5 things you should do to prepare yourself to lead a strategic planning session

indiana-jones imagin how boringEvery company and organization has them…or at least they should if they want to remain relevant and viable. Some conduct strategic planning sessions quarterly, others but once a year or so. There really is no “right” number. We hold them at least once a year, and for most companies that’s probably sufficient. You will need to decide when and how often would be optimal for your company or organization.

But they need to be done and they need to hold significant weight in the company culture. Don’t conduct them simply because they are on the calendar (like most employee performance appraisals – ugh). Conduct them because of their benefit to you, your associates, and to the company or organization’s culture. They keep us on track, point out what works and what doesn’t, and provoke ideas that might otherwise remain locked up in someone’s head.

There are plenty of places around the web that will offer advice about how to conduct a strategic planning session so I won’t belabor the obvious here. Instead, I want to focus on what you need to do to get yourself ready to conduct a successful strategic planning session.

First, decide how you want it to end. What outcome(s) should result that will assure you and the participants that the meeting has been worthwhile and successful? What will happen because you all took the time to meet and participate? If you don’t know that, then anything will do. All planning, all handouts, guides, supporting documents, and activities should be focused on and lead to the expected outcome. I am NOT suggesting that you decide ahead of time precisely what activities will result. The strategic planning session is not the place for you to get them to do what you want them to do. No, it is to discover what to start doing, what to stop doing, and what to continue doing…and to let others come to consensus.

Second, you are the visionary so it is your privilege to articulate, define, and celebrate the vision of your company or organization. Never neglect an opportunity to say it again. Strategic planning sessions should enable groups to avoid the trap of measuring progress by faithfulness to processes and systems. Instead, focus on product, those components that the systems are supposed to produce. I was in a meeting on Monday that provided the dynamics to discuss this critical principle. It is never enough to be busy or even fruitful. It is always important to do the right things that will produce the right results and everyone responsible needs to understand and appreciate the mandate.

Third, stand up, speak up, shut up. Prepare what you are going to say, say it, then get out of the way. A strategic planning session is not the platform for you to pontificate all day. It is the place for everyone else on the strategic team to participate and they can’t do that if you are in the way. Leaders are often in love with their own voices and gifted with immaculate perception (the belief that whatever the leader thinks of must be divine simply because he or she thought of it). This is not the day to do the talking. This is the day to guide discussion, inspire optimism and confidence, and frame the activities to engage everyone.

Fourth, ask questions but refrain from supplying answers. This is an extension of number three. Your role is to keep things on track, provide the parameters for analysis and discussion, and gather conclusions. The vision remains fixed. How your company or organization gets there is not all that precise. There is a context and a purpose for your existence. Once everyone understands the context and purpose, let them loose and leave them alone to come up with ways to realize them.

Finally, draw conclusions and enlist participation in the plan. We have all been involved in meetings where wonderful ideas were forwarded but nothing really happened. The real work of the strategic planning session happens after the session. Find participants, make specific plans, set schedules, and prepare to follow up. It is uniquely your job to equip and train, to give your people the information, equipment, and training they need to enact the plan.

Do not allow the ideas that emerged today to simply fade away. And do not take on the responsibility for developing and enacting them yourself. This is one of the most potentially productive days a leader can ever experience if they are committed to developing and releasing others.

5 Tenets of faith for leaders…and they have nothing to do with religion

faith in people - JobsWe all believe things and we believe in things. Our trust rests upon and resides within a certain set of beliefs. And I am NOT talking about doctrine, church dogma, or tenets of religion.

I am talking about the set of beliefs we as leaders have, often gone unnamed or unexamined, but held strongly that influence what we do and why we do it.

For example, one of my clients distrusted everyone. Although we never discussed his comprehensive distrust with much analysis (not surprisingly he really distrusted people who talked about their philosophies of leadership and life), probably he had been disappointed at some time or maybe often in his personal history. So he did not believe in the competence of others or their ability to do what had to be done.

Consequently he controlled everything. Every decision, every proposal, every action, every problem had to be passed through him because he had no faith in anyone else. It was a miserable place to work and I decided early in my contract there that I would not renew it.

So, there is leadership born of doubt and mistrust that spawns a particular set of beliefs albeit negative and pessimistic ones.

You will probably be glad to know that I am not going to talk about them. I want to list out the tenets of faith (positive and optimistic) that are embraced by all effective and admirable leaders.

#1 – Faith in the cause. Even for-profit enterprises have a cause and it is usually not limited to making money. Profit is important (without it the enterprise ceases) but it is not the only reason organizations exist and certainly not the only reason why leaders lead. No, we believe in the utility and value of the product or service we offer. Indeed, if we don’t, I suggest we will not last long and we certainly will not enjoy our work. No, tenet number one is faith in the cause. We believe in what we do, in whom and what we represent. (Hint: If you don’t, why do you stay at that company?)

#2 – Faith in yourself.  Struggling with self-doubt is not all that unusual, but confident leaders inspire followers to follow, to participate enthusiastically, and to make personal sacrifices for the sake of the cause. Further, there is that sense of self-confidence, faith in one’s ability to carry out the task successfully, to meet the expectations comprehensively, and to fulfill the position completely that contributes to a person’s sense of success. Armies cannot respond to an uncertain trumpet call.

#3 – Faith in others. The sooner you can learn to trust others, the happier everyone will be. No one is suggesting that a leader or manager abandon all devices of accountability. I am suggesting that you allow people to do their jobs. If you’re uncertain, build in accountability points that are independent of you. Schedule dates and times for reports. Look for natural and normal events that demand a check like incremental development dates for a project. But leaders of faith simply do not pester people. You’ve enough to do without trying to do what everyone else does, too. And if a person you’ve employed simply fails to meet the job requirements, there is someone out there who can. Find them.

#4 – Faith in proven methods. When I turn the key in the ignition switch in my car, I expect the engine to start. The first person who started an internal combustion engine was not so certain. I can be certain because I have a history of trying certain things and know they will work. I accept them because they’ve worked.

#5 – Faith in tomorrow. John Wayne had a great way of looking at this. He said thatTomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”  Some are fearful of the future (lacking in faith), others are resentful of the past (lacking in forgiveness and forgetfulness). Great leaders are neither. They aren’t naïve. They learned yesterday’s lessons. But they are optimistic because they’re ready to try out the lessons of yesterday on tomorrow’s challenges.

Leaders without faith seem to be able to self-fulfill prophecy. They can recount horror stories of how their faith let them down and they had to respond negatively and with more comprehensive controls. I don’t even try to change their minds. Their belief is in unbelief. I chose to be a leader of faith. It’s a lot nicer place to live.

We are what we are

 

integrityI am putting together my next publishing venture, gathering material from past entries and creating a new self-training program for emerging leaders. It is called “Building Leaders From The Inside Out – A Course In Developing Leaders With Character.”

In so doing, I’ve encountered some interesting feedback. One reviewer said that “The leader of a $30 million company can take this and make his company a $40 million one.” But another was less optimistic. They said that I was describing a saint, not a leader.

We obviously disagree. A leader is not determined merely by what you do. It is what and who you are.

There is no dichotomy between the leader at work and the leader at home. We will all pretty much agree that leaders can and do less than ethical, moral, even legal things. I certainly will not dispute that.

But I do dispute that such behavior is to be accepted, condoned, or rationalized that ends can justify means. No, it does matter how you do what you do and it is important to live with your life what you say with your mouth you ought to be.

Why?

Because we are what we are.

Part of the problem is that consequences are usually eventual not immediate. One can get away with lots of things before the walls fall in on you. Look at the leaders of Enron, or of other companies whose leaders were pulling shenanigans that no one saw.

But even if there were no consequences ever made evident, I aver that being a person of ethics and morality is not reserved for saints nor should it be cast off as the fortune of but a few.

Nor do I agree that leadership depends upon opportunity. One person has suggested that President Abraham Lincoln is well-known now because of his leadership in the American Civil War. However, to suggest that he was a great leader because of an event he did not cause (he might have because of his election but we won’t debate that here) is to misunderstand and misrepresent two critical things.

One is that leadership does not function until there is opportunity and that if you are deprived of opportunity you cannot become a great leader is false. Leadership opportunities are found daily and most often in obscurity. It does not require a Civil War to become a leader or a great one. Indeed, there are those within whom excellence in leadership does not reside that simply collapse under opportunity. No, leaders are leaders everywhere and every day. A leader, by virtue (note the word “virtue” because I’m coming back to it) of who they are and the gifts that are within them from birth, leads. The nuances of what they say, when they say it, and what they do indicate to others that a leader is present. Indeed, Lincoln had to be elected and that is of itself an indicator of appealing qualities.

The second is that greatness must be visible and celebrated to exist. This premise is fallacious as well. Celebrity and renown are often mistaken for leadership but they are not one and the same. Leaders may become well-known or they may labor in obscurity. But greatness is an essence. It is the substance behind the image (if there is any). Celebrity is an illusion.

Leaders are not made nor are they manifest by taking courses or reading books that expose them to information and ideas. Leaders are made because who they are, the virtues they possess, and the things they do, even if the effects are subtle, resonate within others. Others sense, feel, hear, see, and respond to what a leader says, does, and is.

Integrity is one of those words that are well-served when its etymology is explored. The root of integrity is “integer” which is “a whole number,” a number that can be written without a fractional component. There is not a separation of private from public, personal from professional. We are what we are. Nothing less and absolutely nothing more.

So, my premise here today is that who you are matters as much as what you do even if it is not always in the public eye. How you get there matters as much as the destination. The ends cannot and must not be allowed to justify the means.

And because superlative, excellent leaders are not the sole domain of saints. There are far, far, far more superlative leaders than we might think.  You are probably among them…even if no one outside a few ever knows your name.

 

The difference between an incomplete leader and an incompetent one

 

Wizard-of-OzThe myth of the superhero leader, a person of unlimited ability, charisma, and strength persists. Indeed, throughout all of history we have forced the illusion of the larger than life figure who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

Without doubt extraordinary leaders are people of exceptional competence but they do not rely on the image of flawless perfection nor do they allow their subordinates and associates to perpetuate that myth.

Some people seem to think that they must appear to be capable of every demand made upon them. It is an unfortunate and unsustainable reliance on image. They are typically emotionally insecure individuals who are afraid that their power and authority would somehow disappear if others were to know that they can’t really do everything.

Others are narcissists who are in love with their own image and perceive themselves inaccurately, emperors without clothes, as it were. Their massive self-esteem is rooted in the illusion that they are more competent than they are.

No one as complete as they would like to be. Many are not as complete as they think they are.

I’ve been writing for several months about the qualities of the superlative leader but I cannot sum up the series without qualifying the idea some may get that superlative leaders possess all 18 qualities or that to be truly exceptional one must be flawless.

But great men and women often possess great flaws.

So what?

Their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses because their competence as leaders simply overwhelms. And that brings me to the point today. There is a difference between being incomplete and being incompetent.

Incomplete leaders are humble enough to recognize…and accept…their weaknesses. Here’s the key – because they can see and accept their flaws and weaknesses, they search for others who possess the skills, competencies, and capabilities they do not. Then they employ them to build a leadership and executive team that is complete.

Incompetent leaders do not. Their flaws, because they remain unacknowledged and unattended, eventually overcome them and overwhelm their ability to lead. Why? Because of the wizard syndrome.

What, you ask, is the wizard syndrome?

Most of my readers will be familiar with the 1939 blockbuster movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves ion Munchkin land desperately wanting to get back to Kansas. In the company of a Tin Man (who lacked a heart), a Lion (who lacked courage), and a Scarecrow (who lacked a brain – intelligence), they follow the yellow brick road to the city of Oz wherein dwells the Wizard, a being of incomprehensible power and knowledge. They overcome many obstacles to get to the Wizard because they believe that he can do what no one else can.

Once there, they find the Wizard unapproachable and unwilling to help. In his terrifying presence they cower and lose hope until Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is no wizard at all. He is a mere man, a human who has built the image of supreme ability and unapproachable strength.

When you encounter a person who doesn’t let anyone know who they really are, who insists on projecting an image, who refuses to acknowledge that they are anything other than the magnificence they appear to be, they are using the wizard syndrome to build and maintain their power.

The problem comes when failures begin to pile up. One can forgive and compensate for the flaws of a humble person. We are less inclined to do so for the failures of those who insist on perpetuating the illusion of flawlessness.

Incomplete leaders know and accept the limitations of their reach so they find others who will enable them to reach farther. Incompetent leaders become angry and belligerent at the suggestion that their reach is somehow someway inadequate.

Incomplete leaders know and accept that they cannot know everything or understand all there is to understand so they gather around them voices that finish the story and complete the picture…and they listen to them. Incompetent leaders simply refuse to acknowledge that anyone else could possibly tell them anything they don’t know already.

Incomplete leaders have patience with others because they understand human nature and human frailties. Incompetent leaders consider themselves to be super-human and expect everyone else to be the same. They tolerate no failings in others which does two things. It promotes deceit and hiding as others cover up their actions lest Mr. Wizard find out. Second, it drives away capable people who simply will not tolerate the double-standard. The result is to attract second-rate people, lackeys and sycophants who tell Mr. Wizard what he wants to hear and promote the illusion Wizard lives under and wants.

So, we strive for excellence and live with failure. We grow into greater measures of ability and learn from our mistakes. We appreciate our innate and cultivated capacities and encourage those of others. We may be incomplete but then, none of us are finished with living yet.

As young leaders we admire and gravitate to the wizards we think will take us where we long to go. It’s only after the illusion dissolves in the cold light of reality do we realize that the heart, courage, and intelligence we long to possess is found in those who travel with us. We ultimately realize that exceptionalism is not so much a destiny as it is the journey.

 

 

9 characteristics of benevolence in a superlative leader

 

benevolence-title-imageIt was an embarrassing display. I was in a another city working for a non-profit organization. The organization’s director , I’ll call him Clark, and I were at a local restaurant for dinner. The waitress was having a difficult time that evening and got a couple of things wrong. I watched in stunned disbelief as Clark berated the poor woman for her errors, then endured the rest of the evening as his mood soured. The entire event turned into awkward conversation then silence.

I would have chalked Clark’s actions up to having a bad night and that this was an unusual occurrence. But on the job and in the workplace I had noticed his aloof and patrician manner that kept associates at a distance, made him difficult to approach, and hard to access.

Some people think that leadership demands an aloof manner or superior attitude but it does not. Only weak or immature leaders think this or act thus. Superlative leaders are friendly, kindhearted, and downright nice. They speak politely to everyone regardless of their salary level or job position. Janitors and vice-presidents are treated with the same degree of graciousness.

I’ve put together a list of 9 characteristics of a benevolent leader. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. Benevolent leaders are committed to making society better both inside and outside their organizations. They will produce a profit, no doubt. But they will not do so at the expense of anyone.
  2. Benevolent leaders are approachable and accessible. They are not obnoxious or closed.
  3. Benevolent leaders are neither wimps nor pushovers. Whenever I brought a new hire on, I always warned them not to mistake forbearance for indifference. I would be longsuffering but would not tolerate employees who took advantage of me. I expected them to be conscientious and responsible because I would be, too.
  4. Benevolent leaders welcome good news and invite bad news. The last thing you want it for your associates to withhold information from you because they think you either don’t want to hear it or you will blame them for it.
  5. Benevolent leaders communicate. They keep connections close and lines of information flowing. The send information out because they want information in.
  6. Benevolent leaders get to know their associates and employees as they really are before they expect them to be something else. They understand that people are not machines. They grow in their jobs and make room for it.
  7. Benevolent leaders acknowledge progress, reward success, and celebrate achievement. They walk around trying to find people doing things right. They do not simply look for error or failure. You might think that people leave your company or organization for lack of pay, but that ranks third or fourth. Most leave because they feel unfulfilled and unappreciated.
  8. Benevolent leaders are servant leaders. By that I mean that, like a superlative waiter in a fine restaurant, they anticipate the needs of their charges well-before they’re asked for. Indeed, they don’t want their charges to have to ask. Therefore, they provide the tools and information that their workers will need to do their job well.
  9. Benevolent leaders do not claw their way to the top, they earn advancement and success. Others carry them up there. They attract top talent around them and inspire achievement because they are competent, likeable people.

For some this comes quite naturally. Others might have to work on this. If you sense you might need an outside voice to speak into this for you, find someone you trust, a close friend or mentor, and ask.

 

Influence – when you speak, who listens?

EF_Hutton_Airport_Commercial_1978-500x363Tables were arranged in a shallow U-shape at the front of the room. It was the annual board meeting of a vintage automobile club whose members resided in almost every state. The year had not been a peaceful one when some actions taken by the board provoked considerable anger among many members.

The annual meeting was the place where opinions and concerns could be voiced and for this meeting a larger than normal number had gathered. There had been some informal communication among the number of disaffected members, but there was no formal opposition party. Yet, the discontent was strong enough that the larger than normal number had gone to the expense of being at the meeting…and they wanted to be heard.

But it’s not easy for a group of dissenters to be heard and taken seriously without a spokesman. The question was, who would that spokesperson be?

I knew of no such person. I had been part of the club for several years and was well aware of the unhappiness. Granted, there is always someone somewhere who is not happy with something, but this time it was different. The club president and the executive board had provoked a bigger more vocal outcry.

As agenda items came up and were disposed of by those board members seated around the tables, the more controversial items began to appear. One in particular seemed to have drawn the most fire. As it was read a curious thing began to happen, all eyes began to turn to one particular person in the crowd. That, I concluded, was the spokesperson. If the board could satisfy and win over that person, the rest would follow.

Why? Because that person was the person of influence. People looked to that person for leadership, to be the voice of what they were feeling and thinking, to articulate what concerned them. If a person of influence exists, movements, ideas, opinions, expectations, ambitions, dreams, and desires will begin to take shape. If one does not, they remain ill-defined, indistinct, and unorganized.

Leaders are people of influence. It is a quality that is not negotiable. If one does not have influence, one does not and cannot lead. Some of you older American readers will remember a commercial from the 1970’s for the E.F. Hutton brokerage firm. I’ve inserted one below for those too young to remember or from a region where it did not air.

The catch line for this very popular line of commercials was “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” Well, that’s the simple principle. When a person has influence others watch what they do and listen to what they say.

Now for the other side of this principle. Superlative leaders know this. They understand they are being watched and they are being heard. If you knew this to be true about yourself, how would it affect you? You would realize your words and your actions have impact. So, superlative leaders use that power of influence for good. Leadership is an optic art, a fine combination of actions and words that persuade, inspire, and motivate…or dissuade, deflate, and demotivate.

When you talk, who listens? More people than you might think. You are a person of influence. Once a person accepts that, they begin to structure their words and actions so as to have the greatest effect. Never to deceive or mislead, always to inspire and lead. Others look to them to be the voice of what they feel and think. That, my friend, is you.

 

10 organizational competencies of a superlative leader

soft skillsHe was a fair to middling woodworker. On a good day he could complete a project with only one or two mistakes. In his early thirties, he had an inclination to drink and in a place where the price of rum was less than that of milk, staying lubricated was neither difficult nor expensive…unless you counted the cost of impaired thinking and skills.

He worked for me for a while but I finally let him go after my attempts to keep him sober and on the job just didn’t work. I heard that he opened his own cabinet shop. A few months later I learned that he had closed his shop and gone to work for someone else.

He had discovered that woodworking skills, what in the HR world are called hard skills, are not enough. Successful owners of businesses or leaders of organizations know that two skill sets are often required. One is personal, the skills of the particular profession whether it be woodworking or architecture.

But the second set will ultimately determine if the organization or business will survive and thrive. That is the set of 10 organizational competencies every superlative leader needs.

1. Maintain a forward focus and organize change. Technical skilled people must, of necessity, focus on the right now. They must attend to the processes and practices in the immediate. Widgets have to be made, sales calls must be completed, or briefs must be written. But superlative leaders know that what’s done today must have some definitive relevance on tomorrow and next year. If you don’t, the urgent will supplant the important. There will always be things to do. The question is, are they the right things to do?

2. Identify and solve problems. I wrote about problem solving skills in previous posts. Check them out here,  here, and here.

3. Make decisions. This may be one of the most critically important things you can do. Indecisiveness will torpedo your authority faster than anything else. People expect you to lead and that means that want someone to make a decision. That’s you.

4. Manage politics and influence others. Politically skilled leaders know how to move an agenda forward. The skill set includes the powers of persuasion, negotiation, compromise, and influence. The idea of managing politics is distasteful to many but look at it in its purest sense. Everyone has feelings, ideas, ambitions, and intentions. Use your skills to bring people along for the good of the company or the organization. At the same time, guard against manipulation and the blind abuse of power for selfish purposes.

5. Take intelligent risks and innovate. Nothing ventured nothing gained. Leadership is a risky business. In the end we very often judge ourselves by what we have accomplished, but we tend to diminish our gains by those things we just didn’t even try to do. No one is recommending foolhardiness. I am encouraging you to take chances. Why do you think funding sources are sometimes referred to as venture capitalists?

6. Set vision, develop strategy, and implement tactics. I go here more than anywhere else. If there is one skill that rides supreme over all others it is this one. On it hinges everything. Organizations enter a death spiral when vision and purpose fade from view.

7. Monitor the work. To get what you EXPECT you must be faithful and diligent to INSPECT.

8. Business skills and knowledge. You really do need to know the business you are in and how it works. Many soft skills are universal but their application usually needs to be tweeked and your insights into the business because of experience and education give you an edge.

9. Understand and navigate the organization. This is trickier than it seems. We are familiar with organizational charts but things never work that cleanly or precisely. There are lines of communication within organizations you need to know…and therefore can use. Machines are simple to learn to operate but people are complicated and can be inconsistent depending on mood and circumstances.

10. Always motivate, never manipulate. Manipulation is usually more efficient but ineffective over the long haul. Being able to motivate is at the crux of leadership. General Dwight Eisenhower said that leadership is the art and science of letting people have your own way.

These ten things are more a manifestation of who you are than what you do. They are the result of a thousand small acts and words. And we are all learning how and doing better all the time.

4 questions to ask when someone brings a problem to you or you can learn a lot from a monkey

monkeys-with signLeaders, especially superlative ones, are achievers. They get things done. They are typically hands-on, roll up the sleeves type of people who attack life and its opportunities head on.

It is that sort of attitude that contributes to success, a tenacious, never say die pursuit of achievement. Typically they are labeled Type A, but I think type B personalities can be just as tenacious and relentless. They are just quieter about it.

But, this attitude and inclination can get us into trouble. We tend to pick up too many things, lock in to too many pursuits, and want to fix every issue. If we’re not careful, we will be guilty of meddling or compromised in our ability to develop the skills and competence of others because we do things they should be doing.

Doubtless, subordinates and associates will bring problems to you. Indeed, the competence to solve problems is imperative for superlative leaders, but I’ll write more about that next week. Right now I want to address this topic as a counselor.

Some of you know that I donate several days a month to the local SCORE* chapter, a group of business men and women who mentor business owners or those who would like to be business owners. Of the many competencies found in our mentors, a universal one is we never take up a problem if it could and should be handled by the person we are mentoring.  You do not develop people by doing for them what they must do for themselves.

Imagine, if you will, that your workplace is a jungle. Indeed it may seem like one at times. Chaos, wild animals, and uncivilized behavior may occasionally be what you see most but usually things function naturally. People go about their business and the work gets done.

To carry the analogy further, consider that each task, each responsibility, each problem is a monkey. Every person who works in the jungle has monkeys to take care of and usually they do.

But when monkeys become troublesome and unruly, something happens that directly affects you.

However, monkeys climb. They climb up the tree. And where is your desk (or main workplace)? That’s right. You sit in the higher reaches of the jungle.

Troublesome monkeys are, well, troublesome. It is not unusual that monkey-tenders will hand off bothersome monkeys if they can. So the monkey may find itself on your desk or someone may bring it to you.

JUNGLE SURVIVAL RULE #1 – Give monkeys back.

Your job is to develop and equip others. That’s your monkey and it’s a big one. You are NOT the keeper of everyone else’s monkey. So don’t accept a problem just because someone hands it to you. Here are 4 questions to ask of the monkey-tender:

1. What is the problem? You want to know the nature of the problem itself. Almost always a subordinate or an associate will tell you the effects not the cause. You want to be able to identify the cause(s) and cannot be content with the effects only. Here’s the important part, you want to train the subordinate or associate to discover the cause. Do not treat effects only and do not allow those you lead to stop at effects. If you do the effects will surely and inevitably come around again. So, ask and keep probing until you get the answer and get the monkey-tender to be able to identify the problem and its cause(s).

2. What have you done about it? You want to know why the monkey is troubled, sick, or dying, and you want to know what has been done already. The answer will reveal much. You save time and eliminate guessing. You also begin to see the problem-solving skills (or lack thereof) of your co-workers.

3. What do you want me to do about? This sounds a little snarky but I don’t mean it that way. I am not suggesting you should answer sharply harshly or with a condescending manner. I do mean you should probe to find out what they want from you. A solution? Just to gossip? A reward for being an informant? Help? Advice? Or what?

4. What are your expectations in coming to see me at this time? While this may sound almost like question #3, it isn’t. A powerful component in the problem-solving process is attitude. The answer to this question reveals the level of hope, the degree of frustration, and/or the frame of mind, positive or negative. It begins to set the tone for what you have to do next?

And what is that, you ask?

Well, you’ll have to wait until Monday to find out. I gotta go.  There’s a monkey on my desk and he needs more bananas.

 

*SCORE is not for retired people only. A large number of volunteers are young business owners who just want to help out other business owners. You could be a mentor too. Check it out at www.score.org

Kryptonite, even superlative leaders have to be careful

supermanBorn in Cleveland, Ohio, by high schoolers Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in 1933, he first appeared to the public in Edition #1 of Action Comics in June, 1938.

The son of scientist Jor-El, infant Kal-El was rocketed to Earth by his father just before the planet Krypton was destroyed. Landing in Kansas, he was discovered and raised by a farmer and his wife who gave him the name of Clark Kent.

Imbued with a strong moral compass, the boy grew into superhuman powers which he used for the good of humanity. As an adult he moved to the big city of Metropolis where he worked for the Daily Planet and met the charming Lois Lane who would become the love of his life.

Most regard Superman as the greatest superhero ever, the pattern by which all others were derived, and the standard by which all are measured. But he was not invincible.

Oh sure, he was faster than a speeding bullet. And certainly he was more powerful than a locomotive. Yes, he was able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. And if you looked skyward you might mistake him for a bird or a plane, but no, it was Superman.

He seemed, by every account to be invincible and everywhere, up to every challenge, able to overcome any and all threats, capable of conquering any obstacle.

Except one.

Kryptonite.

Not introduced into the series until 1949, kryptonite took on various forms and affected Superman in different ways through the years. But whatever the form and however it impacted the man of steel, it illustrates an important and critical principle for superlative leaders.

You might think you can change the course of mighty rivers or bend steel with your bare hands. And there might be people around you who tell you it is true. But, no one is up to every challenge, no one is invincible, and no one is without weakness somewhere somehow. Only fools think they are.

Arrogance and foolhardiness are not the same as self-confidence and self-assurance. In fact, the former are perfect examples of the kryptonite flaw. Even superlative leaders have kryptonite vulnerability. It is different for everyone and affects everyone uniquely. There is a piece of the stuff out there and the best thing a superlative leader does is know that it exists, know where it will affect him or her, and know what to do to avoid it.

What’s your kryptonite vulnerability and what are you doing to prevent it from disabling you? Hint: If you think you don’t have one, you’ve just discovered the first piece of it.

Note: for those outside the US or those not old enough to remember, here’s a great clip from the original TV series: