Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lessons from The Blob

In my leadership seminars, I play a game called Blob. It's pretty much like what it sounds like, a take-off on the movie. In a defined space, one person starts out as the Blob. When the Blob touches someone, they become part of the Blob, and so the Blob grows. The larger the Blob grows, the slower it gets. The Blob wants to consumer everything and everyone, but it keeps slowing down as it grows.

Organizations are like the Blob, the bigger they are, the harder it is for them to move quickly. It's hard to be nimble when you have to move 1,000 feet in the same direction. An organization can only move as quickly as its slowest member. So, what makes your team members slow? Do they understand where you're going, really? Do they have the tools and training they need to move quickly? Have you removed all the obstacles that get in the way? Have you made your vision so obviously clear and compelling that they know exactly what you want them to do?

In the game, the fastest players generally are the last to be touched by the Blob. However, the Blob always wins. It may be slow, but eventually the Blob plays to its strengths or it can't catch the last few players. Blob members learn to move together, adjusting their speed and placement to bring everyone along without falling down.

How nimble and fleet-footed is your team? Have you done everything you can and removed as many obstacles as possible to get them moving in the right direction? That's the leader's job.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Manage Yourself

I've talked about The Nine Critical Leadership Skills: Manage Yourself; Learn to Communicate; Think and Act Strategically; Learn to Be Creative; Take Action, Risks and Initiative; Learn to Motivate; Handle conflict; Build Teamwork; and, Persevere.

I've talked about The Quick and Dirty Strategy as a quick way to develop a strategic mental attitude. I will return to that in the future. Today, I want to start talking about managing yourself.

Manage yourself.

Unless you’re the King of the Universe, the only person you control is yourself. Manage yourself. There are many books that deal with this, and I can't cover it all, but I want to share a few quick points.

1. Set priorities

•Take some time and think about what your priorities are (See The Quick and Dirty Strategy earlier.)
•Write them down
•Develop a mission statement if it helps you clarify your priorities (I will deal with this in my next post!)
•Develop some specific goals for this year and the next few years
•Figure out how you are going to meet those goals

2. Develop your skills set
•Identify what skills you need to improve
•Develop a specific plan to improve your skills
•Develop a specific plan to practice your skills (See the Power of Practice earlier.)

3. Develop your career path
•Decide where you want to be professionally in a year, three years, five years and ten years
•Work back from each point to today and figure out how you will get there
•What do you need to do: education, training, move, find a new job, expertise, etc.
•Who will you need to help you: spouse, family, friends, coworkers, mentor, etc.
•When will all this happen: give yourself some deadlines to meet each milestone
•Develop some partners to help you get there.
•Caution: the plan will need adjusting along the way. Don’t sweat it. It will happen. Just keep working at it.

4. Keep working at it

•This is an ongoing process
•You will have setbacks
•You will make some changes
•Don’t sweat it.
•Things will get better.

The Nine Critical Skills are interlinked and they work together. Start on it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What do Sex and Leadership Have in Common?

Well, what do sex and leadership have in common? Previously, I listed nine critical leadership skills. No, sex was not among those skills, though it is critical for other reasons. One of the skills I noted is the ability/inclination to "Take action, risks and initiatives."

Leadership happens in the doing, not in the studying or reading. Like sex, you can read about leadership, listen to others talk about it, watch others doing it or even role play it. However, it doesn't really make sense until you give it a try yourself. If you don't take action and try it out, you will never master it. You have to take the initiative and try to do something (be a leader) to learn leadership.

Likewise, reading and hearing about it tends to make it seem easy: step one, step two, step three, etc. Once you try it for yourself, you find out how much more difficult it is and how complicated it is. Okay, I'm still talking about leadership here, but it does apply to sex as well.

Take action. Take a risk. Show some initiative. Get involved in something where you have to actually practice leadership. Volunteer for some project, committee, group, team, or volunteer opportunity. You get better at leadership the more you do it and the more diverse opportunities you take on.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Power of Practice

When Michael Jordan was at his peak, he stepped away from basketball to give baseball a try. Baseball was his original sport in high school but switched over to basketball in his junior year. After winning three consecutive NBA titles, he decided he wanted to give baseball a try.

He spent one year as a AA baseball player. He was not inspiring. The next year, he returned to basketball. Oh, the return was not that pretty. The first few games, Michael was rusty. He failed to make some easy shots, things that might have been easy before he left basketball.

The lesson here is about practice. As great an athlete as Jordan was when he took up baseball, he had not really practiced those skills in almost 15 years. He had a less than stellar turn as a baseball player. When he returned to basketball, his basketball skills had gotten a little rusty. After a while of practicing basketball again, he returned to his legendary form.

There is another example of the power of practice: Tiger Woods. He is legendary for his daily practice, year-round. It is part of what has made him the best golf player today.

As I said in a blog earlier this year, practice is essential to a good, effective leader. Whatever skill is important and valuable to you should be practiced, practiced, practiced and then practiced some more. From running a meeting to public speaking to project management to relationship cultivation, when you stop doing it on a regular basis, you get rusty and make mistakes.

What skills do you need to practice? What skills are essential to your professional and personal success? Which of those skills got you to where you are now? Which will you need to go forward?

It's the power of practice.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Quick and Dirty Strategy

There is a time when every organization (and individual) has to pick their strategy for success -- however they measure success. This is a quick and dirty way to decide what your strategy should be. Of course, you need to be very honest about where you are first before you can get to answer the strategy question. I assume you've done that or already know where you are.

There are only four options.

Survive. This is the organization that is just trying to keep its doors open. They want be able to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure or the IRS or some other calamity that will shutter the organization. This needs emergency action. Drop everything else and reach for any lifeline.

Maintain. This is the organization that is content with where they are. They don't want or need to do anything really different. They may want to polish or clean it up a little, but nothing truly different.

Grow and Expand. This is the organization that has seen a new vision where they can see new growth, maybe by choice, maybe by necessity. They need to move on to the next level and are willing to do the hard work to do this.

Dominate. This is the organization that has already seen success and wants to move to a position where it is the dominant player in an industry, market, segment, product or service. They want to be the top dog and are willing to do the really hard work to get there.

The strange thing is that some organizations can actually be in all four modes at the same time. Take the auto industry. Some companies have so many lines of models that not all of them are doing well. For some their truck line is doing well, but their midlevel cars are not while their cross-over line has seen demand exploding.
The larger and more diversified the company, the more likely they are to have different divisions or markets at different stages, meaning that they have to have multiple strategy approaches.

Of course, this also applies to the individual. We are always at different levels of success in the different areas of our lives.

For many organizations, once they have taken a good hard look at where they are, the choice of which strategy to pursue should be obvious. The problem comes in when organizations (people, really) are not very honest with themselves about where they are, like the car companies before they had to be bailed out.

Take a good, hard look at yourself and make your choice about which strategy you want to choose for your organization and yourself.