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What should the leader do when he makes a mistake?

Nobody likes to “step in it,” but leadership mistakes will happen.  What you do when they occur makes all the difference.

Do these three things well, and you may end up with a stronger team than you started with.

Stepping In It

First, a word of congratulations.  You messed up, really stepped in it, and that’s great!

At least it is in the sense that you can only mess things up if you are out there trying.

The only way to never make an error is to not do anything at all, and to me, that would be an even worse mistake.

Doing nothing in order to avoid making a mistake is in itself a mistake.
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Leading is like walking down a path with your team, and you’re up front.

You’re doing your best to keep the team together and moving forward, but occasionally, you’re going to step in something bad.

It could be anything – a banana peel, a wad of used gum, or something left behind by someone’s pet.

You didn’t want to step in it, but you did.  Leadership mistakes happen.  Now what?

Own It

However that goo got on your shoe, it’s stuck on you now.  You have to deal with it.

Our natural instinct is to cover up and just keep on walking, like nothing is wrong, hoping no one will notice. But people will notice; you know they will.

So our next defense is to make excuses and shift blame.  “It’s not my fault!”  Maybe it really wasn’t, but if it happened on your team, it’s yours.  That’s leadership – taking responsibility for your team.

The thing to do is to own it.  If it happened on your team, as far as the outside world is concerned, you did it.

“I messed that up.”

Taking immediate ownership is the right anwer for lots of good reasons.

It sets a positive example for others to follow – isn’t that how you’d want your teammates to respond?

It reinforces an environment of honesty and trust on your team.

It establishes a sense of personal accountability – we take responsibility for our actions and don’t try to blame others.

It minimizes unnecessary drama.

 It allows the team to focus on finding solutions rather than finding fault.

It positions you as the leader by demonstrating that you are willing to take responsibility for your actions and those of your team.

It can even strengthen your relationship with your boss if you are smart about how you deliver the bad news.

So long as you are the leader, if you or someone on your team did it, own it.

Remove the Gunk

With something sticky or smelly on your shoe, the last thing you want to do is leave it there.  It will attract more nasty things, it will start to smell, and mom might not let you back in the house.

Clean your shoes and do what’s necessary to make things right.

A good start is a simple, honest apology:

“I’m sorry.”

Correct the problem immediately if you can.  If it will take time, share the plan and timeline with the team, and stick to it.

Reorient.  If the error led your team away from the direction of your vision and goals, pause to review, so that your next steps are forward again.

Voice the values.  In the process of making the correction, be vocal about what was wrong and relate it to your team’s cornerstone values.  In doing so, you reinforce those values in a very powerful way.

“I made a hasty decision without checking with you guys.  That’s not how I want to practice teamwork.”

Learn From It

Once your shoes are clean and you are ready to proceed, pause to think about what you can take from the experience.

Analyze your mistakes. You’ve already paid the tuition, you might as well get the lesson. – Tim…
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Pause to reflect – how can you keep yourself from making the same mistake?

Discuss with your team – get their input if appropriate – what systems or processes could we change to prevent a recurrance?

 Put into practice what you have learned.  The power of an apology is lost if you are continuously apologizing for the same thing.

Failing to learn from your mistake is a mistake in itself.
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Leadership Mistakes: The Takeaway

Sooner or later, you are going to step in it, especially as a leader.  Take it in stride.

When it happens, own it, get the gunk off your shoe, and learn what lessons you can from the experience.  If you act honestly and quickly, you might just end up with a stronger team than you started with.

And keep in mind that if you don’t do anything, it can be kind of like that person returning from the bathroom in the restaurant.  You know the one: trailing a piece of toilet paper stuck to their shoe.

It makes you look foolish, and it will follow you everywhere.

To err is human.

To err as a leader is inevitable.

You will step in it.

It’s what you do next that matters.

Lead on!

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What skills does an introverted leader need to develop?

Statistically, about half of us tend towards introversion (I’m definitely one of them).  That fact doesn’t exclude us from being effective leaders.

In fact, many of the traits associated with introversion are actually strengths for someone who wants to lead well.  Often, we can lead very effectively from within our comfort zone.

But there are also times when leading effectively requires us to do things we are not comfortable with.  To help with that, here are six ways to help you step outside that comfort zone as an introverted leader.

Things to Recognize About Introversion

I’m sure you are generally familiar with the recognized traits of introversion.  For a quick refresher,  you can check out Nine Signs You’re Really an Introvert by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D.

Beyond that, I think it’s helpful to level the bubble on how we think about introversion.  Three thoughts for you:

1. It’s an ability, not a disability. In fact, under many conditions, introversion can be a distinct advantage.  The list of leaders who were introverted is long and distinguished.

From Google to government, and Science to Sports, the world is full of famous names who were introverts at heart.  Here’s a list of 23 introverted leaders you’ve probably heard of.  Leading the list are Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks, and Bill Gates.

2. It’s not an either-or proposition. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who first popularized the terms, said “There’s no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”

Like with any standard distribution curve, most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  We may tend towards introversion, for example, but that doesn’t mean we lack the ability to speak up or work effectively with groups when we need to.

3. You can be what you want (for a time). In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain talks about Free-Trait Theory.  The general idea is that we are born and acculturated with certain characteristics, like introversion – it’s who we are; it’s our comfort zone.

But we are not prisoners there.  When conditions call for it, we are more than capable of adopting other characteristics for a time to get the job done.

So begin by thinking of introversion as a strength that still allows you to tap into other, more extroverted behaviors from time to time to help you lead effectively.

As an introverted leader, when you can lead from within your comfort zone, by all means, do.  But for the times when you have to step outside, these tips may help.

Expanding the Comfort Zone

1. Prepare to speak spontaneously.  Introverts tend to be naturally quiet.  That can make us good listeners and allow other people’s voices into the conversation.  But people need a word from you from time to time; after all, they can’t hear all that internal dialogue going on in our heads.

Before meetings, write down key points you want to make so you’ll remember them when the time comes.

Organize your thoughts before speaking with the boss; think about what she would want to know and how you can convey that information clearly.

Many introverts have a hard time tooting their own horn, yet people need to know of your successes.  You can achieve this by talking about your teammates and how they contributed to the win.

2. Avoid avoidance.  One of the responsibilities of a leader is to ensure the team is working together, adheres to cultural standards, and stays focused on professional goals.  When someone strays from the path, it’s up to the leader to do something.  Two things to keep in mind that can help with this.

  1. Remember that by ignoring the negative behavior, you are effectively condoning it, and have just established a new, lower standard. You can’t afford to turn a blind eye.
  2. As the leader, others expect you do to do something, even the transgressors. Consider it a test, and to pass the test and keep the team on track, you have to deal with the problem directly.

Think through the circumstances, get the facts, then act.  Play to your strengths by speaking privately with the person, give them an opportunity to say their piece, but look them in the eye and give them the candid feedback they need to hear.

Avoiding the problem doesn’t make it go away, it allows it to grow larger.
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3. Get comfortable in company.  Teamwork is group event.  One way an introverted leader can succeed in this environment can be to guide the interaction with questions (something we can be very good at).

During discussions, don’t lead with what you think, ask others for their thoughts.  This approach allows you to take advantage of other people’s expertise and perspective, yet positions you as the leader.

In groups, pay attention to who is not speaking, and draw them out with more questions, “Samatha, what do you think about this topic?”  If they are introverted like you, they may have plenty to say, and just need an opportunity to get a word in.

If you are headed into a social situation, come up with three interesting anecdotes that others would be interested in hearing about.  If you are worried about forgetting them in the moment, jot them down on a 3×5 card and stick it in your pocket.

When social conversation stalls, use the acronym FORD to get it going again.  Ask others about their Family, their Occupation, what they like to do for Recreation, and what they Dream of doing.  People generally like talking about themselves, so asking about these areas can take the pressure off.

4. Be decisively clear.  Our tendency to think through problems deliberately is a strength.  But at some point, deliberation has to lead to decision.

Think about when that decision needs to happen, and who should be involved in making it.  Use the time you have to gather the facts, then make the best decision you can.

Once you have decided, make sure everyone knows what it is happening.  The bigger the decision, the more important that you communicate it clearly over multiple channels.  Mention it in the meeting, share the email, and double-check during conversations with teammates that they got the word.  Better to over-communicate than risk leaving someone out of the loop.

5. Be ready to (re)act. Introverts generally like things to go according to plan with everyone doing their part.  We like to respond to challenges by first thinking, then acting.

But sometimes responding with deliberation is not what the situation calls for. Sometimes you have to get comfortable reacting.

When someone crosses an ethical line or violates a cornerstone value, don’t pause to consider, speak up immediately and confidently,

“We don’t do that here” 

“That’s not how we are going to treat each other.”

In dealing with crisis, your team will be looking for clear and immediate guidance from you.  Play to your strength by remaining calm, and act quickly by gathering the team and the facts.  That will allow you to respond more intelligently with a good decision.

When you know risk is involved, it can help if you wargame what might go wrong ahead of time, and think about how you might respond.  Doing this as a form of rehearsal  with your teammates is an even more effective way to build some agility into your team.

6.  Dare to delegate.  Something else that can be harder for an introverted leader is delegation.  We may know exactly what we want, but telling others what to do can feel uncomfortable.

First, think of delegation as part of your job description – it’s what you are expected to do.  Like a quarterback in a game of football, most of the time you want to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible, or you’ll get creamed.

Think carefully about how to describe the task and what the outcome should look like.  Writing it out can help you clarify your ideas.

Set a follow-up schedule and stick with it; meet one-on-one or in small groups.

Get comfortable with the idea that they may do something differently than you would; as long as the outcome is right, prepare yourself to be OK with it.

Skills for the Introverted Leader – The Takeaway

As introverted leaders, we may be best suited to lead stable teams of people who are already self-motivated and capable.  Our ability to listen, think, and plan become strengths that help guide the team without getting in its way.

But unexpected challenges and fluid situations require a more assertive leader approach.  Play to your strengths when you can, but remember, sometimes you will have to step outside your comfort zone to do what’s best for your team.

Lead on!






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What does it take to be a great boss?

Some bosses are more memorable than others, and some perhaps you’d like to forget.  But what does it take to be a great boss?  What distinguishes the one that people remember years later as the leader who made a difference?

I was fortunate to work for many great bosses, but there were nine things that one of those great bosses did that really made him stand out.  If we do our best to follow his lead, we have a chance to be great bosses, too.

Way Out There

It was one of the toughest jobs I’d ever had.  For a year, I commanded a small combat outpost on the Iran-Iraq border.  Every day my teams went “outside the wire” to train and advise the Iraqi Border Police along a 200 kilometer stretch of international boundary.

Our job was to make sure bad stuff didn’t leak across the border into the country.

The good news was that during that time, I had a great boss.  He was in Baghdad, 90 miles away by helicopter.  I didn’t see him that often, but we always felt his presence and support.

While my experience was necessarily military, none of what this leader did was significantly different from what any good leader can do under just about any circumstances (apart, perhaps, from the helicopter!).

This is what he did to become a great boss in my mind.

Traits of a Great Boss

He came to me.  It was important to him to see me and my teams in our working environment so that he could understand first hand what our challenges were.

When he visited, we would spend the day together – but it was never chatting in an office or staring at PowerPoint.  As soon as his chopper landed, we’d jump in a vehicle and we’d go somewhere where something was happening.  He could see what I was doing, talk to the people I was responsible for leading, and interact with the people I was trying to help.

Sure, I had to make the occasional trek to the big headquarters, too.  But his familiarity with what we faced helped him make better decisions when he was back at headquarters.  He made a habit of getting down in the trenches, so he knew what was going on.

When he showed up, it was to help.  So often, when the boss comes on an “inspection tour” to “check the troops” it ends up being more like an interrogation than a conversation. The going-in assumption seems to be that you are “doing it wrong” and he is there to “fix” things.

But with this boss, his goal was to honestly find out how to help.  Walking in the door he assumed that I was already trying my best.  He his goal was to learn how to leverage the resources under his control to help me do even better.

He saw my success as his success, and this mindset made us feel like we were on the same team.

Leadership: Where their success is your success.
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He didn’t do my job for me.  That said, he also made it abundantly clear what his expectations were, where my responsibilities lay, and what the priority was.  Together we set the vision and goals, but there was no doubt I was fully responsible for getting it done.

Leaving me to do my job was one way that he expressed his confidence in me.  Even when I made mistakes, he would underwrite my failure so long as he was confident that I had learned from the experience.

He followed up.  He never promised anything that he was not certain he could provide.  For those things that he said that he would do, he did them, usually very quickly.  Within hours of his departure, I would start to get notes from his staff asking for supporting details to coordinate delivery or clarify how they could assist.

He earned our trust.  His support of us and our mission was aggressive and enthusiastic.

He genuinely cared about me.  Despite the distance, he knew the name of my wife and a little about my kids.  He knew of my non-business interests and we enjoyed talking about them some. He wanted to know my goals and see how he could help me reach them.

Periodic reviews and professional feedback were not “check the block” with him; he used the time as a genuine opportunity to help me improve my game.

As an example, towards the end of the tour, we talked about my future.  He wanted to know where I’d like to serve next.  I told him that my long-shot hope was to return to Pennsylvania where we had a house.

Two weeks after his helicopter departed that day, I got an email from a post in Pennsylvania.  The personnel officer said that he was tracking me as an inbound and wanted to start talking about the job they had in mind for me.  My family was ecstatic when they heard the news.

He looked for opportunities to recognize others.  Often in our talks, he would ask me about who was doing well.  Later when we came across that person, he’d take pains to recognize them, and say something specific about what that they had done that made a difference.

Not only was the person thankful for the recognition from the big boss, they were thankful to me for passing their name along as someone who meritied positive attention.

Even in the process of personally recognizing others’ accomplishments, he was building me up.

He talked to the people.  In fact, he wasn’t afraid to engage with anyone we met along the way, regardless of their function.  Whether a food server, gate guard, or on-the-ground operator, he struck up easy conversations with the people he encountered.  He asked them about their job, their interests, and their challenges.

He treated everyone as a fellow professional and showed that he valued the role they fulfilled.

He encouraged thought.  During his visits, we would always wrap up with some “thinking time” – just us in a quiet room somewhere.  He would ask me to provide a professional topic in advance so he could have some time to think about it, too.

For 45 minutes, we would sit and chew on it, probing, prodding, asking “what if…” and trying to shine a light on it from as many angles as we could.  In this way he modeled constructive open-mindedness, and encouraged all of us to keep our brains engaged.

He valued our thoughts and wanted as many brains engaged as he could get.

He made hard decisions.  He had plenty of difficult choices to make every day, but he did not shy away from them.  He learned what he could in the time he had, he listened with an open mind, and then he made a clear decision, and stuck with it.

His decisions weren’t always popular, but it was clear when he made them, and we knew that the choices he made were all about mission accomplishment.

With him, we always knew where we stood, which made it possible for us to move on.

Great Boss:  The Takeaway

There are some bosses who try to make you feel like they are the most important people in the room.

With stars on his shoulders and a helicopter to fly around in, he certainly could have played that game, but he didn’t.

When you talked with this great boss, he always made you feel as though you were the most important person in the room.

What is it that Maya Angelo said?

People will forget what you said or what you did, but people will never forget how you made them…
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My great boss was a true servant-leader who focused on accomplishing the overall mission while watching out for the well-being of the people doing the work.

If you want to be remembered as a great boss, go and do likewise! (helicopter not required)

Lead on!






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How can 80% of people believe themselves to be above average leaders?

One of the many challenges of being a leader is knowing how well you are doing.  Are you sinking or swimming?

It can be hard to really know, and yet knowing is the key to becoming better at it.

As I was surprised to re-learn at the local pool a few weeks ago, what it takes is the perspective of others.  Here are six ways to get the benefit of other people’s perspective without even asking.

Back in the Swim

After taking a couple years off, I’m doing triathlons again this year.  What has me motivated this time around? A big part of it is my hopes of fixing the swim, my weakest event of the three.

Every year, in the effort to become a better swimmer, I’d read books, watch video, and do my best to apply what I had learned in the water.  There was some improvement.  But after a month or two, growth would plateau, and any gains came in small fractions after far too much effort.

This year is different:  I hired a coach.

A few weeks ago, in a short session at the pool, he took video and then let me watch it play back.  Though I was swimming the best I knew how, the new perspective blew me away.  The areas I needed to improve became immediately obvious.

Armed with this new perspective and some new drills from the coach, I can feel strength and speed building in the water again, day by day.

It’s Not What You(!) Think

Leadership can be a lot like swimming.  You can read books and watch videos as much as you like, but at some point, you just have to get in the water and give it a shot.

And one simple metric for how you are doing is to simply ask: are you accomplishing the mission?  If the answer is “yes,” that’s a good start – you’ve made it to the other end of the pool.

But that’s not the whole story.  What has happened to the relationships among you and your teammates in the process?  Are they stronger or weaker?  Has trust grown or suffered?

Like my struggles in the pool, getting to the far wall is not the only thing that’s important.  If going the distance leaves your team shattered, there’s something wrong.

So how else do we measure whether we are sinking or swimming?

As the statistic above makes clear, we have to start by realizing that we are not in the best position to judge.  If most of us think we are above average, there are a lot of deluded leaders out there.

For perspective, it helps to turn to the people impacted by our leadership.

Leadership: It’s not how YOU think you are doing…
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If you are getting regular performance reviews, 360 degree appraisals, or other assessments, that’s great.  Pay attention to what they tell you.

And by all means, if you aren’t getting inputs, there are lots of ways to get useful feedback from your boss.

But like having a coach at pool-side, what we need as leaders is some direct, immediate feedback.  Who wants to wait for an annual review to find out that you have a problem right now that needs attention?

Short of getting your own leadership coach, here are six ways to tell immediately if you are sinking or swimming as a leader.

Sinking or Swimming?

Are they bringing you problems?  As Colin Powell states in his excellent book “It Worked for Me” the day people stop coming to you with their problems is the day you should start to worry.  It means  they’ve lost confidence in your ability to fix things.  If no one else ever seems to have a problem, it might mean that you have a problem.

How many twins do you have?  Leadership by example is one of your most powerful tools of influence.  You know it’s working when you start to see your teammates imitating your actions.  From open-minded respectful debate, to communication skills, to how you respond to crisis, if you see others following your example it’s a sure sign that they think your approach must be a good one.

Though children close their ears to you, their eyes remain wide open. – Richelle E. Goodrich
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Are you boring?  Speaking of crisis, is every day an emotional roller coaster ride for the team?  The best leaders can ignite passions in their teammates, but do so in a stable, consistent way.  People look to their leadership for predictability and stability.  As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes for Harvard Business Review,  you have to “create the kinds of secure and supportive environments where creativity and productivity thrive.”  A daily soap opera is not a good sign; tone it down and go for “boring.”

What’s the TBA (Total Brains Applied)?  Is every minor detail up to you?  I like David Paul Carter’s point that the best leaders are those who can successfully engage the most brains around them to help get the job done.  With more brains plugged in, you increase the  odds of coming up with better, more innovative solutions.  And in the process, your teammates feel that they are meaningful contributors.  If your brain is the only one in gear, it’s time to re-think.

If your brain is the only one in gear, it's time to re-think. #leadership
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Are they (really) listening?   In Listening Skills for Leaders, I share eight ways to improve how you listen to others.  Turn the tables and look for these same behaviors in them as you speak to see if they are really interested in what you have to say.  It starts with eye contact; generally the more there is, the better the sign.

What does the mirror tell you?  Look in the mirror – not the glass one in the bathroom, the other one: the faces of your teammates.  As Terry Starbucker says, people are not very good at masking their feelings, and faces don’t lie.  Look at facial expressions.  How many of them are smiling? Look at what he calls the “Smile-to-Frown Ratio” – the more smiles, the better.  Your goal is not to make it like Disneyland every day, but more smiles generally means happier teammates.

Sinking or Swimming as a Leader:  The Takeaway

When our pool session was over, coach gave me several drills to use to help improve my swimming.  Subsequent workouts have left my shoulders and arms sore the next day, a sure sign that I’m slipping out of that old, inefficient comfort zone, and hopefully making some improvements.

In the same way, if the leadership feedback you get tells you there is room for improvement, be ready to go to work.  It may even require you to refine your technique, break out of comfortable routine, and develop some new muscles.

The key is that you are open to the idea of getting better as a leader, and sensitive to all that good feedback you are getting every day.

And simply by doing that, you will already be improving yourself as a leader; not by being perfect, but by always seeking to be better.

Lead on!






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Is it better to be feared or loved as a leader?

It’s an age-old question that seems to keep cropping up.  Authoratative writers talk about how leaders need to be open, transparent, empathetic, and willing to listen.  Yet like the Humble Leader Paradox, if that’s the way you act, great, but what’s to keep people from just doing whatever they want?  What is the role of fear in leadership?  Do we have to choose between fear and love?

Whether you seek to be loved or feared, each approach has limitations that can inhibit your effectiveness.  But I think there is something more worthy to shoot for that blends the best of both worlds.

Beware: The Chief is Taking the Brief

This really happened.

It was the daily 5 PM Battle Update Brief (the “BUB” in the inevitable Army acronym) at a major headquarters where I once worked.  The point of the BUB was to synchronize large scale actions and solve short-fused problems.  We covered everything from intelligence to troop movements, to logistics.  It was imperative that briefers what was going on.

The Chief who typically presided was experienced, incisive, and notoriously hard to brief.  He always asked tough questions, and he could sense immediately if someone were offering him a load of horse manure.  People were afraid to brief him.  The fear was palpable as BUB time approached.

One day a captain from logistics became a target.  He didn’t have adequate answers to the Chief’s first few questions.  When more queries drew blanks, the Chief’s face turned red and he leaned forward in his chair.  We all braced for impact.

The Chief never yelled, but in his intense, gravelly voice, he made it abundantly clear that the young captain should always come well-prepared for this meeting, and noted how everyone in the room was depending on him to…

…In the middle of the diatribe, the young captain’s eyes rolled up in the back of his head, and he fell over backwards, passed out.

Word of how the Chief could “knock out a captain” at close range with just a few sharply worded questions got around quickly.  The Chief did nothing to dispell the story.

Everyone who briefed after that doubled their preparation, but also fretted more when it came time to brief.

(again, true story; epilogue is below…)

To Be Feared

The Chief was our leader.  Did we love this man?  No, especially not in those moments.  He could be very tough.

Did we fear him?  I’d have to say yes, at times.  Did that make him an effective leader?  I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s look at the impact of fear and love as leadership tools.

Machiavelli would have us believe that if it came down to a choice between being feared or loved, fear is the better option.

 “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both. – Machiavelli

There is no doubt that fear can be a great motivator.  Man has always been genetically hard-wired to survive, and fear is one mechanism that helps make that possible.  When threats loom, fear counsels fight or flight.  Avoiding danger is a good way live another day.

A leader who rules through fear has found a means to threaten some aspect of our wellbeing.  He has access to coercive powers, whether through job sanctions and penalties, humiliation, or changes in status.  However they are delivered, credible threats still elicit the fear response.

Most often, that response is avoidance.  We avoid taking risk, avoid accepting responsibility, we try to keep a low profile and not attract attention.  It’s an environment that stifles initiative.

As this goes on, we miss opportunities to innovate or try new things.  Who would be willing to stick their neck out if failure means getting it cut off.

And as we see co-workers punished for failure, sure, we may work hard to prevent the same thing from happening to us.  But the bigger problem is that the fear environment forces us to focus on our own survival to the exclusion of all else.

To that end, fear can engender internal conflict and erode trust.  If we are all fighting for the same scraps and your gain is my loss, why should I help?

Ruling through fear can ultimately lead to brain drain on your team.  Without an opportunity to meaningfully contribute, a lot of your talent may exercise the “flight” response and find a better place to work.

Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say. – Andy…
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In the end, I think Eisenhower had a better grasp of leadership.

You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership. – Eisenhower
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Fear may get some things done, but at what cost?

To Be Loved

So if seeking to be feared is not the answer, is seeking to be loved any better?

Of course it’s natural to want to be liked.  Acceptance into a group is another primal instinct rooted in survival.  There is power and safety in numbers.

The problem is that to seek acceptance into a group is to place yourself under the rules of that group.  In seeking love, you risk becoming a “people pleaser” ready and willing to do what it takes to make others happy.

There’s good here, if that causes you to do things that benefit others, help them get the job done, or become better at what they do.

The problem is that approaching leadership this way now you become the one who is avoiding.

You avoid giving the candid feedback that someone needs to hear.  You avoid making hard or unpopular decisions because someone may be disappointed.  You avoid looking a person in the eye and telling them that they can do better.

That’s why leading your peers can be so difficult.  When someone in a group suddenly has to become the leader, the desire to please teammates can outweigh the need to get the job done.

And checking back in with today’s muse, Machivelli points out that love is not always sufficient to keep people from doing whatever they want.

Men shrink less from offending one who inspires love than one who inspires fear. – Machiavelli

They may love you, but it won’t necessarily prevent them from using you like a door mat.

To Be Respected

Love is the right idea, but I think the construct is backwards.  It’s not about them loving you.  It’s about you loving them.  And to me, respect is a critical component of love.

Love is an empty word without respect. – Nikhil Saluja
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To be effective, seek instead the respect of your teammates.  For the leader, respect is the balancing point between fear and love.

Earning the respect of the team means being open, fair, willing to listen, to admit error, to share in difficulty, to act to protect the team’s well-being.  Respect requires honesty, extending trust, helping others grow, and even underwriting honest mistakes.  Respect includes passing along the credit and absorbing the blame for the team.

But earning respect also means enforcing the team’s cornerstone values, organizational policies, and insisting on ethical behavior.  It means being willing to provide honest feedback, to have difficult conversations, and to ensuring fair play across the team.

As the leader, you have to make clear to your team where the lines are, and they have to know that there will be consequences if they cross them.

The threat must be credible or it will be ignored.

The Role of Fear – The Takeaway

Is there a place for fear in a leadership role?  Absolutely yes.  For certain behaviors there ought to be meaningful consequences that cause people who transgress to worry.  It’s called accountability, and it’s something we expect our leaders to establish.

Indeed, it would be hard to respect a leader who did not hold team members accountable.  Respect is integral to love; but to earn that respect, sometimes you have to be willing to do the things that people fear.

Epilogue:  What happened to that captain who passed out during his brief?  Well, he was definitely feeling the stress that day.  But it didn’t help that he had also run 10 miles at lunch, and that he locked his knees as he stood during the briefing.

If you stand that way for too long, circulation slows; you can become light-headed.  The reality was that he had simply fainted, but the effect, of course, was dramatic.

It was clear to all in the room that day that the Chief knew the captain was capable of doing a better job, and that the rest of the team depended on his expertise.  The Chief was reinforcing a cultural ethic that was essential for all of us to follow.  He used fear to ensure everyone was as prepared as possible so that as a team we could make smart decisions.

The following day the captain was there again to brief.  As he stepped to the podium, he was wearing a flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet even though we were inside a building.   He nervously smiled and said that based on his experience from last time, he wanted to be as prepared as possible the next time he briefed.

Everybody in the room laughed at his joke, even the Chief.  Some of the tension in the room dissipated.  And when he began to speak, it was clear that he was indeed very well prepared.

Lead on!






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Leaders should be independant thinkers.

Whether you are trying to develop a vision statement, solve a problem at work, or influence the team, leaders have to think about where they are going and how they are going to get there.

The good news is that thinking is a skill, and it’s one that we can all get better at.  The better we get at thinking, the better our chances to succeed as leaders.

Today we’ll look at 25 techniques to sharpen your thinking that will help you level-up as a leader.

Set the Conditions

One of the biggest challenges to effective thinking can be simply  carving out space to think in the first place.   Once you’ve done that, now what?  Start to sharpen your thinking by setting the conditions for your thinking session to be productive.  Here are some ideas.

Make it a regular thing.  Practice the art of thinking as a habit.  Like anything, you get better at it.  One way to do this is to leverage the time you already are using.  Admiral Thad Allen, former Commandant of the Coast Guard rode his bicycle 15 miles to work each day and used that time to for reflection, planning, and problem solving.

Pick a Topic and an outcome.   It can be helpful to pick a subject to focus on. Even better, put a goal on your thinking session, like coming up with five new ideas in the next 30 minutes.

Bring the right tools.  If you’re a visual person like me, it helps to be able to see your thoughts as they take shape.  Use a notebook and sharp pencil to write what comes into your head.  A large white board and a fistful of colored markers can help with brain storming.  A note pad or voice recording phone app can also help, especially if you will be out and about.  Record your thoughts as they come to you, let them build upon each other and combine into new ideas.

Go somewhere new.  The same environment will start to spawn the same thoughts.  Separate yourself from the usual and surround yourself with something different.  It may be as close as a table at your local library, a bench at a local park, a local museum, or that new coffee shop just down the street.

Be prolific.  Sometimes quality comes with quantity.  Adam Grant points out in Originals that when masters like Beethoven, Picasso, or Maya Angelou produced the works they are most famous for, they emerged during the most productive times of their lives.  For each of their master works, they also produced hundreds of lesser pieces.  The more you produce, the better the odds that something will be great.

Allot time.  It’s good to consult other sources – books, blogs, people, but manage how you spend that time.  The goal is not simply to listen and repeat.  The idea is to absorb, process, and come to your own conclusions.  So if you have an hour and want to read up on a topic, save the last 15 minutes to think about what you learned and decide what it means.

Don’t get so lost in other people’s thoughts that you forget to have your own.
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Just write.  Sometimes the simple act of forming your thoughts into words and writing or typing them out can help you focus.  Start with a question or idea, write it down, and then keep writing and see where it leads you.

I write in order to find out what I think. – Stephen King
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Keep the notepad ready.  After your thinking sessions, your brain is often still working subroutines in the background, and results can pop into your head at any time.  Be ready to capture them.  Keep a notepad by your bed, use a phone app like Evernote, record a voice memo, or send an email to yourself.  Whatever you do, capture that good idea before it gets away.

Prime the Pump

With the conditions set, consider injecting new perspectives and leveraging the thinking of other people as part of the process to sharpen your thinking.

Consult thought leaders.  Have a say in what you are exposed to.  Pick a topic and focus in – listen to a podcast during your commute or watch informative videos at lunch.  Have a way to record your thoughts as you go.  Then turn it off, think about what you just heard, and compare it to other sources.

Read a book (twice).  I have taken up the habit of always reading with a pencil.  The first time through, when there is an interesting passage, I’ll put a small mark by the section, and a small circle at the top right corner of the page.  When I finish the book, I go through it again, flipping to the marked pages, thinking about the passages I’ve marked, and writing about them in my notebook.

Talk to someone different.  In his interesting book “A Curious Mind” producer Brian Grazer credits a lot of his creative impulse to the fact that he is constantly having deliberate “curiosity conversations” with people from radically different walks of life.  He has tracked down people from Jonas Sauk to Mohammed Ali to ask what their lives are like, where they get their inspiration, and how they do what they do.  He found that exposing himself to radically different perspectives stirred new ideas in his own mind.

Read something different.  A variation on this can be to read books from very different environments.  Exposure to the unfamiliar can trigger new ideas in your own focus area.  For example, reading one of the books from this selection exposes how real leaders solved difficult problems in very different environments.  Their actions may give you some ideas about how to deal with your own challenges.

Start with something unrelated.  Justin Berg, a creativity expert at Stanford, finds that what we start with has a lot to do with where we end up.  He calls this idea the “Primal Mark,” like the first brush stroke a painter puts on her canvas.  If your starting point is commonplace, your results are likely to be ordinary, too.  Instead, begin with the unrelated, come up with some crazy ideas, then try to fuse them with a more practical tool to yield a new, novel solution.

In an experiment to develop new interviewing tools, he had subjects start with the idea of in-line skates, and later added a pen.  As a result, one subject came up with a practical tool to tell time by touch.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” – Albert Einstein
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Come up with 25 more.   When coming up with ideas, the first ones to pop into our heads are also likely the most conventional ones.  Recognizing this, Upworthy makes a practice of coming up with at least 25 possible headlines for its posts.  The stretching you have to do for those last few options may be just what you need to come up with something new.

Worth Asking

Another way to sharpen your thinking is to ask good questions.  Here are some starting points.

Question the source.  Who are they, why are they writing?  What do they want you to take away?  Why should you value their opinion?

Ask the 5 “Whys.”  This is one way of looking for the root cause of something.  When faced with a problem, ask “Why is it this way?”  Whatever answer you come up with, ask again, “Buy why is that so?”  Like your annoying kid brother, repeat this at least five times to help you dig through the symptoms you are seeing and discover the reason behind them.

Ask, “What if?”  Try out different scenarios in your mind and follow them to see where they lead.

Ask, “What good can come from this?”  Not everything we think about is pleasant.  Sometimes the problems we face are ugly and intractable.  Even so, as you consider your next moves, as bad as things may be, look for what good might come from the experience.  Many foundations, research efforts, and positive causes found their genesis in something bad that a creative mind turned into a positive.

What’s the opposite?  Turning the problem on it’s head is another popular way to look at a problem.   One airport dramatically reduced complaints about waiting for baggage not by getting the bags to the carousel faster, but by making it take longer for passengers to walk there.

Is my ego in the way?  Re-reading Margaret Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” recently just highlighted this all the more to me.  When ego gets in the way it can blind us to logic, good sense, and open-minded thinking.  Whether you are working through a personal issue or trying to resolve a problem, if your sense of honor or ego is a key player, there’s a danger you won’t be able to see past it to a positive solution.  Unplug the ego and re-think everything to see what changes.

Other Places to Start Digging

Passive voicing.  I remember my high school English teacher used to always say, “If you hear someone speaking in the passive voice, he is hiding something.”  When it’s not clear who the actor is in any sentence, there may be a reason for it.  Phrases like, “Mistakes were made,” or “Actions have been taken” disguise the identity of the people involved and distance the speaker from the action.  Might be worth asking why.

Explain it to a Six-year Old.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  We get distracted by all the minutia and lose track of what’s important.  Try describing the problem out loud as if you were talking with a young child who really wanted to understand.  The places where you get stuck may be the ones to focus on.

In the name of tradition.  When you hear the phrase, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” warning bells should start going off in your head.  Maybe it made sense at the time, but conditions change and the reasons may no longer apply; dig deeper and ask why.

Beware the percentage.  Numbers and statistics lend a tone of authority to any discussion, but look closely.  Percentages can make small numbers seem large and give small sample sizes more power then perhaps they deserve.

People use statistics like a drunk man uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination. –…
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Question the default.  Internet Explorer was probably pre-loaded on your PC when you pulled it out of the box.  It was the default, and it does the job.  But that doesn’t mean that’s the one you have to use.  There are better browsers out there.  Similarly, re-look the default settings all around you.  Maybe there’s something better.

Sharpen Your Thinking – The Takeaway

When you have set the right conditions, primed the pump, and asked good questions, you sharpen your thinking, and chances are you may find your mind producing new, creative, and useful thoughts.

The more you do this, the better at it you will become, and the more and better ideas you may generate.

But here’s the thing:  be prepared for some discomfort.  By definition, if you are thinking independently, the answers you come up with will not necessarily agree with what “everybody else” is thinking.

If we all think alike, no one is thinking. – Benjamin Franklin
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If it turns out that some of your thoughts vary from those of the crowd, then good.  You might be doing something right.

Lead on!






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 How do you find the space to think in a noisy world?

We are bombarded all day long by messages telling us what to do, and what to think.  Someone else is always trying to put their thoughts into our heads.

Whether it’s friends, family, media, or the boss, all of them want our eyes, our time, and our compliance.  In such a noisy world it’s hard to find the space we need to think for ourselves.

But if we don’t, then we’re just going along for the ride.  And when the ride finally stops, we are sure to be in for disappointment.

Where did the time go?  How did I get here?  Was it worth it?

To be successful (however we choose to define that term) we have to think for ourselves, generate thoughts of our own, and decide the direction that’s best for us.  Doing that requires finding some space to think.  Here are eight ways to make that happen.

A Substitute for Thinking

Part of the problem we face is that we are complicit in the scheme to populate our minds with someone else’s thoughts.

Often, this happens simply because it is easier.  It’s been a long day, and thinking is hard.  So we turn on the TV or radio, gossip at the water cooler, or check social media to see what others are saying.

That guy on Facebook seems to know what he’s talking about. The news anchor appeared serious. Everyone else is doing it this way.  And maybe I don’t actually measure up because of the car I drive, the clothes I wear, or the places I shop.

It’s easy to just accept the thoughts directed at us.  But there’s danger there.  If we’re not careful, we can end up floating aimlessly like a cork, bobbing without purpose on the waters of someone else’s whim.

Or worse, we could find ourselves marching determindly along, certain of our direction simply because it’s the way everyone else is heading.  It’s like that ant highway that circles back onto itself.  The ants marched with admirable discipline, circling for days until they expired, having achieved nothing.

It might be good to march with the other ants for a little while, but if we’re not thinking, if we always let other people’s thoughts crowd out our own, we might miss the exit ramp.

To make room for our own thoughts, it helps to evict everyone else who is trying to rent space in our heads once in a while.   Whether you are trying to solve world hunger, resolve an issue at the office, or setting goals for the next 90 days, here are some ideas to help you make space to think.

 Carving Out Some Space

1. Block it out.  If something is important, then a key to making it happen is to dedicate a specific block of time to do it. As Gary Keller suggests in “The One Thing,” plan blocks of time on the calendar for the priority things.  Protect them.  Then, like an interview or appointment, make sure you show up!

2. Turn off the radio.  Other people talking or singing in your ears means you may not be able to hear your own voice.  Instrumental music may help you focus, or drown out distractions, but lyrics and talk can interrupt the the thoughts you are trying to germinate.

3. Put the phone down…in another room.  And turn off anything that might call out to you.  If you’re like me, the phone is rarely out of arm’s reach, yet its mere presence begs me to grab it to check for social media engagement, blog post comments, or news updates.  Eliminate the temptation and give  your phone a time-out for a little while.

4. Turn off the monitors.  The hardest place to do independent thinking may actually be your own desk.  With information coming in on one or more computer screens, it’s hard to stay focused for more than a few minutes at a time.  Use the computer if it helps you, but turn off, minimize and mute everything you possibly can so you can concentrate.

5. Delegate.  Sometimes it can be hard to remember that as leaders, part of our job is to think, anticipate, and strategize.  That takes time, energy, and focus.  If we allow ourselves to get sucked into busy-ness, we end up falling down on a critical part of our job.  Delegate as much as you can as soon as you can so that people develop, more work gets done, and you can free up time to put your brain to work.

6. Go for a walk.  Or a run.  Get outside – a fresh hit of oxygen can reinvigorate your mind, the sun can refresh you, and it’s harder for others to interrupt you (especially if you are fast!).  As a bonus, the act of going somewhere different can spur new thoughts and ideas.  I run almost daily, and it’s rare that I don’t come back with a few new ideas racing through my head.

7. Make yourself scarce.  Maybe you just need to disappear once in a while, go where it’s harder for people to find you to interrupt your thought train.  A vacant conference room, empty class room, a quiet café, or even the local library can become a temporary mental retreat where you can find the space to get your thoughts organized.

8. Leverage time.  If your schedule is already impossibly full, look for creative ways to use the time you do have.  Use the morning commute to organize for the coming day, or the evening drive to line up priorities for tomorrow.  Linger longer in the shower, talk things through with your dog while out walking, or brainstorm ideas while waiting for your flight.

Space to Think – The Takeaway

Everything out there is vying for our attention.  Everyone is more than willing to invite themselves into our heads and tell us what to do.  Some of it may be good advice worth following; some of it may not.

To tell the difference between the two, we have to think for ourselves, and to do that that we need to make space to allow it to happen.

It may help to remember that we are the landlords of our own minds.  We shouldn’t be afraid to take charge of what’s going on up there from time to time, change the locks, set curfews, or call the exterminator.

Take ownership of the real estate in your head!
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Own the real estate in your head.  Carve out some space to think.    In a future post, we’ll talk about how to use all that good thinking space you’ve found.

You might be surprised at what you come up with.

Lead on!

Question: What other ideas can you share about ways to carve out space to think?






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What does it take to question the status quo and produce something original?

That’s the question that author Adam Grant poses in his 2016 book Originals:  How Non-Conformists Move the World.  The answer he reaches might surprise you.

Grant takes us on a journey through recent history, into the psychology lab, and behind the doors of inventors and investors to get at the core of how originality happens.  Along the way, he dispells several myths that even he once held true.

Some key points from the book I think you might appreciate include how original work happens in the first place, and how as leaders we can establish an environment that encourages originality from all of us.

Is it Quality or Quantity?  Yes.

One of the things Grant does early on in the book is to point out that everything the most creative minds produce is not automatically great.

In fact, most of it isn’t.

Instead, what those creators are doing is playing a numbers game.  The more they produce, the greater the odds that they’ll come up with something original.

Shakespeare wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets.  Picasso produced 1,800 paintings and 1,200 sculptures.  Maya Angelou wrote six autobiographies.  Thomas Edison filed 1,093 patents.

Yet of all this output, each of these famous minds is really known for just a few of their accomplishments.  And it was during their time of greatest productivity that they came up with their best, most original work.

So one way to be more original is simply to create more of whatever you do – you’ll get better at it, and some of it may be truely outstanding.

Of Monkeys and Titles

In a more recent and modern application, consider how the company Upworthy develops titles for videos it wants to go viral.

One recent video they wanted to promote shows two monkeys being paid in food to do a simple task.  One monkey gets cucumber, which is fine, until he sees that the other monkey is getting paid in the much more delicious grapes.  The first monkey’s reaction to the inequity is priceless.

The original title for the video was, “Remember Planet of the Apes?  It’s Closer to Reality Than You Think.”  Over 8,000 people watched it.

Then they tried a different title, “2 Monkeys Were Paid Unequally; See What Happens Next.”  This title attracted hundres of thousands of views.

Two Monkeys Were Paid Unequally: Excerpt from Frans de Waal's TED Talk - YouTube

Upworthy’s rule is that you have to generate at least 25 possible headlines before you are likely to find one that is really good.

Our first ideas tend to be the most conventional and unremarkable.  It’s only when we become desperate in our search for those next ones that our minds stretch enough to produce something original and good.

Our first ideas tend to be the most unremarkable; we have to stretch ourselves to be original.
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The Asch Paradigm

Grant explores lots of other ways to develop originality in our thinking that are very well worth the read.  Then later in the book he explores why, even if we have a good idea, sometimes it never comes to light.  One of the reasons is the influence that others have on our thinking.

In a revealing study, psychologist Solomon Asch asked people to judge the length of a printed line on a card and compare it with three others on a different card.

One of the three lines was the same, the others were clearly longer or shorter.  The task was to select the line that matched the original one.

When working alone, people were nearly 100% accurate in their choices, no great revelation there.  What was surprising was what happened when more people were introduced into the selection process.

Researchers added seven confederates to the group, and asked each member to state which line was the correct answer.  Seating was arranged so that the confederates would always speak first.  One after another, they were unanimous in pointing out a specific, incorrect line as the right answer.

The unwitting study participant always went last, and the results were amazing: They often and knowingly went along with the incorrect choice.

Their error rate rose from nearly zero to 37%.  Three quarters of the participants gave at least one incorrect answer out of 12 trials.  Only 25% of the participants consistently stuck to their guns regardless of what the others said.

The impact is clear.  Unity of opinion in a group, even if obviously wrong, can have a tremendous impact on our willingness to be different, to be original.

Inciting the Rebel

What’s the antidote?  Adding a “true partner.”

The presence of even just one other person who is willing to go against the majority was sufficient to dramatically lower the error rate from 37% to only 5.5%.

As Grant concludes, “merely knowing that you are not the only resister makes it substantially easier to reject the crowd.”

I’d add that the moment you find yourself looking for originality on your team but see only uniform agreement, consider Mark Twain’s comment:

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. - Mark…
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Or better, from Colin Powell’s book It Worked for Me:

Disagree with me, do it with feeling. You owe that to me; that’s why you are here. - Colin Powell
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If you want to boost creativity and originality on your team, you have to cultivate an environment where not only is it OK to disagree, it’s expected.  That’s when you begin to harness the brainpower of your best people.

Originals – The Takeaway

Adam Grant’s Originals is full of revealing studies like these.  The broad array of stories, experiments, and real-life examples makes the reading captivating even as he translates how principles discovered during research apply in the real world.

Grant even opens the book with a story about how he had an opportunity to get on the ground floor of an original idea that ultimately made its founders millions.  But because he evaluated the idea and its backers the same way most of us do, he declined to get involved.

Perhaps by reading this book and absorbing the lessons that Grant offers, we can learn to be more original ourselves, encourage creativity on our teams, or at least recognize it when we see it.

Lead on!






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How can you stay optimistic in the face of failure?

Failure is a natural part of doing business, of being human, and of attempting to do things you haven’t done before.  And when we fail, there’s a natural tendency to want to give up.  It’s hard to stay optimistic.

But before you pull the plug and succumb to a gloomy “it’ll never work” outlook, there are three questions you should ask yourself.  They could make the difference between giving up and achieving what you set out to accomplish.

Learning to be Helpless

In the 1960s Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, was studying depression when he made an interesting discovery: helplessness is learned.

As part of an experiment, he put individual dogs in boxes and administered mild shocks to them through the floor.  Some boxes allowed the dog to escape, in others they could not get away.  Over time, the ones that could not avoid the shock simply lay on the floor, accepting the discomfort.

Then he put the same dogs in new boxes, each subdivided with a low wall the dogs could hop over.  One side was electrified, the other was not.  When he administered the shock, the dogs that could get away before simply hopped the wall.  But the dogs that previously could not get away continued to lie on the floor.  They didn’t even try to escape.

Seligman concluded that they had learned to be helpless.  He believed this concept applies to human beings, too.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Author Daniel Pink picks up this theme in his excellent book “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” He introduces us to Norman Hall, a Fuller Brush salesman.  He’s one of the last old school salesmen, who goes door to door all day long selling cleaning products.

Most of those doors close to him. People don’t buy.  Hall faces rejection all day long.  Yet he’s been selling this way successfully since the 1970s.

How does he stay optimistic in the face of all that rejection?  Why doesn’t he just lie down in his box like the dog that learned to be helpless?

It has to do with what Pink calls his explanatory style.  It’s how Hall frames what happens in the overall context of what he does.

When the door closes, Hall thinks “The customer was busy, it wasn’t a good time to talk” or “Money is tight right now, they might have cash flow problems” or “They haven’t inventoried their supplies lately.”

The way Hall frames what happens helps him stay optimistic, and allows him to continue, even in the face of constant rejection.

To help us all stay optimistic, we can take a page from Hall’s book.  Pink explains that we just have to ask ourselves three questions.  How you answer those questions can help you stay positive, even when things haven’t been going so well lately.

Three Questions

1.  Is it Permanent?   Will things always be this way, or was this just a temporary condition?  Those who are able to stay optimistic view conditions as short-lived and temporary.

The customer was having a bad day; the timing wasn’t right; money is tight right now.

If you can honestly see a problem as a short-lived condition, you open yourself up to the possibility that if you stick with it, you will be rewarded down the line.

Seeing the problem as Temporary will help you stay optimistic.

2.  Is it Pervasive?  Is it like this everywhere, or just here?  Are all people like that, or just this one?  If you can determine that the conditions you are facing are not the same everywhere, it leaves open the possibility that conditions will improve if you keep at it.

Maybe it will work with a different person, or in a new area, or under a different set of conditions.

Understanding that a problem is specific to certain conditions helps you see past the one you are in, and look for something better.

3.  Is it Personal?  Are you the problem, or is it something outside of you?  Sure, we can always improve our skills, approaches, and techniques, and it’s important to do so. But focusing on the external causes can help us stay optimistic.

That person just wasn’t ready to buy; this is not the right time for them; they aren’t clear on what they need.

Viewing the problem as external means it might be different with somebody else, and you have reason to keep trying.

Play the Prosecutor

When things go wrong, it’s easy to become defeatist.  We are tempted to set up a defense, to construct an alibi, and concoct stories in the attempt to explain why we are failing.

“It just wasn’t in the cards.”  “I’m not cut out for this.”

Often, these kinds of words are the verbal experession of learned helplessness, and like the dog in the box, we can be tempted to lie down.

To fight this urge, play the prosecuting attorney and cross-examine your story.  Would a jury of your peers accept that explanation in court?  Where are the holes in that line of defense? How solid is that alabi?  Are these really reasons, or excuses?

If you find yourself starting to squirm under cross-examination, you probably have good reason to carry on.

How to Stay Optimistic – The Takeaway

Anything worthwhile that you attempt is likely to involve failure.  How you respond to that failure can either turn you into a pessimist, or help you stay optimistic.

Is this shortfall permanent? Is the problem pervasive? Is it strictly a personal issue?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you have reason to stay optimistic and keep going.  And like Norman Hall, you’ll find that some doors will open.

There are lots of other techniques to help you stay mentally tough and keep going in the face of adversity, whether it’s managing your expectations at the outset, focusing on the goal instead of the stuggle, or learning to take things one step at a time.

The thing to remember is that Persistance is a multiplier in the formula for success.  Don’t lie down.

Lead on!






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When the call of leadership comes, what will you do?

Often what makes leaders stand out are not the great deeds but the small acts.  Many of these actions may even go unnoticed by most.  But cumulatively they demonstrate where the leader’s heart lies, and they build the kind of loyalty that makes teams strong and successful.

This is a story of one such simple act over 50 years ago that left a life-long impression.  The call of leadership came, and the way this leader handled it serves as a great model for us all.

Here’s what happened.

The Bat Phone

The phone rang at the Staff Duty desk.

Will was on duty that day as an enlisted Airman.  With him was an Air Force Captain he didn’t know who was in charge of the shift.  It was 1965, they were on an air base in Da Nang, Vietnam, far from home in the U.S.

Serving on staff duty means monitoring the radios, answering the phones, and handling any issues that come up when no one else is in the office.

Everyone has to take a turn pulling Staff Duty.  Someone has to be on watch at night and over holidays, when most of the offices are empty.

This day happened to be Christmas day.

The Staff Duty office was equipped with everything necessary to do the job, including a special land-line telephone.  They called this the “bat phone.” It was rarely used, and seemed to only ring when there was a problem.

Right now, the phone that was ringing was the bat phone.

Will watched as the Captain stepped over and grabbed the receiver.  After listening a moment, he asked the person on the other end to hold for a second.  He looked over at Will and said, “It’s for you.”

“It’s For You”

Astonished, Will hesitated.  The Captain was senior.  He was the decision-maker on their little team.  It made no sense that he would ask Will to handle whatever important business was coming over the bat phone.

Regardless, that’s what the Captain wanted.  Will took the receiver, and answered.  “Hello?”

On the other end of the line was an operator from Bell Telephone in San Francisco.

She explained that a donor was covering costs so the phone company could offer free long distance calls to servicemen and women overseas.  In those days, access to an overseas phone line was hard to come by, and calling half way around the planet was expensive.  She was offering him a chance to talk with his family on Christmas day.

Will quickly overcame his surprise and gave her the number.  Within minutes, he was talking happily with his family thousands of miles away.

On a day that might have otherwise been depressing, the call was a rare and wonderful gift.  It was a feeling he never forgot.

When the Call Comes…

Years later, Will found himself reflecting on that phone call and came to a sudden realization.  The operator didn’t know who he was.  In fact, she had no way of knowing who she’d reach when she called.

She had to have been calling from a list of military numbers and offering the free connection to whoever answered at the other end.

The person she reached was the Captain.

The Captain was married, with kids.  He was thousands of miles from home.  It was Christmas day for him, too.

He could have taken the call.  He would have loved a rare opportunity to speak with his wife and children on that special day.  After all, he was the one who picked up the phone.  He had the highest rank.  He carried the most responsibility.

He was the leader.

But that was the thing.  He understood that the call of leadership wasn’t about him.

Answering the Call of Leadership

His position and rank weren’t given to him so that he would be more comfortable, take more perks, and enjoy more privileges.

He was entrusted with those things so that he could care for the people he was responsible for leading.  To lead is to serve.

Leaders accomplish the purpose while caring for their people.
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The Captain understood all this, and quickly made a decision.  He knew how to answer the call of leadership.

He asked the operator to hold, looked at the young Airman, and said, “It’s for you.”

Every day we have the opportunity to make small but significant decisions like these.

Leaders are the ones that do.

Answer the call.

Lead on!






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