January 8, 2008
Fred Thompson was being interviewed this morning and was asked what he would do to get the economy back on track. His response was telling: “They need to…”
The question wasn’t what “they” needed to do; the question was what about what Fred would do. He dodged answering.
Was it a slip of the tongue? Maybe. But little slips can derail leaders. (And maybe it is just me, but why doesn’t it seem like Fred is really running for president? I can’t recall a more half-hearted attempt at something so significant.)
When a leader is asked what he or she will do, they should answer specifically. If there’s nothing they can or are willing or want to do, they should say so. Just never begin with a statement that looks like you’re placing blame or passing the buck.
Here’s a critical and overlooked step: a leader can use what he or she would do to build a bridge. Acknowledge that big results require the cooperation of others. One thing any leader could choose to do is solicit the input and cooperation of others. Or the leader could explain their agenda and link it to coalition building and the importance of earning support.
Fred missed both the obvious point and the nuance. Leaders don’t just take responsibility for what they did; they also take responsibility for explaining what they plan to do. That’s what followers and votes want to know.
December 10, 2007
“Motivation is getting people to do something out of mutual advantage. Manipulation is getting people to do what you want them to do primarily for your advantage.” Fred Smith
December 8, 2007
“On every side our lives touch those of others; their lives touch ours. Even if it were possible to live otherwise, few would wish to. A narrow life, a selfish life, is almost sure to be not only unprofitable, but unhappy. They happy people and the successful people are those who go out of their way to reach and influence for good as many people as they can. In order to do this, though, in order best to fit one’s self to live this kind of life, it is important that certain habits be acquired; and an essential one of these is the habit of realizing one’s responsibility to others.” Booker T. Washington
(from Laws of Leadership Series, Volume 1 Booker T. Washington: Character Building, Executive Books)
September 22, 2007
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan (if you’re a regular reader you know I’m an unabashed fan of her writing) wrote about Alan Greenspan’s new book. She quotes a former U.S. senator who complained about high-level officials “bravely-speaking out after the have left office.” She points out that these folks were perfectly free to speak out while they were in office. It is my belief that is what leaders do.
There is little bravery in criticism after-the-fact. Followers or constituents may not agree with the leader, but the leader is responsible to “speak the truth in love” knowing that there are always risks in honesty, but that the greater risk is in timidity.
I’ve never been a fan of “find out where they’re going and jump in front of the line” leadership strategy, because that isn’t leadership. If you believe there is a better destination, then communicate that in a compelling way and invite people to follow you in that direction.
We need leaders, not assertive lemmings.
CNN has been reporting on Rudy’s presentation to the National Rifle Association. The NRA hasn’t been a big fan of Giuliani’s leadership in the past and he’s trying to win them over.
He scored, in my opinion, when he said, in effective, “If you agree with the issues on my agenda, then vote for me. And if you don’t agree then don’t vote for me because I’m really going to do them.” There was no waffling: he clarified his position and invited people to agree or disagree, and he made sure they knew he fully intended to pursue what he had outlines.
He tripped, in a big way, when he supposedly took a phone call from his wife. It has been suggested that comments from other the opposition about his family life may have motivated him to brush up his image in that area. Rudy’s cell phone rang during his presentation, he answered and informed the audience it was his wife.
First, it is bad form (rude) to answer your cell phone in the middle of a personal conversation much less a speech. Secondly, it came across as highly contrived. “Hi Hon. Just speaking to the NRA. Would you like to say hello?” Are you kidding?
When it comes to communicating well, you win some and you lose some. When the stakes are high, you can’t afford to lose very many.
If Rudy were to ask for my advice, I’d say: Keep the clear agenda. Lose the gimmicks.
July 16, 2007
I just heard a speaker tell about a pseudo science that he writes about and supposedly practices that can change others by simply thinking good thoughts directed towards them, regardless of where they are located. He claims a doctor for the criminally insane “cured” all the patients by looking at their files and thinking, “I love you. I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you.” Supposedly you don’t even have to meet nor interact with people to “change” them.
I’m all for a diversity of opinion and belief. This person seemed very sincere, but since I’m beyond skeptical about this, I’d need much more substantive proof to consider this remotely plausible.
In other words, I don’t buy it.
I’ve found that to positively impact people requires the challenging and sometimes messy work of actually engaging them. I believe prayer changes things–and many people don’t–but I don’t believe thinking good thoughts from afar is all that is requiredl.
It would be great if thinking such thoughts were all it took to help, serve and heal others. Of course this falls into the “something for nothing” school of thought. I assure you that how and what we think is important, but it is possible to be sincere and still be wrong.
As parents, teachers, healthcare workers and leaders, we need to believe the best about the people we live with, work with and serve. But ultimately we must get our hands dirty by engaging and interacting with them in helpful ways if we hope to help create positive change.
June 9, 2007
Peggy Noonan recently commented on the desire of republicans and the current crop of presidential candidates to return to “the greatness of Ronald Reagan.” Few are more familiar with that greatness than Noonan as she was Reagan’s speech writer and a member of his inner circle.
But she says we don’t need the greatness of a Ronald Reagan, specific to him and the times, but “a new kind of greatness.”
The principles of greatness are timeless, but the application of those principles changes, whether in the marketplace or our government. We can learn much from emulating what created greatness in the past, but to simply copy a formula frozen in time doesn’t serve us well.
I’ve never liked the phrase “back to the basics” because I believe the basics, applied in a relevant way, take us forward. And some if not much of what made Ronald Reagan a great leader can help candidates and citizens today, but it won’t create a return to another era. Done well, those principles can create a new kind of greatness that is so badly needed.
April 24, 2007
Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking for the Denver associates of CoBank. CEO and President Bob Engel said, “When you make yourself better, you make those around you better.”
I agree. When we improve, we encourage others to improve and provide a positive example. By playing at a higher level, we challenge our teammates to play at a higher level. It is indirect influence and it benefits not only the individual who chooses to get better, but the people around him or her.
February 19, 2007
My friend and speaker colleague Ian Percy has a pithy take on the difference between style and substance:
“Style will make you or your company memorable and substance will make you or it meaningful.”
February 2, 2007
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Peter Drucker was arguably the most insightful management thinker of the twentieth century. I have read him consistently over the years and while it wasn’t always easy, it was always rewarding. Here are four guidelines from Drucker that have served me well, and I hope they serve you well, too:
1. Pick the future as against the past
2. Focus on opportunity, rather than problems.
3. Chose your own direction rather than climb on the bandwagon.
4. Aim high. Aim for something that will make a difference rather than for something that is safe and easy.