Monday, October 31, 2016

If You Don't Know, Ask Why


Questions are powerful. I've been lucky to work with two powerful mentors. Each helped me to realize and utilize the importance of questions. Lester T. Shapiro told me, "The principle role of a leader is to ask relevant questions."

Relevant questions get to the heart of things. Relevant questions get to the motivations, needs, and causes of things. Ask relevant questions.

Another great mentor, Andrew Oxley, told me "If you don't like the answer to a question, ask a better question."

Powerful stuff. And here's the thing: there are always better questions. We need never be the victim of someone else's poor communication skills again. Simply ask better questions. It's up to us as leaders to keep the inquiry going long enough to complete a satisfactory dialogue. It can be hard work. The work is worth it.

Part of those questions includes the most demanding question of all, the deepest question of all, the question most likely to trigger defensiveness: "why?"

Use why sparingly. Use why with compassion. But do use why. Leaders (hey, really everyone) need to know why.

If you don't know why, ask.

Why wouldn't you? Because it's too much work? Because others might get defensive? Because you don't want to put anyone on the spot? Get over it! Why? Because you deserve to, you need to, you want to know why.

-- Doug Smith


Monday, October 17, 2016

Share Leadership


Someone is in charge. You may have thought it was you. Do you share your leadership or keep it to yourself?

Share. It's not an either/or proposition. Even when the buck stops with the leader, the leader can still share leadership. Share decision making. Share idea generation. Share development.

I like the concept from "The Art of Possibility Thinking" by Rosamind Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander -- lead from any chair.

When anyone in the room can contribute, the contributions are better. When anyone in the circle has a voice -- the voices all matter. When anyone in the room can lead, we lead much more responsibly, with more compassion, courage, creativity, and clarity.

Share leadership. It's not losing. It's sharing the win.

-- Doug Smith


Quick Link: Here's a great summary of the 12 concepts from "The Art of Possibility Thinking"


Sunday, October 16, 2016

How's Your Point of View?


If you suddenly appeared to your much younger self, would your much younger self even recognize you? Despite maybe resembling your parent, you are a very different person.

At least you should be.

We grow. We change. Our points of view evolve. Sometimes in that change we can get lost and forget the heart of what is still most important to us.

Our point of view can shift so gradually OR so suddenly that we do not even notice. We go on. We muddle thru.  We do things that at one time would surprise us.

Right or wrong, do you know what you've changed in your values, your goals, your dreams?

I've recalibrate some of my expectations formed from an evolving point of view. I've played roles that no longer suit me. I've left so much work on the field that the field of play has hidden completely some days. Enough of that. Enough of slipping into oblivion. I'm going kicking and singing!

How about you?

-- Doug Smith


Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Creative Leader's Approach to Boundaries


How firm are your boundaries? Are you willing to try new things, even if they are so new that they seem frightening?

When I worked at GE there was a lot of talk about creating more boundarylessness. Yes, they made up the word. The broke a semantic boundary in service to their notion.

It's not that there are no boundaries. We need those. It's just that our boundaries tend to get fixed into configurations that constrain us unnecessarily. We need to break those boundaries, or simply pass thru them without breaking them. They become (again, as we referred to them at GE) as permeable boundaries.

Nature knows all about this. Got a fence? Nature will find a way around it or over it or thru it. Build a wall? Nature will find a way to slowly knock it down. Cities and states? Nature doesn't care. If a storm is headed your way, those artificial boundaries that you think are so sacrosanct will not protect you.

Be like nature. Test your boundaries. Cross those borderlines sometimes. Innovate. The creative leader sees boundaries as possibilities, not barriers.

How about you?

-- Doug Smith

Monday, October 3, 2016

High Performance Leaders Stay Curious


Do you have all the answers? Probably not. Let me go out on a limb here -- neither you nor I have ALL the answers. Even when we think we do.

High performance leaders DO have a lot of confidence. It's easy for us to assert our will and believe we know exactly what we're talking about. And, maybe we do. But even then -- even then -- we can learn. Even when we KNOW the answer for sure, guess what? There are other answers. Other people's views. Other perspectives. And they matter when it comes to leading people.

And even when we think we do have all the answers, how permanent are those answers? What could possibly change that will change our views, our needs, our responses?

We don't know what is going to change, but something is. Count on it.

So let go of pretending that you know all the answers and I will, too. Get the views of others. Get the cool ideas into the mix. The possibilities will expand!

-- Doug Smith


Saturday, October 1, 2016

High Performance Leaders and Emotions



Are you an emotional leader?

I had a boss once who put his fist thru a wall. He got lucky. If he hits a stud, it's a broken hand, at least. But he hit pure dry wall and his fist went right thru. He was making a point. I don't remember what his point was, but it was obvious that he was angry. He was also out of control.

Leaders can't afford to look out of control. Scare your team and they'll lose productivity faster than you can say "update the resume."

I've lost my temper, too -- but never put my fist thru a wall (at work. I did once in college in the apartment where I lived, but that's another story. Oh, yes I did fix the hole.)

Sure, leaders can have emotions. But if our emotions get out of control they get in our way. Our teams panic. Our customers walk. Our families cringe.

I'm not advocating any kind of flat line robotics here. Enjoy your emotions. Cry. Laugh. Cuss if you need to. Enjoy the joy that's there in life's rich palette of emotions. Just don't get sloppy about it.

Why not align yourself with some positive emotions? How about these high performance leadership emotions -- joy, faith, delight, passion, patience, compassion, curiosity, creativity, courage...let those hang out all over the place. But keep the crazy ones dialed down.



-- Doug Smith