“Creativity flows…

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…when Curiosity is stoked." As we continue to explore the soft skills required for effective 21 st Century Leadership, adaptability will always be near the top of the list. However, adaptability begins with the ability and openness to explore and experiment. Effective leaders need to be curious enough to think beyond their existing individual and c...
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8 Steps to High Performance

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It has been a while since I’ve reviewed a book in these pages and, as it so happens, I just finished a great book that also applies to this month’s leadership message. Because there are so many leadership fads out there, it is refreshing to read a book that uses what we know through science to support ways to improve our leadership performance. Marc Effron’s book, “8 Steps to High Performance, Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest)” is one you should give a read! My favorite chapter deals with Step 5, Maximize Your Fit, in the 8 Step Process the author outlines. Maximizing Fit is a crucial element to staying adaptable and relevant as the world around us changes, as the author explains, faster than people change. Therefore, people need to be aware of the continuous changes going on around them and adapt accordingly. This is true whether you are a student still in school or a leader in any type of business, for-profit or non-profit! Enjoy the Book!

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“I can explain it to you…

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…but I can't comprehend it for you.” As we continue to explore the value of soft skills critical to being effective 21st Century Leaders, our discussion turns to one of the most sought after, yet least available soft skills: Critical Thinking. While many definitions exist for critical thinking, they all rally around the concept of objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment. In this world of short attention spans and social media driven opinions and assumptions, a leader’s ability to objectively analyze and evaluate the myriad of situations and decisions they face daily makes the title quote by former New York City Mayor Ed Koch all the more relevant! When we dig deeper into the construct of critical thinking, we find several key attitudes and skills necessary for 21st Century Leaders to make the right decisions for the sustainable success of their organizations. From my own experience in a variety of industries and organizations, the three questions to ask to ensure as much objectivity as possible are:

  • What is the REAL issue? ~ Going back to the attention-span-challenged and technology enabled world we live and work in, it is easy to get wrapped around the topical symptoms, opinions, assumptions and inuendos representing much of the online content digested every day. The challenge is that it takes both time and self-awareness to understand the real issue at hand. Time in the sense that the real issue usually doesn’t reveal itself without further questioning and validation. This process takes additional time and effort to ensure the real issues are at the center of the decision-making process. Self-awareness in the sense that personal biases can, and likely will, cloud the leader’s ability to accurately identify the issue by asking the RIGHT open-ended questions to identify what matters!
  • Based on what? ~ The key to answering this question is based on how well you really know your business. If you’ve ever read or watched Sherlock Holmes, the detective character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned stories, you know how often Sherlock Holmes comes to a conclusion that another character in the story like Dr. Watson asks, “How did you know?”. It is at that point Sherlock Holmes goes through his conclusions based on how well read he is. Fast forward to the 21st Century and leaders must continually ask themselves, “How do I know this to be truth in fact?” As the author quoted in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” published in 1892, “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Are leaders doing more of the former or the latter based on what they do or do not know?
  • So what? ~ It is no secret we live in a content-rich, context-poor world. For this reason, answering the question of relevance of both the core issue and the conclusions makes the entire process as efficient as possible. Investing time in learning about an issue and creating context for your organization when it really doesn't matter much turns into a complete waste of time. If leaders suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) then they are likely to waste time on solving issues of little consequence to the organization. The best way to avoid this trap is to ensure the organization has a well understood Vision, Mission, Values and Strategy so the question of relevance has a lens through which it can be answered!

Effective leadership counts on the leader’s ability to repeatedly make the best decisions for the organizations they lead. The ability to think critically is the foundation for those decisions being effective or not. There are plenty of people in business willing to tell you what to do in any given situation. What they can't tell you is how to do it well because your situation is unique to the variables surrounding it. Therefore, followers count on their leader to be well-read, logical and discerning with the decisions that support the organization’s sustainable success! How are you objectively addressing your next key business decision? Lead Well!

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“You can’t Motivate People…

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…You can only Create a Game Worth Playing” Motivation seems to be a recurring topic in many of the coaching conversations I have so it seems fitting to discuss in some detail as it is clearly still misunderstood by so many leaders and followers. And given the timing of March Madness and the upcoming Opening Day for baseball, it seemed only appropriate to use the quote from Michael Gerber to open the discussion of how leaders can create a “Game Worth Playing”! One of the biggest misconceptions around motivation is that it can be externally applied. What is externally applied are the conditions in which a person is motivated to apply the three elements of motivation: Direction, Intensity and Persistence. As these three elements are applied to one’s behavior, that person’s motivation can be inferred by how much they apply to each of the three. From my own experience, creating a game worth playing involves three key leadership concepts aligned to create the environment, as Michael Gerber continues to say, “Which will then give some the reason and the will to try.” These three leadership concepts are:

  • Compelling Vision and Purpose ~ Every time I start working with clients on Strategic Planning, I show the TED Talk by Simon Sinek on “Start With Why”. It sets the stage for what is arguably one of the most important aspects of effective leadership. When a leader creates a compelling Vision of the future, it gives Purpose to all in that organization to give their best to make the Vision a reality. Make no mistake, though, a vision that is nothing more than corporate poetry and empty words hanging on the walls of the business and is not supported by actions that align to the Vision will have the opposite effect and actually motivate to leave the organization. Inherent in this process is the leader’s ability to effectively communicate the Vision to the organization in a way that enables every follower to give their best direction, intensity and persistence to the game at hand!
  • Competitive Strategy ~ Regardless of what type of business, for-profit or non-profit, private or public, Strategy matters. It matters because it is quite simply how the organization will compete in their marketplace. Early on in every position I’ve taken in both the military and in the corporate setting, the conversation was always about competing at our best as a team. A sports coach with a talented team can still miss the playoffs if the game plan does little to leverage the team’s ability to win the game. So, too, is a leader’s business strategy crucial to how the team will effectively compete against other businesses who presumably are thinking the same thing. Once again, effective communications is the key to a leader’s success in how they are able to embed both the stated Strategy as well as the intention behind the Strategy in such a way that the team knows exactly what they need to do to win!
  • Equipped for Success ~ The best Strategy on top of the clearest Vision still needs near flawless execution to become a reality. History is littered with failures of organizations with great intent that came up short because the moving parts were out of alignment with the Strategy. First and foremost, every organization needs the right people to execute the Strategy. When the Strategy changes, it stands to reason the talent required must change as well. This does not mean letting people go, rather it means re-training, re-equipping and re-orienting people to the new Strategy. Some will not make the cut, yet most will when it is done effectively! Equipping for success also entails providing processes and tools that support success of the new Strategy. Any team asked to support a new Strategy with processes and tools that are not aligned to that Strategy will ultimately destroy any goodwill the right people bring to the process!

Organizational motivation comes from the energy given to direction, intensity and persistence of the collective behavior of that organization. A reality many leaders forget is they cannot want success any more than the team they lead wants that success or expect results greater than the team is willing to achieve! How are you creating a game worth playing for your team? Lead Well!

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“The Secret to Success without Hard Work…

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…is still a Secret!”
At the end of last month’s edition, I mentioned how we would explore the widening gap in our soft skills relative to what 21st Century Business requires. However, when I began to write my thoughts on the topic, I realized I had skipped a step in the process of enhancing and improving our soft skills. Being effective in any skill requires practice until the skill becomes a habit. It occurred to me I would be remiss by not addressing the biggest obstacle to changing habits first before continuing our thought process on soft skills. In this edition, we will discuss the obstacle most anyone looking to change to more productive habits encounters ~ self-discipline!
As the title suggests, there is no secret to success without hard work. Because this journey involves work that does not come easy, it is fair to say our desire to achieve a new habit will be challenging. The discipline applied to developing any new habit must be strong enough to overcome any mental and physical obstacles old habits hold against achieving success. By way of illustration, I will use my own personal experience of teaching myself to write left-handed six years ago. It is a simple example and yet it highlights the three key elements of self-discipline necessary to create new habits of thought and behavior.

  • What is the Motivation to Change ~ An integral part of effective goal planning is identifying the motivation to achieve the goal. Motivation is an inner force that only the person who wants to achieve the goal can bring to process. It is why we have our clients document the rewards and consequences of their goals as early steps in the process, to effectively document their motivation to achieve them. Without the right level of motivation to achieve the goal, the level of self-discipline applied to the effort will fall short. In my case, my motivation to write left handed centered on activating new actions in the brain!
  • What is the Proficiency in the New Skills ~ It is fair to say that learning new habits may involve learning new skills. Quite often, these new skills are the reason people resist change out of fear they no longer have, and may struggle to learn, the new skills to stay relevant. Learning new skills can be a challenge, even if intellectually, the new skills will advance a person’s career. The level of self-discipline required is enough to learn the skills at a level of proficiency where it becomes a new habit. In my case, it took six months before I was comfortable writing letters and numbers as a matter of course!
  • What is the Accountability Process to Yourself ~ Habit change is hard and the path from the old habit to new habit success is never linear. This is where self-discipline really matters, in the actual execution of the goal and eventual new habit. It is very difficult to hold ourselves accountable without some level of external support. Every significant personal or professional goal I’ve achieved was well publicized within my trusted networks. These networks helped me stay focused on my goals when my own self-discipline wavered. Whether completing the New York City Marathon (again) or starting a business during the recession, external support was part of the success formula! Accountability partners, peer accountability groups, coaches and mentors are just some of the resources to support self-discipline and accountability. In my own example, the visual of holding a pen in my left hand as I completed my favorite crossword and sudoku puzzles was more than enough to hold me accountable to eventually being able to do them consistently left-handed!

Jim Rohn once said, “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” Effective leaders constantly assess their current habits of thought and behavior against what is necessary to achieve sustainable success. New goals are created with a healthy dose of discipline to achieve them amid all the distractions and diversions. Many of these goals will center on developing their soft skills that will ultimately determine their ability to stay 21st Century relevant!
How are you disciplined to do the hard work for your sustainable success?
Lead Well!

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