threat to your business model? Leaders should be constantly aware of ongoing threats to their business model and its products or services, and take action to address it. Jim Kennedy, Chairman and former CEO of Cox Enterprises provided a great example when he diversified his business away from classified ads to leverage the growing role of the internet, by successfully launching Autotrader.com. So make a list of all the products and services provided by your organization, your team, and even you, based on your skillsets. Now for each one, think about two or three ways that your product, service or skillset can be provided faster, cheaper or differently. What technological advances might make your current products or services obsolete? How might consumer preferences shift away from your current model? Believe in the possibility and probability of those ideas, then focus on how you’ll anticipate the future and address that threat. Shift your business model to where the customers are going, instead of where they are now.
    2. Purpose. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Many organizations and teams shift into automatic mode as their activities become routinized. They assume that demand will continue for their products and services, and evolve into placing more focus on what they’re doing, or how they’re doing it, instead of WHY they’re doing it. But asking the question WHY, connects you to the purpose of your activities. It’s the motivator and driving force that inspires the team to the appropriate behaviors that will support it. Once they understand your WHY, an emotional link can form as they pinpoint their contribution to accomplishing it. The underlying WHY or purpose of an individual, team or organization typically does not change, because it’s a fundamental belief and value. According to Simon Sinek, the how and what changes as necessary to continue to support the WHY. When you know your purpose or your WHY and communicate it effectively, this clarity attracts others to you who recognize a benefit from it.
    3. Failure. Where have you failed, and what insights have you learned from it? If you’ve never failed, you’ve never attempted something of impact and significance, relative to your abilities. Failure can add value when we learn something from it, and build upon it. Thomas Edison failed many times in trying to develop a light bulb. The Wright brothers failed initially before leveraging their underdog status to become the first in flight. J. C. Penney was sick and bankrupt before he built his namesake store into a retailing giant. But they learned from their failures, kept trying and eventually succeeded. The only bad failure is if you fall into shame and shut down afterwards. Instead, find a stepping stone to move forward. Failure is a requirement for growth. It’s accompanied by exploration, curiosity, pursuit, action, and flexibility. And most importantly, reflecting on and learning lessons that can be constructively shared with others.
    4. Curiosity. What are you curious about? Curiosity is a precursor to learning. Though it’s easy to be consumed with the daily challenges of leadership roles, it’s important to take time to explore insights in related areas to stimulate thought processes, and spur new ideas. Research shows that successful CEOs are curious, and this curiosity leads to growth. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook started his Year of Books online reading club to encourage discovery about different beliefs, cultures and technologies. And Richard Kinder, Chairman and CEO of Kinder Morgan reads about 50 books a year. He learns from how other leaders have confronted challenges, particularly overwhelming ones for which they had few ready answers. His curiosity in reading is linked to his interests, and fuels his passion for learning. So dig into those areas that you’re curious about, and your learning will form the basis for future growth.
    5. Service. What does my team need from me in order for them to be successful? As a leader, your responsibility is to serve your employees, enabling them in turn to provide value to customers, investors, and the community. You serve your team by creating a compelling vision, and providing the processes, tools and structure to support innovation, recognition, teamwork, and success. Service requires a continual focus on others to understand their needs, motivations, and aspirations, and to provide them with opportunities for growth. This includes a measure of humility to steer the focus from your own, to the teams’ accomplishments, and to ensure that your decisions serve them and not yourself. Service also provides a greater connection to the team as you partner together in the organization’s success. Leaders who focus on service take responsibility when things go wrong. Leaders who focus on service empower their team. Leaders who focus on service attract, retain and develop talented people.

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    Your Big Idea Worth Spreading

    Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the TEDx Detroit conference. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is a gathering of leading artists, entrepreneurs, educators, designers, thinkers and doers who share their “big idea” worth spreading. Meeting in locations all over the world (the x factor), this Detroit gathering included people who offered bright ideas in a variety of areas. Here is a sampling of the ideas presented.

    Elio MotorsPaul Elio of Elio Motors believes that mobility is one of the primary roadblocks to individuals getting a job and thereby overcoming poverty. So he designed a 2 seater vehicle (one seat behind the other) priced at $6,800 that gets 84 miles per gallon. While that price seems very reasonable, he went a step further and devised a financing plan whereby the purchaser uses an Elio Motors sponsored gas card, and each time they get gas, he charges them three times the actual amount. This overage is applied to the principal cost of the vehicle, making it self-financing.

    Alden Kane is a high school senior and student inventor. He’s committed to improving peoples’ lives by combining science and service, and believes that proprietary ideas are the future of science. And so he accepted a challenge to design a “wheelchair stroller” for a local mother. Sandwiching time to complete this between his academic and extracurricular activities, he came up with a novel solution to a common problem for millions of new parents who are confined to wheelchairs. Now he’s looking for angel investors, and a more user-friendly name for his invention.

    Sharina Jones was the beneficiary of Alden’s creative genius. A victim of a gunshot wound at age 7, she now teaches people to think beyond the chair, to live past their disabilities and to live a functional life. She sets the example as Miss Wheelchair Michigan in 2011, author of The Life of a Push Goddess, and founder of a charity that brought wheelchairs to Panama. She challenges others to change the lives of one person, a community or the world; and now has a means of carrying her new baby boy with her. Continue reading

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