Leading with Trust

Ditch the New Year’s Resolution and Do This One Thing Instead

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Photo Credit: deathtothestockphoto.com

Admit it, you’re in trouble with your New Year’s resolution, aren’t you?

That’s okay, you’re not alone. Surveys show that just a few days into the new year, 22% of people have already broken their resolution, 11% have abandoned it altogether, and just 8% will actually keep their resolution the entire year.

So ditch the New Year’s resolution…go ahead, just do it. I give you permission. But do this one thing instead: choose a word.

One word.

A couple of months ago I spent a weekend at a men’s retreat with Jon Gordon and that’s where I learned the power of one word. Jon’s written a number of best-selling books including The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, and One Word, co-written with Dan Britton and Jimmy Page.

The concept is simple yet powerful. Spend time in solitude and reflection to determine one word that will provide focus, clarity, motivation, and purpose to your activities this coming year. Not a mission statement…not a phrase…but a word. Just one word.

The word applies to all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, and relational. Choosing one word forces you to think deeply about what’s important, not just what’s urgent. It forces you to consider the impact you want to have on others and how you want to feel about yourself when the year is done.

Jon would say the word chooses you as much as you choose it and that was true in my experience. The word I chose during the retreat, and that I’m carrying over to this year, is invest.

I’m in a new season of life where I want to invest in relating to my sons (22 & 18 years old) as adult to adult and not just parent to child. My children don’t “need” me in the same way as they have in years past and sometimes that hurts. Occasionally I find myself mourning the change in our relationship rather than celebrating the season we’ve come through. Invest reminds me to get out of the victim mentality and be active in creating new ways to relate to my children. You never stop being a parent; it just changes complexion over the years.

I want to invest in rediscovering my wife of 26 years and developing new aspects of our relationship. Since our lives are no longer driven by the activities of our children, new doors are open to us that have been closed in the past. I want to invest in personal friendships that have taken a back seat over recent years as my focus has been on family and career. I want to invest in my physical, emotional, and mental health by developing healthy and nourishing hobbies, like cycling and golf.

I want to invest in being a better leader at work, by making a positive contribution to the organization and helping my team members reach new levels of success. I want to invest in my spiritual life by developing more regular times of prayer, meditation, and reading Scripture.

Invest…just one word but multi-dimensional in implication and potential impact.

Life gets busy and we find ourselves occupied with the urgent circumstances that arise. It takes intentional effort to focus our energies and simplify life and the one word process can help in that regard.

So ditch your new year’s resolution, if you haven’t already done so, and choose one word instead. Leave a comment letting me know your one word and why you chose it. I know Jon would appreciate you tweeting him with your one word also.

Make 2015 a great year!

2014’s Top 10 Posts: Why You Don’t Trust People, When to Fire Someone, and More

Top 10 StampIt’s hard to believe we’re about to tie a bow on 2014 and unwrap the present that will be 2015. This past year has seen a 29% growth in viewership for the Leading with Trust blog! I’m grateful for the community of people who take the time to read, comment on, and share the articles I write. My hope is they are beneficial to helping you lead in more authentic and genuine ways that build trust with those under your care. There is nothing more critical to the success of a leader than building trust with his/her followers. Leadership begins with trust!

As you reflect on your leadership lessons from this past year and contemplate areas for growth in 2015, these Top 10 articles from this year may provide some inspiration and guidance. Enjoy!

10th Most Popular Post: 10 Awesome Interview Questions to Really Get to Know Job Candidates – Creative questions that will help you make one of the most important decisions a leader faces.

9th: Five Steps to Repair Broken Trust – Originally published in July 2011, this continues to be one of the most widely read posts on Leading with Trust.

8th: 9 Warning Signs an Employee Needs to be Let Go – Sometimes firing an employee is inevitable. Learn the warning signs so you can address the situation quickly and respectfully.

7th: 3 Types of People, Projects, and Tasks Every Leader Needs to Eliminate – You need to lead with a purpose and this post will help you understand areas in your life that could benefit from some healthy pruning.

6th: 8 Essentials of an Effective Apology – One of the most powerful ways to rebuild trust is to apologize when you make mistakes. But not all apologies are created equal and this post will help you learn how to do it the right way.

5th: Are You a Thermometer or Thermostat Leader? – Do you set the tone for your team or do you reflect it? This post from June 2013 will challenge you to be a leader that functions like a thermostat instead of a thermometer.

4th: Everyday at Work is a Job Interview – 5 Tips for Demonstrating Your Value – Each day at work is an interview for you to keep your job. This post will help you understand and adapt to the reality of today’s competitive job environment.

3rd: Top 10 Easy, No or Low Cost Ways to Tell Employees “Thank You” – This Thanksgiving-themed post from 2013 applies year-round. Telling employees how much they are appreciated is one of the most powerful ways to build trust and high performance in your team.

2nd: Stop Walking on Eggshells – 4 Tips for Dealing with Temperamental People – Dealing with temperamental people at work can be intimidating and emotionally exhausting. Learn four tips to help you deal with this challenging situation.

and the #1 Most Popular Post for 2014…

3 Reasons You Find it Hard to Trust People – Choosing to trust someone can be a difficult and risky situation. This post will help you understand three common reasons why you find it hard to trust people and what you can do about it.

Follow Your Conscience – 13 Ways to Build Trust & Credibility

Follow Your ConscienceTrust and credibility are cornerstones of successful leadership. You can be the smartest, most technically capable person in your field, but if you don’t have credibility with your team and earn their trust, you’ll never reach your leadership potential.

In his newest book, Follow Your Conscience, Frank Sonnenberg shares great wisdom and practical advice on how to lead and live with character and values. I’ve been connected with Frank via social media for a few years now and we collaborate together in The Alliance of Trustworthy Business Experts. Frank’s work is a beacon of light in a dark world that doesn’t place much value on the moral component of leadership.

Frank’s book includes a section on how to build trust and credibility. He lists 55 excellent strategies and I’ve highlighted 13 of my favorites:

  1. Your reputation is their first impression.
  2. Show people you care about their needs.
  3. A promise should be as binding as a contract.
  4. Follow through on every commitment you make.
  5. Be straight with people. Tell it like it is.
  6. Always tell the truth or the truth will tell on you.
  7. Surround yourself with people who have a high degree of integrity.
  8. Your actions “off-stage” (e.g., at an office party or on Facebook) impact your trust and credibility.
  9. Your actions must match your words.
  10. Admit when you’re wrong.
  11. Words spoken in confidence are words spoken in trust.
  12. Learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.
  13. It’s not only what you bring to the table but how you serve it.

As Frank says, moral character is the DNA of success and happiness. If you’re looking for ways to develop your character, build trust, have better relationships, and chart a path for personal success, Follow Your Conscience is an excellent starting point.

4 Timeless Principles About Building Trustful Relationships

clockIn relationships, time is our most precious, non-renewable resource. It takes large doses of time to develop the rich, lasting, trustful relationships that we all desire, even if we’re afraid to admit it. It’s much easier to settle for surface level relationships through social media because it fits our busy lifestyles. A person can have hundreds or thousands of “friends” or “followers”, yet have very few, if any, deep relationships with high levels of trust.

There are no shortcuts to developing high-trust relationships. You can’t download a trust app to your smart phone to get it, order it from the drive-thru lane of your local fast food joint, or buy it online from Amazon or eBay—it takes time. Second after second, minute after minute, hour after hour. Time…pure and simple.

Here are four principles to keep in mind about the role time plays in building trustful relationships:

Quality Can’t Replace Quantity – Our “always on, always connected” digital culture has elevated busyness to higher (yet false) levels of importance. We wear busyness on our sleeves like a badge of honor, believing it signifies our importance at work or validates our out of control, misplaced priorities in life. We’ve bought into the lie that “quality” time is more important than the overall quantity of time we spend with others. Quality time is great, I highly recommend it. But if I had to choose between spending 15 minutes of quality time a week with those most important to me versus spending 2 hours, I’d choose quantity every time. It’s in those unstructured, relaxed periods of time with people that quality time emerges. Don’t fool yourself by thinking you can develop deep, trusting relationships by choosing quality time over quantity.

Your Use of Time Reveals Your Priorities & Values – I have a surefire way to help you discover what your top values and priorities are in your life—keep a time journal of your activities for a week or two. You may not like what it tells you but at least you’ll know the truth about your priorities. How many hours a week do you spend mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook news feed, surfing the web, playing video games, or watching TV? None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but when they come at the expense of investing time in what we say we value (our children, health and fitness, friends, faith, etc.), then they have become activities that distract us from fulfilling our higher purpose.

You Reap What You Sow – The universal law of the harvest teaches us that we reap what we sow. If we invest the time and effort in cultivating deep relationships, we usually achieve long-lasting, high trust relationships. If we only invest in surface level, casual relationships, that will be what we usually achieve. It’s important to remember there may be longer periods between the sowing and the reaping than what we would expect or prefer. Many citrus trees start producing fruit when they are 2-4 years old, while pear or apricot trees may take 5-7 years before they mature. Not all of your relationships will develop at the same rate. Be patient, keep sowing, watering, and tending. The fruit will come.

You Can’t Get it Back, So Choose Wisely – Most of us don’t give much thought to ever running out of time, mainly because we don’t like to think about death and the end of our lives. Whether it has to do with spending time with our children, investing in our education, or pursuing our career goals, we often devalue time because we feel there will always be more of it available tomorrow. Someday tomorrow won’t come. Each of us has a finite number of days on this earth, and each day that goes by is one less day we have to invest in those we love. The best investment we can make in life is the investment of time in other people. All the stuff we accumulate in life—money, degrees, power, fame, possessions—disappear when we pass away; we can’t take any of it with us. The one thing that will remain after we’re gone is the investment we placed in other people—the love, encouragement, concern, belief, and confidence that those people will carry with them for the rest of their lives and hopefully pass on to others as well. We would do well to heed the words of Psalm 90:12 that says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” You can’t get time back so use it wisely.

Time is essential to developing long-lasting, high-trust relationships. We all have the same amount of time in a day. The question is, how will we use it?

3 Warning Signs You’re Leading on Autopilot

AutopilotI often find myself driving my car on auto-pilot. No, my car doesn’t actually have autopilot (although Tesla is testing one that does!), but I’ll find myself mentally on autopilot. Since the vast majority of time when I drive I’m traveling the familiar journey to and from work, I’ll sometimes mindlessly start driving the same route even when I’m intending to go somewhere else!

Over the course of my leadership journey there have been times when I’ve found myself leading on autopilot. Using autopilot is a helpful and necessary tool for airplane pilots, but it’s deadly for leaders. Leading on autopilot is equivalent to “mailing it in” – you physically show up to do the job but your heart and mind are elsewhere.

Here are three warning signs you may be leading on autopilot:

1. Your to-do list is filled with low-impact tactical items – I’m not one to make a big difference between leadership and management, but one of the clear differentiators in my mind is that leaders initiate change and managers react to it. If you find your to-do list is filled with low-impact, tactical items that contribute more to the daily operations of the business, then you may be running on autopilot. Your to-do list should be focused on big picture, strategic items that could make significant improvements in your operations.

There is nothing wrong with having tactical items on your to-do list. Every leadership job has a certain element of administrative or operational tasks that must be handled. The key is the amount of time and energy you devote to the tactical versus strategic parts of your role. You can dedicate more time for strategic items by intentionally planning strategic thinking time on your calendar. Block out chunks of time on a regular basis to think and plan for the long-term needs of your business. Spend time talking to your customers, stakeholders, and other leaders in the organization to help you get a broad view of the landscape of your business. Do your best to take control of your calendar and don’t get trapped in firefighting all the urgent issues that cross your desk.

2. You find yourself in reactive mode all the time – Building on the previous point, leaders who run on autopilot often find themselves surprised by changing business conditions. The autopilot leader easily becomes oblivious to changes occurring around him until the nature of the situation reaches a crises point, forcing the leader to snap back to reality. This happens because the leader was content to react to change rather than initiate it. Leaders have the responsibility to survey the landscape and proactively make changes to position their teams to take advantage of changing conditions, not be waylaid by them. If you find that you are constantly reacting to issues raised by customers, other organizational leaders, or even your team members, then you’re probably being too passive as a leader and letting circumstances dictate your actions. Instead, focus on being proactive and trying to shape those situations to your advantage.

3. You get upset when your routine is disturbed – Routine has the potential to be quite good. It can create powerful habits that lead to effectiveness over a long period of time. However, routine equally has the power to be bad. Taken to extreme, routine becomes complacency. Most people prefer some sort of routine, whether minimal or quite elaborate. We’re creatures of habit and it’s a normal part of our makeup. However, we have a problem when we’re more emotionally and mentally invested in preserving our routine at the expense of adapting our leadership methods to accomplish the goals of our organization. One of the most important competencies for leaders in the 21st century is adaptability. The pace of change continues to accelerate year after year and only adaptable leaders will survive while complacent leaders will be left behind. If you find yourself getting perturbed or exasperated because your routine is being messed with, you may have been running on autopilot too long.

Running on autopilot is great if you’re a pilot, but it’s a bad idea if you’re a leader. Instead, find yourself copilots who can shoulder the burden with you. Leadership doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an individual sport. Today’s business landscape and organizations are too fast-moving and complex for one person to lead by him/herself. Surround yourself with capable leaders and team members who can fly the plane with you and you’ll find you won’t have any need for leading on autopilot.

Leaders Must Identify the Place, Clear the Path, and Set the Pace

bigstock_Sunrise_4172670If you think you’re leading and no one is following,
then you’re only taking a walk.

Leadership is about going somewhere. It’s about getting a group of people to mesh their talents, work together, and move from point A to point B. In order to do that, leaders need to identify the place, clear the path, and set the pace.

Identify the Place – Leaders need to identify where the team is headed. It may be a specific destination, a particular goal, an ideal to strive for, or a vision of the future state the team or organization is trying to achieve. Regardless of what the “place” is, your team needs to know it and you need to identify it. If the leader doesn’t identify the place, the team will wander aimlessly wasting time, energy, and resources on misguided activities. There is a scene from Alice in Wonderland that captures the danger of not having the “place” identified. On her journey Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat and asks him, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Clear the Path – Once the place has been identified, leaders need to clear the path. The path is the “how” – the strategies, tactics, and goals the team is going to employ to reach its destination. A common leadership pitfall is thinking that identifying the place and declaring the grand vision of the future automatically means people will know how to get there. Identifying the place is the easy part; clearing the path is where the hard work takes place. Leaders need to get their hands dirty by working alongside their team members to develop project plans, chart milestones, clarify roles and responsibilities, and monitor progress along the way. Clearing the path is easier when more people are involved so engage your team in developing the battle plan. Those who plan the battle are less likely to battle the plan.

Set the Pace – Leaders set the pace for the team. How fast or slow the team moves will largely be up to the tempo the leader sets from the front. But setting the right pace takes good judgment and discernment. Move too fast and you burn people out. Move too slow and your efforts fail from lack of momentum. Leaders need to make sure team members know the pace of the race. Is it a sprint, a marathon, or something in between? One of the primary reasons organizational change initiatives fail is leaders try to move too fast. Leaders, by their very nature, are often moving faster than the average team member, and they assume that everyone moves (or at least should move) at the same speed. Make sure you set the right pace so your team can keep up and finish the race strong.

The place, path, and pace. Identify it, clear it, and set it.

4 Steps to Living Your Leadership Legacy

Rainbow Over Country Road

Honor. Courage. Humility. Integrity. Loving. Fun. Hero.

Those were the words used to describe Dan Hines at his memorial service last Tuesday. I didn’t know Dan that well, having met him just once, but those who knew him well, really knew him. By the stories told, the laughs shared, and the tears shed, it was evident that Dan’s legacy was clear to those who knew him best.

Are you intentionally living your legacy, or are you leaving it to chance? As a leader, what is it you want to pass on to others? What kind of lasting impact do you want to make? Have you even thought about it? If not, you should.

You will leave a legacy. Your leadership will have an impact on others no matter what you do. The question is, what kind of legacy will it be? Here are four steps you can take to identify the kind of leader you want to be and the legacy you leave to others.

1. Know your core values – Your values are those deeply held beliefs that guide your decisions and priorities in life. They are the guard rails on the highway of life, keeping you on track and pointed in the right direction. Sadly, many people don’t take the time to thoughtfully consider and explore their core values. If you don’t know your values, how can you expect to live them out? A good place to start is by doing a values identification exercise. As you go through this exercise, get the input of others who know you well. Once you identify your core values, you’re ready to move to the next step.

2. Craft a personal mission statement – I used to think this was a bunch of warm, fuzzy, namby-pamby leadership nonsense. Until I wrote one. It helped me take the jumbled mess of thoughts, values, and ideals that I knew in my gut were my personal mission, and express them succinctly and coherently. My personal mission statement is “To use my gifts and abilities to be a servant leader and a model of God’s grace and truth.” The great thing about personal mission statements is they can be whatever you want them to be! You don’t have to follow any specific formula, but here’s an easy one to get you started. First, brainstorm a list of personal characteristics you feel good about (these will be nouns). For example, “computer skills,” “sense of humor,” “artistic,” “enthusiasm.” Second, create a list of ways to effectively interact with people. These will be verbs like “teach,” “motivate,” “inspire,” coach,” “love.” Third, write a description of your perfect world. For example, “My perfect world is a place where people know their destinations and are enjoying their life journeys.” Fourth, combine two of your nouns, two of your verbs, and your definition of your perfect world. For example, “My life purpose is to use my energy and my people skills to teach and motivate people to know their destinations and enjoy their life journeys.”

3. Share your leadership point of view with those you lead – Your leadership point of view is the combination of your personal values, mission statement, beliefs about leadership, and the expectations you have for yourself and others. It explains the “why” of your leadership. Sharing your leadership point of view with those you lead builds tremendous levels of trust and helps your team clearly understand why you do what you do as a leader. It helps your team know you on a more personal and intimate level and is a way to express your vulnerability and authenticity as a leader.

4. Surround yourself with truth-tellers – There are a couple common pitfalls of moving into higher levels of leadership. One pitfall is you begin to think you know all the answers. After all, that’s how you got to where you are, right? Another pitfall is people around you may become less willing to challenge your beliefs and actions because of your title and position power. The combination of these two things results in you being blind to areas where you may be falling short or not living up to your values. That’s why you need to surround yourself with truth-tellers. Truth-tellers are those trusted confidants who have your best interests at heart and are willing to engage you in those difficult conversations when you aren’t living true to your leadership purpose. I’m fortunate to have several of those people in my life and they are worth their weight in gold. They keep me on the right path of living my leadership legacy.

Dan Hines left college and joined the Army during the Vietnam War. He went on to become a helicopter pilot and was shot down three times. He refused a Purple Heart medal because he felt he was just doing his duty and his actions weren’t as significant as other soldiers who sacrificed more. He loved his wife and daughter deeply and his actions showed it. He adored his grandchildren. He pulled pranks on friends and family and enjoyed life. He strove to live by his principles and do the right thing.

Honor. Courage. Humility. Integrity. Loving. Fun. Hero.

Dan lived his legacy. Will you live yours?

3 Leadership Lessons from Market Basket CEO Artie Demoulas

demoulasIf your employees felt you were fired unfairly, would they walk off the job in support of you? Would they stage protests and rallies for weeks on end calling for your reinstatement? Would your customers choose to take their business elsewhere to show support to those employees and their cause?

That is what has transpired in the Northeast U.S. over the last six weeks and it provides remarkable lessons for leaders everywhere.

First, a little background. Arthur T. Demoulas (Artie) was fired as CEO of the Market Basket supermarket chain in June by a board of directors controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, in a classic power struggle of a family owned business. Employees staged protests, warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver food to the chain’s stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and the company lost tens of millions in revenue as loyal customers took their business elsewhere. Customers showed their support by going as far as taping their grocery receipts from competing stores to the windows of their local Market Basket. After weeks of negotiations, Artie Demoulas reached agreement to purchase controlling interest in Market Basket and was reinstated as CEO.

As I’ve read various news articles and commentaries on this situation, three important leadership lessons have emerged:

1. A little caring goes a long way – Artie Demoulas has created a unique emotional bond with Market Basket employees that fosters intense loyalty. He is well-known for remembering names and birthdays, checking on the status of ill employees, inquiring about spouses and kids, and attending the funerals of employees. “He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them,” said Joe Schmidt, a store operations supervisor. “He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just important as the supervisors and the store management team.” People want to feel valued at work as more than just workers showing up to do a job. Make the effort to get to know your people on a personal level and you’ll see the rewards of trust and loyalty.

2. Business doesn’t have to pursue profits at the expense of people – Last year Market Basket generated $4.6 billion in revenue and has doubled their profitability since 2008, making it the country’s 127th biggest company despite being a regional chain that operates in only three states. The company pays its clerks starting salaries $4 above minimum wage and full-time employees earn 15% profit-sharing bonuses, all the while Market Basket’s prices are 22% lower on average than their closest competitor. “If there’s anything people should take from this, it’s that America is hungry for this kind of success story where everybody wins: the customers, the employees, and the people who run the show,” said Shawn Dwyer, a manager at the Burlington Market Basket store. Profits don’t have to come at the expense of people. Good leaders value results and people.

3. Work has a higher calling and purpose beyond a paycheck –  In his return speech to employees, Artie beautifully expressed this concept.

The workplace here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job.

You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege.

I have always believed that we are born into this world and at a certain place to be with certain people for a reason and a purpose. Everyone has a destiny, and because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose. May we always remember this past summer first as a time where our collective values of loyalty and courage and kindness for one another really prevailed. And, in that process, we just happened to save our company.

You all have demonstrated to the world that it is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the culture which provides an honorable and dignified place in which to work.

Leadership doesn’t have to be that complicated: provide a good work environment, take pride in your work, care about people as individuals and not just workers, and serve your customers well. It seems as though Artie Demoulas and the Market Basket employees have found a formula that works and it offers valuable lessons for leaders everywhere.

3 Leadership Lessons from LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland

LeBron James

Over the last few weeks, fans of the NBA, and sports fans in general, have been eagerly awaiting the news of where LeBron James will be playing basketball next season. He chose to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat at the conclusion of this past season, and speculation has run rampant about whether he would stay in Miami or return to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he began his career 11 years ago, drafted #1 into the NBA as a 19 year-old kid just out of high school. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you know the decision: LeBron is going home to Cleveland.

James’ decision to return to Cleveland, presumably where he will finish his career, presents some interesting leadership lessons:

1. Move from success to significance – LeBron James left Cleveland 4 years ago in pursuit of success and he found it in Miami, winning 2 NBA titles and 2 league MVP’s. Despite that success, something was missing: significance. In his book, Halftime: Moving From Success to Significance, Bob Buford says at some point in life (often around middle age) you will have to transition from the struggle for success to the quest for significance. We spend the first half of our life striving to earn more money, get a better title, or gain more possessions. Despite our success, we begin to question the lasting value of our accomplishments and our desires turn toward wanting to leave a lasting legacy. James recognizes this is his opportunity for significance. It’s his chance to influence other players, the city, and the state. James said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” The transition from success to significance also involves the identification of what brings you true joy and happiness. James said it simply about why he is returning to Cleveland: “This is what makes me happy.”

2. Serve others and something greater than yourself – Part of moving from leadership success to significance is realizing leadership is not about you; it’s about the people you influence. LeBron James has grown to realize this truth. He said, “I know that I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys.” Leadership is more than a job; it’s a calling. It’s a sacred opportunity to help other people grow into their full potential and achieve more than they could on their own. James said, “I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”

3. Leadership wisdom involves learning the lessons of past experiences – When LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland four years ago, he made the announcement in an over-hyped ESPN television special called “The Decision.” He announced that he was “taking his talents” to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. People in Cleveland burned his jersey in effigy, called him a traitor (and much worse), and the owner of the Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a scathing letter to the public where he described James as “narcissistic” and his decision to leave a “cowardly betrayal.” James has learned from his experiences and grown as a person and a leader. “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently,” he said. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. Without the experiences I had there (Miami), I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.” LeBron has also learned that leadership wisdom involves recognizing the mistakes you make and working to repair them. Regarding his relationship with Gilbert he said, “I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

LeBron James entered the NBA with ridiculously high expectations, as evidenced by the moniker assigned him: The Chosen One. Being born in Akron, OH, he was Cleveland’s native son, the savior of the franchise, and heir-apparent to Michael Jordan as the world’s greatest basketball player. In spite of the unreal expectations placed on him and the inevitable bumps in the road he’s experienced, James has seemed to grow into a more self-assured leader who has gained clarity on his purpose on and off the court. That’s a worthy goal for leaders everywhere.

Tony Gwynn – 4 Lessons Beyond the Baseball Field

Tony GwynnTony Gwynn passed away today at the young age of 54 after battling salivary gland cancer the last few years. Tony was an inspirational role model to me. It wasn’t so much what he accomplished that inspired me…although his accomplishments are mind boggling…but how he went about it. Tony was always low-key and understated, never self-promoting, yet the consummate professional. I always admired how Tony handled himself, not just as a player, but as a man.

While in high school I followed Tony’s career at San Diego State University, where he was an All-America athlete in both basketball and baseball. I graduated high school in 1984, Tony’s first full season in the majors and the year he helped lead the San Diego Padres to their first World Series appearance. It was a magical time in San Diego and was the beginning of a love affair between Tony and the city. I, like so many other people, grew from childhood to adulthood watching Tony play baseball for the hometown team.

Tony went on to become the premier hitter of his generation and one of the greatest baseball players of all time. As a youth baseball coach for 15 years, Tony was my constant example to the kids of how to play the game the right way. I always told my players that one of the reasons I love the game of baseball is that it teaches so many life lessons. The long season, full of highs and lows, is a metaphor for our experiences in life. Tony taught me a number of lessons that I’ve tried to apply in my work and life:

  • Approach  your work as a craftsman – Tony was a master craftsman when it came to hitting a baseball. It was both an art and science to him and he studied it endlessly. Tony was a pioneer in the use of video to study his own at-bats as well as opposing pitchers. Tony has inspired me to approach my own career as a craftsman. Every day is an opportunity to improve my craft. Tony once said that “You can’t live on what you did yesterday. You have to go out and prove yourself every day.”
  • Show loyalty – Tony spent his entire 20 year career with Padres, a rarity in today’s world of superstar athletes auctioning their services to the highest bidding team. Tony knew what he wanted, where he wanted to live and raise his family, and he placed a higher priority on those goals than simply making a buck. Loyalty breeds trust, and Tony was trusted to always be loyal. He’s called “Mr. Padre” for a reason.
  • Be dedicated – Of course Tony is known as a great hitter, and rightly so. He was so dedicated that he would hit thousands of balls off a tee to hone the mechanics of his swing. But Tony also became a very good outfielder because of his dedicated work habits. He wanted to be known as an excellent defensive player and he worked hard at it, eventually winning five Gold Glove awards. Although he wasn’t blessed with outstanding arm strength or range in the field, Tony made up for it with expert positioning in the field and knowledge of opposing hitters. Tony displayed his dedication by working endless hours, always on a quest to be the best player he could be.
  • Have fun – Tony loved to play. He enjoyed the process of playing baseball, from practice, to the actual game, to post-game film breakdown, it was all fun to Tony. Tony always had a smile on his face and a laugh to share. His joyful, positive approach to life was the perfect antidote to a game predicated on failure. Even during his cancer treatments in the last few years of his life, he always had a positive outlook that tomorrow would be a brighter day

Tony was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2007, an honor worthy of being this generation’s greatest batsman. Today, Tony joined the eternal hall of fame, an honor worthy of a man who lived his life as a positive role model to me and so many others.

Fail Your Way to Success – 4 Tips for Going from Zero to Hero

zero-to-heroFifty years ago this week, Jim Ryun failed his way to success when he became the first high school track athlete to run a sub-4 minute mile. Ryun decided to try running only after being cut by a church baseball team and his junior high basketball team. Ryun said, “I’m glad those failures were there because I didn’t linger in a sport that I couldn’t do anything in. I failed on to the next thing, until I found something. That was a gift from God to me.”

“I failed on to the next thing, until I found something.”

In reading about Ryun’s story this week, I was struck by his positive point of view about failure. It reminded me of key lessons I’ve learned over the years through my own experience (yeah, I’ve failed a lot!), as well as from John Maxwell’s excellent book on the subject, Failing Forward.

1. Redefine success and failure — Too often our society views success as a win-lose proposition. You know the mindset…if you’re not a winner, you’re a loser. We have distorted definitions of what success and failure mean, and unless you change the way you perceive success and failure, you’ll never feel satisfied with your lot in life. Failures are just life experiences that didn’t turn out the way you intended. Learn the lessons and move on. Don’t obsess over the situation and don’t use absolute language like “I’m never going to succeed,” or “I’m always going to fall short of my goal.” Don’t dwell in self-pity by ruminating on “Why me?,” but instead focus on “What can I learn?”

2. Be purpose driven — It’s easier to recover from failures when you’re living on purpose. Your purpose is your reason for living, the values and beliefs that drive you to be more of the person you want to be. If you aren’t clear on your purpose in life, you’re like a ship without a rudder, your direction controlled by the randomness of the current. When you’re unclear on your purpose, failures seem more catastrophic and debilitating. When failures occur within the context of pursuing your purpose, they become learning moments for growth and maturity. John Maxwell says that, “More than anything else, what keeps a person going in the midst of adversity is having a sense of purpose. It is the fuel that powers persistence.”

3. Persistence pays off — Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.” Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up.” Both quotes convey the same idea – persistence pays off. Orville Redenbacher (yes, the famous popcorn guy) spent 15 years perfecting the corn hybrid used for his popcorn. He spent another 10 years making his popcorn the best-selling brand in the world. When asked about his philosophy, he said “I’ve followed the classic homespun principles. Never say die. Never be satisfied. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Integrity is a must. Anything worth having is worth striving for with all your might. Does it sound corny? Honestly, that’s all there is to it. There is no magic formula.”

4. Separate you from your performance — Our tendency is to derive our self-worth from our performance. If we succeed, then we’re worthy people. If we fail, we’re losers. The reality is that when it comes to achieving success, many things are out of our control. We can do everything right trying to achieve a goal, and something completely out of our control happens that causes us to fall short. Does that make us a failure? No, it just makes us human. Erma Bombeck, the famous humorist and writer, suffered many failures throughout her life but kept them in perspective. She said, “What you have to tell yourself is, ‘I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.’ There’s a big difference…Personally and career-wise, it’s been a corduroy road. I’ve buried babies, lost parents, had cancer, and worried over kids. The trick is to put it all in perspective…and that’s what I do for a living.”

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

Fear of failure holds us back from taking risks. We paralyze ourselves, stuck in a state of inaction that leads to resignation and dissatisfaction – a zero life. Instead, we can become our own heroes by learning to redefine failure as opportunities for growth. We can discover our purpose and pursue it with persistence, all the while growing in understanding that even when we fail at a certain goal or task, we aren’t failing as a person. That’s what it means to go from being a zero to a hero – learning to fail forward.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete – 3 Steps to Reboot Your Leadership Style

CtrlAltDeleteControl, Alt, Delete…PC users are familiar with the keyboard trifecta used to reboot a locked-up computer. It doesn’t happen as much as back in the day when we used 286x-486x machines running Windows 3.0 or Windows 95 (if you’re under 30 and have no idea what I’m talking about, click here), but occasionally our computers, or specific applications, still get bogged down and the only way to fix the problem is the technological hat trick of Ctrl+Alt+Delete.

Sometimes we need to reboot our leadership style. It’s easy to get comfortable leading in a certain way, and if we’re not careful, we can find our methods are out of date and no longer effective. Our leadership can get stuck in a rut…bogged down…and before you know it, people are no longer responding to us like they use to. If you find yourself in that situation, it’s time to hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete and reboot your approach to leadership.

Ctrl—When you press the control key in conjunction with other keys on the keyboard, you can perform special functions (e.g., Ctrl+Home=move to top of page, Ctrl+End=move to bottom of page, Ctrl+C=copy, Ctrl+V=paste…you’re welcome for the tutorial on keyboard shortcuts). Pressing that key is all about control, and unfortunately, it’s easy to press it a little too much when it comes to our leadership style. Over-controlling leaders have an unhealthy need to be in power so they hold the reins tightly, never letting employees have too much freedom to do their jobs. If that’s you, it’s time to let go of control by empowering and trusting your people to do their jobs. They may not do it exactly the way you would, but if they’re meeting the right standards, let them add their own creative flair to their work. You’ll find they’ll be more engaged in what they do and produce better results.

Alt—Pressing the Alt key allows you to access the alternate function of other pressed keys (e.g., Alt+Tab=switch between current open windows, Alt+F4=close current window). In leadership, there isn’t any one right way to lead; there are many alternate approaches. The key is to flex your leadership style and approach to meet the needs of the situation. If you’re stuck in a rut and what you’re doing isn’t working, choose an alternate approach. Let me suggest a few: trust and empower people rather than trying to control them, listen more and talk less, ask people what they think instead of always telling them the answer, get to know your employees as people and not just workers showing up to do a job, or offer some words of praise for a job well done instead of being so quick to point out mistakes. Any of those would be good places to start.

Delete—Thank heavens for the delete key! If we type or create something we don’t want or like, a little tap of the delete key instantly erases it. The delete key is the final and most critical key to press when rebooting your computer, and the same is true when rebooting our approach to leadership. We have to regularly delete the leadership behaviors no longer serving us. Times change, new generations enter the workforce, the business climate constantly evolves, and it’s imperative for leaders to stay current and relevant. If you frequently find yourself justifying your leadership behaviors by saying thinks like “It’s always worked in the past,” or “I’m used to doing it this way,” then it’s definitely time to reboot your leadership.

It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind of leadership and start to lose effectiveness. It’s important to occasionally reboot our approach to leadership by letting go of control, choosing alternate approaches to how we lead, and deleting the behaviors getting in the way of our success.

Do you regularly reboot your leadership? Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts.

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