Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fragments for the End of the Year by Jennifer K. Sweeney.

Post 398 - Here's a poem as my last post for 2009. The recipient of the 2009 James Laughlin Award for How to Live on Bread and Music (Perugia Press, 2009), Jennifer K. Sweeney received the 2006 Main Street Rag Poetry Award for her debut collection Salt Memory. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Sweeney serves as assistant editor for DMQ Review and currently lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, poet Chad Sweeney.

Fragments for the End of the Year by Jennifer K. Sweeney

On average, odd years have been the best for me.

I’m at a point where everyone I meet looks like a version
of someone I already know.

Without fail, fall makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced.

The sky is molting. I don’t know
if this is global warming or if the atmosphere is reconfiguring
itself to accommodate all the new bright suffering.

I am struck by an overwhelming need to go to Iceland.

Despite all awful variables, we are still full of ideas
as possible as unsexed fruit.

I was terribly sorry to be the one to explain to the first graders
the connection between the sunset and pollution.

On Venus you and I are not even a year old.

Then there were two skies.
The one we fly through and the one
we bury ourselves in.

I appreciate my wide beveled spatula which fulfills
the moment I realized I would grow up and own such things.

I am glad I do not yet want sexy bathroom accessories.
Such things.

In the story we were together every time.

On his wedding day, the stone in his chest
not fully melted but enough.

Sometimes I feel like there are birds flying out of me.

Happy New Year to everyone. And thank you for reading my blog this year. I hope you'll continue next year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to be a successful evangelist.

Post 397 - Yesterday's post reminded us that we can all be masters of our own destinies. We can influence, direct and control our own environment and make of our life whatever we want it to be. However, it will also help if we know how to influence others so we can continue to grow and prosper in the coming year.

Guy Kawasaki, a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, lists the following ten things that make evangelists successful:

1. Create a cause.
A cause is something that attracts people by seizing the moral high ground and making their lives better.

2. Love the cause.
“Evangelist” isn’t a job title - it’s a way of life. If you don’t really love a cause, you won't be able to evangelize it.

3. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists.
It’s too difficult to convert people who deny your cause. Look for and work with those who are supportive or neutral instead.

4. Localize the pain.
Never describe your cause by using bullshit terms like “revolutionary” and “paradigm shifting.” Instead, explain how it's helpful to real people.

5. Let people test drive the cause.
Let them try out your cause, take it home, download it, and then decide if it’s right for them.

6. Learn to give a demo.
A person simply can't evangelize a product if she can't demonstrate it.

7. Provide a safe first step.
Don’t put up any big hurdles in the beginning of the process. The path to adopting a cause needs a slippery slope.

8. Ignore pedigrees.
Don’t just focus on the people with the big titles and big reputations. Help anyone who can help you, wherever they may be.

9. Never tell a lie.
Credibility is everything for an evangelist. Tell the truth — even if it hurts (actually, especially if it hurts).

10. Remember your friends.
Be nice to the people you meet on the way up because you may need them again on the way down.

As Dale Carnegie says in the opening chapter of How to Win Friends and Influence People: "If you want personal happiness, and if you want to create great relationships, avoid the three Cs - don't criticize, condemn, or complain."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Time to recalibrate your agreements with yourself.

Post 396 - For years people believed that it was impossible to run a mile in less than four minutes. Then Roger Banister proved that wrong in 1954. The following year, another 37 runners broke the belief barrier. And the year after that, 300 more runners did the same thing. Which all goes too show that there’s no other more powerful force in directing human behavior than what we believe. The line between "the way it is" and “the way it could be” is often no more than a belief about what’s possible.

What we agree to believe impacts our health, wealth, work, and every one of our relationships. Everything we do is based on agreements we’ve made - agreements with ourselves, with other people, with life. But the most important agreements are the ones we've made with ourselves. In these agreements, we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what’s possible, what’s impossible. One such single agreement isn’t a big problem, but when we have many such agreements that are3 based on fear, they deplete our energy and diminish our self-worth.

As we get ready to welcome a new year, it seems a great time to review the ideas of Don Miguel Ángel Ruiz, a Mexican author and New Age spiritualist, born in 1952. His most influential work, The Four Agreements, was published in 1997 and has sold more than four-million copies worldwide. In it, he advocates personal freedom from agreements and beliefs we've made that are creating limitation and unhappiness in our lives. Ultimately, it's about finding our own integrity, self-love, and peace by way of absolving ourselves from responsibility for the woes of others. These four agreements are:

- Be impeccable with your word.
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

- Don’t take anything personally.
Taking things personally is like taking poison. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dreams. When you're immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

- Don’t make assumptions.
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

- Always do your best.
Your best is going to change from time to time. It'll be different when you’re healthy as opposed to when you're sick. Do your best under all circumstances and you’ll avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Why not review your beliefs now, this week, and find out which ones are empowering and which ones you need to change in 2010. By acknowledging and changing our negative, distorted beliefs about ourselves, we can live richer and more fulfilling lives. Ultimately, each of us is free to unlock the shackles of our limited mindset and regenerate ourselves anew to become whatever we wish to be.

"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive - the risk to be alive and express what we really are." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday leisure.

Post 395 - Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She’s best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat Pray Love, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. What she wrote about taking time off strikes me as particularly relevant at this time of year when we talk so much about joy and celebration.

"We are the strivingest people who have ever lived. We are ambitious, time-starved, competitive, distracted. We move at full velocity, yet constantly fear we are not doing enough. Though we live longer than any humans before us, our lives feel shorter, restless, breathless…

Dear ones, ease up. Pump the brakes. Take a step back. Seriously. Take two steps back. Turn off your electronics and surrender over all your aspirations and do absolutely nothing for a spell. I know, I know – we all need to save the world. But trust me: The world will still need saving tomorrow. In the meantime, you’re going to have a stroke soon (or cause a stroke in somebody else) if you can’t calm the hell down.

So, go take a walk. Or don’t. Consider actually exhaling. Find a body of water and float. Hit a tennis ball against a wall. Tell your colleagues that you’re meditating (people take meditation seriously, so you’ll be absolved from guilt) and then actually, secretly nap.

My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year – if only to make sure that we don’t lose forever the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating ease."

I'm taking the rest of the week off and spending quality time with my family, sharpening up my appreciation of present giving, turkey and football, among other things. I'll be back on the 28th. In the meantime, I wish you all a very, very happy and relaxing Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

What Every Woman Knows, a poem by Phyllis McGinley.

Post 394 - Phyllis McGinley (1905 - 1978) was an American poet who wrote about the positive aspects of suburban life. She was born in Ontario, Oregon and studied at the University of Southern California and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, graduating in 1927. Her poems were published in The American Scholar, The Commonweal, The Critic, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Magazine, Ladies' Home Journal, Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, The Reader's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, The Saturday Review, The Sign, Woman's Day and the New York Herald Tribune among others. In 1955, she was elected a member of the National Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; in 1964 she was honored with the Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame. She received a number of honorary Doctor of Letters degrees (Boston College, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, St. John's University, Smith College, Wheaton College, Wilson College, among others) as well as the Catholic Book Club's Campion Award (1967), and the Catholic Institute of the Press Award (1960). She also appeared on the cover of Time in 1965.

W. H. Auden praised her poetry and found in her a singular and accessible voice. “I start a sentence: ‘The poetry of Phyllis McGinley is . . .,’ and there I stick,” he wrote, “for all I wish to say is ‘. . . is the poetry of Phyllis McGinley.'”

What Every Woman Knows by Phyllis McGinley

When little boys are able
To comprehend the flaws
In their December fable
And part with Santa Claus,
Although I do not think they grieve,
How burningly they disbelieve!

They cannot wait, they cannot rest
For knowledge nibbling at the breast.
They cannot rest, they cannot wait
To set conniving parents straight.

Branding that comrade as a dunce
Who trusts the saint they trusted once,
With rude guffaw and facial spasm
They publish their iconoclasm,
And find particularly shocking
The thought of hanging up a stocking.

But little girls (no blinder
When faced by mortal fact)
Are cleverer and kinder
And brimming full of tact.
The knowingness of little girls
Is hidden underneath their curls.

Agnostics born but Bernhardts bred,
They hang their stockings by the bed,
Make plans, and pleasure their begetters
By writing Santa lengthy letters,
Only too well aware the fruit
Is shinier plunder, richer loot.

For little boys are rancorous
When robbed of any myth,
And spiteful and cantankerous
To all their kin and kith.
But little girls can draw conclusions
And profit from their lost illusions.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Developing a new sense of self.

Post 393 - The holiday season can be a stressful one for people trying to fit many new demands and events into their already busy, fragmented lives. Maybe a new year would be a good time for them - and for all of us - to reimagine our work, our self and relationships. David Whyte, the best-selling author and poet, says there are three crucial relationships, or marriages, in our lives: the marriage or partnership with a significant other, the commitment we have to our work, and the vows, spoken or unspoken, we make to an inner, constantly developing self.

In The Three Marriages, Whyte argues that it’s not possible to sacrifice one relationship for the others without causing deep psychological damage. Too often, he says, we fracture our lives and split our energies foolishly, so that one or more of these marriages is sacrificed and withers and dies, in the process impoverishing them all.

Whyte isn’t interested in the idea or ideal of balancing these three arenas of life. In fact, he believes that pursuing of this sort of perfection will only lead to more frustration and exhaustion than we can handle. "Most marriages are dynamic, moving frontiers, hardly recognizable to the participants themselves, moving frontiers that occupy edges of happiness and unhappiness all at the same time." The central idea is that people can be (and need to be) loyal and completely committed to more than one thing and/or person at the same time, and don't need to slight one for the other.

Whyte offers the possibility of living them out in a way where they’re not put into competition with one another, where each of the marriages can protect, embolden and enliven the others and help keep us mutually honest, relevant, authentic and alive.

The three marriages are separate yet interwoven life threads, capturing the need to belong to another, to belong to community, and to belong to something larger and deeper within ourselves, all at the same time. Each is vital, and neglecting any one weakens the others. But it's not simply about "balancing" them, Whyte warns. It's a bold lifelong adventure to keep them in an open and honest conversation. When we allow these marriages to learn from and revitalize one another, we risk becoming vulnerable but we also become open to a life that's "innocent, dangerous, and wonderful all at the same time."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Continuing to improve your self-discipline.

Post 392 - “I talk a lot about the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. You really only have two choices in life. And I’d rather have the pain of discipline than feel the regret.” - Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings.

• Hard work pays off. Some people do what’s easiest and try to avoid it — and that’s exactly why you should do the opposite. "The big secret in life is that there's no big secret. Whatever your goals, you can get there if you’re willing to work hard" according to Oprah Winfrey. Experience shows that hard challenging work is highly correlated with exceptional results. So, make it your ally instead of your enemy. Yes, you can be lucky once in a while and find an easy way to succeed. But if you're not industrious, you won't be able to maintain that success and you won't be able to repeat it. When you discipline yourself to do what's difficult, you're able to get results that are denied to everyone else. The willingness to do what's difficult gives you the key to a special private treasure room. The greater your capacity for hard work, the more rewards fall within your grasp. The deeper you can dig, the more treasure you can potentially find.

• Being industrious doesn’t necessarily mean doing work that’s challenging or difficult. It simply means putting in the time. In life, there are many tasks that aren’t necessarily difficult or exciting, but they collectively require a significant investment of your time. If you ignore them, you'll likely end up with a mess on your hands. You can be industrious doing easy work or hard work. The more you discipline yourself to be industrious, the more value you squeeze out of the time that's available to you. Time is a constant, but your personal efficiency is not. Despite all the technology that's available to potentially make us more efficient, your personal productivity is still your greatest bottleneck. Don’t look to technology to make you more productive. If you're not productive without technology, you won’t be productive with it - indeed, it will only mask your bad habits.

• The fifth and final pillar of self-discipline is persistence - the ability to keep at it regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. Listen to Calvin Coolidge on this subject: "Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." Persistence ultimately generates its own motivation. If you keep on keeping on, you’ll eventually get results, and these results can be very motivating. For example, you're likely to become a lot more enthusiastic about dieting and exercising once you’ve lost the first 10 pounds and feel your clothes fitting you better.

When activities persist and become habits, less and less self-discipline is necessary to accomplish them. As an example, when you were younger, your parents had to remind you to brush your teeth every day after meals. Eventually, this activity became a habit. Now, hopefully, brushing your teeth doesn't require willpower anymore because you're on “automatic pilot.”

As a general rule, persistence of action comes from persistence of vision. When you’re really clear about what you want to accomplish in such a way that your vision doesn’t change very much, you’ll be consistent in your actions. And that consistency of action will produce consistency of results.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How to improve your self-discipline.

Post 392 - Yesterday's post may have seemed obvious advice for many, but after a lifetime spent in meetings, I've found that these guidelines are ignored more often than they're practiced. This suggests that a few words about self-discipline might be in order. Vince Lombardi once noted that, "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."

Self-discipline is the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of how you feel. Imagine what you could accomplish if you could follow through on your best intentions no matter what. Experience suggests the more disciplined you become, the easier life gets. Self-discipline is like a muscle. The more you train it, the stronger it gets. But it takes self-discipline to build self-discipline. You can learn to improve by tackling challenges that you can successfully accomplish but which are near your limit. This doesn’t mean trying something new and failing at it every day, but it doesn't mean staying in your comfort zone either.

Steve Pavlina writes that the five pillars of self-discipline are: Acceptance, Willpower, Hard Work, Industry, and Persistence. The first letter of each gives you the acronym “A WHIP,” which is a convenient way to remember them. That way, you can think of self-discipline as whipping yourself into shape!

• Acceptance means that you see reality accurately and consciously acknowledge what you perceive. This may sound simple, but in real life it can be very difficult. If you experience chronic difficulties in a specific area, the root of the problem is probably a failure to accept reality as it is. And if you haven’t consciously acknowledged where you currently stand in terms of your level of self-discipline, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to improve in this area. So begin by identifying an area where your discipline is weakest, assess where you stand right now, acknowledge this as your starting point, and design a program to improve in this area. Start out with some easy exercises you know you can do, and gradually progress to greater challenges.

• Willpower is your ability to set a course of action and “Go for it!” Start by sitting down and making a plan. This doesn’t require a lot of energy, and you can spread the work over several days if you wish. Don’t try to attack your biggest problem directly. Instead attack the environmental and social obstacles that perpetuate the problem. Once you implement the plan, you can turn it into a habit. Habit puts action on autopilot, so very little willpower is needed for ongoing progress. This makes it a whole lot easier to achieve your goal of improved self-discipline.

Hard Work, Industry, and Persistence tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

How to have more productive meetings.

Post 391 - "Meetings are indispensable when you don't want to do anything," according to John Kenneth Galbraith.

Business people often do a lot of work in meetings. And unfortunately, they can take a lot of time without accomplishing much if they're not managed carefully. The most effective meetings are short and to the point. Good planning helps to make a meeting successful, and an important first step is deciding who to invite. As a general rule, the most productive meetings are those with the fewest number of people attending. Therefore only invite those who will be directly involved in decisions to be made at the meeting, those significantly affected by the decisions, or those who have some specific knowledge to contribute. If the meeting is to cover a variety of issues, ask people to drop in and out when their part of the agenda comes up.

Here are five major strategies for increasing the productivity of meetings:

- Use an agenda:
Give everyone plenty of notice regarding the time and place of the meeting, and stipulate the start and finish times. The best time to schedule a meeting is just before lunch or toward the end of the day as this motivates attendees to focus on the agenda and keeps the meeting from running long. Circulate a draft agenda outlining the topics to be discussed, the time limits assigned to each topic, and the person responsible for each item. Other information you should provide prior to the meeting includes:
- directions to the venue, if the participants haven’t been there before;
- information on who else is attending (particularly helpful if you’re going to include people from outside your company).
- background information and documents relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
- your contact details.

- Select a facilitator:
The person who called the meeting can act as the facilitator, or for regular meetings with standing agendas, the participants can take turns rotating this responsibility. The facilitator is responsible for making sure the meeting remains focused and moves forward at an appropriate pace. He should also regulate whose turn it is to speak, and intervene if the discussion breaks down or goes off track. The facilitator's role is to make sure that there's only one discussion at a time. Participants sometimes start their own “private” meetings; this can be a few whispered asides, or even a full-blown separate discussion. These diversions need to be stopped by addressing those involved directly, asking them politely and assertively if there’s some issue they’d like to raise that's relevant to the topic under discussion.

- Take minutes:
One person should take notes on the main themes and the key points discussed during the meeting. Be sure to include who committed to do what tasks by when. Clarify with the person taking the minutes that they need to write them up and distribute them to all the attendees promptly. They should also be very clear and concise. The key things to note are:
- agreed-upon actions dealing with the issues raised.
- the people responsible for implementing them.
- the deadline or timing for reporting back.
- the date of the next meeting if you've agreed to schedule another one.

- Evaluate the meeting:
Always review and evaluate each meeting and discuss how the next meeting could be improved.

"A thousand cups of wine do not suffice when true friends meet, but half a sentence is too much when there's no meeting of minds" according to a Chinese proverb.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Do Women Want? a poem by Kim Addonizio.

Post 385 - As I think about what to gift the women in my life for Christmas, this poem by Kim Addonizio comes to mind. She was born in Washington, D.C., in 1954, and received her B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State University. Her books of poetry include Tell Me, (from which the current post was taken) which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000. Addonizio was a founding editor of the journal Five Fingers Review. Her awards include two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, a Commonwealth Club Poetry Medal, and the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared widely in anthologies, literary journals, and textbooks, including Alaska Quarterly Review, American Poetry Review, Bad Girls, Chick-Lit, Dick for a Day, Gettysburg Review, Paris Review, Penthouse, Poetry, and Threepenny Review.

Previous occupations include working as a waitress, fry cook, tennis instructor, Kelly Girl, attendant for the disabled, and auto parts store bookkeeper. She currently teaches private writing workshops in Oakland, CA.

“I originally wanted to be a singer. But I think I've ended up being a singer in another way.”

What Do Women Want? by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Fresh Look at Leadership.

Post 384 - In the widening gap between what we want and expect from our leaders and what we're currently getting, it seems sensible to take a fresh look at leadership. Walter Lippmann defined leaders as "the custodians of a nation's ideals, of the beliefs it cherishes, of its permanent hopes, of the faith which makes a nation out of a mere aggregation of individuals."

True leadership has always been a selfless act because it involves taking yourself out of the picture and considering the needs of others even when your own needs are pressing. It asks what's right or best in the wider interest. Few would question the need for more leaders today like George Washington. Washington, who served two terms as the first President of the United States, is remembered for his strength of character and discipline, his loyal patriotism, his principled leadership, and his selfless devotion to public duty. He held in trust for the American people the very values and beliefs that made this nation possible without regard for his own gain. He completed the job he was asked to do, then refused a third term and went back to his farm in Virginia. While he was president, he provided strong direction and didn't merely register the popular will of the people.

Leadership is an issue that affects us all because not only are we impacted by it, but we're also all called upon to exercise it. Whether we're involved in leading government or business, guiding young minds, leading a family, standing for what’s right, or organizing a household, everyone has a leadership role to play. We're each thrust into many different leadership roles again and again throughout our lives. As a result, we're called upon to be custodians of what’s right and good, lasting and of value, for those in our care.

Michael McKinney writes that with true leaders, their boundaries always come from something outside themselves. George Washington believed that those values and boundaries came from God. In his first Inaugural Address, he asserted that "we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained." An effective leader has an agenda designed to produce results, but is guided by a core of values that come from outside and not from within. This process is maintained by means of the leader's integrity or custodianship of those values.

One of the most observant political thinkers, Niccolò Machiavelli, wrote that leadership is virtuous only if the good of the community is sought out and achieved above all else. A good leader, in other words, is a steward and servant of the community. The true leader serves the best interests of others, and in doing so, he isn't always popular and he isn't always impressive. But because he's motivated by loving concern rather than a desire for personal glory, he's willing to pay that price.

According to Albert Schweitzer, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The importance of being a good follower.

Post 383 - For some reason, the word “follower” seems to have a bad connotation in this society. A recent article reported that a search for book titles on netted 57,000 hits for books on leadership, but only 494 books about how to follow. However, according to Aristotle, "He who's never learned to obey can’t be a good commander."

Effective followers are highly participative, critical and independent thinkers. They aren’t just "yes men," and good leaders appreciate that because they’re confident enough to hear opposing views that help them avoid pitfalls. When leaders are willing to follow others who are more qualified to lead particular tasks, the probability of the success of the greater objective is higher. Being a good leader is often about being able to be a good follower. It’s about having the flexibility to step aside and let someone else take the reins when it benefits the team as a whole.

Good followers continue to give advice even when this advice isn’t being followed. Following isn’t about submissively carrying out any task asked of you. Good followers are active individuals who contribute not only through their actions but through their ideas, thoughts and emotional sensitivity as well. They’re not afraid to disagree. They defend their positions and their arguments, but when a decision is finally made, they drop their arguments and move on. When they disagree with those in authority, they try to do so in private to avoid embarrassing confrontations. They don't broadcast what was discussed and they don’t disrespect their leaders behind their backs. In other words, good followers are loyal.

Good followers show respect to those in legitimate positions of authority in a company (and in a country). They don’t call people names, use provocative language, or engage in passive-aggressive behavior. If they had differing opinions on something in the past, and it turned out that they were right, they don't keep bringing it up. They don’t blame their leaders for unpopular decisions or policies; they view their role as supporting, not undermining. They have a high sense of responsibility for their own actions and for the good of the group as a whole. They’ll therefore question or even oppose leadership that’s unethical or against the good of the enterprise.

No one likes to work for a micromanager. We all believe we’re smart enough to get our job done without someone looking over our shoulder and giving detailed directions. However, one reason people are tempted to micromanage is because they see their subordinates standing around waiting for specific instructions. They then feel obliged to provide it. So, good followers use their initiative to decide on a course of action before running it past their leaders.

Developing followers is an important responsibility of leadership. Good leaders grow people, bad leaders stunt them. Good leaders serve their followers, bad leaders enslave them. When everyone tries to be the leader at the same time, nothing gets done. So be a good leader when it is your time. But be a good follower, too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to create followers.

Post 382 - People won't just follow anyone. You can't just say, "Follow me," and expect them to follow out of the goodness of their hearts. You have to provide them with good reasons to follow. So, if you're looking to lead people, it's a good idea to understand why they're likely to become followers.

Some key aspect of creating followers:
- people follow someone they trust.
- people follow someone they like.
- people follow someone who supports them.
- people follow ideas, not objectives.

Here are five rationales that people use when deciding to follow a leader:

• Fear of retribution - If I don't follow, I may lose my job!

Following out of fear is not so much following as being pulled or pushed along. This will work only as long as the follower sees no other choice. Fear isn't a good tool for effective leadership - it's a lot of work to keep people sufficiently scared! Fear generates weak commitment and needs constant attention in case the follower freezes or flees.

• Blind hope - We must do something. I hope this works!

Here, the follower is desperate for some solution, and what the leader offers is either the only option they see or the best of a relatively weak set of choices. The follower is therefore not so much following out of agreement but because of a lack of alternatives. These kind of hopeful followers are likely to be disappointed and disillusioned with a less than a perfect outcome. And they're likely to leave and follow others if they give them more hope.

• Faith in the leader - What a great person. If anyone knows the answer, they do!

Here, the follower doesn't care about the solution but is following because they have faith that the leader will, by some magic or genius, provide an answer to their needs. Again, there's significant hope in this form of motivation which could result in disappointment. But here, in case of failure, the follower is more likely to accept situational explanations rather than pointing the finger at inadequacies in the leader's capabilities.

• Intellectual agreement - That's a great idea. That makes real sense.

Here, the follower understands the logic of the argument that the leader's putting forward and is following that rationale rather than the leader as a person. This level of followership is typical of educated people who need to understand the reasons why things happen. They may also have emotional commitment, but it typically comes after rational buy-in has occurred.

• Buying the vision - What a brilliant idea. I don't care who thought of it.

When people buy into a vision, they're emotionally invested in a view of the future that appeals to them and pulls them forward. So they're not following the leader per se, and they're often unaware of how they'll actually get to the vision state at a later date. Visions are much talked about in the leadership literature and can be remarkably effective at motivating people, but only if they're sustained over a considerable period of time. It's one thing to articulate a compelling vision of the future; however, it's another to keep going during the difficult days that are typically involved in getting there.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How to influence others.

Post 382 - Leadership is a non-coercive influencing relationship, not an authority relationship and it’s a process that's entirely distinct from management. Management is a continuous on-going activity, while leadership is a once-in-a-while requirement. Leadership isn’t what one individual labeled a leader does, but what leaders and collaborators do together to achieve a common purpose. Leaders and collaborators share a relationship where they can influence each other. Everyone in this relationship is engaged in the process of leadership. There are no followers. Different people assume leadership roles for different issues.

Robert B. Cialdini lists the following six universal principles of social influence:

1. Reciprocation (we feel obligated to return favors performed for us),

2. Authority (we look to experts to show us the way),

3. Commitment / consistency (we want to act consistently with our commitments and values),

4. Scarcity (the less available the resource, the more we want it),

5. Liking (the more we like people, the more we want to say yes to them), and

6. Social proof (we look to what others do to guide our behavior).

The Seven Cs of Social Influence encompass: caring, coaching, correcting, confirming, collaborating, clarifying, and conciliating as proven ways to influence behavior.

Here are three tips to assume authority in any situation, whether or not you're the officially designated leader:

1. Your genuine excitement about a project will motivate others to become engaged and care about it. Enthusiasm is contagious.

2. No one wants to be responsible for making you feel important. Leave your ego out of it. Assume authority by demonstrating excellence in your field, not by soliciting the approval of others.

3. When you don't have formal authority propping you up, others will be suspicious if you grab the reins too forcefully. Don't be over-invested in the outcome. Lead quietly, get everyone involved, and ask plenty of questions along the way.

"Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence," according to Charles de Gaulle.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Everything is Waiting for You, a poem by David Whyte.

Post 381 - Poet David Whyte was born in 1955 and grew up with a strong, imaginative influence from his Irish mother among the hills and valleys of his father’s Yorkshire. He now makes his home, with his family, in the Pacific Northwest. The author of six books of poetry, and two best selling prose books, he has a degree in Marine Zoology and has lived and worked as a naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands. He’s also led anthropological and natural history expeditions in the Andes, the Amazon, and the Himalaya. An Associate Fellow at Templeton College and Said Business School at the University of Oxford, he is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, where he works with many European, American and international companies. In 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Neumann College, Pennsylvania.

“The central work of my life is to get poetry to as many people as possible in whatever world they live in because it’s such a lifesaver and because it … gives you a language that makes you able for the world … whereas our strategic empirical language is constantly trying to give you a readout into which you can retreat and to say if you get competent in this area you’ll be safe. And it’s not true. There’s no area of competency you can enter to keep you safe from the disappearances of life.”

Everything is Waiting for You by David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Strategies to create friendly futures.

Post 380 - The third way for businesses to grow and succeed today is by creating intuitive futures. Here, you gain sustainable competitive advantage by finding patterns that connect different elements of your business in new and original ways, or by inventing elements that can be used to create new and unique patterns not previously in effect. Here, innovation and speed win the day.

Competitors often wait to see if new business models will be successful before attempting to copy them, thus providing innovators with a very profitable time while they have first-mover advantage. In addition, if you can incorporate new elements that will take a long time for competitors to copy (e.g. patented technologies or new capabilities), you build in a sustainable competitive advantage. When this is part of an integrated growth strategy, by the time everyone else catches up, you'll have introduced yet another difficult-to-replicate innovation, thus retaining the position of leadership in your industry.

Successful companies today are simple, small, speedy and strategic, and aspire to be global, lean, fast and smart. The challenge is to add speed and capability without adding complexity. When creating the future, the real voyage of discovery isn't in creating new structures but in seeing the world with new eyes. Great strategies come from understanding what’s happening in the world in totally new ways.

As an example, Netflix has made a good business out of what's unprofitable fare in movie theaters and video rental shops because it can aggregate dispersed audiences. It doesn't matter if the several thousand people who rent Doctor Who episodes each month are in one city or spread, one per town, across the country - the economics are the same to Netflix. It has, in short, broken the tyranny of physical space. What matters is not where customers are, or even how many of them are seeking a particular title, but only that some number of them exist, anywhere. As a result, almost anything is worth offering on the off-chance it will find a buyer. This is the opposite of the way the entertainment industry now thinks. Today, the decision about whether or when to release an old film on DVD is based on estimates of demand, availability of extras such as commentary and additional material, and marketing opportunities such as anniversaries, awards, and generational windows (Disney briefly re-releases its classics every 10 years or so as a new wave of kids come of age). It's a high bar, which is why only a fraction of movies ever made are available on DVD.

Just compare the new on-line and the old off-line businesses: The average Blockbuster carries fewer than 3,000 DVDs. Yet a fifth of Netflix rentals are outside its top 3,000 titles. Rhapsody streams more songs each month beyond its top 10,000 than it does its top 10,000. In each case, the market that lies outside the reach of the physical retailer is big and getting bigger. Or take books: The average Barnes & Noble carries 130,000 titles. Yet more than half of Amazon's book sales come from outside its top 130,000 titles. Consider the implication: If the Amazon statistics are any guide, the market for books that are not even sold in the average bookstore is larger than the market for those that are. Google, for instance, makes most of its money off small advertisers, and eBay mostly serves niche and one-off products. By introducing new business models that overcome the limitations of geography and scale, Netflix, Rhapsody, Amazon, Google and eBay have discovered new markets and expanded existing ones. They were among the first to realize that the biggest money is in the smallest sales.

Great strategies are often counter-intuitive, based on developments outside the company’s current field of knowledge or where discontinuities in technology, demographics or lifestyles are reshaping industry boundaries. These “white spaces” represent new areas of growth that fall between the cracks because they don’t naturally match the skills and capabilities of existing business units. The companies that built the best sailing ships didn’t learn to build steamships. The people who manufactured horse buggies didn’t go on to build automobiles. Companies miss the future not because they’re stupid but because they’re blind.

In a dynamic world, conventional wisdom is an oxymoron. Long years of experience in an industry can be a detriment rather than an asset - think of the reasons given for the removal of Fritz Henderson at General Motors earlier this week. Since business models are only useful for a limited time, managers need to constantly revise the ideas and ruling metaphors that guide their perceptions. Smart companies change before they have to. Lucky companies scramble and adjust when push comes to shove. The rest disappear. The best way to see the road ahead is to start moving forward because clarity emerges more readily from error than from confusion. Great strategies move companies in new directions and are quickly refined through rapid experimentation and adjustment. In a business environment where progress depends on serendipity and spontaneity, high risk and high rewards go hand-in-hand.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Evaluating three strategies for survival.

Post 379 - When living with continuous change, it seems to me there are at least three ways to develop strategies for survival and success:

1. Plan for the predictable.

Study the latest developments in your industry. Learn what your competitors are doing. You can find this out from suppliers, customers, previous employees, consultants, websites, trade shows and trade magazines. Study demographic and economic forecasts and monitor announcements about relevant new technologies. Then plan to take prompt action based on trends that appear self-evident from a review of all these data.

The good news is that you can stay up-to-date this way. The bad news is you'll never get ahead of your competition. What's evident to you will be obvious to many others as well. And once others see you make a novel move, since they have the same capabilities that you have, they'll rush to copy it. So, this represents a necessary but not a sufficient strategy for industry leadership.

2. Plan for the unpredictable.

In a world where uncertainty is the only certainty, you're bound to face unanticipated developments and surprises. As a result, only the most adaptable and flexible organizations will survive and prosper. Incremental change, by itself, will no longer be enough. The organization structures that are right for today will likely be wrong for tomorrow. Sustained success will require harnessing creative initiatives that transform as well as adjust. Winning structures will move away from complex vertical organizations built from simple building blocks to simpler, flatter organizations built from ever more complex building blocks.

Smart companies don't try to respond to every fluctuation in the marketplace. Instead they try to spot what's really important to achieve their goals and focus their time and resources on these factors. They work on influencing their future by continually adjusting their organizations to eliminate weaknesses and exploit opportunities. The most successful managers will make their share of mistakes, but they'll quickly learn to fine-tune their intuition.

3. Create your own future.

Unconventional market-leading businesses seldom come from looking only at existing business models. Instead, they redefine them in terms of needs and benefits rather than in terms of products and customers. Here, the secret is to anticipate your customers needs and to organize to meet them in ways that your competitors can't match easily or quickly.

More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's a time to invest in intuition.

Post 378 - In today's uncertain world, most managers still try to create the future by extrapolating trends and developments in the business environment. However, inventing really innovative futures depends primarily on intuition. The great American artist, Andrew Wyeth, who died earlier this year, once observed, "I spend weeks out doing drawings and watercolor studies I may never use, I throw them in a back room, never look at them again, or drop them on the floor and walk over them. I feel the communion that has seeped into my subconscious will eventually come out in the final picture." Like Wyeth, business owners can also use their curiosity to fuel intuitive creativity.

For example, when Leonard Riggio turned a small Manhattan book store into the Barnes & Noble book chain, he studied industry trends and conducted detailed market analyses. However, he also relied on his educated instincts to tell him what consumers really wanted. Riggio believed shopping was a form of entertainment, so he introduced stores with a soft-colored library atmosphere and plenty of welcoming public space where customers could linger, feel at home, and meet other people. He put coffee shops in his superstores, hosted readings and book signings - anything that would entice and entertain and keep people browsing through the shelves. Riggio viewed books as consumer products and believed people bought them not just for their content, but for what they said about their taste, cultivation, and trendiness. He understood that it took more than a structured, quantified analysis to invent the future. It also took what Wyeth would have called "art."

Synthesizing experience into strategy means developing an intuitive feel for the future that often eludes others. This creative process involves:

• Acquisition (gathering up ideas and impressions)

• Association (putting them together and recognizing connections)

• Expression (giving them a new voice)

• Evaluation (making them better) and

• Perseverance (staying the course until they catch on).

The most creative managers go beyond statistics and reports, mulling over ideas and instincts that lead them in surprising directions that no amount of quantitative research can stimulate. They look to see beyond the data. Relying on many intangible sources of information (hearsay, gossip, etc), they observe, internalize, comprehend, and synthesize as they assemble viable patterns. As John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA basketball, once remarked, "It's what you learn after you know it all that counts."