Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Never give up

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 was this past Sunday. 500 miles in 200 laps around a 2.5 mile, 4 turn historic track.

I can’t bring myself to watch two full hours of racing, but I definitely like the finish of this race given the distinguished field of international racers. There were the normal contenders and the new hopefuls. At the end of it all, rookie J.R. Hildebrand had the lead going into the last lap. He was ahead by a lot and simply had to stay on the course to win. Sounds easy, but it didn’t happen. On the last turn, Hildebrand slid out and crashed into the wall allowing Dan Weldon to slip by within 100 feet of the finish line to take the victory. Weldon had not led the race for a single lap up to that point. He had no hope of winning and most of the afternoon was about staying in the race. Can you imagine the coaching Weldon got that afternoon during the long two hours from his crew in the pit.

Often as leader, you have to coach your team to stay the course, plow ahead and good things will happen. Even the most insightful lead does not know for sure that perseverance will pay off, but we do know without it, we are doomed. Weldon stayed in the won.

Have you had to coach in what seemed like a losing effort? How did you motivate the team? Did the victory ever jump from the jaws of defeat?


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sometimes leaders do have the answer

It was getting late Friday afternoon and time to go home. That’s when Jamal stepped into my office and asked if it was ok to close the door. Jamal is a hard working young professional that has a lot of promise. Unfortunately, he looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

After beating around the bush for what seemed like forever, he shared what was bothering him. He said the situation was keeping him up at night and making him ill. Without going into too much detail, his challenge was one of being pursued by multiple managers while balancing loyalty to his home department. There more details. Once I had the pertinent facts, the answer and approach Jamal had to take was clear. Of course, clear to me given 30 years of organizational experience. “Great performers get choices and other may not.” I explained to him how I would handle the situation to maximize everyone’s satisfaction. You could see the weight removed. It is true, sometimes leaders do have the answer and they must simply share it. I wondered as I drove home, what Jamal would have done this weekend had I not been available or had not taken the time to talk.

As a leader, do you give direct and unambiguous opinion when appropriate? Do you tell it straight even when it may not be what someone wants to hear


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jimmy Olsen or Superman?

I got an email this week from a project element leader stationed overseas that provided the performance results. It was the third month in a row performance was below plan and the three month trend was negative. The note came with a simple “here are the results.” No explanation of why or what was going to be done to put the project on track.

Remember James Bartholomew Olsen (Jimmy Olsen) from the Superman TV shows and movies? Do you know the difference between Jimmy Olsen and Superman? It is simple – Jimmy Olsen reports history and Superman changes it! Olsen sees a situation, collects information and runs back to tell “the Chief” (the newspaper editor). Superman sees a situation, assesses it and takes action to change the outcome. If leadership is really a verb, then leadership is action and not a report. This lesson is especially important to leaders located in geographically dispersed places (virtual leaders). It is hard to see the leadership action of a teammate 9,000 miles away. People only see the action implied in the communications they provide. So, the next time you are providing an update to the project you are leading, consider the message you are sending.

How do you demonstrate action in the remote communications you provide? Have you considered methods to improve them?


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blackberry drained the pool

“You know what killed our ability to develop young leaders don’t you?” Dave said as he held up his Blackberry. “It used to be that we had to make the hard decisions when our bosses were away. Now, you just email your manager in Timbuktu and she emails the answer back in seconds.”

Whether you are recruiting it, developing it or just worrying about it, talent is the life blood of the role of leadership. Early in our careers we were put in situations where a decision had to me made and there was no one to ask. This made us think through the ramifications of the alternatives and select one. Sometimes we picked the least risky and other times we decided to double down. Sometimes we were right and others times we were off base. We learned from the wins and even more from the failures. If we were lucky enough to work for a true leader, they would return and “coach” us in private. If not, we learned the error of our ways in front of the full team. In either case, we learned how to make the tough decisions.

Dave and I talked about learning to swim (lead) by being tossed into the deep end of the pool and how leaders that are not careful can end up draining the pool. How we use our Blackberry is a decision we make. We as leaders choose if and how we answer subordinate inquiries. We choose whether we let them develop their reasoning and decision skills or just give them the answers. We have the option to respond, “Make a decision and I’ll support you when I return.”

Are you letting you Blackberry drain the deep end of the leadership development pool? How do you make sure it does not?


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