Monday, November 28, 2011

A Leadership failure of accountability...

I have waited several weeks for the news cycle to slow down on the Penn State tradegy with the former assistant coach. You see other incidents emerging at other places now where other individuals have not been called out for behaviours that can only be described as the worst crimes possible. The behaviours of these individuals is grave and more horrible than anything I can imagine. A couple of thoughts first about the issues raised by these incidents:

This is not a sport's issue...

This is not even an higher education issues...

This is also not just about the abuse of youth...

No, this is an issue of failure to hold leaders accountable at all levels or all sorts of stuff. A culture of as long as someone else up the food chain can be held more responsible.. then I need not act like a leader... I can just pass the buck. Whether it is something as bad as abusing children or as light as looking the other way when an employee cheats the company, have we allowed a leadership culture that looks the other way to become dominate in our organizations? Some questions about your organization to ponder...

Would leaders step in to fix a wronged individual if it wasn't their turf?

Would leaders call out an individual who verbally abuses others?

Would leaders risk losing a customer if that customer violated professional standards?

That's just a few.. but ask yourself.. where do leaders at my organization stand when the culture needs to be shifted back to a more ethical and professional way of doing business?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lessons in Greatness

Life imitates success in the business world often through how we deal with personal challenges. Rory McILroy demonstrated the grace of humility this weekend while still balancing what will also be known as one of the greatest performances in US Open Golf history. Despite breaking records in the double digits, when asked to reflect on lessons that prepared him, he spoke distinctly of what will no doubt be one of the greatest collapses in modern golf history.

Think back.. May of this year, 2011. You're 22, and in a country not of your birth. Your leading what can only be called the most signficant tournament in your short career by four strokes. The Masters, Augusta Georgia, every golfer's dream to win. As you make the turn at 10, you are still in the lead by one stroke and then it happens. A collapse so devastating, you end up in a tie for 15th. You end up shooting an 80... a score so high it is unexplainable except that you Choked. Ouch. The tournament was your's to lose.. and you lost it big. How would you handle it:

Not only did Rory talk to reporters for 10 minutes.. he was respectful, honest and pragmantic.. My favorite quote.. came later the next day or so... and was somewhat telling...

"I think it's a Sunday at a major, what it can do. This is my first experience at it, and hopefully the next time I'm in this position, I'll be able to handle it a little better. I didn't handle it particularly well today, obviously, but it was a character-building day. Put it that way. I'll come out stronger for it." - Rory McIlory - May 2011

Now.. it is several months later. You're faced with the same task. You're up 9 strokes coming into the last day of the next major tournament. Think of the pressure you would face. You choke now, and your labeled for life. Think of Greg Norman in the history of the Masters. Every golfer knows this and the presure that comes with this moment. But this time is different.. this time, not only do you handle it, but you thrive. Winning at a record margin. You have mastered the field. How would you respond when ask what made the difference this June. Would you point to the hard work you put in, to how you have honed your putting in ways you hadn't before, or maybe point out that the collapse in May was fluke. Not Rory.. no.. just honest and direct...

"Augusta was a very valuable experience for me. I knew what I needed to do today to win and at Augusta I learn a few things about myself and my game. I put a few different things into practice and it paid off." - Roy McIlory - June 2011 - US Open Champion

It is rare, to have failure and success happen so soon, so similiar and yet so visible to the world. It is even more rare to find a leader who can face his failure in a public and humble way. This Sunday we were blessed to see an example of this that reminds us that our best growth comes through failures. Our best learning and much of our success is due to a honed skill of facing our less than graceful moments. Reflection is an action!

Here's toasting a pint to Rory's great example of leadership!

Monday, May 30, 2011


I am developing a new tool for a workshop I teach.. could use some input from you. Answer the following questions choosing one answer for each of the seven questions and then send me an e-mail with your answers.. just list the question number and your letter answer for each of the seven questions. Email to




1. I get my best ideas by

a) Watching people to see what they prefer and want from my work

b) Just trying things out until I find an approach that works

c) Investigating the problem that needs to be addressed very carefully

d) Finding others who may have good ideas on how to do things

2. To overcome problems, I usually like to:

a) First focus on having the right environment where I can think best

b) Seek out solutions by studying approaches not normally related to the issue

c) Like to bring together a group and facilitate team solutions

d) Examine how the problem affects humans to find solutions

3. I am most creative when:

a) Tackle the situation and just start trying things

b) Identify barriers to success and attack them with all my knowledge

c) I find someone who has lots of great ideas that I can learn from

d) I have the right setting to think and work in

4. For me, innovation most often comes from

a) Bringing together sciences that are different to find new solutions

b) Getting groups together who can be creative

c) Studying human nature to explore better ways of serving people

d) Implementing several ideas until one works

5. When faced with a difficult task, I am most likely to:

a) Get motivated by the difficulty and do it on my own for satisfaction

b) Find some experts who may have dealt with this task before

c) Find an environment that allows me to think best

d) Study unrelated sciences to get new ideas on how to address the task

6. I am most productive by

a) Bringing together a group and facilitating discussion and consensus

b) Focusing on people and their needs when developing solutions

c) Trying solution after solution until one works best

d) Identifying impossible tasks and then working toward achieving them

7. The best ideas are gained by

a) Finding experts in the area your working in and learning from them

b) Having the right working environment so you can do your best thinking

c) Seeking out and studying unrelated sciences to learn new ways of doing things

d) Bringing together your team and brainstorming to get the best ideas of the team

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Duncan Watt's just another Gladwell...

So I am halfway through Watts' book "Everything is Obvious: Once you know the the answer" and pretty much thinking.. Maybe Watts' should take his own advice...

Watts' rightly points out that Gladwell takes things a bit far with his ideas on nodes and social change, but Watts' commits the same errors himself. While I can agree that online social networking is real... there is clear evidence that online social networking is different from face-to-face social networking.. And pretty much the bulk of Watt's conclusions are based only on his research using online research (so far). While his points are valid when he is describing how humans operate in online communities (itunes purchasing), it really doesn't translate to face-to-face organizational cultures. Watt's assumptions that these environments are the same, and because his sample size is so large.. ignores fundamentals of research design and practice, but it also ignores research done by real OD scientists. It appears he commits the same sins he claims Gladwell does.. and over emphasize his points.. It is obvious to Watt's that Gladwell is wrong... cause he knows the answer.. I would argue they are both partially right and wrong.

That said, I am going to keep reading Watts.. he makes several good points.. and online networking is reshaping our traditional networks.. so it is still good read.. just not as accurate as I would have hoped.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Toward More Curiosity

Da Vinci is one of the most interesting characters in the life of the world. Both artist and scientist, he created some of the most loved objects for all mankind. In addition to some of the most revered art, he designed objects like cars, tanks, and planes while just wondering about how things worked. Much of his work is seen as ahead of his time. But more about Da Vinci in a sec.

Over the past two years, I have found myself exploring the art of curiosity more and more. Often overlooked, it may be one of the best tools leadership can harness. We know that curiosity enhances learning, but did you know that it has been found that curiosity has a direct causal influence on job performance. Having taught leadership for 20+ years now, it is clear to me that curiosity is a force we must harnest to be competitive as individuals, teams, and organizations.

There are two main types of curiosity. One, Extrinsic is common and readily available. Just lock your keys in your car or run out of gas.. you will be extrinsically curious as to where the nearest gas station is. When I talk to groups about leadership and curiousity.. I am concerned with intrinsic curiousity. The art of just being curious for no particular reason. Which brings me back to Da Vinci. Of all the amazing things he was able to do in his life, I found his art work of birds and the shape of their wings in motion amazing. With no modern aids, no slow-mo video, just hours of silent observation, Da Vinci captured the mechanics of flight... Man he was curious. Intrinsically! He just wanted to know.

What is the implication for leaders. The next time you have a conflict with one of your peers or direct reports, try to be a little more curious. A little less sure....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Leading Change

I was honored this week to give the inaugural presentation to the National Association of Extension Program and Staff Development Professionals (NAEPSDP) across the Internet. The topic was leading through the sea of change. It is available online if you would like to listen in to what I shared.

Monday, February 14, 2011

J.J. Abrams' mystery box | Video on

J.J. Abrams' mystery box Video on

If you can do one thing in leading others.. create a context where they can think about mystery boxes!

Monday, January 31, 2011

How vulnerable are you?

Brene Brown does a remarkable job of explaining the importance of being vulnerable from the perspective of a social worker, but you can tell by her conversation that it is also about leading others. Watch the video and then join me for discussion below:

This video raises so many good questions for executives trying to lead others. It also complements the work of Willaim Schutz who introduced a theory of interpersonal relations he called Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO). FIRO sought to explain most human interactiona as being our need for Inclusion, Control and Affection. Affection in his later years became also know as openness and could be another way of talking about one's capacity to be vulnerable. Are you open? What do you pretend at work?

The most profound statement in Brene's talk is the concept that one has to love and accept oneself... Love our vulnerabilties so that we can have joy and satifisfaction in our lives. The very act of diminishing our vulnerabilities leads us to ignore our joys as well. Translated to work world, environments where we fear being vulnerable and transparent teach us work behaviors that ultimately diminish our engagement with work. Work is most meaningful when we can be authentic in our role... show our warts and gifts at the same time. Think about it.. if you have to pretend at work.. your more likely to be disengaged. We also know you're more likely to distrust as well...

We know environments of fear and distrust are 1/3 as productive as trusting cultures. Job one for all executives... "how can you create a culture where your direct reports feel safe to be vulnerable?" Want a hint.. it starts with your own vulnerability...