Leadership is changing!

What makes a good leader? Go ahead, answer…

Truth be told, you’re probably dead on. I have no idea what you said/thought, but in your own mind, it’s true.

You see, people learn how to be a leader from other leaders in most cases. Sure, there have been leaders who were obviously born with the pedigree that virtually ensured their success as a leader (Jesus), but most people who we think of as great leaders learned their skills from someone else.

baby jesusWe learn that in 2 ways:

  1. How to lead
  2. How not to lead

Which of these were you?

Yeah, that’s what I thought, #2. Really, it’s a lot like parenting. We either see what our parents did and say to ourselves, “I’m going to do it that way!” OR “My parents did that and there’s no way I’m going to do it that way!”

The problem with that is that the world is changing. Rapidly. I know the boomers thought they were in a world that was changing quickly, but the rate of change today makes the 60’s & 70’s look like the stone ages.

I’ve been approaching leadership development from a different angle for the last 12 months than ever before. The main difference is that I’m working with an organization that is trying to figure out how to transform it’s direction to match what the constant changing landscape is doing in our industry. There’s an old saying, “what got you here won’t get you there.” That could not be more true for us. We, like most in our industry, have operated for a long time on a model that has essentially made competitiveness a race to the bottom – cheapest provider. That’s not sustainable unless you’re Walmart.

As we think about what it’s going to take to be successful, we’re thinking about the kind of leadership that we need.

The answer? A leader who:

  • Can lead change
  • Has the drive to take the business forward, even if they don’t know what’s ahead
  • Can deal with ambiguity
  • Creates new revenue streams that don’t exist today
  • Can find profitable new markets
  • Is comfortable changing the business model

You’re thinking WAIT! What about honesty, integrity, people skills, motivation, etc. Yeah, I know. I didn’t forget. Those don’t make a good leader; they’re table stakes. The leader has to accomplish the things listed above through others and you can’t play without putting in the table stakes.

Recreate/RecycleI’m looking for ways to develop the leaders for tomorrow. That does not mean clone the leaders we have today. We need to think ahead and skate to where the puck is going to be.

What about you? Are you trying to imitate a leader from the past? Are you trying to model or do opposite of what your former boss/parent did?

Are you trying to develop into the kind of leader that will be needed tomorrow or just recreate/recycle/retread what used to be?

Perfectionist? No thanks! Averagist for me…

Staring at the ceiling, I contemplated what my next move should be. A thousand thoughts went through my head as I argued with myself over a career move that I was reasonably certain was an impossibility. 12:00am, 1:00am, 3:30am…same conversation playing in my head.

Earlier that day, I had a conversation with someone who told me about an opportunity at another employer. I hadn’t thought much about it at the time. After all, I was only 33 and this job had a list of requirements that I didn’t think I met. I usually go with my gut on matters like this, but my gut wasn’t helping things.

kid therapy

Here’s the problem: All my life, I’ve taken the safe road. There’s a psychological disorder where people will only try things if they are certain that they will be successful. If they think they can’t be, they’ll not try it at all (Full disclosure, I’m not a Psychologist but my sister is and she tells me regularly how screwed up I am); however, I’ve not been officially diagnosed with this.

That said, I know I must have some version of this. (E.g., When I was a kid, I could get a B+ or A- without studying so I didn’t. Why not? b/c if I studied and still only got a B+, that’s a failure.)

Back to the sleepless night. Here are some snippets from the argument going on in my head:

  1. “I’ve never done this before”
  2. “I’m too young”
  3. “I have a good job now and you’ve only been there 1 year”
  4. “This could be a career killer”
  5. “What if this isn’t what I really want to do with my life”
  6. “I don’t have the experience. If this had only come along a year or two down the road…”
  7. “What if I find out that I’m over my head?”

The interesting part about this? All this was BEFORE I EVEN APPLIED for the position!!!

I was reading a post over on Leadership Freak where Dan really made me think about the way I do things. I never realized it before, but I’m apparently a perfectionist. Dan talks about being an “averagist”.

“Averagists,” those who take imperfect steps toward achievable goals, always go further than perfectionists. Each step forward calls for another because you haven’t arrived.”

In a world where we’re taught to play it safe, the challenge is to keep moving towards perfection rather than waiting until you’re sure you’ll get there before you take a step. I want to take imperfect steps towards achievable goals.

I don’t want to be a perfectionist!

I, gulp, WANT TO FAIL…forward. We don’t learn from success, we learn from failure.

Btw, I’ve been doing the job over a year and am loving every minute of it…

Empathy matters

Let me begin by confessing that I’m a bit of an idiot sometimes…

Long story short, I had an iPhone from Verizon that ran out of contract. I found a new carrier that wouldn’t lock me into a 2 year contract. If you know anything about people born after 1978, you know that we don’t really like anyone to tie us down. Oh, and it’s roughly 1/2 price from what Big Red was charging me.

verizonAs a part of the switch, I ordered a new SIM card, popped it in, and then got an error message that this card wouldn’t work because my carrier had to unlock the phone. No problem, right? The phone was paid for.

When that happened, it ported my number from Verizon as if the SIM card worked. Because it didn’t work, I now have a service with a new carrier but no phone that will allow me to use it. That’s when I called Verizon…

“We don’t do that,” the customer service agent said, “we only unlock it if you’re going overseas and want to get a carrier over there.”

Funny thing is, the other carriers will unlock an iPhone, but Verizon says they won’t. Hmmmm…

What emotions do you think I felt?

Yep, all of those. It’s been a few days now (without a cell phone – man I’m in the stone ages) and I’ve had time for my lizard brain to subside and my adult brain kick in. It got me to thinking about empathy.

You see, before this, I wouldn’t have thought much about a company basically refusing to release something that I gave them hard earned money for. Heck, Wouldn’t have crossed my mind because that would be practically stealing! Not so anymore.

Unfortunately, I had to experience first hand the experience of dealing with a company policy that makes me feel like I’m dealing with a thief, or at the very least, a company who doesn’t care even a little bit about me as a customer.

This, however, is not Empathy, it’s Sympathy. Sympathy is feeling the same thing as someone else because you’ve felt it. Empathy is understanding that feeling without ever having necessarily felt that yourself.

I do not have enough empathy. In my job working with successful corporate leaders, I find that my problem is a common one. That’s no excuse; I need more.

Ask yourself, do I empathize? Can I understand and anticipate the way people feel, even if I don’t feel the same way? If you’re a leader, you should probably ask a series of questions like this:

What are we doing that makes people angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feel less important?

I’ll bet that there are great people at Verizon. I’ll bet that some of them can sympathize with my situation. It appears that the problem is that the leaders of that particular company have an Empathy gap. They only see things in terms of dollars and cents and haven’t been able to see what their customer is experiencing. That’s a shame.

Puppy empathySo thanks, Verizon, for helping me stop a minute and think. I am trying to “Make progress every day.”

What about you? Do you have empathy? If so, we need to talk. I have to get better at this if I’m going to serve the way I need to serve. Let’s connect!

Accountability is Awesome!

I’m re-reading a book called The Oz Principle. It’s all about accountability and staying ‘above the line’. I’d really encourage you to read this one. Today, I covered a passage that really, really hit home with me.

Before I finish that thought, let’s cover the definition of accountable. According to Webster’s online dictionary: “Required to explain actions or decisions to someone.”

OzEven the language of this one makes you feel like a victim. “Required to explain…” makes you feel like you’ve got to tell someone why you couldn’t/didn’t do something. I think that’s wrong.

The book defines it, “A personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results…”

I like this one way better. It makes me think, “Hey, what else can I do now to make this happen?”

See the difference? Now, back to my earlier epiphany.


It’s the part about what can I do NOW. It doesn’t matter that things didn’t go as I thought they should, the question is what can I do now? Anything that happened is, by definition, the past. You cannot change the past. Even if it just happened. What can I do now?

crying baby“But you don’t understand! I lost my job, my spouse is a dufas, my parents were nut jobs, I’m too old to…” Sound familiar?

Okay, now to my epiphany (really this time).

There are people all around me that are stuck in the victim cycle. I recognize it because I’ve been there. I’ve been stuck. It was always “their fault”. I was right. Circumstances beyond my control made that job a dead end. I was a victim and until I chose to ask the question “What can I do NOW,” it didn’t change.

You know those people too. There’s always a reason/excuse why…

Question is, in what part of your life are you stuck in the victim role?

  • Did you have a crazy parent? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? They were crazy – can’t change that – it’s in the past.
  • Are you sick? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? Can’t go back and keep from getting sick – it’s in the past.
  • Are you broke? That sucks. What are you going to do NOW? Can’t go back and make better financial decisions – it’s in the past.

Get it? Sometimes life is cruel. Can’t change that. What are you going to do NOW?

Branding – it’s there when you’re not

I’ve got a great job working for a great company around some great people.

Last week, I took off for the beach. I spent the whole week thinking about non-work related things (even though I dreamed our CEO was at my house for some reason…creepy…). I was gone a total of 10 days. It was great.

While I was gone, a little magic sign fairy stuck this sign on my door.

ImageA. You’re welcome for the visual of me on the beach

B. It occurred to me that while I wasn’t thinking about anyone here, they were thinking of me


Apparently, I’m known for whistling around the office. I’m also known as Mr. Sticky Note. When you walk by my office, you’ll notice the excessive flipchart pages on the wall and the many sticky notes that I use to help me think (Don’t judge me…I’m spatial).

The key takeaway here is that in a few short months, I’ve built a reputation (completely unintentionally) for these 2 things. The fact that people would hang that on my door speaks to my brand. The fact that the people who work for me (and I’m pretty sure my boss was in on it) hung this up speaks to my brand.

I wonder what kind of brand I could build intentionally?

No, not the LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter perfect profile where you write it in the 3rd person like someone else is lavishing praise on you, but the one where my brand comes to mind even when I’m not there.

What kind of brand are you building?

There is no try?

ImageYoda was wrong!

Hold on…before you dismiss this as heresy, hear me out.

“Do or not do. There is no try,” is, of course, the line I’m talking about. While I get the line, I don’t buy it.

Try. That’s a tough thing to do. Generally, if you’re like me, you like to think, think, think, think, build, present to the world. The problem with that reasoning is that we get too vested in the outcome or our ‘build’ that we make it hard for people to tell us what needs to be improved.

No one wants to tell you that your baby is ugly. Continue reading



That’s what I just experienced. I’ve had my iPad for exactly 1 week. I love my iPad. I need my iPad. I know iPads are expensive so I have mine in a protective hardshell case.

As I’m flipping it open this morning, the case ever so gracefully allows the iPad to slide out and fall onto the ground, bumping the corner of it. I’m not worried…it fell like 12 inches…then I pick it up…

Panic? Maybe that’s not strong enough…

I picked it up, turned it on and…yep, the green screen!

To say that my lizard brain kicked in would be an understatement. I guess that’s what the first cavemen felt when he woke up after falling asleep accidentally and realizing that he let the first fire in history of mankind go out.

So what did I do?

Fortunately, I have access to millions of people in my network, some of whom have experienced this problem before.

I jumped on Google (thank God for Google!!) and found a forum where people were talking about how to solve it.

Collaboration is awesome! A group of people with made up screen names listing out things to try with my $400 goof.

Saying this out loud sounds ridiculous, but in fact, it worked! Collaboration provided an answer I would’ve had no chance at getting even 10-12 years ago.

What was the answer? Smacking the iPad on a hard surface.

Yes. I smacked my 1 week old iPad on a granite counter top on the recommendation of somebody I’ve never met using a made up name giving advice to people they would never meet and had zero responsibility to.

Thanks to LaxMan25, I’m typing this out on my iPad with a clear screen.

How do you use collaboration at work? Do you trust strangers on the internet more than your co-workers? Your boss? The people who work for you?

I hope I trust them at least enough to smack my $400 item on a hard surface if they suggest it…

A whole new world…

ImageTomorrow, I leave for Seattle. I’m going with a team of senior leaders from my company to visit with executives from several cutting edge organizations. It’s called an immersion experience and was setup by the folks over at The Immersion Lab.

They’re pros. This group really knows not only how to setup the trips and all the logistics that go along with them, but they also know how to debrief the learning the team is experiencing to make sure they’re getting the most out of the time.

I have to admit, when I first heard there was a company that set up these events and got paid really well to do it, I thought to myself, “…America.” (Actually, they’re located in Toronto)

So why on earth will one organization pay a company to setup a chance to go sit with the 3rd organization? 

Because companies need to learn. Just because you work for a large, industry leading, best-in-class organization, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn. 

I know you can’t go sit with the CEO of Microsoft, but why can’t you go sit with the HR pro at the local “best company to work for?” What about the 2 man shop that develops Apps to engage customers where they want to be? What about the guy who runs 3 Chick-fil-a stores who obviously knows a thing or two about hiring good people?

Usually, we have an illusion that the big company in another city has it all together and we just can’t figure it out. Reality? The reality is that they’re over there looking at someone else thinking they have it all figured out.

Every company has something they do well. Every company has something they do poorly. Let’s learn from each other (the good stuff, don’t imitate the bad) and get better!

Be a learner. Wherever you are. 

Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep thinking.


A different view

ImageIf you’re smart and self-aware, you have a good idea of what people think about you. Seems simple enough, right?

Problem is, what people see is always based on their perspective. It’s idea that if you hold your hand in front of your face, and then extend it to arms length, it looks like it’s a different size. Realistically, it isn’t but the view is very different based on perspective.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been leading a 360 feedback type leadership assessment. As I’ve interviewed people from all around the participant, there are certainly themes developing. Today, I spoke with a top level executive. 

Man, was the perspective different! Sure, the themes I’d seen were there, but the view of this person from someone who is at that high of a level was very different than what their peers and reports see.

There’s the challenge. I should always be asking myself how others see me, but I should really be concerned with how people above me see me. 


Because their perspective is unique. I can see from here; I cannot see from there. They’ve already accomplished great things and think differently.

To get where they are, I have to think like they think.

Am I concerned with how my friends see me?

Am I concerned with how my boss sees me?

Am I concerned with how my people see me? 

Here’s one for perspective: Am I concerned with how God sees me?

Those are the questions. Answer: I should be…

Can’t see the trees for the forest

forestI know this is backwards. Follow me here…

I’m working with a very high level team of people doing a session to help them understand each other better and ultimately drive better business results.

Individually, they’re all top performers who understand the business and think at a very high level. As a group, they aren’t clicking on all cylinders. The good news, is they want to get better. The bad news, they don’t realize where they are.

After using a few individual and team assessments, it’s evident that they collectively think they are a very high functioning team. Realistically, they’re not as highly functioning as they might think.

Where’s the gap?

Most people struggle with thinking at a high enough level. Sometimes, it’s possible to think too highly…

Make sure you’re taking time to notice areas that could be improved. Yes, you have to focus on business results; however, the areas of communication and real teamwork can take a backseat. The danger here is missing opportunities that would actually make the business better.

Communication and teamwork provide candor, feedback, new ideas, less downtime due to silos, etc.

What are you doing to work at being a better team? If you don’t, you’ll likely only see the forest – and miss the trees. Without the trees, it’s not a forest…