October 21, 2014
It's late October, the heart of the Fall season where we finish off the year and set strategies for the next one. Of all months, it's the crunch one that counts. By mid-November, you are into the holiday season and before you know it, January is pressing down on you asking, "What have you done for us lately."
You are only as strong as the voices around you. You think you can resist their message, but you are only human, and will succumb to their tone eventually. Everywhere you turn, there are voices broadcasting gloom, doom and misery. Your attention might be trapped by current events (Disease, Recession, War, etc.) and you can't focus. You are unable to work-on-your-work.
As a leader, you are flailing at your job. Napoleon Bonaparte was often quoted as saying that, "the leader's role is to define reality, then give hope." And those voices go way beyond recognizing reality - the crush hope by conjuring up end-0f-your-world messages. Those voices are often internalized, becoming your voice...which is not moving the conversation at work forward.
You are only as hopeful as the people you listen to. Think about the voices around you: The cable newscaster, the radio announcer, the people at work, the stars/celbs you follow, your social media feed. Are these positive or negative voices in your head? Are you getting smarter and better at your job from ALL of them?
You should be as careful as to what you put into your head as what you put into your mouth. Voices of doom are toxic to your confidence and creative thinking capacity. So vanquish them. Shun them. Dismiss them. Ignore them.
Although all of that sounds simple enough, you'll have a hard time managing these voices. So let me help you. First, turn off the TV. These days it is literally the boob tube. There is NOTHING there for your as a leader or a contributor. Next, scrutinize the radio shows and podcasts you listen to. Are they constructive, helpful or are they newsy (bad, mostly). Keep listening to just the ones that pass the "reality, then hope" sniff test.
Next, reduce your time grazing online. Whether it's blogs, news websites of social media networks...there's bad stuff out there waiting to infect your mind and drag you down. I'm only on facebook these days to post helpful content. Any time spent surfing leads to Ebola or stock market or ISIS hysteria and various link-baiting headlines on fear-aggregation sites. Be intentional about how you use the internet...make it a tool and not a mentally carciogenic habit.
Finally, clean house when it comes to the people you hang out with at work, home and in your community. Give them a warning, and if they persist beating the drum, cut them off. You can't be any good to anyone when you let them bring you down.
Managers: Don't reward Chicken Little for his or her declarations that the sky if falling. They aren't adding value. Tell them, "You can't be freaked out enough to improve our Customer experience 1%!." In fact, it's during times of turmoil that all the great innovative leaps happen (read Hanging Tough for the proof.) This is your time to shine, not shirk in horror.
If you feed your mind good stuff, even during these times, you will be part of the solution instead of a source of the problem. See this video (Chicken Little Must Fry!) for a clip of me talking about a potential solution for managers at embattled companies during tough times.
September 25, 2014
If you've attended a conference or visited the business section of a bookstore recently, you've likely been encouraged to bring your creativity to work. There are dozens of books out, promising help you get unstuck and start your creative juices flowing. Almost half of the lectures involve a discussion on the pressing need to be innovative and creative to survive. A recent piece on this in the New Yorker (Creativity Creep) quotes a 2010 IBM study of 1500 executives to identified creativity as the #1 attribute they valued in employees.
It makes sense, actually. The business world is more complicated and turbulent than ever, putting pressure on everyone to "think outside the box." This reminds me of all the marketing and branding books that came out at the turn of the 21st century, along with the proclamation that "Everyone is in the marketing department now!" The best of those books (The End of Marketing As We Know It) finally defined marketing functionally, which empowered readers to actually become effective at it.
We are at that point with the business creativity boom. We know we need to be creative. What most people aren't clear on is as to exactly what the heck 'being creative' means in a business context. I'm writing a new book on creativity in the sales process and doing quite a bit of research along the way. I've been looking for a very practical definition of creativity that applies to professional life. And I think I've found a good one.
In The Handbook of Creativity, Cornell professor Robert Sternberg offered a crystal clear business-centric definitinon of creativity: "The ability to produce work that is both novel (unexpected) as well as appropriate to the situation (useful)." While other creativity experts argue that any new idea should be deemed creative, I like Sternberg's framing of the concept. Like any other piece of business acumen, the proof is in the pudding.
If you are creative at work, you produce the unexpected, the new...but it solves the problem and doesn't produce complications. Notice I didn't say that creativity required completely original ideas as there is no such thing. It's all about approaches that are unexpected.
The reason we need to produce unexpected work (processes, products, ideas) is because people quickly develop tolerance to our expected approaches (often termed "best practices"). Think of the joke that you laughed at the first time you heard it, chuckled a little the second time you heard it and then didn't even respond the third time you heard it. That's how a prospecting or closing technique plays out with customers. That's how products become stale with customers, creating opportunities for incumbents to be disrupted with a fresh approach.
The opposite of creative thinking is reproductive thinking. This is where you use a conventional approach to reproduce success. Your tried-and-true products yields customer delight. Your conventional sales tactics yield revenues. In the past, best practices had a long shelf life. Companies could hatch them quicker than customers grew tired of them. But those days are long gone. To be successful, we have to take it upon ourself to produce the solution and not just rinse-and-repeat.
What does it take to produce unexpected work that is appropriate to the problem at hand? Sternberg points out that creative work stems from ordinary thought processes that happen to produce extraordinary results. It's not divine inspriation or genius thought processes. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile describes creativity as the "Confluence of intrinsic motivation, domain-relevant knowledge and creativity-relevant skills." That's it.
If you care enough, learn enough and develop chops relevant to the problem space, you can produce creative work. You can solve the problems that stand between you and success. Creativity requires a lot of hard work on your part, and it starts with a clear understanding of your product, your customer and the processes that drive your business. If you have the motivation to do all of this work, the fresh and useful ideas will emerge.
In the end, regardless of your desires or effort, you'll need to be objective about the efficacy of your ideas. You need to be able to test them for usefulness and be ready to jettison the out-of-the-box-never-been-done-before ideas that don't solve the problem. They aren't creative. They are merely imaginative and that's not what the CEOs in IBM's study were looking for in their talents.
To borrow from designer Tim Gunn's lexicon, "Be the new, but make it work!"Tweet
September 09, 2014
Quick, name a Hall Of Fame player that was also a head coach. It's quite rare, actually. but if you take this test on a company's sales or product group, the answer would be different. We often graduate the rock stars of business to middle management and beyond. That's the bench strength program of the average organization.
Too often, though, the Peter Principle applies as the new manager struggles to make the leap from Rock Star to Director. Why? Because most stars are deeply scripted to focus on their personal improvement above all, so they can outwit and outlast. Many stars are also good team players, but that's more about the give-and-take of strategy than it is coaching.
Occasionally a star player exhibit's otherish tendencies, and that's when and only when they should be promoted to coach the team (manage a group). Michael Jordan, who should know, once said: "It's one thing to get better and better, it's another to make everyone around you better."
To offer a football analogy (It's Fall, after all), that's why so many of the top coaches in history were not rock star players: Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, etc. Sure, they all played football in college, but they were not Pro Bowl caliber. Why were they selected to lead others? In every case, they were spotted as having two key coaching talents early on: They lifted up others' performance and had a high football IQ.
That's what should drive our management assignments. We should learn to ignore the individual performance and zero in on that leadersish style, combined with a strong sense of the business. When Jordan talks about the ability to "make everyone else better," he's talking about the ability to deliver the following:
Marcus Buckingham, co-author of the management classic First Break All the Rules, directly applies this thinking to cube-farm living. He once told me that the superstars soar with their strengths, while the average performers struggle to conquer their weaknesses. The superstar manger, on the other hand, it the one that focuses the superstar on his or her strength to begin with.
Here's the takeaway for leaders and HR professionals: Before you promote that superstar to the next level, question his or her leadership strengths. You might be robbing the system of several more years of top production, just to fill a mangement role with a strong resume. What you are looking for will not usually show up on paper, which means your ability to pick managers is going to be driven by your eagle-eye on others' ability to lift up others rather than break records.Tweet
September 04, 2014
Over the last decade, I've had the opportunity to be the opening keynote speaker at over 300 conferences, meetings and conventions around the world. Agents at speaker bureaus instinctively knew to recommend me when a meeting planner was "looking for someone to set the tone for our event." Instead of defining my current vocation as professional speaker, I think of myself as a Conference Kickoff Specialist.
Why me? I have enthusiasm, offer business-action content and have the right message (from Love Is the Killer App). I find a way to validate the theme of the event and highly customize my keynote address to connect with speakers or sessions to follow over the course of the event. Besides, I'm not afraid to speak at 8am, even to non-morning people.
I've been studying the art of the Opening General Session for several years now, and have a perspective about them. First, it's important to understand the purpose of conferences and conventions: They are the engine of innovation and human connections for an organization or industry. In just a few days, you can create hundreds of friendly collisions, which lead to new ideas and robust relationships. This is why they exist, even when times are tough.
If that's the charter, then what is the role of the Opening General Session? It encourages attendees to share knowledge with each other. It sets the stage with a theme, objectives for the event (often learning oriented) and if successful, generates a thirst to learn and teach. The session should also encourage networking and if possible, give insights on how to make meaningful connections. If the session drives these two activities (Knowledge sharing and Networking), then the event will drive real value that lasts long after the buffet food is digested and surveys are completed.
If you look up the definition of keynote, you'll find my role in that session: A prevailing tone or central theme, typically one set or introduced at the beginning of a conference.
What would I likely talk about if I was the keynote speaker at your Opening General Session?
Example: Here's a clip from my keynote address at the opening general session for the Association of College and Technical Educators. My goal was to get them hungry for the rest of the program content and eager to connect with each other.
I'd love to open your next conference or convention. Please suggest me to your meeting planner or speaker bureau agent. For more information, contact me.Tweet
August 21, 2014
Mentorship is an opportunity to build relationships and give gifts. Mentoring up, to those above you in rank or stature, may be one of your best career boosters. Really. This post will show you how to do it without getting shot for the message.
There's a common misconception in our business culture that mentorship is a top-down activity. In The Hero's Journey, the mentor is often case as the Wise Old Man or the Wise Old Woman. Think Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or Miyagi in The Karate Kid. In this theory, one must have achieved success to pass on wisdom to the young or the new.
If you actually research the origins of the mentor, however, you'll find a different story. According to the fabulous writer's tool The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, "the name 'Mentor', along with our word 'mental', stems from the Greek word for mind, 'menos', a marvelously flexible word that can mean intention, force or purpose. Menos also means courage."
He illustrates why courage can be required to mentor: "Many of the Greek heroes were mentored by the centaur Chiron, a prototype for all Wise Old Men and Women. A strange mix of man and horse, Chiron was foster-father and trainer to a whole army of Greek heroes including Hercules, Actaeon, Achilles, Peleus and Aesculapius, the greatest surgeon of antiquity. In the person of Chiron, the Greeks stored many of their notions about what it means to be a Mentor. Chiron was not always well rewarded for his efforts. His violence prone pupil Hercules wounded him with a magic arrow which made Chiron beg the gods for the mercy of death."
Here's the idea: When you mentor others, you are a provider of knowledge to assist them in their journey. Regardless of their seniority, you do this because they need the help and no one knows everything. This is especially true when times are filled with disruptive changes.
In my experience, mentoring up has been a tool to build powerful relationships and a source of inspiration for my continual learning. When I worked at broadcast.com (1997-1999) and Yahoo (1999-2005), the Information Age was just taking hold. I poured myself into books and trade publications that gave me insights on topics such as eCommerce, permission marketing, digital technology and new media. I became wise beyond my experience in years.
When I had opportunities to sit with legacy leaders such as Howard Stringer at Sony or Jim Keys at 7-11 or Mike Rawlings at Pizza Hut, I mentored them on the new world of Internet enabled business. I shared insights from books, case studies from trade journals as well as my perspective on "how the new world would work."
At first, much like Hercules, some of them pushed back hard. One leader wrapped up our conversation within five minutes and reacted dismissively to my suggestions. I apologized via an email and sent him a book that underscored the point I was making about the disruptive nature of eCommerce. I included my cliff notes from the book. Within a month, he invited me back and included his VP staff in the meeting. Eventually we did millions of dollars of business together.
I've also had the audacity to mentor my managers and even executives a few clicks above me. By mentorship, I mean that I shared information and perspectives that I felt would assist someone in solving a problem or gaining a strategic insight. Usually, it was a single point or observation, backed up by experts or statistics. I knew that because I was mentoring up, I couldn't just make an assertion based on my experience. Only the Wise Old Tim could get away with that. It led to strengthened relationships and in one case, a champion who enabled me to become the Chief Solutions Officer of Yahoo!.
Today, you have a unique opportunity to mentor up. It might be to your customers, prospects or your bosses or executives. The world is changing fast. Digital/Cloud/Mobile/Social/Global forces disrupt business in a compressed period of time. Whether or not your superiors (I use that term loosely) know they need it, information if required for their continued success.
Or as George Clooney's character in Our Brother Where Art Thou often said, "When times are tough, people are looking for answers."
Here's how to mentor up without getting hurt:
* Gather knowledge. Lots of it. Become a knowledge pack rat. If you tell someone something they already know, it's not mentorship. If you fully commit to this, others will sense it as you share with them and be more receptive.
* Seek first to understand, then to be understood: This nugget of wisdom from Dr. Stephen Covey applies here. You need to listen to your superiors to understand what they already know, what they fear and then what they need to know. If you jump in too quickly, you may offend or worse, miss the mark completely. When mentoring up, you likely have one chance to impress.
* Make sure you are helping a benevolent hero. I've always looked for superiors that I respected and trusted to be the-bigger-person in any conversation. Every time I mentored up, I really wanted those legacy leaders to succeed and admired their past accomplishments. If I sensed they were mean spirited or overly defensive, I kept my trap shut. Remember Hercules.
* Be respectful and follow up with proof. No one is ignorant or stupid just because he or she isn't yet calibrated to the times. There is a knowledge gap that needs to be filled. While he may not know how to use social media or why digitization is a threat to the core business, he can likely run circles around you in areas like finance, strategy or operations.
I'm aware of the concept of reverse mentoring, where a senior leader asks for help. But this is a different concept all together, because it's the junior leader that takes the initiative. And that's why it's so much more impactful.
If you follow these simple rules, you'll enable yourself to become closer to leaders that will help you on your journey too. My mentorship efforts to Stanley Marcus Jr. in the area of eCommerce led to him sharing insights with me about Customer Relationship Management and Talent Experience Design. As he told me in our last lunch meeting, "You'll never get dumber by making others smarter."Tweet
August 07, 2014
Your work culture is a conversation, led by leaders or troublemakers, about how things are done around here. If the leader isn't driving the conversation forward, troublemakers can move it sideways or backwards. Troublemakers include the naysayers, doomsdayers and taker-types.
Much of our work life is spent in conversations with others. When these conversations move forward, we make progress. When they go sideways, confusion reigns. When they slide backward, conflict and negative emotions ensue.
“Conversation is a game of circles,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. In other words, a conversation is useful but often is complicated by each player’s agenda. And yet, through this highly interactive process, we shape our attitudes and beliefs. That's why it's important for leaders to take charge of the conversation.
Too many conversations at work are moving everyone in the wrong direction. They can be historical, bringing up old-and-outdated subjects. This leads to a collective hangover, where we can't shake off the weight of our past failures or the phantom menace of a long faded competitor. There are conversations which exchange gossip information, usually about people. Gossip is the fast-food of workplace conversation and often reduces its participants to base level thinking.
The most paralyzing conversations are led by the Chicken Littles, who drum up fear through declarations that "the sky is falling." They have the blogosphere and big media as their stronghold, and often punch much bigger than their weight. All of these conversations must be led by leaders to a better place.
One way that leaders can change the conversation is to directly challenge the historian, gossip or Chicken Little. One manager who attended one of my talks took this to heart. "When I spot a Chicken Little spinning up his coworkers unnecessarily, I ask him where he's coming from: Fear or confidence. I use the experience to coach him on the difference between constructive information and fear-mongering."
A second approach is to divert the conversation forward. One way to do that is to reframe the bad news as an instant brain-storm about what each conversational participant can do about it. Focus on the solution, not the problem. You can introduce a connected issue that leads to a discussion about a current project that everyone can contribute to. You could simply introduce a progressive subject and drive the conversation towards it and away from the previously bad one. While this requires finesse, great leaders have the strength to drive the conversation forward. Each. And. Every. Time.
Ignoring a sideways conversation is not an option. Like a sore, they fester without your attention and often bubble up as a collective malaise. Your job is to find the balance between empathy at a personal level and leadership at a conversational level.
This comes from Principle Two from Today We Are Rich: Move the Conversation Forward.Tweet
August 01, 2014
Read any recent white paper on leadership, and you'll see numerous references to agility as a key area for development. From learning agility to innovation agility, it's clear that leaders need to focus on how to go fast but stay graceful.
Prior to my recent talk on this subject at a leadership conference, I conducted research to uncover why agility has become so critical to success. The answer was quite simple: The time it takes for a new business concept or technological innovation to disrupt and industry is compressing ... fast. What took a decade to wreck and industry in the 60's takes a little more than two years today.
Think about how fast smart phone apps have disrupted various industries that manufactured one-off devices (guitar tuners, navigational devices, watches, video cameras, cameras, and so on). Think about how fast Uber has disrupted transportation. How fast has AirBnB disrupted hospitality? This is why I call today's leadership a downhill ski-sprint where one must go fast, stay on their feet and not crash too many gates. Even in non-tech industry like consumer packaged goods, we've seen concepts like GMO-free products take hold in a fraction of the time it took for organic-and-local to achieve traction. This is what life for a leaders looks like today:
To survive, the leader must be on the ready to move his or her enterprise in a novel direction to capture an opportunity or defend their customer base. But the risks are high, when fast-to-market is the paradigm, so often times people talk about being nimble but still hold steady until it's too late. I believe that agility is a capability we build up through practice, just like a champion skier perfects their ability to make it down the hill in record time in one piece. Here are a few ways you can boost your agility:
I'd love to come speak on Leadership and Agility at your event. Contact me for more information or suggest me to your speaking bureau agent.Tweet
July 23, 2014
What it takes to succeed as a leader has been redefined by changes in the workforce and mega trends. Gen Y is more motivated by identity, mastery and purpose than they are by money, power and stability. Tech-Globalism accelerates the rate of change, be it in consumer attitudes, retail habits and government regulatory actions. As the world gets faster and deeper, leaders will face unique challenges, requiring a retooling of the traditional hierarchical models of yesteryear.
Leadership development needs to change, adjusting to these trends. According to a paper published by the Center for Creative Leadership, the required skills for leaders have changed – requiring more adaptive thinking abilities. They summed up the challenge, “There is a transition occurring from the old paradigm in which leadership resided in a person or a role, to a new one in which leadership is a collective process that is spread throughout networks of people.”
Here are five areas of leadership development for the future:
1. Influence – Leaders must move their charges to action by aligning them with the company’s values. Influence is the key to building strong culture, which is quickly becoming as important as strategy to global organizations. Command and control are outdated tools in this regard, and instead new skills must be attained such as empathy, story telling and system wide mentorship. To be competitive, power and innovation must be dispersed throughout the organization. Leaders today must ask the right questions, encourage the right people and move the conversation forward. Resource – Influence: The Essence of Leadership
2. Finesse – Napoleon Bonaparte often said that the leader’s role is to “define reality, then give hope.” His point was that there is a precarious balance that must be struck between the challenges of the day, and the promise of tomorrow. This requires a sense of emotional talent or finesse. Leaders need to feed their mind the right stuff, so they can respond to adversity with innovative thinking. They need to possess clear communications channels with managers, to understand assets that can quickly be brought to bear when adversity strikes. When they implement them, they need to balance the emotional and financial impacts it will have on the enterprise. Resource: Fall of the Alpha Leaders by Dana Ardi
3. Agility – Business cycles has compressed from decades into years. Technology driven industry changes require legacy companies to radically shift their strategies, adopt emerging technologies and kill off out-of-date models. Consumers are empowered with information now, changing how they buy and influence others. Not only does the leader need to be agile, she must effectively hire for it and make it the linchpin of employee development practices. Sticking with your guns is a recipe for defeat. Resource: Learning Agility by the Creative Center of Leadership
4. Creativity – In an IBM study 1500 CEOs named the most important skill of the future leader as creativity. It is one’s ability to produce original work that is appropriate to the situation. Today’s leader must expand her level of curiosity to uncover patterns of behavior that reveal new routes to value or innovations. She must develop a tolerance for ambiguity – the hallmark of the creative thinker. Moreover, she must manage a culture that encourages innovation, along with candor. She must neutralize the naysayers. Resource: Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmul
5. Higher Purpose – Nothing motivates tomorrow’s talent more than a sense of purpose and the belief that one’s work makes a difference to the world. While a company needs to make a profit to keep the doors open, it’s not going to motivate the entire company to take chances, finish tasks in the face of adversity and serve as brand ambassadors on social media and in the real world. Leaders must constantly look for a higher purpose that the business serves, and empower their entire company to participate to that end. Resource – Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates People by Dan Pink
(From my upcoming keynote address at the Womens Foodservice Forum New Orleans.)Tweet
June 24, 2014
Most people I know sabotage their career by being to efficient with their time. They fill up their daily schedule with meetings and phone calls, thinking that they are being highly productive. The result is a week of conversations, with little time left to "work on work."
A recent IBM survey of over 1000 CEO's found that creativity was the top skill required for leadership success. This makes sense, as innovation is the prescription for dealing with a highly disruptive business environment. Technology, media, globalization all come together to put creative demands on leaders and manager everywhere.
The problem is, creative thinking requires a lot of white space on your calendar. It's not something you can schedule or squeeze in on a long flight or a Sunday afternoon. Filmmaker David Lynch believes that "It takes four hours to get one hour of creative work done." By that he means that we must enter into a problem consideration mode for extended periods of time to induce free association...which leads to innovative business solutions.
But if your calendar is full of every call request and meeting invitation that comes your way, you won't have any time to think. This is why I block out two hours of unscheduled time daily to work on my projects, research problems, white board solutions and passively think creatively while doing low mental-requirement tasks. It's in these gaps where our breakthroughs occur.
As a leader, you aren't paid to meet or talk to others. You are paid to think. Einstein, Edison and Jobs put their feet up on their desk or took long walks to actively consider solutions – and that's where their eureka moments happened.
Make every meeting and calendar item fight for its life. Pick the ones that are truly business drivers. Limit your "getting to know you" lunches and out-of-office meetings to one a week and make them count! If you find enough time during your most fruitful mental states (M-F days), you'll achieve the creative breakthroughs you need to make your mark.Tweet
June 02, 2014
I'm writing a new book on creativity in the sales process. Its premise is that in today's business environment, it's getting complicated to get good deals done. Standard approaches or tactics aren't working. This is why creativity is needed in deal making and sales.
While the book will share some of my personal experiences, it will mostly feature profiles of creative sales geniuses. They have exhibited the tendency to employ creative thinking to move the deal forward.
Right now, I'm looking for sales genius nominations from buyers. You've purchased products and services for your company, and along the way, encountered a highly creative sales genius. By creative, I mean that he or she has comes up with ideas/solutions that are unexpected, but appropriate to the situation.
As a buyer, you encounter all types: Interrupters, Reminders, Power Pointers, Hasslers, Listeners, etc. But the sales genius left an impression on you that still lingers (in a good way). The genius took a novel path to get to you. The way he presented his product/service was visual, impactful and armed you to sell it forward. He inspired you to think creatively as well, especially when you encountered internal problems trying to get the deal finished.
If you've bought from a sales genius, I'd love to interview you! I'm happy to give you a gift certificate as a token of my appreciation. Also, if I feature your nomination, it will likely be a big promotional boost for him or her as well.
Send me an email if you have a story to share. You'll be paying it forward.Tweet