Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leadership Litmus Test

As a student of leadership, I am always looking for that simple introspective question or test to use to when assessing leadership skills. A LiaV reader contributed this litmus test.

“When I was in the Marine Corps in the late 60's and early 70's, we used one question to measure a man's leadership ability: Would I follow this man into combat?. As a sergeant in Vietnam, I am sure my men probably had to ask that question of me and decide, just like I pondered that question of my superiors. I don't remember ever saying no, which speaks a ton for the Marine Corps ability to develop leaders. I still catch myself asking the same question of superiors in my professional career. Unfortunately, there have been many "no's".”

Those of us in the business world think we have a leadership challenge. This puts it into a whole new category. Makes me think we need to remember to recruit these experienced leaders as they complete their military careers and are ready for their next experience.

Do you have leadership litmus tests you have used from outside the business environment that we can learn from?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Work to live

The “live to work or work to live” debate has been bantered about for years. There the extended argument that “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.” Of course, there is also the bumper sticker that says “the worst day fishing is better than the best day working.”

A lot of it is perspective, but let me share a portion of an email I got last week from a colleague.

“At this point in my life, I too will hopefully be making some changes....sometime soon I will make the decision to retire. In the meantime, I have formed a non-profit organization named ListoAmerica (Listo is the Spanish word that means "ready"/"prepared" and also an acronym for Latino Infusion into Science & Technology Opportunities). To learn more about ListoAmerica, I'm in the process of developing the webpage: (even though I have not yet generally communicated this webpage information (since I don't think it is the finished product yet), I have now given you the webpage and you can learn more about ListoAmerica since the webpage is actually live).”

As leaders we need to recognize that “whole” people work for us. We do not get a third of a person. We get a whole person for a third of their total time! They are doing very important things with the other two-thirds. Leaders need to help bring this passion into the workplace and bridge the workplace with the external passion. Imagine what the person that authored this email could do for the Latino workforce if they were unleashed.

What are you doing to build bridges to create opportunities for your team’s passions?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Sugar Candy”

I recently had and opportunity to assist the new CEO of a $60M business on a competition. What should have been business as normal had become confusing, and they were about to miss out on a significant opportunity. I did not contribute anything more than asking a couple key questions and providing strategy guidance.

At the conclusion of our final conversation, I asked the CEO how he got into this situation in the first place. He said, “All that people bring to my office is sugar candy.” His point was that he had not yet built a culture where people bring him bad news. Only good news arrives. I thought about “sugar candy” on the way home and remembered a time in my career where the company was attempting to create a culture of providing help needed and it back-fired. The managers were taught to use the “five-whys” and to offer help. What actually happened was subordinates were “five-why’d” to the point of feeling like idiots and the offer of help had the tone of “do you need me to do it for you?” People took their issues under cover. It was less painful.

I learned from that experience that the culture a leader creates is not always the one they want. The communication tools the leader uses might dictate the resulting culture. I need to explore this when the time is right with my CEO friend.

Have you seen small errors derail cultural change efforts? What could have been done differently?


Monday, July 20, 2009

Know your surroundings

JW was doing pretty well on the shuffleboard table in the lounge after a company-sponsored training event. The lounge is designed in such a way as to create a good networking environment and burn off some of the energy pent up during the day of sitting in classrooms. Her opponent was pretty good at shuffleboard also which gave way to a little professionally constructive “team building talk.”

Upon a pulling off a slim victory, one of JW’s colleagues asked her if she knew who she had just defeated. “No,” she replied. As it turns out, JW had just successfully beaten the prior family owner and largest stockholder of the company. Not a big deal per se, but something she will likely remember for her career. In comes the next challenger.

Here was the debate a couple days later. Being that the event was in this environment often attended by members of the board of directors, should JW had done research to have known the board members in advance or was it better she had not to give the encounter a far more “real” feel and result?

What side of the debate do you side with and why?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s”

I can still hear it like it was yesterday. “If you only hire people more talented than yourself, then your job as the leader is to remove barriers and get out of the way,” said Ron. It was part of a discussion we were having about my concern that I was doing work I thought was higher level than others in my pay grade.

He suggested I watch the way some of his peers spend their time. He was far calmer and seemed to have his act together. Besides he said, “I have no problem with you achieving or even going beyond my current leadership level.” Ron told me that by hiring the best people, he was able to focus on other priorities for the organization. He also provided the insight that many managers are not comfortable with this concept because they think there is some mysterious competition. Simply put, A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.

I have found over my career that not only is this a great yardstick for recruiting, but it turns out to be a valuable time management guide. When you just hire people more talented than yourself, the only thing you find yourself repeating is the recruiting and hiring process as you help these people spread their wings and take off. As the leader, you can focus on longer term strategy, diversity, talent development and customers/suppliers.

Have you had the opportunity to work for a leader that only hires A’s? Did it raise your performance?


Monday, July 13, 2009


“I want you to be more employable tomorrow than you are today.”

A generation ago, large companies would present the potential for life-time employment. From watching our parents, family, neighbors and friends, we know this is not still on the table. Companies do not consider this financially viable, and leaders struggle with how to accomplish it on their own within the confines of the legacy company. Seems like quite a dilemma.

What if I told you this was a leader’s artificial constraint? Like the “Ball & Chain” mentioned a week ago. While a leader and company might not be able to offer guaranteed employment, it is within the leader’s capability to offer improved employability. Employability in this context refers to keeping one’s skills current and relevant to the marketplace. As the leader, we usually have the insight to see business cycles, professional trends, technology insertions and skill set changes.

For example, for the last ten years, it was the stated objective of many organizations to move up the value chain and increase global presence. As the leader of a significant supply chain management organization, I was able to help buyers understand what this meant to them and what skills they would need to gain to remain relevant. This simple assistance by the leader allowed these great people to remain employable.

Are you helping your people remain employable? Do you have examples to share on skill set shifts where a leader helped transition the team?

If you have not voted LiaV as #1 leadership blog - please click here or upper right.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Change, Leadership, and the Three Types of Courage

Guest blog post by Scott C. Griffin

Every day we are faced with challenge and change. What differs is how we act, react and the ability to handle the challenge set before us. What differs is how some are able to stand up to these turbulent challenges and find the necessity to make needed changes. Change usually requires courage, and on a grander scale, takes leadership.

The Three Types of Courage

The Courage to Fail
If the corporate environment does not allow failure then the organization will fail to progress and to become successful. Organizations need to have the ability to allow failures as long lessons are learned from the error without dire consequences – hence the cliché “learn though our mistakes.”

Interpersonal Courage
Leaders who excel at interpersonal courage frequently form authentic relationships with their. However, these leaders also display the capacity to make tough decisions regarding people while considering the best interests of the organization. Courage comprises the ability to tolerate risk, ambiguity, and anxiety. Leaders high in courage welcome constructive criticism, admit and learn from their mistakes, and are aware of their own limitations.

Moral Courage
Moral courage is one of the hardest courage of the three. Moral Courage can affect your career and possible future advancement. This is often an area to tread lightly if your career depends on it. There are simpler ways to demonstrate moral courage.

True leaders take responsibility for their actions. Leadership takes courage. Leadership has to face an ever-changing environment just to keep pace. Nothing in life is stagnant and change is inevitable. It boils down to how a leader approaches the challenge of change.

Note: Scott Griffin is a contributor to our Liav leadership community, a graduate of the Keller Graduate School of Management and employed with a local government agency. (


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just wait until you need them back

I had the opportunity to congratulate a colleague last week on being recruited to become the president of the North American subsidiary of a major international conglomerate. In doing so, it occurred to us that a paradigm shift is taking place under the talent of large legacy companies and the cost-cutting effort is not allowing them to see it.

While “managers” have dutifully been reducing the work force to achieve cost and profit objectives, actual leaders are also thinking about post recovery business environment. The memory of this workforce is more robust than many give credit. True leaders have been approaching the down cycle by engaging their teams in the tough decisions, and this has created different employment decisions than in the past. It is not as simple as one generation letting the younger generation go.

The most talented stars in the workforce today know their value and are not threatened by the idea of moving to other opportunities. The toughest task is for the leader in a legacy company to step up and act as though they understand that the economy will recover and the karma demonstrated today will be paid back.

Have you seen a leader that understands this new workforce paradigm? Do you believe the karma will be paid back?


Monday, July 6, 2009

You’re fired! Thank you!

Many companies truly want to be a part of and help their surrounding communities. They encourage team members to volunteer and expect their executives to participate in leadership roles.

This all seems like the right thing to do, and I can share another reason for this involvement. As the past president of the Long Beach Management Association, a leadership networking and community service organization, I had to have the dreaded discussion with a fellow board member that was not quite achieving all the roles of the position. Having never led a volunteer organization before, I approached the conversation like it was work.

It was not work and as soon as I provided the opportunity, the individual said they were quite busy and would love to pass this on to someone else. I moved from not getting all I hoped to getting nothing. It struck me like a 2x4. Leading a volunteer effort is way more delicate than leading organizations where people are paid.

So, the next time you are looking to develop one of your up-and-coming leadership hot shots that has a little edge, assign them to lead a volunteer organization. In fact, if you have never done this, sign up yourself! It is a great leadership development undertaking.

Have you had a challenge leading a volunteer effort? Are the leadership skills required different?

Vote Leadership is a Verb as best leadership blog of 2009.


Friday, July 3, 2009

“How Not to Act Old”

Do you really care where you get good career advice?

You know those long flights where you find yourself re-reading the “Sky Mall” magazine for the twentieth time? Sometimes you just read the thing that is available at the time. Thus, my adventure through “More” magazine this weekend (“The best-selling magazine for women over 40”). I decided to read an article by Pamela Redmond Satran on “How Not to Act Old.” “The point isn’t to behave like a 26-year-old. It’s to learn how not to act like someone a 26-year-old might snicker at.”

Previously, we explored the generational differences of the Gen Y’s and the leadership implications they present on LiaV, but never listed the twenty-one simple things you can do today to better communicate with your Gen Y teammates (Warning: Based on the source, some are not work or male oriented!). Hints like not being the team’s history channel, losing the watch, vmail and txt etiquette, getting out of your chair, redefining “long term”, re-evaluating refreshments, thinking fun, not volunteering parental advice and typing with your thumbs are interesting hints into their world.

I personally felt pretty good that I made at least half of the suggested “male” oriented adjustments prior to reading the article based on observations we have discussed in the past. I dare you to remove your watch for the next week.

Do you seek insight from any source? Have you developed the skill to recognize good advice when you see it?

Note: The article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “How Not to Act Old: 185 Ways to Pass for Phat, Sick, Hot, Dope, Awesome, or at Least Not Totally Lame” by Pamela Redmond Satran.

PS – Another thought on not acting old – just use Pamela’s blog.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Your input is needed – LiaV nominated for 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs

What an honor that our “Leadership is a Verb” blog has been selected as one of the top ten Best Leadership Blogs for 2009. We are clearly the underdog standing side-by-side with professionals.

You can rock the vote. Click the logo to the right.
The winner will be announced on Monday, August 3.
Thank you, and remember to check back periodically for updates on the results. Make sure to share the competition with your friends, family and colleagues!



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I want to be redundant

“I do not understand how you had the time to get your real job done,” said Johanna after I had explained the significant improvements and awards the organization had won in the area of diversity and abilities awareness. My response was simple, “You have plenty of time to work collateral topics when your primary focus is on recruiting and developing people to be more capable and competent than yourself.”

The dialog created from a recent LiaV post (“Someone has to end it”), about how learning stops if you do the exact some job for too long, surfaced an interesting goal for leaders. Many agreed it was the role of the leader to develop the people and improve the systems and processes to the point that the leader actually became redundant.

While this seems like such a simple concept, it is also extremely risky. By definition it says that leaders must work themselves out of a job every couple of years. This is a very uncomfortable place to be so often. Leaders have to be very confident in their skills and contributions to become so vulnerable repeatedly. Those working for progressive leadership understand how this continues to happen. If not, leaders may not get the best assignment they deserve.

Do you believe it is the role of leaders to become redundant? have you seen a leader accomplish this goal?


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