VIDEO: Make It Safe to Learn

One of the big reasons change initiatives fail is because people do not like to be pushed out of their comfort zones.

That is only the surface emotion; a deeper reason is that people are uncomfortable with learning something new. Changing will mean absorbing new information, processing it and acting upon it. Sometimes that is hard.

Learning is intrinsic to change. This video contains suggestions for leaders to engage in the learning process.

The operative word for leaders is to engage; get involved in the learning process as student and teacher and watch good things happen.

First posted on Smart Brief on 1/22/2016

The “Just One More” Solution (HBR)

Sixty-two phone calls! That’s what it took a friend of mine, a former executive vice president for national sales, to land a meeting with a new account. He made those calls over a sixteen-month period; each call represented one more attempt to gain the client’s attention. And when he finally met face to face with the client, she thanked him heartily for not giving up. Needless to say my friend’s persistence helped his company win the business.

This story surfaced in a conversation about the need for tenacity in our down economy. It is easy to become discouraged at the deluge of bad news that threatens to swamp us in despair. I am particularly mindful of our twenty-something’s who till now have not endured such heavy weather. [And this is NOT a knock on their work ethic. I have found this generation to be as hard working as any previous one.]

It is up to more experienced managers to show them the right way to conduct themselves. Not with platitudes but with action steps. And so in that spirit I propose the “one more” solution. Consider how you might:

Make one more connection to a customer. Many customers are not buying. Do not let that dissuade you from reaching out and meeting with them. Those who stay close to their customers today will be those who reap the benefits tomorrow.

Make one more attempt to sell an idea upstairs. Tough times are great times to pitch new ideas. Some bosses are naturally resistant to change. But you can make an extra effort to demonstrate the benefits of your great ideas. Be certain to argue the business case. Use the downturn to reinforce your salient propositions.

Make one more effort to engage your employees in the challenges facing your business. Listen to what they are telling you. Learn from what they share with you. Find ways to put some of their ideas into play. Not everything an employee suggests is golden but you demonstrate a willingness to learn if you listen.

And finally, think about what you can do more of in your own job, your own function, and in your own business.

Doing all of these “one more’s” is no guarantee. You or your business may not be viable in today’s tough economic times. Hanging tough might help in an endurance race, but it will not generate new clients or new business if your offerings are not competitive.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity,” said famed aviator, Amelia Earhart. “The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do.” Tenacity will pay dividends. Perhaps not immediately, but over time it will. Those employees and managers who exercise tenacity today will be those who have earned their resilience. That will hold them in good stead now and in the future.

First posted on 4/16/2009

VIDEO: Put Feedback to Work

Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. Even when it smacks us upside the head like a two-by-four! Rejecting feedback without thinking about it is foolish.

However unfair you may think the feedback is — and most often it is very fair — there is a grain of truth in it that is worthy of reflection.

As Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen write in their book “Thanks for the Feedback,” negative feedback knocks us for a loop. It upsets our self-constructed image of ourselves.

So as, Stone and Heen argue, it is necessary to learn from feedback. One, you can learn how your actions are impacting others. Two, you can learn about yourself.

Feedback requires humility to accept, as well as the common sense to put it to good use.

First posted on SmartBrief on 12/31/2015

5 Things John Madden Teaches Us about Leadership (HBR)

Boom! John Madden has retired from the NFL broadcast booth. With an analyst’s eye for detail but a storyteller’s ear for story, Madden brought the pro game to life, and in the process, helped make the NFL an enduring staple of sports entertainment.

Madden not only excelled in the broadcast booth; he was a successful NFL football coach, guiding the Oakland Raiders to their Super Bowl victory in January 1977. Madden’s outsized but affable personality made him a natural as a TV pitch man. He also embraced the video game business, helping to develop and upgrade annually the EA Sports NFL game that bears his name.

So what can you learn about leadership from John Madden? Let me itemize five lessons.

Commit to what you do. Football coaches immerse themselves in their craft. From recruiting talent to coaching it, along with developing game plans and spending hours studying film, football coaches spend their lives molding players and analyzing those actions. Madden took the same work ethic to the broadcast booth; he continued to study film, meet with coaches, and interview players. Broadcast partner, Al Michaels, noted that Madden never regarded himself as an “ex-coach” moonlighting as an analyst. Madden thought of himself a broadcaster and worked hard at this craft. Like Madden, leaders need to commit to their jobs and do what it necessary to push the team forward.

Innovate as you go. Madden turned the clunky Telestrator, a video graphics tool, into an artist’s pallet for illustrating games from a coach’s perspective. Broadcast professionals respected Madden for his football smarts as well as for his gift to communicate simply and colorfully. Madden also advised on broadcast coverage telling producers and crew about team and player tendencies. All leaders may innovate personally but they need to be open to new ideas and encourage others to think freely and without boundaries.

Tell stories. Madden imbued his broadcast narratives with heart. Digressing momentarily from the action, Madden would spin picaresque anecdotes of players and coaches that gave viewers insight into players as characters who were sometimes funny, odd, even tragic but always very human. He also punctuated his calls with old fashioned expressions like “boom” and “pow,” a style that annoyed some but also heightened his everyman aura. Bosses who tell stories are those who can communicate a sense of humanity to the job that encourages followership.

Love what you do. When he announced his retirement on KCBS Radio in San Francisco, Madden made it clear how much he loved what he did. Football and subsequently its analysis were his life. Work life is hard and if you do not enjoy what you do, avoid it. But if you love what you do as a leader then you will have a fruitful time helping others achieve their goals.

And finally know when to say when. Anyone in a position of leadership who is thinking about a career change or retirement would do well to study Madden. He retired as an NFL coach after winning a Super Bowl and posting the most successful record of any head coach, a record that stands till this day. Madden then pursued a career as a football analyst starting with a handful of games in 1979. Thirty years later the love for the game persists but love of family his stronger. He wants to spend more time with his wife of fifty years, Virginia, and their five grandchildren. His parting comments made it clear that he was not ill nor was he being shoved aside. His contract was in effect for a further three years.

The NFL game will go on without Madden but it will do so enhanced by his legacy as coach, broadcaster, and innovator. Boom, indeed!


First posted on 4/20/2009