Thursday, December 27, 2012

Centered Leadership Favors the Truth

Do you tell the truth?

Are you ever tempted to stretch or spin the truth to your own advantage or to spare the feelings of another person? How long does your lie last in the light of day?

That last question is a tough, big one. Here's why. I believe that the truth always bubbles to the top. Sooner or later, the truth will emerge. Whatever you say, whatever you do, you can not eventually hide what rings as true. Spinning won't help.

Centered leaders speak truthfully, with respect.

The respect is for everyone. We all need dignity. We all need to have our feelings nurtured and cared for. That means that when a tough truth is necessary, we deliver it as centered leaders with respect and kindness. It takes longer. It takes more work. It is well worth the time.

Try it today. Tell no lies, no matter how tempting or small. Remember, even a small lie is huge to someone.

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

One Problem at a Time

How many problems can you solve?

Infinity plus one? Or one at a time?

Both. Start with one at a time and see what happens next. See how that works.

It's tempting to tackle multiple problems simultaneously. Tempting, but usually less effective.

Centered problem solvers focus on the problem at hand. The more problems we work on the better we get at it, but only work on one problem at a time.

Working on one problem often uncovers new problems. Write the new problems down and come back to them later.

Your main problem needs your immediate attention, or it wouldn't be your main problem.

Afterall, you'll likely never run out of problems. Why not solve them one at a time?

-- Douglas Brent Smith





Monday, December 24, 2012

Is It Your Problem At All?

How often do people try to get you to solve problems you just don't care about?

Maybe it's important to someone else. Maybe you have some expertise that could help identify a viable solution. But, maybe you just don't care.

If a problem doesn't interest you, maybe it's not your problem to solve.

Clearly, you already have enough problems that DO interest you to keep you busy forever.

Why not focus on those?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Holding Judgment at Bay

Have you ever found yourself emotionally attacking what you thought was the cause to your problem?

It's tempting to jump to judgement when wrestling with a troubling problem. When causes seem to emerge, we can want to punish them, hold them down, to take them apart. It could be the wrong course of action.

We need to stay centered. We need to stay curious. We need to probe deeper to the true cause and deal with it unemotionally, as tough as that is.

Centered problem solvers Identify the causes of a problem without judging them.

The goal is to find viable, sustainable solutions to the problem -- not to punish it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Centered Leaders Acknowledge Their Limitations

The sentence rings in my head. I can't forget it. I was enjoying a music video (back when MTV showed music videos all the time) of John Cougar Mellencamp. He was dancing up a ladder as he sang. I thought it was entertaining. His songs of blue collar living resonated with my past. And, here he was dancing.

And the sentence. "You can't tell he's not a dancer," said June (who is a dancer). "I don't like all that fake dancing..."

Fake dancing? To an authentic, practiced, disciplined dancer there IS such a thing as fake dancing.

To an authentic, practiced, disciplined leader is there such a thing as fake leadership?

Does it take more than saying the right words and following the right steps?

Absolutely. It takes character. It takes real courage, genuine clarity, authentic compassion and sparkling creativity. None of that comes overnight or accidentally. It takes work, development, training, focus, and feedback. The kind of commitment that a real dancer makes to dance.

You can't fool a real dancer. Centered leaders acknowledge their limitations.

They move beyond beginner's  steps and master the skills needed to lead effectively, to solve real problems and to achieve their goals.

Centered leaders work long and hard to develop the art of leadership.

Are you a real dancer?

-- Douglas Brent Smith  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Five Qualities of Successful Leaders

What makes a leader successful?

There are many lists. Sometimes the lists go as high as 100 qualities. Sometimes they are fewer competencies but still too many to remember and too many to clearly assess on a personal basis. It's part of the difficulty of taking a 360 evaluation and making sense of it.






I like Adam Bryant's approach of focusing on five key leadership traits. We can quibble about which five leadership traits matter the most, but this is a workable list.







My own work has also identified five leadership traits that I believe clearly shows the strengths needed and how great leaders use their flexibility (or centeredness) to optimize their use of those strengths, even though we each vary in which strengths we use the most.

It is built on the work of centuries of personality sorters and bears similarities to several prominent ones which focus on four traits.

I see these four strengths as Clarity, Courage, Creativity and Compassion. The fifth strength is Centeredness, showing the flexibility and balance to utilize all of the strengths as needed in order to achieve noble goals.

Using all five strengths enables a leader to take care of people while also achieving excellent results.


Here's a link to Bryant's article, well worth the read:

The Corner Office, Adam Bryant On The Five Qualities of Successful Leaders

The charts compare Bryant's ideas (I created the chart so he might not totally agree with how they compare, but I present them here for your reflection) to the Front Range Leadership approach of Centered Leadership. See what you think. It's worth talking about. Maybe you can compare Centered Leadership to other leadership strength sorters. The point is this: centered, high performance leaders use a variety of strengths with flexibility and purpose. Leave any of these out and the leader is at the mercy of someone who is strong in the area ignored.

Which strength are you working on today?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

To learn more about Centered Leadership strengths, explore our workshop: Supervising for Success.



  

Do You Have Room In Your Plans?

Do you have the right people on your team?

Will you be able to achieve your most ambitious goals with the people you are currently working with? Or, would you benefit from an expanded team with more experts, more passion, more drive, and more experience?

The good news is that the people are out there, whether or not you are already working with them.

Centered leaders are able to find room for everyone in their plan for success.

People who need your help. People who can help you. People working on their projects. People who tend to disagree with you. People who fit your team perfectly and people who don't. What you need and who you need is already available. Sign them up.

Incite their passion. Draw them in. Share what you have with what they have and see where that takes you. Do you have room in your plans for the best possible people? Shouldn't you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Build the best possible teams in your organization by starting with our workshop: Building Your Team

Monday, December 17, 2012

Train Leaders Before Putting Them In Charge

When should supervisors get the training they need? Do you think that it is best to train someone for a highly responsible job before they start it, or do you think it makes sense to throw them into the row and see how they do?

So often, supervisors are promoted to their jobs and then do not get any specific leadership training to do the job. They come from doing a great job in their field as a technician, to going to a job where the skill set is entirely different, the needs are much more complicated, and the consequences effect many more people.

This article is worth the read to get some insights into how often managers lack the training they need:

We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders

Some of the data pointed out here is astounding, for example that managers typically supervise people for over 10 years before they get any training in it. That boggles the mind.

At Front Range Leadership, LLC we are in the business of making sure that front line supervisors and managers get the training they need. If you are developing leaders, we'd love to talk with you about our high impact and affordable leadership development workshops.

But whatever else you do today, give that article above a read.  We should train leaders before putting them in charge!

Thanks!

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Workshops to Consider for Supervisors and Managers:

Supervising for Success

Communicating for Results

Building Your Team

Solving Problems

Achieving Your Goals

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Centered Leaders Continue to Develop

When was the last time you were in a training program?

What have you done today to increase your leadership learning (and oh yes, thanks for visiting here to explore high performance, centered leadership).

Centered leaders continue to learn, to develop, to improve their skills. You're never really done learning.

Centered leaders continue to develop their:

- sense of play
- sense of purpose
- communication skills
- focus
- technical skills
- ability to collaborate
- problem solving skills
- team building tool set
- vision
- character

... and the list goes on. Whatever the circumstances, whenever the deadlines, who ever is on the team -- keep learning and striving to be the best possible leader you can be.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eliminating Barriers

What stands in your way?

Whenever we set goals, barriers find their way into our path. Things we may expect, like resistance from people who would rather have us working on other things, and things we might not expect like car repairs and job changes.

If the goal is important, stay with it. If the goal matters to you, face those barriers down.

Sometimes the barrier looks much stronger than it is. If we run and hide, or surrender, the barrier wins. If we face the barrier and look for a way around it or thru it, we win and we gain momentum in achieving our goal.

High performance leaders identify their barriers and find ways to eliminate them.

What is standing most prominently in your way today?

What can you do to deal with that barrier once and for all?

-- Douglas Brent Smith
 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Watch Out for Misguided Solutions

When I worked at GE, we had an expression we used when we were tempted to move too quickly to solve a problem or fix a process: "go slow to go fast".

So often, by jumping headlong into a solution we create more trouble than we solve.

Some of our biggest problems started as misguided solutions.

Today, take your time on that big problem. Breathe. Think. Assess carefully. Allow your analytical side to hold sway over your crashing driver. Avoid making things worse.

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Living Inspired Lives

When your team members look at you, do they see an inspired leader?

Do you live an inspired life?

Leading high performance teams is a daily challenge. To get to your goals it helps to have a sense of a higher calling, a mission to bring to the world that will make the world a better place. Once you have this, the rest is alignment: making your work cohesive and inspirational.

We already have all we need to live inspired lives.

Are you putting it in place to show that inspiration?

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Land of No Excuses

Are you ever tempted to give a reason for a disappointment? If you miss a goal or turn up late for a task, does it occur to you to back up why that happened? If not you, are there people on your team who do that, who manage to come up with excuses?

There really are no valid excuses. We either achieve our goals or we don't. We either fulfill our responsibilities or we don't. We either keep our promises or we don't.

Breaking promises doesn't make someone a bad person, but as a leader you want to be very careful to staff your team with people who keep promises. People without excuses because an excuses can't even get you a cup of coffee.

High performance leaders drop excuses and look for possibilities. 

If a goal has been missed, what are the new possibilities? What exists now, right at this moment, that did not present itself before?

Centered, high performance leaders live in the land of no excuses but when excuses appear they know exactly what to do with them: create a new (tougher) level of accountability and move on to the next goal, the next possibility, the next opportunity. There is no excuse worth stopping for.

ACTION SUGGESTIONS:

- For the rest of this week, make no excuses for anything. Nothing. Move on to the next possibility, accept your consequences, move on.

- For the rest of this week (and after that if you want to make a real impact) accept no excuses from anyone else. Ask them what they will do now that they have dropped the ball. Ask them what they will do now to make it right. Ask them what their opportunity -- and intention on that opportunity, is now.

As awkward as it may feel at first, you are a leading your team to accomplish something, aren't you?

-- Douglas Brent Smith




Saturday, December 8, 2012

Centered Leaders Act with Joyful Curiosity

How curious are you?

Do you ask your people questions about their interests, their lives, their dreams?

Do you dig into a problem with the curiosity of someone eager to know what makes it tick?

Centered leaders act with joyful curiosity. They ask, they dig, they explore and they search without judging too harshly what they find. The joy is in the search. The joy is in the discovery.

You'd be surprise at how helpful that can be in the middle of a big project. It can give you:

- Deeper knowledge
- Unexpected connections
- More engaged team members
- Innovative solutions
- Brilliant shortcuts
- Avoidance of otherwise unseen risks

... and so much more. Curiosity is the key to uncovering possibilities.

How can you show more curiosity in your current project?


ACTION PLAN:

1.Ask each of your people a provocative open ended question today - something like, "What would you do with this part of the business if you could do anything?”

2.Listen without judging to EVERYTHING your most important relationship says today. Listen with new ears, with new curiosity. Appreciate what is unique and suprising about that person.

3.Look with joy for something surprising today. And then, enjoy the surprise!

4.Look at your biggest project with a different point of view. What if you were deciding for the first time to fund this project? What would you want from it? What might it have that is totally different than anything you've ever worked on?



-- Douglas Brent Smith


Friday, December 7, 2012

Centered Leaders Stay Positive

Challenges can send us into a panic. Troubles can wear on our will. As leaders, centered and focused on our goals and on making better organizations -- we do well to stay positive.

Pulling our skills together, working well with others, finding answers: that's what centered leaders do. Working with all of the clarity, courage, creativity and compassion they can muster, centered leaders find a way. You can find a way. We can find a way.

Our possibilities are limitless. Our problems are solvable.

Why not get started?

-- Douglas Brent Smith



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Involve Your Team in Solving Problems

Sometimes leaders try to do it all on their own. I've fallen into that trap more than once. It's not the best option. When we allow our team members to help solve problems, they grow their ability AND feel more a part of the team.

Involve everyone on your team in solving your biggest problems.

They'll be better off, and so will you.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Problem Solving Expectations

What do you expect from your people when it comes to solving problems?

Do you expect them to be able to handle tough situations? Do you expect them to collaborate on solutions, whether that is within the team or including other constituents outside the team?

Centered leaders make problem solving one of their core expectations.

They solve problems, and their people solve problems, too.

ACTION PLAN

Sometime during the next week, ask key people in your team what they think are your expectations about problem solving.

Clarify any misunderstandings that arise about your expectations. Set the bar high on problem solving. Provide encouragement by asking what you can do to help in their development.

I think you'll like the results...

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, December 3, 2012

Can Problem Solving Be Fun?

Do you look forward to solving problems? Is it really fun?

Much of the time, problem solving feels like a necessary hardship. We do it because we must. But what if it was fun? What if people looked forward to it? What if it became the best part of your day?

I've worked with many skilled problem solvers who also just happened to be artists, musicians, actors, and other creative types. We faced difficult, deadline-driven problems like how to get a set built overnight, how to make a boring three hour play a fast moving two-hour thriller, and how to raise enough funs to get a production launched. We dealt with mechanical failures, black-outs, labor strikes, and blizzards. We dealt with personality disorders, customer melt-downs, and lack of resources. But thru each instance, the creative teams pulled together, shared ideas, broke bread together, cried and laughed and laughed some more.

is that kind of team work transferrable to a business environment? I've seen it prevail there as well, and when it does it is usually because of the steady, good-humored, positive thinking, centered leadership involved. Centered leaders really do make a difference in problem solving. They can help hold together groups of people long enough to get the job done.

Centered leaders make problem solving fun, imaginative, and important.

Changing problem solving from a crisis mentality to a daily practice speeds it up and makes it so much more enjoyable and reliable. Wouldn't your people benefit from that?

What can you do this week to improve your team's ability to solve problems positive?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more about centered problem solving in our workshop, Solving Problems



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Problem Solving Expectations

What if everyday we expected to solve more problems?

Instead of resolving to live with our situations, what if we changed what needed changing? Each day we have the opportunity to collaborate on better answers, newer solutions. Each day there are dozens of problems that cross our path just waiting for our intervention. Let's do it. Let's solve those problems.

What's first on your list?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Getting to The Root Cause

How many times have you thought you'd solved a problem, only to see it re-emerge?

So often we work on a solution without realizing that we are simply impacting a symptom of the problem, and not the problem itself. It takes deeper inquiry to get at the heart of the situation. It takes patience to discover the root of the problem.

The root cause of many problems is misunderstanding the goal.

It turns out we are working on the wrong thing, or we are delivering something our customer did not expect or ask for. We get our goals confused and it feels like a problem. It is a problem

Get clear on your goals. Align your goals to your organization's mission. If a goal does not contribute to your mission, ask yourself seriously why you are working on it. If there is no reason, maybe THAT'S the problem.

--  Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the teleclass: "How To Solve Problem"


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding Solutions

What are the benefits of solving problems together?

Problem solving as a team has far more value than simply solving the problem. Of course, we want the problem solved -- and we want more. We want more cohesive teams. We want healthier organizations. We want people who are open to growth and change.

Solving problems together can achieve all that and more.

By solving problems collaboratively we come up with better and longer lasting solutions. We engage our team members and constituents. We connect in ways that were once disconnected. We grow.

The solutions we find together will bring us together -- and that's worth more than any solution.

What problem could you be helping to solve collaborative in your organization?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the teleclass: How To Solve Problems

Centered Leaders Create Room for Success

Does it sometimes feel like you're caught in a dog eat dog fight? One of my favorite TV quotes from an old episode of "Cheers". Norm enters as he usually does to the usual rousing greeting and imparts his insight of the day. In this episode it was, "it's a dog eat dog world and I'm wearing Milkbone underwear."  That about describes some days, doesn't it?

As leaders, we impact that. We often create the environment for our people. At the very least we influence the environment. Will that be a competitive environment of winners and losers? Or will that be a place where everyone, absolutely everyone can create a measure of success far beyond their previous expectations?

Our success does not require anyone else's failure.

It's not about winning so that someone else loses. We do no need to behave like beasts in the jungle fighting for survival. If we are higher, more centered, more focused compassionate and courageous beings we can create more.

Isn't that better for everyone?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Finding Hope

What do you do when your project seems so off track that you'll never find your way back?

What if you're so lost that nothing makes sense to you?

Most of us do experience times when things get rough. We lose when we thought we couldn't. We struggle when it started so easily. Our resources dry up just when we need them most. How do we hold on? How do we move forward?

Someone can help. You may not know who it is. You may have to ask more than one person (you probably will have to ask more than one person). But help is out there. Someone who has experienced similar troubles. Someone who has finished an equally gnarly project. Someone who knows how it feels to be lost and can help you navigate your pathway out of the darkness and into success.

If you have help, you have hope. 

And that my friend will take you very, very far indeed toward where you need to go.

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Image credit: Southeast Regional Climate Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, retrieved at:  http://www.sercc.com/files/3/sunrise.jpg    

Friday, November 16, 2012

Don't Wait to Solve Your Problems

Have you ever just waited for a problem to go away?

Does it ever seem that things will get better on their own so the sensible thing is to let that happen?

Well, your problem will change, that's for sure. But most times if it is a problem it gets worse on its own, not better. And even if it does seem to go away, what it leaves behind is more troubling than ever.

The landscape changes. The culture shifts. The processes stick. What you'd come to expect becomes unrecognizable.

Nature eventually solves every problem but she does not consider your goals in the process.

Take charge. Move the flow. Solve the problem.

-- Douglas Brent Smith


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Centered Leaders Get Angry, Too

It made me angry. How dare the customer push me like that? Clearly, he was accustomed to getting what he wanted by bullying people. I'd show him. He wouldn't get what he wanted from me.

But wait. Was I being at my best? Was my anger getting in the way? And, why exactly was I angry anyway?

Jim stepped in. He offered the customer a solution I hadn't thought of. One that would not cost us anything but simply require a minor shuffling of resources. In the end, no customer would be harmed by the shuffling and wouldn't even be effected. The bully left happy, but maybe he wasn't a bully at all. Maybe I was the one being unreasonable and hasty.

If it makes you angry, work with someone to fix what's wrong.

I'm grateful to Jim for stepping in. His calm perspective didn't see anger, but only possible solutions. That's what I needed in that moment. That's what the customer needed, too.

It doesn't take a perfect leader to be a centered leader. But sometimes it takes the help of another team member.

Are your team members confident to step in and help you when you need it?

-- Douglas Brent Smith
  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Centered Leaders Play Fair

Can you remember the first time you were playing an exciting game and realized that your opponent was cheating? What did that do to the game? What did that do to how you felt about your opponent?

We need the clarity of rules. We need to know that when we take the field of play there is a sense of organization that transcends individual will to win. If will to win is someone's first and only motivation, there is no limit to the damage they can do in pursuit of that goal.

It's not worth it. The game is more important than the outcome. Your character is more important than your won/loss record.

Just don't play with those who cheat.

And for goodness sake, don't ever cheat yourself! Centered leaders play fair, even if that extends the game, even if that causes them hardship, even when that puts the outcome of the game at risk.


-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Can Ethics Be Flexible?

Centered leaders work to develop flexibility in how they operate. Using their key strengths, they develop themselves into a balanced use of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion. That doesn't mean that sometimes they are less clear, or less courageous...it means that sometimes what is most needed is one of the core strengths. Whether or not it is their core strength, they flex to use it. They make it available. They draw on it. And, it grows as they use it.

But what about ethics? Are their times when we need to flex out of our values to get a task done? Do we look the other way in the interest of compromise and necessity? Do we slide down a path of situational scruples?

No.

Be careful about flexible ethics because they are most flexible with those who are least ethical.

Stretch your value, and it tears. Compromise your spirit and you risk it withering completely.

Yes, we are called to compromise sometimes -- on positions, on interests, on decisions. But, never on our values. Never on our morals.

I know full well that ethics is a complicated subject, open to interpretation, and quite often situational. We can be forced to make decisions that cause us nausea and pain. When we are, we should declare our true intentions, square up our actions with our values, and admit our failures as we seek the best possible mutually beneficial outcome.

What do you think?

-- Douglas Brent Smith



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Stop Rewarding Scoundrels

If you make the wrong bet, what happens to your money? No doubt, you lose it.

Whether it's on a sports team or the stock market, you are likely responsible for your own decisions, right or wrong.

If someone else makes a bet knowing that no matter how badly the deal goes down, they can't really lose because they'll still get paid and still have a job, what is to keep them from repeating bad bets? What's to keep them from acting like scoundrels who only care about their own bonuses and who pass the risk on to others?

We should stop rewarding scoundrels by not paying them. 

And, when they repeat their scoundrel behavior after warnings not to, it's time to help them out of the organization.

What do you think?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, November 5, 2012

Listen Without Judging


Have you ever proposed an idea or solution to a problem only to have your idea dismissed immediately by someone? 

Instant critical response can dowse ideas faster than water on a candle flame. No matter how brilliant your idea may be, it will struggle to survive the search for perfection.

Solving problems together requires the compassion to hear someone else's truth without judging them.

It doesn't mean that you agree.

It doesn't mean that you will be adopting an idea immediately. It simply means keep the judge at bay long enough, and with enough care for the other person, to understand it's perspective.

It's what I call sending your inner judge out for milk and cookies -- the judge will be happy and you'll get to finally hear some ideas completely.

It's more than worth a try -- it's how to build more compassion in your team while generating more ideas.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Solving Problems Requires The Courage to Tell The Truth

Can a problem be so tough that we deceive ourselves about solving it?

In any problem there is a temptation to soften the edges, smooth the rough spots, to paint a better picture than we see.

Sometimes we take sides and spin the truth in favor of our side, even when that contributes to a conflict or problem. We can do better than that.

Solving problems together requires the courage to tell the truth as you see it.

Not our version of the truth. Not our ideal of the truth. The truth as it exists, weak spots and all.

If we want to clearly analyze a problem, we must be willing to see, and tell the truth.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Saturday, November 3, 2012

High Performance Leaders Get the Help They Need

Can you do it all alone?

If each of us could do it all alone, we wouldn't need leaders, would we?

Some situations are easy enough to solve on our own, and other require help.

While we can solve some problems on our own we can usually solve them faster with help.

Are you getting the help you need with your toughest problems? Who have you helped in the past who could help you now? Who else has a vested interest in the situation and might be able to lend support?

High performance leaders -- the ones who get things done, solve problems and achieve their goals, get the help they need whenever they need it.

Isn't that what you want?

-- Douglas Brent Smith



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Centered Leaders Listen to their People's Problems

Do you listen to your team member's problems?

It can get tedious. It can seem tough. It can be tempting to give quick, terse advice. Centered leaders do more than that.

It's better to listen and then ask, "what would you like to do about that?".

It's not up to you to solve their problems, but by listening and coaching you can help them.

Leading a high performance team means helping each and every member to operate at their best. That means seeing them solving their problems, getting barriers out of the way, and moving forward.

Someone else's problems may seem trivial but don't ever tell them that.

Listen, and help them find the answer that most likely is already within them.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Your List of Leadership Problems

List the five problems you'd most like to solve.

Chances are you'll need help solving them, and the sooner the better.

Centered leaders seek the help they need to solve the problems that concern them.

Those problems haven't solved themselves yet, have they?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dealing with Corporate

If you work for a regional site of a large corporation, you probably like it just fine when corporate leaves you alone. Surely, they have more important things to work on than how things are going at your operation.

What you probably don't want, is someone in a suit showing up (or in some cases a blue shirt and khaki pants...) and saying "Hi, I'm from corporate and I'm here to help".

Help from corporate often leads to restructuring, layoffs, and even site closures. Who wants that?

What's to be done?

Keep corporate happy. Make money faster than other regional offices. Reduce your expenses on your own. Keep customers happy and complaints at a minimum. Create a culture where your people are happy to work and still challenged to constantly do better. Lead with intension, high intensity, and deliver high performance.

It's not a guarantee. You could do so well that the site is sold or merged. Sometimes you just can't control that. But you're odds are much better of staying within the parent company if you deliver positive results.

Be careful about trusting anyone who says they're from corporate and here to help. It's probably not the help you're looking for.

But once they're there, whether or not you have been,  it's time to get serious about success.  The stakes are suddenly higher.

What are you doing to distinguish your workplace as the best in its class?

-- Douglas Brent Smith
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tell the Truth

There's no such thing as a little white lie when you're a leader. I'm not talking about being blunt if someone asks "does this dress make my butt look big?" because we all pretty much know how that goes. What I'm talking about is telling your team members the truth in connection with your mission, your values, your goals. When it comes to what keeps a person on the team and what gets them an invitation to find a new direction.

Far more opportunities are lost by hiding the truth then from telling it.

Your competition is searching for the truth. Your team is searching for the truth. Your inner self really wants to know and share the truth, doesn't it?

It always comes out anyway. Why not get to the truth faster?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Build a Team that Works for Your People

How much time have you spent building your team?

That doesn't mean a fancy outdoor course with ropes and ladders and touchy-feely conversations in the woods. Conversations are a useful idea, but you don't need the snakes or mosquitoes.

What you do need is a team that gets along. What you do need is a team that talks things over, that is able to reach consensus quickly, that can argue without fighting, that can embrace new ideas without trashing the old. You want a team that works.

People work best when they work well together.

Individual performances improve. Collective performance multiplies. Goals become much more achievable.

Build a team that works for your people.

How do you do that?

- Remove rules that get in their way without adding value to your product or service
- Challenge people to be their best and to help each other get there
- Delegate with authority and follow-up with diligence
- Measure what matters and ONLY what matters
- Find out what your people want most from the team and create an environment that makes it possible

Fix what bugs your people, and you can leave the bug spray at home.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

To learn more, explore Building Your Team


Friday, October 26, 2012

Skip the Meetings That Don't Matter

How much time do you waste in meetings that don't matter?

Oh, they probably matter to someone. Whoever called the meeting must think it's necessary. But the agenda (if there is an agenda) does not include you or any goals that you are working on. Maybe it's not aligned with your mission or values. Maybe it is just a status update or something worse -- a meeting for the sake of meeting.

Do you really have time for that nonsense?

It takes courage, but it's well worth it to screen the meetings that you attend. Whenever you have a choice, if the meeting makes no sense to you and if there is a better use of your time, skip the meeting. Be polite, let your organizer know you won't be attending. Or before you send your intention not to attend, first ask if there is something relevant at the meeting that you're working on. Is there a goal that you need to contribute to? Is that a problem that you can help solve? Will the meeting move goals that you are working on forward? If so, and there is a reason for you to attend, then you know you won't be wasting your time.

I know there are exceptions. I've worked for a company that has required meetings. If team members don't attend they are charged with an absence and can be written up, even fired. It's ridiculous but it's a company policy I didn't have time to fight (sometimes when an organization is large enough we must pick our battles). But if it's NOT a required meeting, it's worth your time to explore whether or not you really need to be there.

There are other reasons you might want to attend:

- to build relationships
- to celebrate milestones
- to help people learn
- to influence change
- to trade favors
- to show support

... but if you can't find a reason, there might not be one.

Find the courage to refuse any meeting that doesn't align with your mission, goals, and priorities. Life's too short for meaningless meetings.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Work Hard For Your People

Your people work for you. You're the boss. Do you also work for them?

Do you do all you can to get them the resources they need?

Do you challenge them everyday to do more, to improve, to create an impact?

Do you defend your people against the outrageous attacks of your own boss? What about your bosses' boss?

Do you challenge your people when they seem complacent or need a prod to move forward?

Do you stand side by side, on the front lines, handling customer issues and taking the heat along with your team?

Your people are hoping that you are doing more for them than reading email.

So do it.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, October 22, 2012

Work Side by Side With Your Team

As a supervisor, you still have a hand in production. Maybe you assign 100% of your production tasks to your team, and that's fine, but you probably are also close enough to what's going on to spot quality issues, customer problems, team member performance challenges and opportunities. Part of your job is to stay close to that.

Do you work side by side with your team members? Do you give them a chance to show you what they can do while you take the opportunity to observe quietly what gets in their way? Are you close enough to customers to hear the current wave of requests and (more importantly) to sense what customers will need soon but haven't yet asked for?

High performance supervisors are comfortable working side by side with their team and still know when to step far enough away to lead.

It's not your job to do their job. But it is part of your job to know their job. Supervisors who do this earn credibility, camaraderie,  insights and motivation with and from their team members.

Think of a team member you haven't worked side by side with recently. What can you do this week to spend some working time with them?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Learn more in the workshop: Improving Performance

Friday, October 19, 2012

Skip the Status Meeting

Haven't you had enough of meetings where nothing new is accomplished and you're just give the status of tasks, projects and objectives?

Status updates can be handled more conveniently thru other media. Face to face time, and even phone conference time, is far too valuable to spend updating people.

Status meetings are a waste of time. Better to spend that time on new ideas, developing relationships, and achieving goals.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Punishment and Fear

Have you ever been punished by your boss?

Maybe it takes the subtle form of a vacation request that's denied. Or, maybe it's more obvious like a probationary period when some of your privileges are at stake. It could be an authorization level that gets lowered. It could be a stern warning that unless things change you'll be headed for the exit.

There are lots of ways that bosses punish team members.

How do you like it?

Punishment and fear create short term compliance and long term rebellion.

Maybe the side effects are immediate, like a passive aggressive destruction of an important document. Oops. Maybe the side effects happen way down the road, as people mysteriously leave the organization to find a less punishing environment. But the side effects are inevitable.  What does punishment teach? Punishment teaches how to punish.

Is that what you want?

There are better ways to improve performance:

- Coaching
- Rewarding good performance
- Acknowledging effort
- Setting clear expectations
- Following up regularly
- Setting sensible boundaries
- Recruiting the right people

...and dozens more that will help much more than punishing people. It's your choice. What kind of culture do you want to be famous for?



-- Douglas Brent Smith


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Feedback Gets You Deeper

The criticism kept coming in increasingly uncomfortable detail. It was so much to digest in one sitting. It was enough to make anyone defensive and resistant to change, and I could feel myself heading that way.

That moment when the other person's voice fades into the white noise of your head and echoes like a meaningless harp in the distance. That moment when we shut someone off.

But I told myself to stay focused and attentive. I remembered that I was hearing one filtered view, but that I could still learn from it. Whether or not what she said was true, there was something creating that perception. Now was the time to understand, not influence, that perception.

The mistake I've often made in receiving critical feedback is trying to change perception on the spot. It doesn't work. That person has entered that space with that perception based on what has already happened outside that space. The place to influence that perception is the space that gave birth to it.

Now was the time to understand. To learn. To assess. And then to change whatever needed to change. Maybe it was the other person's perception or, gasp, maybe it was my own behavior.

I could still feel myself perspiring, but now it had a purpose. Now the meaning was longer term and more beneficial. Now I could show that feedback helps the other person (and myself) get deeper into what's going on. Whatever our perceptions were going into the interaction, how we react can lock us in or get us deeper. It's more useful to get deeper.

Instead of defensiveness, try asking questions. If the data is flawed, questions will point that out. If the questions confirm what you've resisted, you now have opportunity. No matter what, it was a chance to learn more about that other person than either of you may have suspected. It's a chance to take your relationship to a deeper level of understanding and respect.

Feedback is a chance to learn and to show the depth of your character.

Whether or not the feedback is true or warranted isn't even in the range of questions.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Interested in learning more about feedback and other important communication skills? Explore Communicating for Results.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What You Do

Do your team members know what you do as a leader?

It's a serious question. I've known leaders who seem to nearly never venture outside of their office, and others who are seldom there. What is it that you do?

Answer customer questions? Resolve team conflicts? Make your own boss happy? Develop new ideas? Fill out reports? Answer emails?

It's risky to take for granted that your team members know what you do. But, they sure want to!

I'd encourage you to conduct daily individual conversations so that no matter what else you do, much of what you do is communicate with the team.

Will that take time? Sure. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Are you giving your team members enough of your time?

Is what you do vital to your team's success?

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Many Times?

How often do you delegate something and then wonder why it's not done?

Crazy, isn't it? Your team members want you to trust them, and for the most part they enjoy the challenges of new assignments, but sometimes they get done and sometimes they don't.

How do you balance total trust and micromanaging the joy right out of the task? You've got to know your people. We're all on different learning curves. We each have personality types that might differ. We live on different levels of maturity. We're not all the same.

The best way I've found to know whether I need to remind someone once or seven times is to know what they need by testing it, over and over. And, it had better be improving or we're having a tougher conversation. Not mean, not the kind where you write them up and start their path out the door, but straight forward, honest and to the point.

How many times do you have to remind someone? Until they start doing exactly what you want without any reminders at all...

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Explore this more in the workshop: Communicating for Results

 


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Can You Make It Seem Inevitable?

I can remember certain times when leaders that I worked for were so influential and so convincing tht what they were promoting seemed inevitable. People realized, as in the Star Trek Next Generation shows, that "resistance is futile."

Not because the leaders were ruthless. Not because the change was imposed (the way the Borg would impose it!) but because there was no stopping the change.

When GE made a major move to go paperless, things happened that make resistance futile. Documents became easier to find online.  Approvals for information took online shortcuts. Copy machines and printers disappeared. We didn't completely eliminate paper, but we saved enough to fill many forests.

When Whole Foods does Good Organics training, there's no ducking it. You don't get to choose. Leaders project the confidence, urgency, and insistence to make your change in knowledge deeper and inevitable.

One of my favorite leaders of all time, Jim Hursey my high school track coach make training seem inevitable and right -- because the always difficult workouts he coaxed us into always improved our performance. It was change for the better because it clearly worked.

As leaders, we need to bring about that kind of change: working, effective, transformative change. And, to make it inevitable because it is so clearly the right path to go.

The art of leadership is making positive change seem inevitable.

Easy? Not always. Worth it? Absolutely.

 
-- Douglas Brent Smith

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Creative Impulse

Where does it come from? What does it mean? What can you do with it?

The creative impulse stirs thru each of us in varying degrees. Feed it, nourish it, support it, encourage it and the creative impulse will follow you around like a trustworthy friend. You might not always know that it's there, but it is (especially when you need it most).

Need a new idea? Listen to your creative soul. Puzzling thru a problem? What could you do differently that might help? Is that idea you had last night really as crazy as you thought, or could it have a valid use in that project you're working on?

For me, a jolt of creativity feels like energy I can tap into. Sometimes it runs away like an ornery kitten, but sometimes it jumps into my lap like an eager puppy. Either way, starting that conversation, launching that interaction is up to me. It's up to you, too. Listen to your creativity and it may surprise you with what it has to say back.

The creative impulse is a dialogue with your soul. Listen carefully.

It pays off immensely.

-- Douglas Brent Smith

Art Belongs Everywhere

What does it take to be creative? What place does art have in your business?

People are naturally creative. As a leader you can put that creativity to good use, or you can hold it back. If you want innovation, new ideas, better ways of serving your customers, and happier team members you probably already know that it pays to keep your environment conducive to creativity.

Art helps.

Whether it is in the form of fascinating photos, interesting prints, provocative sculpture, or occasional performances by that local string quartet or improv troupe, people benefit from an environment that celebrates creativity.

Creativity helps to bridge the previously unseen connections. Creativity helps to spark new ideas. Creativity puts smiles on people's faces.

Where does art belong? Art belongs everywhere.

What can you do today to add a touch more of creativity to your environment?

Curious about creativity?

Creativity May Play A Role in Healthy Aging


The Power of Ordinary Practices:  Research summarized here by Theresa Amabile as interviewed by Michael Roberts for Harvard Working Knowledge shows that leaders can increase both the productivity and creativity of their team thru supporting and developing  behaviors. The article is short and yet filled with great ideas, plus this marvelous connection to creativity: 

"I believe that a focus on creativity is absolutely essential for current business success. I define creativity as producing novel, workable ideas and solutions to problems; innovation is implementing those ideas within an organizational context. You need novel and useful ideas at all stages of a process, from early idea generation up through successful implementation. I maintain that creativity is possible and desirable in all forms of work, no matter what people are doing. In particular, knowledge workers require creativity."


Creativity, Why Bother? Ten Benefits of Expressing Your Creativity:  including improved self knowledge, establishing connections with other creative people, a better mood (or natural high) and seven more.

10 Hidden Benefits of Creativity: 

  • They stayed healthier longer and enjoyed health more.
  • They required fewer visit to health care providers.
  • They used fewer medications.
  • They were more outgoing, more exuberant and their morale was higher.
  • Creatives were more socially active and therefore less lonely.
  • They appeared more optimistic.
  • ... and four more.

    Any quick search will uncover many more benefits of creativity. I think it's so important that I consider it one of the four key values and strengths of leadership: clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.

    -- Douglas Brent Smith



     

    Tuesday, October 9, 2012

    The Essence of Leadership

    What do leaders spend most of their time doing?

    Is it planning?
    Is it counseling and coaching?
    It is working with customers?

    The essence of leadership is solving problems and achieving their goals.

    Whether you solve a problem or achieve a goal directly, or whether you enlist the help of others to do it, that is what leadership is all about.

    Whether you write your own goals or have them handed to you, chances are you are held accountable for them. And whether or not you expect them, sure enough problems develop that demand your attention.

    What are you doing to improve your ability to solve problems and achieve your goals?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Information on Solving Problems and Achieving your goals.


    Saturday, October 6, 2012

    Leading is Easy

    Do you think leading is easy?

    Or, like most of us have you found it to be troubling, challenging, confounding, and joyful all at the same time? It's an important role, and one filled with hundreds of emotions.

    Finding the right people, getting them on their best path, training them thoroughly, keeping them energized, helping them focus, and challenging them from extreme to extreme takes knowledge, practice, and yes a few mistakes along the way. It takes learning how to follow as well as how to lead. It takes deep conviction in a set a unwavering values. It takes clarity, courage, creativity and compassion.

    Leading is easy -- just teach people to fly without falling and forgive them when they fail.

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Friday, October 5, 2012

    Don't Wait for the 360

    Are you expecting a 360 evaluation in your organization this year?

    I spent considerable time with two organizations administering their online 360 evaluation systems. Leaders send out surveys to their direct report (and sometimes peers and bosses) and then wait for the feedback to pour in.

    And pour in it does.

    Sometimes it floods in with data so diverse you wonder if everyone had the same survey directions.

    And sometimes it doesn't pour in much at all. I've observed teams who swore that the feedback was NOT going to be anonymous (it absolutely was) so they withheld it. Why get in trouble? Why tell the truth under observation?

    Except, isn't it the truth we're after? Isn't that the only kind of feedback that matters -- truthful feedback.

    Whether or not it's accurate, we want it to be truthful: we want the evaluators to say what they really feel. Or do we?

    What if they feel hurtful? What if they are mean spirited? Why if they unfairly lambaste a leader just because they didn't get the raise they'd hoped for?

    I've seen all of that happen, and more. Any online anonymous 360 feedback tool is flawed. I'm not saying that we shouldn't use them. For many leaders they absolutely have value.

    But, if you're waiting for a 360 survey to tell you what employees really think it's already too late.

    What leaders need most is real-time feedback. Face to face feedback. Open, respectful, honest feedback. Dialogue. We don't need to grade each other. What we need is direction on how we're doing in connection with our mission and goals. What leaders need is knowing if the environment on their team is motivating, energizing, healthy, and productive.

    Go ahead and participate in that 360. But please don't expect it to tell you the complete truth. You've got to ask for that in person.

    Maybe you'll get it and maybe you won't. Maybe you'll appreciate it, and maybe it will lose you sleep. But you've got to ask for it sincerely, openly, honestly.

    You do want to know what your people are really thinking, don't you?
    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    Behind Closed Doors

    How secretive is your organization?

    Are there mysterious initiatives that you know nothing about? Have you ever been told that a piece of information is "eyes only" or on a "need to know" basis? How does that make you feel.

    If you reverse the scenario and withhold information from others in your organization, you are contributing to a culture that is difficult to sustain.

    If you often hear "behind closed doors" in your organization, it's time for major change.

    Strong, sustainable, noble organizations are built on an open culture where information flows freely and people know what's going on -- not just those in the inner circle -- everyone.

    To communicate for results leaders must be open and truthful. They must expose their agenda to scrutiny and hold few, if any, secrets.

    What kind of organization do you want to build?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Learn more in the workshop Communicating for Results



    Tuesday, October 2, 2012

    Someone to Confide In

    Do you have someone in your life you can tell your innermost secrets?

    As open as we try to keep our communication within our teams and within our organizations, sometimes the thing we need most is someone outside to confide in. Someone with nothing at stake, who can listen openly and without judging.

    Someone we can trust. Someone like us, willing to suspend titles and lines of authority and willing to let you think thru your thoughts out loud.

    Leaders need people outside of their organization to confide in.

    Who is that for you?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith


    Sunday, September 30, 2012

    The Mood of the Leader

    What kind of mood are you in?

    Your team knows. People on your team are paying close attention to your mood. They want to know if this is going to be a good day, or something else. They want to know who you will pay attention to. They want to know if your emotions will drive them forward or hold them back.

    Centered leaders remember that their mood sets the mood for the team.

    It's a big responsibility, but there's no avoiding it.

    What kind of mood are you in?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Saturday, September 29, 2012

    What if Your Were Your Own Customer?

    You probably have seen the great offers that companies make to lure new customers in. Half price specials. Extended terms. Better warranties. You notice that the price is lower than you paid and the terms are more attractive -- ah, but! There's the fine print that says "for new customers only."

    You can't have those extra miles. You can't get that two-for-one. You can't get that special level of service all because -- you already are a customer.

    How does that make you feel?

    It makes me feel cheated. It makes me feel less appreciated. It makes me feel taken for granted. Maybe that's too strong or too bitter, but pardon me if I feel that a company should value its existing customer as much (or MORE) than prospective ones. After all, we're already spending money with them.

    If you offer new customers a better deal than existing customers, what message does that send to your current customers?

    Maybe there's a better way to use your marketing budget. Maybe there's a better way to treat the people who are already keeping you in business...

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    Who's To Blame?

    "It wasn't my fault."

    "I wasn't even there."

    "I think it happened on the other shift."

    "They are always messing things up."

    Who's to blame? When things go wrong, when a customer gets angry, when a supplier raises prices, when things don't go as you planned. Who's to blame?

    Will it even help if you could pin that down to one person? Will pouring guilt or punishment on a person solve your problem? Probably not.

    But people do it all the time.

    Blaming others is so easy that many people don't even know they are doing it.

    What if we stopped blaming others? What if instead, we worked together to find solutions, better ways of doing things, and ways to avoid what caused our problem to begin with?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Listening to Complaints

    How do you feel about complaints?

    Successful supervisors often discover that since they've developed the ability to truly listen to people, that people take that opportunity to complain. Why not? Think about how few people truly listen to us. Once you feel heard, it is wonderful.

    But listening to one complaint after another can be tough. It can even be counter-productive. For me, I often drift out of my carefully practiced listening and into wondering when is this person going to DO something about it?

    So why wonder into it -- go full speed ahead. Redirect. Refocus. Reframe. Sometimes all you need to do is listen and let a person vent, but more often than that a more effective strategy is to prod them into moving. Stir their passion into action. Encourage them to either do something about the issue they are complaining about or simply drop it. If it is truly out of their control or influence, maybe dropping it is their best option. But, if they CAN do something or influence someone regarding their complaint then the time to do that is now.

    Keep in mind that maybe YOU are that person they are seeking to influence. Then you get to choose.

    Your job is not to listen to complaints. Ask the complainer to collaborate on a solution.

    It will show how much either of you care about the issue, and how much either of you can do about it.

    Who knows? Maybe the two of you will make dramatic improvements in something.

    -- Douglas Brent Smith
        


    Tuesday, September 25, 2012

    Bristling Feedback

    Do you ever find it really hard to listen to feedback?

    I can recall a few times when the feedback that I was getting was either so far off base as to be insulting or so extreme as to be hurtful. Maybe it was just me, but there didn't seem to be any point.

    Or was there?

    At other times, when I have kept my feelings at bay long enough to listen, there is some element of truth worth exploring. There is often some kernel of insight that can be useful. Not always -- sometimes the feedback we get isn't even meant to be useful -- but sometimes.

    Centered leaders suspend judgment of themselves and the person providing the feedback to find the insight that's worth exploring.

    It may be in the feedback. It may be concerning your relationship. It may be in your reaction. But, it is likely there. We can usually learn something if we are open to the lesson available.

    Is there someone you work with who you find it hard to take feedback from? What would happen if you listened without judgement, without reacting?

    Is there someone who seems to shut down when you provide them with feedback? What can you change about your delivery that will make your insights easier to take?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Learn more in the workshop: Communicating for Results

    Saturday, September 22, 2012

    The Best Result

    Is the best result what you really want?

    I know you want a result that is best for you -- but often we can confuse what is best for us and our teams vs. what we seem to really want.

    This can work against us.

    How do we overcome this?

    Check in on what you really, really want. What is it that you are hoping for? Is that aligned with your vision and goals?

    If it is, go full speed ahead. Make it happen. Get busy achieving your goals.

    And if it isn't, it's time to talk it over with someone who can help you with that.

    Or would you rather get something other than what you want?

    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Front Range Leadership


    Confident Leaders

    What do you expect from your people?

    Could they possibly achieve more toward your unified vision than YOU ever have -- and would you be emotionally OK with that? 

    Confident leaders expect their people to exceed their own accomplishments in pursuit of the common vision. It's how high performance leaders multiply their efforts toward success.  

    As a leader, if you are going to achieve your goals you will need the confidence in your people that they will achieve their goals, and the confidence of your people that you will do you need to do to help them.

    Are you confident enough to expect more from your people? Are you making it possible for your people to succeed? What will you do today to open more doors to success for your people?  


    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    What If Your Creativity Could Change the World?

    What do you see in the world that needs changing?

    Would you like more peace? Should there be more jobs available for people everywhere? Should we be doing more to stop global warming? Will we run out of water unless we do something creative?

    Add your concerns to the growing list and you'll likely see plenty of opportunity to make the world a better place. Shall we leave that up to someone else and hope that everything turns out OK? Or, should we roll up our sleeves, tune up our brains, and get moving on some creative solutions?

    Think about what you are most creative about. What challenging situation could that be helpful in? How can you impact what matters most to you?

    What if your creativity could change the world? It can.


    -- Douglas Brent Smith

    Front Range Leadership

    Friday, September 21, 2012

    Embracing an Art of Possibility


    The creative arts have taken in on the chin this month. A poorly made trailer for an ill-conceived movie has sparked demonstrations around the world. Are people taking this piece of crap "art" too seriously? Is "art" that dangerous?

    Art sometimes is dangerous. It has the power to stir minds, to generate energy, to instigate change. It pries its way into our emotions and stirs up feelings we've been pushing down. It offers new ways of seeing things we may not have expected. It frames issues and personalities in plots and scenes we can be uncomfortable with.

    Shouldn't we talk about our feelings? Shouldn't we open our imaginations to new possibilities? Shouldn't we solve problems creatively by tapping into the creative tools and attitudes we learn from the arts?

    Ah yes, if we can only do that without throwing dangerous objects at each other!

    The answer is not to suppress the arts. The answer is not censorship or surrender. The answer is somewhere within an increased willingness and skill to create real dialogue. To create conversations within the context of honor and respect. To keep our minds open to both possibilities and harm. What might we have done to create harm and what can we possibly do to make things better?    

    The arts show us that we live in a multi-colored, multi-textured world of possibilities where evil is not always evident and righteousness is seldom absolute. Once we are able to question our own motives and look at our own actions the way others see them, we create the possibility of understanding.

    It's not the cure, but it's a start.

    The world needs more art, not less. The world will benefit from talking about our ideas and attitudes and playing them out in harmless fields of creativity -- but when they spill out into our streets and schools and places of public gathering we've missed something in the translation. We've missed something in the purpose of creativity.

    It is a wonderful honor, terrific challenge, and awesome responsibility to act as an artist. Are we teaching people how to do that effectively? Are we learning to discern mature work from primitive  mistakes? Are we allowing people to grow and to make horrible mistakes along the way without striking back in violence?

    I like art when it promotes my values of clarity, courage, creativity and compassion. Not all art will do that, nor do I expect it to. But let's give it a chance without expecting it to set the values for everyone. Let's let art illumine our differences while forging new connections, new conversations, new possibilities.

    I'm quietly holding on to the possibility that everyone in the world can breathe in with possibility and breathe out with purity. Does it happen all the time? Not yet -- but let's hold on together. Let's create without malice and observe without judgement.

    Give art a chance to change the world and the world becomes far more worth changing. 



    -- Douglas Brent Smith