Change really is the only constant

I have heard the saying in different ways, but the idea is always the same: the only constants in the universe are death, taxes, and change. I don’t think there is argument about any of those items, but change is the topic I have been thinking of today.

I read an article earlier that got me thinking about change and other pieces have just fit with the theme today, alongside another blog post about why change is difficult. The article mentioned is about a company co-founded by Michael Porter, one of the most studied authors of business techniques and strategies for the last couple of decades in business school, filing for bankruptcy recently. One of the questions is about how a company co-founded by someone who’s teachings are at the forefront of our studies in business school can end up in bankruptcy court and the following question becomes “does Porter’s Five Forces Model” for business really work if a company of his is now bankrupt.

I arrive early to one of my classes every week, in part because I live so far away from my university, so I have to leave early in case traffic, accidents, or otherwise will slow my trip down, but the other part is that my professor lets her class just prior to mine get out slightly early most of the time and I get to talk to her about most any topic, one of which comes to mind with this blog. We were speaking about research and that little hasn’t already been researched about in some way, shape, or form, and I said I laugh a lot when I see physicists that love nothing more than to say how they proved Einstein was wrong about something on television programs. The reason I laugh is that, in his time, Einstein’s theories were farther reaching than others and he was able to show evidence supporting his theories, but they worked in his time with the equipment he had available, as well as the knowledge he had beforehand from experiments and theories in history. It is only a natural progression that with more experiments, more ideas, and further research, when coupled with new technology, do we learn that old theories were incorrect or only partially true, and one day present day theories will fall in the same pattern. I think of this when looking at the question about Porter’s Five Forces-it works in theory and for certain situations, but we move past with new problems that arise and new explanations have to be found for present situations.

It’s always a matter of change-it really is the only constant. We should never be surprised by it and should learn that no matter the topic, change is constant, but it is especially important and ever present for us as leaders.

As with all posts, I’m looking for comments, opinions, and ideas pertaining to any of the topics presented in this blog and look forward to hearing what your experiences have been!

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Leadership early in life

When is the best time to learn about leadership? Is there a clear demarcation point in a person’s life?

I was reading a blog post earlier today that got me thinking about my own experiences with leadership in life. I also read an article in a business magazine a few years ago that said leadership is the singular most lacking skill in the corporate world, no matter the age level and it coincides with the point of the aforementioned article-we need people to learn and practice leadership early in life. In a video post I have been making this weekend, I was reminded of my own beginnings in learning leadership, starting with being the oldest child of the family, and spending time with classes like the NJROTC program in high school. The commonality behind both examples is that they were done early in life.

I have blogged before that leadership requires trial and error (aka practice) and now, later in life, I have realized how blessed I was to have the practice time so early in life. This is not to say that a person cannot learn leadership later in life, but it certainly helps to start early just because it is time consuming to both follow and practice leading others, thus creating more time by starting early.

Easier said than do, you say? You may be wondering where such experiences can be learned early. The answer is ambiguous, but true-it can be learned by participating in most anything involving getting out of the house. I mentioned that being the oldest child was part of my own experience because I was taught to watch after my siblings as an inherent responsibility for being born first, but also mentioned that I was in an NJROTC unit in high school. Sports are another great place to learn and practice leadership because you have to learn to work as a team and eventually be in charge of parts of the team, or the team itself.

I am always searching for those willing to leave a comment regarding their opinions, ideas, or experiences with the subject matter presented in my blog posts. I look forward to hearing from you!

Embracing conflict

 

Ever get tired of being yelled at? Have you ever thought I won’t bother talking to someone that is constantly at odds with me? This situation comes up at work, at home, and most other parts of our daily lives and we must learn from it.

Embracing conflict as a leader is not a natural reaction for most people. Our initial thoughts usually include a rebuttal, something along the lines of refuting what was said to us, or fighting the urge to yell back, but the secret for leaders to learn is to embrace conflict and learn from it. Some of the reasons we enter into conflict with people is that we are all unique, our beliefs are different, or external pressures are antagonizing people in some way. These differences have many sources, but learning where they come from can allow us to help calm others down, but our long reaching goal is to learn the sources of the differences causing the conflict and, in turn, learn new ways of handling situations, handling people, or outright learning new information that affects our tasks and goals.

Learning to have healthy conflict is the topic of an article I read earlier today and ties in well with the aforementioned sources of differences in another article about diversity. We can learn so much from those around us, either through observation or direct questioning, and our task as leaders is to learn from all encounters, whether they are good or bad. The importance is in seeing things as others do to create understanding, but it also fosters open communication with our followers and lets others voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns without the worry of reprisal from us as leaders.

Just some quick thoughts about those little things that we need to always be aware of as leaders or followers. As always, I’m on the lookout for comments, opinions, and experiences you have had with this or any leadership topic discussed in this blog and challenge you to leave comments!

Doing what’s right

Have you ever decided to do something that may not be what others want of you, but you felt had to be done? This is something leaders and managers face far more often than any would like to admit.

A movie I only heard about a few weeks ago came out this weekend that I want to see about Abraham Lincoln and although it will probably have some Hollywood theatrics and writer’s liberty involved, should be more documentary. In light of the recent media attention to an extramarital affair by General David Petraeus that was covered in a values blog post this week, I thought it prudent to write about something we should give thanks for-leaders that do what’s right, even in the face of great opposition.

There are few people I look up to in life that are historical or public figures, but Lincoln is one of them. The Civil War may not have been fought for slavery or equal rights at the outset, though certainly a part of it, but Lincoln turned the war in that direction by war’s end and some have said that he was assassinated because he proposed voting rights for African Americans after the war was over. There was a percentage of the nation’s populace that supported such things, but not a majority, and thus we find the great opposition to Lincoln’s ideas.

Lincoln was killed for his stance, but he took it regardless of popular belief and against the recommendations of advisers. As we lead others, we have to remember that our beliefs for what must be done will not always coincide with those of higher management or even those of some of our subordinates. We certainly can find ourselves out of work by taking a stance against others’ plans, but if it works out, we will probably be better off for the effort, regardless of outcome. We will either be praised or told to find a new job and if it is the latter, then perhaps we are better for finding another organization that fits us better anyhow. Being a leader is not easy, but we must do what’s right in our mind or else we have no right to be in charge of others.

I challenge you to leave comments about experiences you have hard regarding this topic and how you handled it. What we have all dealt with is not completely unique and can help others as they face similar circumstances!

Values in leadership

Have you ever gone on a road trip without planning your route first? Ever leave without a map or GPS device to give you the turn by turn directions for said trip? Being a leader without having your values established is much like going on the road trip without any direction.

I read a blog post earlier today about an extramarital affair that had led to General David Petraeus resigning his position at the CIA and thought to myself “how can you lead others if you are not a good example to your followers?” The only answer I can come up with is: you cannot. I grant that affairs should really be between the couple and there are probably circumstances beyond the public eye that lead up to affairs, but if we are honest with our spouses like we are with our followers, we may just avoid such problems.

Another article I read today was on the same subject of values, but is a great read on how to find what our your values. I cannot overemphasize the importance of finding out what your values are and sticking by them. Different values do work in very different cultures, different organizations, and different countries for that matter, but discovering what your values are, what you stand for, and how you go about them will lead you to the right place in life and help you fit in to any organization that matches well with the values.

When we decide that values are not important, then our time as a leader should be over. We are the examples that our followers should not just follow, but be proud to follow. We cannot ask something of others that we cannot do ourselves.

As always, looking for comments, ideas, and opinions on this post and any others here. I look forward to what you have to say and hearing the examples you have!

Communication in leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where you think you know what you are to do and find out later that what you were told was not interpreted correctly? How about not understanding someone at all, no matter how hard you both try?

These are the situations you run into far more often than you even know. At work, you ask people to do something and find out only later that things were not done as you wished because the instructions were not interpreted as they were intended. I read a blog post today that also covered the topic of communication for leadership and thought it has some great points. The best advice I can think of is to just ask if you’re understood, but not outright, because people will generally say yes, even when they do not. Ask a probing question or two to determine if someone has understood you.

Another problem with communication is that, with an infinite number of people come an infinite number of experiences because we are all unique in this arena, and even identical twins will have different experiences in life. This creates our own understanding of situations and the world at large which guide us in certain directions with the way we do things. This is again where the importance of asking a couple probing questions comes in because the instructions may be simple and even spoken clearly, but the rascal of experience always plays with our understanding.

At the Democratic National Convention this year, the news media stated that only Bill Clinton could make a difficult subject, such as the economy or budgeting, simple. This is something he has done very well, from his first campaigns through his time as president. The note here is that we have to make things as clear as possible, whether or not someone may think our IQ is less, because we need to reach as many as possible as leaders. In doing so, we need to be quite certain that our language and method of speech is able to be understood by as many as possible, not just those with doctorate degrees.

Keep things simple and ask probing questions for understanding, recipe to clear communication. We can never be 100% clear to 100% of the populace, but if we can get to the great majority, we are already several steps ahead for higher productivity and cohesion in our organizations as leaders. More tips can be found in this article about the same subject.

As always, I’m interested in what you think! Examples from your own life, what you have seen, what you have been involved with in similar situations and the ways to improve it are always sought to increase our knowledge about leadership.

The buck stops here

Have you ever called in to a customer service line and, after waiting for 20 minutes just to hear someone answer the phone, tell you “I’m sorry, but I will have to transfer you to someone else?”

I was checking on some reservations for dinner earlier today because my birthday was earlier in the week and my mom’s is the day after mine, so my grandmother made reservations to celebrate with us both, but I had to change the time for the reservations. Something that seemed so simple to do ended after almost 25 minutes of running around on the phone while different departments tried finding the reservations book. This got me thinking about leadership, as most any situation does, and I remembered something from the books I have about President Truman-his famous sign stating “The buck stops here.”

Different people use the saying for different things, but as it was used by Harry Truman, it meant that with leaders, you don’t let the situation go beyond you, the decision is yours and you make it. Much like the reservation call, I don’t mind waiting for the answer, but having others try relearning what the last person had already learned about my request, only to tell it to another person after being transferred, gets old fast. When we are in charge of others, of situations, or even selling products in a retail sales position, we have to be willing to do all of the work to take care of any problem that arises and not let it slip out of our control, taking care of it ourselves. This is true if we cannot actually make a call to resolve an issue because we become responsible for finding the one that has the authority, then relaying the information.

The nonprofit organization I was in charge of was a military style organization in terms of uniforms, funding, and organizational chart of positions, but the same advice held true there, just under the name of a uniform chain of command. The idea is that people are responsible for so many others and we have to be willing to work for them in return, but always the same people. As leaders, we have to be certain the buck truly does stop here, take responsibility, and then move on to the next  problem or project.

I invite everyone to tell examples of their time spent in leadership and how they have dealt with such situations. Do you agree or disagree with the notes given here? Why or why not? I’m always looking for comments from others to continue the process of teaching leadership topics to all.