Change starts with you

How many times have you ever heard friends, relatives, or strangers in the grocery store telling stories about how things would have been so much better if…(insert long diatribe here about what comes after the if)? I bet it’s more than just a small handful if you think about it in life and you may be prone to it yourself without realizing it as we all can be.

I was listening to a friend tell such a story recently, listing problem after problem with life, whether it is the weather, lack of sunshine, or just too many commercials in between the television programs he was watching that day. I started thinking about his plight and realized that the biggest problem is realizing that change must come from us, not from elsewhere. We can blame others for a lot of things, many of which are quite true concerning external factors that we have no control over, but we must take charge over what we do have control of and make it work for us. This applies to us in general in life, but especially as leaders.

I think of our current economic crisis, much of which we did not have direct control over, but being wary of such events and being willing to make hard decisions to change our business models, our lifestyle, or the number of hours we have to put in to keep ourselves afloat come down to ourselves. It is always easiest to lay blame elsewhere, but we have to learn that we are the masters of our own destinies in life and when change is required, we have no one to rely on but ourselves to start the changes and look for the support and analyses of those surrounding us to accomplish whatever change is required.

This is a more broad generalization than I have used in previous blog posts, but I’m looking for any thoughts, opinions, or experiences from others to add to the conversation and thought a different take on the topic of leadership was due. Always looking for you comments and challenge you to leave one!

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Leadership isn’t best done alone

Ever hear of the saying “it’s lonely at the top?” I think about this a lot when the topic of leadership is brought up and I get the feeling this statement permeates a lot of people’s ideas concerning the topic, but if we look at many leaders, we find they did not get there alone.

One of the people I think of as a leader in business that falls into the aforementioned category is Warren Buffett. His success in investing and running businesses is fairly well known, but little spoken of is his right hand man Charlie Munger. Part of success is having those around you that also support and encourage you, in leading and in success. For this same example, one of the things Buffett looks for when considering buying a company is one that is well run. The first thing a person may think of with companies that are prime for acquisition is that they are doing poorly because of leadership, and although this is true for many cases, the companies sought after by Buffett are those that have good leadership and may need help in other areas, such as resources or restructuring-the details.

Surrounding ourselves with others that support us, even if indirectly, helps us continue moving forward in our endeavors and keep us on track. This is especially true the higher we move up in responsibilities because we can only manage around seven people at a maximum, so we need people that can take care of another seven, and more that can take care of another seven each down the line. We can certainly go alone, but human beings are fairly social beings and even tasks unrelated to leadership find us watching Sunday football with friends and family, spending our holidays with friends and family, and meeting up with friends after difficult projects have been completed at the bar. It’s all about who we associate with.

I am always after comments, opinions, and experiences you may have with anything I post and challenge you to write in!

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!

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.

History plays its part in the present

We had our elections this week and decided on different people to lead our country, decisions about taxes, amendments to state constitutions, and the news media tries its best to explain why a person won or lost their campaign. One of the issues brought up was the change in demographics in the country and it got me thinking about organizational culture.

In business, nonprofit organizations, or political parties, organizational culture is often what the history surrounding these are and we find change difficult in anything, let alone change from what has worked for us before. Culture is how we teach new people to our organization what we are all about and this is probably the biggest reason it is so difficult to change, but we need to constantly remain cognizant of the fact that businesses which don’t adapt soon cease to exist and thus with organizational culture. It is not to say we need to forget where our organizations started and came from, but we cannot be locked into it either.

Keeping with open communication from previous blogs, I read an article that talks about open communication being the cornerstone of making organizational cultural change easier. Some tips to going about change were found in another article I found and it also mentions how difficult change can be.

The importance is not that change is difficult, but that change must occur as times change. Just as demographics sneaked their way into the election with few noticing, business markets change, leaders in nonprofit organizations change, and social issues in the nation can sneak up on us as well. Our job as leaders is to watch out for the changes and be ready to adjust to them.

I think of my time as a leader in a nonprofit organization for this because I took the reins of leadership after a 20 plus year veteran had become ill and could no longer be in charge. He was not one to let others have much responsibility because he liked “making sure things were done right,” which meant he did it all, but I knew when I took over that this adage was going to change. Just because it worked before did not mean I wanted to do everything myself and saw it better to train others in various positions so that they would one day be ready to take my position. It takes effort to change the culture, but sure enough, given a few months of working at it, people began doing more and they actually thanked me for it later because they felt a part of the organization by having the responsibility in it. Now they were the ones writing the present which will one day also be part of the history for others just as the current “history” plays its part in the present.

I challenge readers here to drop a line, make comments on what you think or how you have dealt with change in your roles as leaders. I believe in life long learning and hope others can benefit from what we all state here.