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Song Of The Weekend: Bruce Springsteen – “The Promised Land”

I’m fortunate to have tickets to see Bruce Springsteen this weekend.  I’ve seen him quite a few times now and it never gets old.  While he rarely plays for 4 hours anymore you always feel like you get your moneys worth.  This is a man who was born to write music and be on stage.  It is mostly just straightforward rock-n-roll but that’s fine with me.  With Bruce it’s always been about more than just the music.

Throughout history every generation relies on artists to tell its story.  It always felt to me like Bruce was an important voice of the Baby Boomer generation.  It has been interesting to watch events filter through the lens of his artistic eye.  Thank goodness he keeps writing and touring and sharing his talents.   I encourage you to catch him live while you still can. 

The song “The Promised Land” has always been on of my favorites.  Have a great weekend!

Leadership Thought #328 – Power Doesn’t Always Bring Out The Best In People

Sometimes I am a little late to the party and only recently discovered the powerful original STARZ TV seriesBoss” starring Kelsey Grammar.  It sure is a departure from his typical roles as he plays a brilliant yet dark and ruthless Mayor of Chicago who recently was diagnosed with a life threatening illness.  The power he evokes on the screen is quite remarkable. You get the sense that maybe he started out with the right intentions but then became obsessed with power and position at all costs.  It’s actually hard to identify a protagonist in this show.   The scripts and acting are a very clever take on what has always happened to leaders throughout history.  It’s pretty obvious that both Shakespeare and Machiavelli are a huge influence on the writers.

After watching the whole first season, a number of things jumped out at me as someone who studies leadership for a living:

  • Achieving and maintaining power for the sake of power is a slippery slope and leads you to actions you wouldn’t ever consider under any other circumstances.
  • Never forget why you are doing what you are doing.  It easy to get caught up in the process and forget about what inspired you in the first place.
  • Once you compromise your values it becomes much easier to do it repeatedly and move towards rationalizing aberrant behavior.
  • No one should view themselves as above reproach or above the law (not even the president). People are always watching, waiting and rooting for you to get caught.
  • You are the sum total of your actions and you and often those close to you will eventually have to deal with the consequences of your bad behavior.
  • No one wins if everyone loses; compromise is an integral part of leading people and institutions.
  • If you buy your loyalty it will be vulnerable to those with deeper pockets.
  • If you lead through fear most people will be afraid to tell you what you need to hear.
  • How you treat others matters. They will hold to their resentment for years to come back at you when the timing is right.  Those that feel unfairly treated tend to have a long memory.
  • All careers have their ups and downs and your character is usually forged in the fires of adversity not when everything is going great. 
  • Institutional decay will fester for years but eventually the cracks in the foundation will broaden and deepen to the extent that failure is inevitable.
  • You will end up emotionally alone and lonely if you just care about yourself and only allow others into your life as they suit that purpose.

Leadership Thought #327 – Avoid What’s Not Good For You

I was speaking with a colleague the other day and they said that watching the news only depresses them and puts them in a bad mood.  I asked him why he watches it then and he said to stay connected to what’s going on in the world.  Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons.  There are many other ways for him to stay connected to what’s happening in the world besides watching network news.   If what you are doing is making you feel unhappy and/or increasing your negative stress, then maybe it’s time to make a few changes for the better. 

The news media is an easy target, but there are many other things people do that make them unhappy: letting advertisers dictate how they should feel about themselves, committing to fad diets that will never work for them, reading books they think they should read even though they don’t understand or like them, drinking too much because they don’t know how else to have fun and its easy to do, regularly treating food as a source of pleasure or reward rather than a means of sustenance,  taking on exercise activities that don’t interest them or  that are ill suited to their physical reality, treating their faith as an obligation and chore rather than looking for divine inspiration, etc.  I find that people doing things they really don’t want to be doing only makes them cranky and more stressed.  Oddly enough, they often will recruit others to join them in their misery.  I am always a bit suspicious when someone tries too hard to convert me to their latest fad, behavior or point of view.

I’m not saying that everything should feel good.  Life does and should involve a certain amount of stress, hard work and sacrifice.  However, when what you are doing is having the opposite of the intended effect then something is wrong.  There are only a few things all of us as human beings must do to survive such as eating, drinking and sleeping.  Most other activities are a choice.  If your job is making you miserable, then find something else to do.  If there are relationships in your life that are toxic to your well being then find other people to interact with.  If you are practicing unhealthy lifestyle behaviors that are starting to have adverse consequences, then find other more healthy ways to live that work for you.  The proof is in the pudding.  If it makes you feel better about yourself physically, spiritually, emotionally or mentally then that is a good sign.  If it makes you feel worse, then the universe trying to send you a message.

Leadership Thought #326 – Daily Habits Make A Difference

A career and life is just a series of interconnected days.  Success comes about by developing constructive daily habits.  Most people tend to “wing it” instead of creating some sense of consistency and discipline in their lives.  As a result, they regularly end up dealing with the consequences of undisciplined behavior.   Sure some people get lucky, but this is a relatively small number and not a good life strategy.   I’ve observed the following success behaviors in my clients, colleagues and friends:

  1. Get up and go to bed around the same time every day during the work week – make sure you get enough sleep;
  2. Wake up relatively early to get a good jump on the day – avoid early morning rushing around and stress;
  3. Do your best to eat healthy whenever possible;
  4. Do some level of physical exercise every day – stay fit;
  5. Start your day by planning your day and establishing very specific action items;
  6. Only check your email/voice mail a few set times a day – don’t become addicted to instantaneous review or response;
  7. Try and have at least one business development conversation/meeting every single day;
  8. Spend 15-20 minutes walking the four corners of the office and interacting with your colleagues/employees;
  9. Briefly check-in with direct reports every morning with a more substantial conversation on a weekly basis;
  10. Whenever you touch a piece of paper deal with it, file it or forget it;
  11. Commit to daily reading of materials relevant to your industry/business/position;
  12. If you have a family, establish healthy consistent boundaries in terms of when you will be home and committed to the family;
  13. When you are work focus on work, when you are not at work focus on something else;
  14. Look for an opportunity to do something nice for someone else close to you either personally or professionally;
  15. Keep a journal and spend a few minutes at the end of your day debriefing your day.

How would you assess how you are spending your days?  How many of these items could you check off?  Do you feel in control of your days or are they controlling you?  Don’t bite off more than you can chew all at once but slowly add these habits over time and I believe you will end up happy with the results.

Leadership Thought #325 – Be True To Your Own Voice

I find that leaders often get in trouble when they try to be who they are not.  Your job is to be the best YOU that you can be.  Trying to be someone else is inauthentic.  This doesn’t mean you can’t improve or shouldn’t get better, but never lose sight of who you are, your passions, and what you believe to be right.  Everyone needs be true to their own voice. 

People want to follow leaders they trust and believe will move things in a positive direction.  Approximately 80% of the population naturally just wants to follow someone else’s lead.  They want to identify with that person’s values and feel comfortable that he/she is driven by the right motivations.   Unfortunately, there is a sense that many of our public leadership figures have let us down these days and an understandable skepticism has spread throughout society.  The best way to counter this mindset is for leaders to be fully transparent about who they are and why they want to lead.  You can’t fake this or get there by using carefully scripted talking points.

People will forgive alot of things if they believe your intentions are pure.  No one expects perfection, but they do want compassion, competence, consistency, confidence, resilience and determination.   We all understand that things may get off track at times, but will you have what it takes to get them back on track?  Will you do what’s required or what’s expedient?  Are you focused on the greater good or your own advancement?  When times get tough will you have their back or run for cover? 

The only way to be great at something is to truly care about the outcome.  The only way to truly care about the outcome is to make sure you are focused on something that genuinely connects with who you are as person and what you value as a human being.  To lead others there needs to be a compelling reason for why you are doing what you are doing.  No one else can create this dynamic for you.  All they can do is increase your style points.  You must feel it within the depths of your character and be true to your own voice.

Leadership Thought #324 – Never Give Up

I attended a youth soccer game and a professional hockey game this weekend and it was interesting to watch how both groups handled frustration and adversity.  As would be expected the kids had a much more difficult time with it.  With a few exceptions, they were quick to get down on themselves and hang their heads.   After a couple of unlucky plays they started to unravel and forget their training.  It became increasingly obvious that many of them just gave up on winning well before this should have been the case. The pros on the other hand kept plugging away and fighting through their unlucky breaks. Their hard work and resilience paid off.  Eventually things turned around for them and they won the game.

I’m not saying this just to state the obvious that professional athletes have more mental toughness than children, but instead to point out the importance of never giving up. Too many of us adults act like children when things don’t go our way and give up far too easily and lose our emotional bearings.  Instead of believing in our own capacity for emotional, mental, and physical resilience, we capitulate to the obstacles inevitably strewn in the path of life.

Some people may seem blessed with just about everything falling their way.  However, I contend you never fully appreciate another person’s level of struggle until you “walk a mile in their moccasins” as the famous Native American Indian saying states.  All of the successful people I know have challenges like everyone else.  They just refuse to give up on themselves or their dreams and keep moving forward.  Life does reward persistence.   These days it’s seemingly easier to crumble or withdraw when things get hard (just look around you), but who said life was supposed to be easy. 

Successful careers, marriages, and other relationships take work.  There is no easy route to happiness or accomplishment.  If you run from something every time it gets hard, you will inevitably confront a similar version of that same issue down the road.  In addition, when other struggles present themselves you will have created the bad habit of running away or giving up in the first place.  It’s no surprise that people who get divorced end up doing it more than once or that people unhappy with their careers end up job hopping with increased frequency or that people who bemoan their own loneliness or social disconnectedness continue to do things to sabotage their professional and personal relationships.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do agree that some relationships and situations are toxic and should be exited; however they are far fewer than many of us would like to believe.

The good news for the kids on the playing field this past Sunday is that they are not adults yet.  They still have time to grow up and develop their strength of character.  Hopefully they will have parents, teachers and coaches who create an environment where this is both expected and cultivated.  Society does not benefit from kids who are raised as victims and/or with low self-esteem.  Sporting events are so popular because they are a metaphor for life.  There will be winners and losers in almost all aspects of human existence.   The important thing to remember that even when you lose you can act like a winner.  To borrow from two quotes by Winston Churchill (someone who new alot about resiliency), “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” and “Never, never, never, never give up.”

Song Of The Weekend: Rod Stewart (and Ronnie Wood) – “Maggie May”

When I think of Rod Stewart it always conjures up happy memories from my childhood.  Two of my older sisters were big fans and his music was a regular part of the musical background growing up.  It was always clear to me that Rod loved what he was doing.  You couldn’t help but get in a good mood yourself when listening.  I’ve been fortunate to see him perform many times live.  You always end up dancing, singing and having a good time.

While I probably enjoy serious and deep songs more than the average person, I also appreciate that music doesn’t always have to be so heavy.  Sometimes it can just be about fun and having a good time.  Rod has kept a stellar career going for almost 50 years by helping people forget about their cares for awhile and feeling good.  He may not have been blessed with the best voice, but it is certainly unique.  He uses every last bit of his talent.  He also surrounds himself with exceptional musicians and has written some great songs through the years.

Maggie May was where it first started for me. I came across this recent clip of him and his close friend Ronnie Wood.  It just made me smile.  I thought it was a great way to start a weekend. Enjoy…

Leadership Thought #323 – Are You Just Going Through The Motions?

If a leader isn’t properly motivated then it will eventually trickle down throughout the organization.  We all look to our leaders for both inspiration and direction.  Every organization has to maintain a certain edge in this regard and must continually fight complacency.  It’s hard to stay on top.  You must never accept the status quo or rest on your laurels.  High performing leaders are never just going through the motions.  They show up to work every day with a sense of purpose and responsibility to do what’s needed and what’s right.  They don’t need other people or external factors to force them into action.  They are self-motivated to build the best possible organization they can.

I am a firm believer in the concept that once you’ve worked the kinks out of your operation then it should run relatively smoothly.  Success in business (or life) doesn’t have to be hard to maintain as long as you stay focused, committed and disciplined about what it takes to keep you there.  You can have life balance!  However, until you’ve served every possible customer who could benefit from your products/services or every employee has reached their full potential, then you still have work to do.   Once you take your “eye off the ball” and get distracted by other things like pleasure pursuits and non-core business activities, you run the risk of eroding the foundation of your success model.  Many a leader has suffered the consequences of losing interest in what made them thrive in the first place.

Professional and personal reinvention is a good thing.  You never want to get stale or bored with your role.  There are ample opportunities to grow and develop within the context or what you are already doing.  You often don’t have to look far to find something important that requires your attention.  There is no excuse that justifies simply going through the motions.  If you find yourself stuck in a rut or uninspired go on a personal retreat, join a peer group, attend leadership development seminars, read a top business book or magazine, attend industry conferences, and spend more time with your customers and/or employees.  I guarantee you that the opportunities for inspiration abound if you just spend the time to uncover them.  If you try all this and it still doesn’t work, then step aside or sell the company because it’s time for you to move on.

Leadership Thought #322 – It Has To Be About More Than Just Money

The most successful business owners I know are focused on building great companies and/or fulfilling an important mission instead of just making money.  Financial success should be the end result not the driving force.  This becomes especially apparent after the business experiences some level of economic success.  Instead of becoming greedy and short term focused these leaders often double down and invest surplus resources in continuing to grow the business and its people.   They genuinely appreciate the importance and responsibility of having a positive impact on others and adding real value to their marketplace.  

Self-satisfaction comes from a sense of doing something worthwhile, difficult, and significant.  I’ve always believed that what motivates you matters.  There has to be something that gets you out of the bed in the morning and inspires you to put forth your best effort besides money.  Self -aggrandizement gets old quickly.  There are only so many things you can buy, privileges you can experience, or vacations you can take before they begin to lose their luster.   Just look at the professions where people get rich too quickly (and too easily) to see the evidence of how self-destructive and ego-driven many of these people become.

While most of our management decisions happen in the present tense, leadership is about looking to future.  Once you get to a certain size you need to be very careful about putting your own personal economic needs above what’s best for the company.   It’s amazing how something that can take a lifetime to build can crumble under the weight of a few bad decisions and selfish thinking.  I also believe that passion is a critical variable in success and this only happens when individuals are inspired by a higher purpose which is rarely just personal wealth.  Once the pursuit of money and power becomes the end all and be of business we end up with the questionable ethics that now permeate Wall Street and our political process. 

Focus your leadership energies on building, creating, innovating, problem-solving, empowering, and inspiring others towards a common worthwhile objective and good things will happen. 

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Leadership Thought #321 – There Is Such A Thing As Right and Wrong

I appreciate the fact that there are a lot of “grey” areas in life.  Not everything is black and white.  Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and/or good reasons why people act they way they do.  Everything doesn’t always fits into a neat little box of appropriate behavior; however there are some things that are almost always unacceptable despite the circumstances.  There is a reason why all religions are typically based on a foundation of common morality and expected ethical behavior.  Whether the leaders of these religions actually they live up to their own principles is another issue altogether. 

I often tell my kids that just because you “CAN” do something doesn’t mean you “SHOULD.”  This advice is just as applicable for leaders of all types of organizations.  Here are a few basic rules of engagement that every leader should consider:

  • All people should be treated with dignity and respect;
  • You shouldn’t take advantage of other people’s personal vulnerabilities.  Manipulation is a slippery ethical slope;
  • It is not okay to steal and unfairly take what does not belong to you; 
  • Cheating is never a virtue, even if you win; 
  • Honesty shouldn’t be optional.  Dishonesty only ever breeds further dishonesty; 
  • Your products/services should be safe to use;
  • You have the obligation to provide a safe and secure work environment for your employees; 
  • You shouldn’t use your position of authority to frighten or push people into situations they find morally questionable; 
  • Once someone takes you into their personal confidence, you should respect this fact and be worthy of their trust, not use it against them;  
  • Professional and personal commitments actually mean something. When you commit to another party you should do your best to honor the agreement.
  • Two wrongs will never make a right.  Never act out of spite.

We live in a society today where there are a lot of “broken” people and organizations.  The evidence is everywhere and borne out by sociological statistics and anecdotal experience.  Something just isn’t right (and most of us know it).  We often rationalize our behavior through the lens of personal psychology and situational ethics.  Spin it however you want, but actions will always have consequences and wrong actions eventually lead to adverse outcomes.  A win–lose mindset is rarely advisable in business or your personal life.   There is such a thing as right and wrong.

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