….Real leaders don’t accept mediocrity – they constantly seek improvement. If you want to become a true standout as opposed to someone who has great potential my message is simple – become very intentional about bringing discipline to every area of your life. – Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth . . . . We were discussing this in a workshop that I was facilitating a couple of months ago. There were good questions back and forth together with agreements and disagreements. One disagreement centered on leaders who don’t show up on time for meetings, being last to arrive in the office in the morning and other matters that did not meet the discipline in leadership category. There was one leader who arrived about 20 minutes before the class started. Those who arrived before him kind of gave him a smile that did not look sincere at all. I noticed it but did not say anything at that time. At the end of the day, when everyone had left, he came up to me and confided his challenge in being a discipline leader. I spent some time with him and learned a great deal about his personal life – he is married, wife works, has a daughter in primary 5, has worked for the company for 7 years and is looking forward to growing further in the company in a leadership role. We then talked about his discipline issue. His challenge is time management and not being able to come to work on time. Furthermore, many a days, his daughter is sent to school late because he wakes up late and has to send her to school before coming to work. His daughter is usually unhappy because of his indiscipline. He has tried many ways to waking up early and it works only once or twice and he is back to being late. His wife has given up waking him up because he gets angry with her. He confessed that he is looking for some guidance and is very serious about it because he does not want his daughter to be hurt and sad. I asked him if he has ever asked his daughter to wake him up. The response was negative. Can he request that from her? He said he would try. The result is in the past two months after our chat, he has been on time in sending off his daughter and being on time at work. He is a disciplined leader and a happy one too.
The Starfish Story Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions. Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.” The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977) When I came across the starfish story, I immediately thought it is a beautiful analogy for leadership. Leadership is all about making a difference in other people’s life. The question is whether it is a positive or a negative one that you make. John Maxwell, the American leadership guru, states that “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I couldn’t agree more on that. Leaders are supposed to focus on others and to serve them. However, there are a lot of indicators that often, this is not happening. Leadership is in a crisis. Take for example the Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey conducted regularly by Edelman, a public relations firm. While 41% of the survey respondents trust their government, only 13% trust the individual government leaders. 50% of the survey participants have faith in companies, but only 18% trust company leaders (2013 global survey results). In both cases, a huge trust gap exists between the individual and the organization as such. In surveys across the globe about the most admired professions, medical doctors typically come first. But look who is ranked at the end of the list. Last are politicians; business leaders come in only second but last. Gallup, the opinion poll and human resources consulting company, who is regularly monitoring the satisfaction of employees across the globe, states that in 2013 only 13% of employees worldwide were engaged (U.S. 29%). Combine these findings with the expectations of millennials who are looking for a different leadership style and the needs of the baby boomers who are nearing retirement wanting to make sure that they have made a difference, you have a clear case for a necessary change in leadership. Life, business, work, and leadership are all about people. People matter. They are the key success factor. Summarizing it can be said when it comes to success in your career and your life, it is all about people. So always remember the starfish story and ask yourself: “What difference will you make in someone’s life today?
Last week I got a taxi from the Morchit BTS Terminal. It wasn’t easy. Five taxis stopped but none wanted to take me to Rangsit. The sixth taxi stopped and it really did elevate my spirit and brought delight. So with this happy mood, I took my front seat and with broad smile on my face, I looked at the taxi driver and expressed my happiness and appreciated his kindness to stop and pick me up. He looked at me with surprise and said he was just doing his duty. I asked him then that if other passengers have appreciated him. He said no. So I asked him when was the last time he received an appreciation. He couldn’t recall. I was surprised when he said no need for appreciation because when you feel good, people take advantage of the situation and only bad things happen. In reflecting upon what happens in a business context, I can recall when associates have confided how deprived they feel when good work and deeds are never appreciated and on the other hand criticism comes ever so quickly for one small error. Even leaders have expressed how they are seldom appreciated for the good they do for their organization in terms of profitable performance. Todays leadership need to catch up upon the softer side of leading people – giving honest and sincere appreciation – make people feel important – to honestly see things from the other persons point of view – motivate others with kind words – by doing this, leaders lead rather then drive others. True appreciation can create an organizational culture in which appreciation and positive energy are the norms rather than the exceptions, a culture in which people feel valued for their work and help those around to do the same. Leading with appreciation creates a positive culture. Wishing You A Happy & Successful New Year!
Last month, I attended a workshop in Bangkok that was conducted by Dave Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan. Ulrich is dubbed the No. 1 most influential international thought leader in Human Resources (HR). He is considered the father of modern HR. During the workshop, Ulrich presented an idea that I found particularly interesting. He stated that during the last twenty years almost every organization in the world, no matter whether small or big, private or public, has crafted a set of values. Ulrich mentioned that apart from the fact that a lot of organizations do not really live their values, there is one more issue. He said that most companies chose their values based on internal discussions with a focus on the internal organization while customers’ perspectives were neglected. Therefore, Ulrich suggests that an organization should ask their target customers “Are these the values you want us to have?”. Like this, you can find out whether your company’s values really matter to your top customers. Ulrich suggests you ask your target customers a second question: “What do we have to do to live these values better than our competitors?” The answers will help you to operationalize the values. He also gave an example to illustrate how organizations sometimes misinterpret customers’ expectations. He said that about 80 % of business people don’t like it when on your arrival the bellboy of a hotel quickly grabs your bag from the car and takes it into the hotel and then to your room. Most business people would rather carry their own bag to control it, and to save time instead of waiting in the hotel room for the bag. I can relate to that example very well, because I think like the 80 % of business people stated above. Therefore, if you have a dialogue with your customers about how to operationalize your values, you can be sure that you are doing the right things from a customer perspective. And, although Ulrich didn’t mention that, I believe it brings you much closer to your customers, and it strengthens the relationship. So consider starting a discussion with your key customers how they think about your values and how to best operationalize them.
Last month I returned home for the funeral of my eldest brother-in-law. Besides the religious rites that were being performed, there was also a large crowd who turned up to pay their last respects to a man I have known since February 1963 when he entered into matrimony with my eldest sister. He was an amiable individual who grew up in a rubber estate where his name was well known. His extroversion attracted others in every walk of life to be his friend, a confidant, brother, mentor and most of all a good listener. Within his family circle, he was a loving brother and a caring father who was an idol for his four sons and a daughter who have given him and my sister 12 grand children. While I was sitting through the funeral rites, the chattering of praises, recognition, good deeds and the legacies my departed brother-in-law has left behind was heard. It was a great feeling to hear all this for he has lived a good life and in heaven he may enjoy his nearness to the creator. My personal experience with him has been memorable. I still remember him awarding me with a bike back in 1964 when I received very good grades in my annual school exam. We have always enjoyed each others’ company whenever we met up. In a business context, leaders today can also leave behind an everlasting legacy of who they were as leaders. Leaders today need to extend more of care and understanding to the people around them. They will see that they can receive more cooperation and produce more result by leading people with their soft skills rather than hard skills. It is never too late.
How are your communication skills? Do you merely inform your audience or are you able to inspire them and to move them to action? I just finished reading the book “Communicate to influence – How to inspire your audience to action” by Ben Decker & Kelly Decker. What gave me a lot of thought is their “Communicator’s Road Map” (below). It is a two by two grid with the vertical axis being “emotional connection”, and the horizontal axis being “the content of your talk”. We all know how boring business presentations typically are. And from my own observation, often the higher the presenter is ranked in a company’s hierarchy, the more boring the presentation is. Most of these tedious talks fall in the lower left quadrant. The presenter doesn’t connect, because he is low in emotion, and he talks only about his own stuff. Adding some emotional content, e.g. through stories or humor, brings you up to the left upper quadrant, the “entertain” quadrant. Since your content is still your own stuff, you are not in a position to influence the audience. The right upper quadrant is “inspire”, and that’s where you should always try to be. If you are there, it means people feel connected to you. They trust and like you. And in this quadrant, the content of your talk applies to your audience. And that’s where you can influence them! In the right lower “direct” quadrant, we just give instructions without any emotional connection, but the content is all about the audience. What are the best ways to move on the axes? On the horizontal axis, it is simply to change your content from self-centered to audience-centered. Regarding the vertical axis, the Deckers state that it’s not our competence but our warmth, humility, genuineness, and generosity that people pick up on first when they are evaluating you. These are the qualities that engender trust and will move you right up the emotional connection axis. They recommend to add one or more of the following elements to your presentation: stories, humor, analogies, references, or pictures and visuals. So when you attend next time a presentation, think about in which quadrant the speaker falls. And don’t forget to reflect about your own talks and in which category they typically fall. Always aim to be in the right upper quadrant. Then you will reap great rewards: you will influence your listeners, and you will inspire them to action!
It was a warm sunny day in mid-September and I was sitting and reading a Tom Clancy novel at a quiet corner at the Los Angeles International Airport, waiting for my flight to Bangkok. A child who came screaming and being disruptive, interrupted the quietness and silence that I was experiencing in my corner. One look at the child, I knew the child was hyperactive. Then came the parents. Father being calm and looks at the son as normal. Mother on the other hand, comes raging and orders the son to be quiet and to stop running. Having brought up six children myself, one important principle is that parents have to be unified in the ways they want to bring up their child. I felt pitiful for the mother who had to loose her patience and annoying to see the father with no care in the world. Over the years, I have learned and practiced certain principles from ‘good parenting’ that have helped. Both Parents must Establish and set rules from a young age “If you don’t manage your child’s behavior when he is young, he will have a hard time learning how to manage himself when he is older and you aren’t around. Any time of the day or night, you should always be able to answer these three questions: Where is my child? Who is with my child? What is my child doing? The rules your child has learned from you are going to shape the rules he applies to himself.” Be consistent. “If your rules vary from day to day in an unpredictable fashion, or if you enforce them only intermittently, your child’s misbehavior is your fault, not his. Your most important disciplinary tool is consistency. Identify your non-negotiables. The more your authority is based on wisdom and not on power, the less your child will challenge it.” Explain your rules and decisions. “Good parents have expectations they want their child to live up to. Generally, parents over-explain to young children and under-explain to adolescents. What is obvious to you may not be evident to a 12-year-old. He doesn’t have the priorities, judgment or experience that you have.” Express Physical Affection. “Children need plenty of physical affection from their parents, not just when they are infants, but throughout childhood and adolescence. We humans are tactile creatures, and we have a natural need for physical contact with others.” Love your children as you love yourself. The relationship with your children is the first model of what a loving relationship is; therefore it’s crucial to get it right. If you don’t love yourself, you won’t be able to love your children. If you overvalue yourself you will either overvalue or undervalue your children. If you hate your child, he will hate you and the world. If you don’t love yourself in a healthy way, it is your responsibility to find out how to do so and thereby learn to love your children in a healthy way. How you love your child will determine how he loves others as an adult. Be observant of what goes on around you where children are concerned. We can learn from what we observe. In our personal or professional lives, let’s be observant of what’s happening around us. Observe the behaviour of our colleagues, peers, and associates. Instead of being judgmental we learn by observing and learn to understand their behavior. Doing so enhances our ability to be a better leader.
Today, I want to share a message with you that Paul Martinelli, the President of the John Maxwell Team, a group of coaches, trainers, and speakers mentored by renowned leadership expert John Maxwell, repeats again and again in his inspirational talks. And I have observed that the members of the John Maxwell Team (I am one too), especially the new ones, are widely embracing it. It’s also one of my favourite quotes. Paul reminds us frequently that “sometimes you have to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down”. That’s a great metaphor that contains some valuable advice. The quote encourages us and makes us take the first step, that leap, and take that risk. Frequently, discomfort, fear, or a sense of perfection prevent us from making that all important first step. However, often, there is no perfect time for that jump. It is also better and safer, if you jump as a result of your own decision before you get pushed off that cliff by someone else. Some people would even say that the biggest risk in today’s fast-paced world is not to take any risks. When I heard that metaphor for the first time, I took some time to reflect about my own experiences in this regard. Let me share with you the two most significant ones that had a major impact on my career and my life. Before I went to work abroad, I had joined a talent pool at our company in Germany whose members were supposed to undergo an eighteen months training and certification program. After having successfully completed the course, one after the other of us was offered an assignment abroad by our company. A big decision for all of us. It is not easy to leave your family and your friends behind and to try to succeed in a completely different cultural environment abroad. I was offered a position in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as “Regional Manager Gulf States”. I took the risk, jumped off the cliff, and went for it. Retrospectively, I can say it was the beginning of a successful international career. However, surprisingly, most of the participants in the course turned down our company’s offer to make a career abroad for reasons like fear, staying in the comfort zone etc. It was a bad situation for the company as well as for the participants. They were hired with the clear understanding and mutual agreement to go abroad after completing the course. Since they finally declined the offer , many of them were encouraged to leave the company. One more occasion where I had to take a leap and build my wings on the way down, was when I was working as “General Manager” for a sales and marketing company, our subsidiary in Nigeria with about 25 employees. We had one more company in Nigeria, a factory where our pharmaceutical products were manufactured by about 165 employees. This was in the nineties, and Nigeria was in a bad shape. Many multinational companies decided to pull out of Nigeria due to safety reasons and harsh living conditions for foreign staff as well as the fact that firms were not able to transfer any profits out of the country. At that time, we had three Germans working in our two companies. Our Managing Director and our Finance Director (both very experienced) in the production company, and myself as General Manager in the sales and marketing company. Our head office decided to pull out of Nigeria. One first measure was to reduce the number of German expatriates from three to one. The company offered me to stay behind, and to become the Managing Director. Honestly, that was a surprise to me. I was only 31 years old at that time and didn’t really think that I was ready. So far, I had only experience in sales and marketing functions, and suddenly, I was supposed to run a rather big manufacturing company without having relevant experience in the finance, production, and human resources functions. Nevertheless, I appreciated that our German head office had confidence in me. And I saw the chance to make significant progress in my career. So I jumped off the cliff and went for it. I had to build my wings on the way down, learning a lot about the new functions from my experienced Nigerian colleagues and through self-study. Taking the risk rewarded me with one of my proudest achievements in my whole career. Three years after, we were able to complete the exit strategy of our head office and to sell our company, while at the same time being able to keep the jobs of all 165 employees. I was very proud about the fact that not a single job was lost. So next time, when you are standing at a cliff, e.g. wanting to start a new task, a new project, taking a big career decision, or having to make a big decision in your private life, take the jump and build your wings on the way down. It’s all about learning. Never stop building your wings again and again.
During a recent leadership workshop that I was facilitating, we were in the midst of a coaching session. Instead of just lecturing the merits of coaching and mentoring, I decided to bring practicality to the session. The participants were put into a cluster of three – a coach, a coachee and an observer to give feedback. By the end of the session, all three would have role played each status. At the end of the session, we had time for debrief. One outcome of the debrief was that almost everyone mentioned the challenge they faced when they had to attentively listen. Because of this challenging listening skill, they found it difficult to ask the right questions and bring out the real issues. We spent time on this listening challenge. Breaking out in groups and discussing both the verbal and non-verbal characteristics of listening. We then went into Glenn Llopis’ “Six Effective Forms of Listening”. Here are the six effective forms of listening that will help get leaders started: 1. Show That You Care When you care about your employees, they tend to work harder and aim to exceed your expectations. Employees want to be led by those who genuinely care about who they are and what they represent to the team and organization at-large. Don’t just view your employees as tools and resources for your own success – but as people and valuable assets who bring unique capabilities and aptitudes not necessarily limited to their job functions. Many leaders have told me that their employee relationships end at work. Those relationships are short-lived. Employees want leaders who care about their general well-being and who can be depended upon during times of professional and personal hardships. 2. Engage Yourself Beyond caring, engage yourself in matters important to your employees. When they share their opinions, ask questions and encourage them to elaborate and expand upon their perspectives. When you engage yourself more actively, hold yourself accountable and follow-up with your employees. They will know that you are listening, paying attention and attempting to understand what matters most to them. 3. Be Empathetic The workplace is fueled with the stress and pressure of each day. Because every employee manages stress and pressure differently, it is important that you are empathetic to how these distractors impact employee performance. Express your concern and show your employees that you feel their frustrations. If you are an old-school leader, don’t be afraid to express sentiment or feel that it will weaken your stature or authority as a leader. Empathy is a powerful display of listening. I realize that many leaders avoid emotional interactions, but the best leaders know how to empathize and make themselves approachable to those who need attention. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were masters of showing empathy towards others. Great leaders know how to balance the head and the heart. 4. Don’t Judge Others Leaders that judge others are not listening. Too many times leaders make harsh criticisms about those with a different style or approach. Instead of judging someone, they could be learning from them. 5. Be Expansively Mindful Great leaders are extremely mindful of their surroundings. They know how to actively listen beyond the obvious via both verbal and non-verbal communication. They acknowledge others via body language, facial expressions and nods. These types of leaders possess a tremendous degree of executive presence and are tuned in to the dynamics that are taking place around them, at all times. Leaders that are mindful are not just hearing conversations; they are listening to them and engaging in the dialogue. They don’t fake it, they are taking note of what is being said and how people are saying it and are making continuous eye contact and gestures. As the leader, everyone is watching your every move and action. If you appear disconnected, you are perceived as disinterested and not listening. Never stop being expansively mindful. 6. Don’t Interrupt How many times has your leader rudely interrupted your train of thought? It’s fair to say this is a common occurrence. Compassionate leaders listen and don’t interrupt the flow of the dialogue. They embrace two-way communication and are aware that with every interruption comes disengagement. They earn respect from their peers by being a patient listener. The six effective forms were well received and we ended the session with setting goals on any one or more of the above six forms. One thing that I learned from this session was that, when issues arise, handle it there and then.