The Reluctant, Non-Conformist Leader

Lately, I have been listening to friends and colleagues regarding their desired career path. You know, the whole, “someday, when I grow up I want to be a (fill in the blank here)” conversation? For the longest time, I believed my own reluctance to lead, my unwillingness to sacrifice my own happiness just to earn that corner office with the window and prime parking spot, set me apart. That somehow I was special and unique and on a different path. I figured that rebellious streak; the non-conformist…defined by my lack of desire to be an executive took me down a road much less traveled.

Not so much…

…turns out, I am not alone.

From my coworkers and friends, I am hearing a definite reluctance to lead. It seems there has been so much focus on scurrying about to determine just how to lead Gen X and Y that the question of whether we want to become future leaders has been ignored like a worn-down speed bump at the local strip mall.

reluctant-nudge

The traditional notion of hierarchical leadership does not resonate with me. I would sacrifice pay, benefits….and even the corner office with the killer view, for a more flexible work schedule…or even no work schedule at all. When I lead, I prefer to do so with a team of peers (and forget the term “peers”, I call them coworkers and more often than not, friends) where several perspectives on the best way to approach something is ideal. I want to lead from my home, the local coffee shop, my car, the beach. Not exactly the job description we see for today’s executive.

According to Matt Dunne, in his article Policy Leadership, Gen X Style, Gen Xers in particular tend to be more entrepreneurial in their style, use technology as a competitive advantage, and learn how to do many different types of jobs. Anne Houlihan takes it a step further in her article Taking Charge stating that Gen Xers value balance; we are indeed results driven and see little value in providing face-time to those leading us. Our goal is to produce and get the job done, even if it is from our home office when a family member is sick…including the dog.  We want collaboration, mentoring, and to be believed, trusted, and valued. We want to have a life and live it too.

Cheryl Cran eloquently stated the view I have observed of many members of Gen X and Y in the following video:

As a leader, I would hire for character, reliability, and results by surrounding myself with people who have the proven ability to get it done, however “it” is defined. The performance of those I lead is defined by their reputation to engage, be present, yet still multi-task autonomously. I am not concerned if your work experience involved raising a family, running a marathon, or writing a paper. If you can produce and are sincerely passionate about the work we would collaborate on, then I am interested.

Perhaps if my fellow members of Gen X and Y decided to redefine what it means to lead an organization, we might be less reluctant to “fill in the blank here” with the term “leader”.

2 Roadblocks to Kick Start Change

Over the last few weeks I have run into so many people struggling to either initiate a change or maintain one. People’s struggles with change range from implementing a new system at work to adopting a new regimen of diet and daily exercise in their personal lives. Those responsible for initiating change will see changes fall to the wayside without addressing two important levels of concern. What are the roadblocks preventing people from initiating and maintaining change?

Information Concerns

The first obstacle for change is a matter of explaining all informational concerns centered on the change. The old popular saying, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” often resonates with most people since they do not see what benefits the change will bring. People are creatures of habit and in order to break those habits a clear persuasive purpose for the change needs to be explained. Early adopters can be developed when people see a clear picture of what the change looks like, how it is implemented, and what impact it will have on the company or the longevity of their life. The leaders initiating a change can gain trust and respect through full disclosure of all informational reasons for the change and what outcomes they hope to see from it.

Personal Concerns

The second obstacle holding up a change (and most common) is a matter of personal concerns. People want to know how they will be involved in the change and what demands will be placed on their everyday work schedule. Two common questions that pop up are “Will I have enough time?” and “Am I capable of executing the change?”. Without these questions immediately being addressed the change will fail. People will push their tasks involved in the change to the bottom of their priority lists and procrastinate with the fear of failure.

“Tipping Point” to Change Adaptation

In an organization, a change leader must find the people who are most susceptible to become early adopters of the change. Once these people are identified, and their informational and personal concerns are addressed, they can be dispersed throughout the organization to advocate for the change. This method is especially critical for company-wide change in larger corporations. One person is not as strong as a team of people, who share a common vision and purpose.

As for individuals, changing eating habits or daily exercise routines are great personal challenges that are often difficult to tackle alone. Human beings are naturally social beings. People thrive to connect and find comfort being included with others who share common interests. Changing ones way of living is incredibly difficult when approaching it alone. People should find a support group through their family and friends to help progress through their life change, when it seems too difficult. Collaborating with others and seeking their feedback, helps to reemphasize the purpose for the change and could surface new ideas on how to implement it.

“Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”

– James Baldwin

Leadership is Luck

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… —A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

The opening lines to Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities could not have expressed any better, my eleven year old son’s feelings about his favorite football team, the Indianapolis Colts, one year ago at this time. The Colts had gone from perennial Super Bowl contenders each year for the past decade, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning. It was the best of times for Colts fans.

Luck

But that all went away when Manning had to go through a series of operations on his neck that left him sidelined for the entire 2011 season, and his professional football career in doubt. The Colts could only muster two wins out of sixteen games under the leadership of a variety of quarterbacks that couldn’t elevate the team to even a respectable showing. The Colts missed the playoff for the first time in a decade, the head coach was fired, and the end of an era for Manning in Indianapolis was coming to an end. It was the worst of times for Colts fans.

However, the worst of times was short lived. In one of the most ironic twists of fate in modern sports history, the Colts became the luckiest team in the league. As a result of the worst record 2011, they were aligned to have the number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And in a controversial move, they dropped their Hall of Fame quarterback, uncertain if he would be able to play again, and choose the All American quarterback out of Stanford, Andrew Luck, to replace the legend at the helm of the Colts offense.

Since then, the rookie quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts has resurrected an organization from the ashes of the National Football League, not only by his decision making abilities and skill sets on the field, but his attitude and inspiration off the field of play. Nine games into the season, the young quarterback has led his team to a 6-3 record mid-way through the season, tripling their win total over last year and positioning them for an improbable shot at the playoffs.

A great quarterback is like a great leader in the workplace. It doesn’t take long to be in the workforce before you realize that there are good leaders (managers, bosses, supervisors) and there are bad leaders. We’ve all probably had at least one awful leader that we’ve had to work for. And of course, there are the disengaged managers who are neither good nor bad—they are just there to make sure that the organizational chart is up to date and protocol is followed.

There is an obvious difference between a great leader and a terrible leader. But there is also a significant difference between a great leader and an average leader. The difference between a great leader and an average leader isn’t about how much smarter they are or even the quality of the decisions they make day in and day out. The difference between a great leader and an average leader is what they do to make the people they work with better!

Andrew Luck is often only credited for the way he runs the Colts complicated offense, and his knowledge of the game that are far beyond the years he has been in the league. But there is so much more Luck does for his team that goes beyond the offense. The longer he sustains a drive, coming up with key third down conversions, and eating up time on the clock, the more the Colts defense gets to rest on the sideline.

Andrew Luck’s character goes beyond his skill sets. When the Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia only a few games into the season, Luck took the lead in support for his coach by shaving his head—a show of solidarity for the coach who would loose his hair due to the chemotherapy treatments. Most of the team followed the young quarterbacks lead and the team has rallied around their ailing coach to rattle off four wins in a row—one of the most inspirational stories in recent years.

For whatever reason, many individuals are content with the status quo. They come to work; they put in their time at work, pull their paycheck, and are satisfied with a job that’s good enough. They may have run into roadblocks or constraints in their career that keep them from taking risks or thinking of ways they could do their job better—the multitude of individual contributors who have settled for average. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people, they’ve just settled into a lifestyle of mediocrity and aren’t really pushed to be better.

Great leaders inspire those individual contributors on the front line of organizations to rise above the temptation to settle for average. They inspire the people they are leading to find, cultivate, and develop the personal desire for excellence within. Great leaders take average contributors and make them good contributors, and they take good contributors and make them great. The entire organization benefits from this type of leadership.

That is exactly what Andrew Luck does. He has taken made his teammates better as a young leader of a proud franchise that has a rich history of success. He has diverted a long winter of discontent for that organization and has inspired Colt’s players and fans alike to hope for the best of times again. Leadership isn’t just about knowledge and skills, sometimes it is Luck.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consulting Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies and is Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning program designed to develop personal and professional excellence.

The Opposition Holds the Key

I felt like I had been living in some deep, dark recess for the last 6 months. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold out and knew I was getting close to my breaking point.  All that torture from the fighting, the negativity, the robocalls….

Yes, I’m talking about Election Day.  It came and went, and it felt like I had emerged from some cave to see a beautiful sunrise with a rainbow, flocks of birds, and even a unicorn.  I’m sure a lot of you may have felt the same way, seeing how many people on the news from all sides of the political spectrum were tired of all the political ads and were just ready for the campaigns to be finished.

Now that the votes are in, the political landscape in D.C. hasn’t really changed.  Yes, there are new incumbents in Congress, but the House is still controlled by Republicans, while the Democrats still control the Senate and the White House.  This has many wondering if the next 4 years will mirror the past 4 years of deadlock and mudslinging, rather than bipartisan problem-solving.   There are countless issues America is facing right now.  Everyone knows that we cannot keep pushing problems to the backburner.   

Following President Obama’s acceptance speech, and the comments made by John Boehner the following day, news outlets have been speculating whether the political fever in has broken.  In his speech, Obama referenced that we all have the same end-goals, but that our ideas on the paths to take might remain divided.  He could have come out blaming the Republican Party for the problems over the last 4 years, but took a higher ground to say that (in my opinion) that we all have our difference of opinions, but that doesn’t make us bad people.  In fact, it’s what makes America a great country.

“We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

John Boehner was in the news the following day saying that Republicans would be open to new taxes under the right conditions.  This was something where the Republican Party had previously refused to budge.     

This also comes off the heels of Hurricane Sandy.  In particular, it was the cooperation, communication, and more specifically, praisings between Governor Chris Christie and President Obama.  Christie had been a vocal critic of Obama on the campaign trail, and here he was, setting an example of what Government could accomplish when partisan politics were pushed aside for the greater good.

Are these signs of changes to come?  Do the Parties finally realize that the American people are priority #1, instead of their own personal gains?

Whether you’re a politician or not, there will be times in your career when you may have to cooperate with someone who may not agree with you, or maybe even someone where both of you don’t even like each other.  It can be extremely difficult.  However, you shouldn’t focus on the part that you don’t want to do.  The true challenge is coming together for the good of all involved. 

Great leaders work with their greatest opposition to solve problems and achieve something great.  I’m hoping that we’ll see greatness emerge in D.C. over the next 4 years.

Leave your comments!

Higher Learning

While recently wandering the streets of Cambridge, MA, just across the Charles River from Boston, I made my way to the threshold of Harvard University, often sited as one of the most prestigious schools in the world. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, founded in 1636.

Autumn

Harvard Yard Autumn

At the south end of Harvard’s campus, on Massachusetts Avenue stands Dexter Gate—a stone arched walkway that sneaks quietly under Wigglesworth Hall. This entrance serves as the eye of the needle into Harvard Yard—the heart of Harvard University.

But for all of its foot traffic, few students or visitors notice the carved inscription above the gate as you enter into this Mecca of Higher Learning,

Enter Wisdom

Enter to Grow in Wisdom  

As I roamed the colorful yard, painted by the tip of Autumn’s brush, gazing upon the buildings surrounding this beautiful centerpiece, I contemplated this place as the temporal home to some of the most influential leaders and thinkers since the enlightenment.  Great men and women who had entered the hallowed halls of her academia—a host of United States and International Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Dignitaries, Lawyers, Authors, Poets, and Business Leaders. (It was also here that FaceBook was conceived to the delight of us contemporary learners).

As I stood at the statue of John Harvard, reaching for my iPhone to make a status update, gather some information about Mr. Harvard and the history of the university, a funny thought struck me. I pondered what he might think of the device that I, and the many people standing around me in Harvard Yard at that moment, held in our hands. Like an ephinay that Emerson or Eliot might have had in this very yard, I sensed the merging of classic learning with contemporary learning.

John Harvard

John Harvard

No longer, are we, as leaners’ subject to pass through the eye of a needle to take the first steps towards wisdom. No longer, are we, as learners’ bound by time or space to gather information, dissect it, test it, and even apply it. Higher learning is evolving, literary, right before our eyes, and our own Harvard Yard is in our hands!

With the dawn of new technology, the internet, Wi-Fi (wireless local area networks), and mobile computing, has emerged the Information Age—a new era in commerce and education that is driven by the information and knowledge that is now at our finger tips. With each new iteration of computing devices, we are rapidly evolving the way we work and play—the way we learn.

However, translating information and knowledge into wisdom remains the essence of the challenge offered over Dexter Gate. While we now have that information readily available to us, and a host of ways to apply that information, there still remains a great task at hand. The same task that inspired John Harvard to donate a large sum of money to Newtowne College (later named Harvard College)—the desire to “advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity.”

When leaving the campus into the streets of Cambridge, I made my way back to Dexter Gate. And this time, looking out toward the city, was this inscription,

Depart

Depart to Serve

Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind. 

 And so it remains, at this cross roads of the classic and the contemporary, it requires action to advance learning into posterity. Higher learning is not about ascending up a mythological mount, it is about going out and into the world to apply what we have learned at our own personal Harvard Yard. We do not remember all of the great people who attended Harvard for entering into a campus or buildings; but rather, we remember them for what they were able to achieve after they passed back through the eye of the needle and into the world, apply what they learned in the buildings surrounding Harvard Yard.

Today, we have that same opportunity, without the need to depart; because we are already there. The wisdom is within us, and it is all about us, and we are always ready to serve thy kind.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Learning Media Consulting Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies in San Diego, CA, and is the Co-author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning programmed designed to help individuals develop personal strengths while collaborating with others for success.

Laying The Smackdown On Cheaters

Whenever I’m looking to buy something expensive or need to hire a company for some type of service, I always start by looking online at the reviews.  Businesses know that having bad reviews of either products and/or services can send potential buyers running, so what do these businesses do?  Well, they can do the hard thing by listening to those negative reviews and improve the product/service in question (good), or they can cheat by hiring individuals to simply post good reviews to cover up the bad ones (bad).  Kudos to Yelp for pushing businesses to the former.

An article published in The New York Times highlights Yelp’s new push for accurate reviews on their site.  Yelp has had a filtering system in place for a while that looked at various factors about a review to determine if it might be fake.  However, Yelp recently took it a step further by conducting its own undercover operation.  One of the Yelp employees acted as an Elite Reviewer (someone on Yelp’s site who has lots of reviews and generally a good reputation) and posted ads through sites such as Craigslist.org. 

Businesses which were looking for Elite Reviewers to post positive reviews for them contacted this undercover reviewer.  The businesses busted in this sting operation now have a nice big label on their Yelp pages that state someone was caught trying to purchase reviews.

This is now the new policy for Yelp.  Any business that gets caught trying to purchase bogus reviews will have this label affixed to their Yelp page for 90 days as a warning to potential customers who might be looking at those reviews.  Moving forward, Yelp also has plans to display something similar for businesses that seem to have a lot of reviews coming from the same IP addresses.

Now, this system may not necessarily be perfect. In fact, if I wanted to smear a competitor’s name, perhaps I could pose as someone from a competitor’s business and purposely try to get “caught”.  Now, my competitor looks like a cheater.  However, I have to praise Yelp for trying.  Lots of consumers rely on those Yelp reviews when making a decision about which business to hire for services.

Do you want to know one of the characteristics between a good business and a bad one? 

–        A bad business is concerned more about protecting its own image. 

–        A good business understands that it may have flaws, but it listens to feedback from its customers/critics and makes improvements based on that feedback. 

Sure, a negative review might hurt a business in the short term.  However, which of these two businesses is likely to stay around in the long run?  One which listens to its customers, or one that doesn’t?

 The same can be said for those who lead.  A great leader listens to his/her people.  A bad leader is more concerned with making himself/herself look good.  Which one do you think will be around in the long run?

Leave your comments!

Aiming For the Stars (Literally) With Goal Setting

I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of a nerd.  I enjoy technology, science, and astronomy (or anything space-related).  On October 8th, Christmas comes early for me as I’ll be getting a mix of all three.  In case you haven’t heard, Felix Baumgartner will attempt the highest skydive to-date from the edge of space, 23 miles above Earth’s surface.  This follows two successful test jumps from approximately 13.5 miles and 18 miles up from earlier this year.

You might be thinking Felix is a little (or extremely) crazy.  After all, the dangers he faces are very real.  He has to worry about the typical issues of halo jumping such as the lack of oxygen or possible parachute problems.  At that altitude, the air is so thin that it’s near-impossible to steady yourself in the initial freefall.  Joseph Kittinger, the current record holder for the highest freefall at 19 miles from 1960, lost pressure in one of his gloves during his record-breaking descent, and his hand swelled up to twice its normal size.  Felix also has the added challenge of becoming the first human to break the sound barrier with just his body.  Even though he will be wearing a special suit designed by NASA engineers, some of the effects are unknown in terms of what will happen to his body once he breaks that barrier.

If Felix succeeds, not only will he have helped NASA study the effects of this freefall for future emergency low-orbit bailout systems, but he will have pushed the bar even higher in terms of what the human race is capable of.  These types of record-breaking events don’t come that often, so it’s great to see someone facing a challenge of this magnitude.      

After thinking about how far Felix has come, I’ve thought about his overall goal and how’s he’s reached this point.  While he may have not been thinking about this acronym, he did set a SMART goal for himself:

S – Specific and measurable: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. – Felix set a goal to be the first individual to jump from 120,000 feet above Earth’s surface.

M – Motivating: What’s in it for the person? – If Felix succeeds, not only will he have the glory of holding this record, he will be helping in advancing future space travel safety.  He’ll also have the wildest ride of his life.

A – Attainable: If people think they can’t, they give up at the start. – Felix wouldn’t be getting ready for this jump if he thought he couldn’t do it.  I’m sure being a bit of an adrenaline junky helps.

R – Relevant: Why bother if it won’t make a difference? – This jump is another step forward in us becoming masters of our universe.  The data collected from this jump will make an impact on future space exploration.

T – Trackable: How will you know if you’re making progress? – He’s already completed two tests from staggering heights.  The space capsule, the suit, and even himself have all been tested in preparation for the final freefall. 

Sometimes, when we create goals for ourselves or others, we don’t think about the factors that make up a SMART goal.  If we can’t satisfy one or more of those factors, we may never achieve those goals.  If Felix’s original goal wound up being slightly different and didn’t meet one of those requirements, we might not be waiting in anticipation for October 8th

I’ve included videos Red Bull released from the two test flights.  While they don’t have shots of the actual freefalls (I’m sure Red Bull is saving that for the actual 23-mile decent), both contain some pretty amazing shots from the upper atmosphere:

Keep an eye out on the news following October 8th.  The video will likely be amazing knowing Red Bull. 

This blogger is rooting for you, Felix!

As always, be sure to leave your comments!

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