#208 – On the Cusp of New Beginnings

Thank you so much for the many wonderful replies I received in response to my announcement that I am transitioning from writing a weekly Tuesday Minute with Mary to writing on an occasional basis. It was very heartwarming to read your comments about this change and what my Tuesday Minutes have meant to you – thank you! After four years, this will be my last weekly Tuesday Minute. Starting in 2014, I will be writing An Occasional Tuesday Minute with Mary, with no predetermined schedule, just whenever the inspiration appears!

As I mentioned, I am closing this particular chapter of my work in order to see what the next chapter may be. It’s always challenging to end something, especially if it’s going well, but I am confident that there are undiscovered opportunities that will become evident once a vacuum is created. I recently came across a wonderful quote by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. It relates beautifully to this idea of a new beginning; and it’s a lovely thought to start out the new year.

“Your heart is full of fertile seeds, waiting to sprout.”

Food for Thought ~

Periodically evaluating our activities and priorities is a useful exercise to have in our repertoire. Once we have completed the evaluation process, we can then decide if there are things we may want or need to stop doing, as well as to start doing. The turning of the calendar year is an opportune time, but of course, we can do this anytime. A new beginning is a time of discovery and growth, revelation and change. Yes, it can be uncomfortable and a bit scary, but it’s also liberating and exciting.

Question for the day ~

Is there something you might wish to let go of at this time? Is there an ending that’s called for? Is there an important New Beginning that could emerge if you were to give it time and space? What fertile seeds may be in your heart, waiting to sprout?

Mary

#205 – Acknowledging a Great Leader

Last week’s post addressed the subject of acknowledgement. The recent death of Nelson Mandela is an opportunity to acknowledge a truly great leader whose life and accomplishments will have lasting meaning and impact. Nelson Mandela is a wonderful role model for leaders everywhere. He was confident without being arrogant. He was intelligent, strong, and courageous. He conducted himself with integrity, dignity and grace. He was charismatic and optimistic, an inspirational representative of determination. His vision and resolve were immutable. I admired him greatly, and consider him to be one of the greatest leaders of our time. In addition to his intelligence and skill, Mandela was also wise, and his insights are often quoted. Here is one of my favorites.

Food for Thought ~

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lies defeat and death.”
Nelson Mandela

Question for the day ~

How might Nelson Mandela be a role model for you?

~ Another Mandela Quote ~

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

In memoriam, Nelson Mandela, 1918 – 2013.

Mary

#204 – Insightful Acknowledgement

This is the third in a series devoted to the different types of positive communication. A good leader uses all of these regularly and frequently. We started with encouragement, and then addressed appreciation. This week the theme is acknowledgement.

Food for Thought ~

This type of communication is somewhat more complicated and subtle than the previous two. It requires slowing down enough to look beneath the surface of a situation and see the underlying motivations. This requires awareness, empathy and insight on the part of the leader. Generally speaking, an acknowledgement recognizes a person’s values, their ethics, their principles. Regardless of the manifestation of those values, whether the outcome is success or failure, the motivation underlying the behavior is what deserves to be acknowledged. A thoughtful and accurate acknowledgement can be a very meaningful, perhaps even profound, way to honor and appreciate someone. When you have done this well, an insightful acknowledgement is a gift that will long be remembered.

Question for the day ~

Have you honed your skills at acknowledgement?

A Footnote ~

As with the two previous types of positive communication, it is very instructive to recall our own experiences in order to remember how important these seemingly simple communications can be. If you have been the recipient of an insightful acknowledgement, you hopefully recall its power and meaning. If not, you may be aware of a time when its absence was noteworthy.

Mary

#202 – How to Provide Encouragement

As we enter the end-of-the-year holiday season, it’s an apropos time to focus on the leader’s role in expressing appreciation. It’s one of the most important responsibilities of a leader. I use the word responsibility quite intentionally. This is not an optional item on the job description. Positive communication is an essential leadership skill. Over the next few weeks, I will address several different types of positive communication. We’ll start with encouragement.

Food for Thought ~

Encouragement involves being supportive, heartening someone with encouraging words. It is intended to give courage, hope or confidence to a person who may feel unsure or discouraged. It can be as simple as a quiet “I have confidence in you.” Or, it can be vociferous cheerleading for a rousing team effort. Encouragement may be one to one, or it may be addressed to a group or an entire organization going through a difficult time. Good leaders provide encouragement when it’s needed. An encouraging leader can make the difference in how an organization weathers difficult times and thrives during good times.

Question for the day ~

How are you at providing encouragement when and where it’s needed? How might you improve your skills?

A Footnote ~

It’s instructive to think of this from a personal perspective. Think of a time when you received some important encouragement and how much difference it made. Conversely, think of a time when you badly needed encouragement and how much difference it could have made. Use your insights from this simple exercise to make a resolution about providing encouragement to others.

Mary

#201 (201 Exclamations!) – “The Determiner”

An experienced leader suggested this topic, and it’s one I call a “sleeper.” I don’t recall seeing books or articles on the subject. It’s not sexy or controversial. As a matter of fact it’s often overlooked. And yet, it is a powerful “determiner.” It can make the difference between success or failure. It can elevate an activity, strategy, or enterprise from average to excellent. Conversely, the lack of it can compromise or even torpedo an otherwise worthy effort. What is it? Attention to detail.

Food for Thought ~

Many professions are fundamentally about attention to detail – accounting and finance being perhaps the most obvious in business. Highly skilled executive assistants exhibit this quality. Manufacturing processes, medical procedures, and graphic design are just a few additional examples of disciplines that rely on successful attention to detail. Actually, almost anything done to a high level of excellence involves attention to detail. Leadership activities often deal with intangible issues, making attention to detail all the more challenging. Leaders who have learned to slow down enough to notice details, and take the time necessary to discuss and resolve important details, have a far better batting average. My caveat: attention to detail is not the same thing as perfectionism. This is an important distinction. How to make that distinction? Evaluate the importance of the detail under consideration and then do a cost : benefit analysis of the time and effort it would take to resolve that detail.

Question for the day ~

Are you good at attention to detail? If not, is there someone in a leadership role in your organization who can make sure that base is covered?

A Footnote ~

You are probably familiar with the well-known book and movie called “101 Dalmatians.” My subtitle for this post is a takeoff on that title. I started writing this weekly essay in January of 2010, and this is post # 201. Thus, purely for whimsey, the subtitle for today’s missive: “201 Exclamations!”

Mary

#200 – The Currency of Leadership

The defining role of leaders is made manifest in their conversations, especially now, in the era of knowledge workers. Leading and managing people is really a series of conversations. It’s the informal stop in the hallway, the formal business meeting, and everything in between. Thus, it makes sense for leaders to hone their skills in the art of conversation. However, because conversations are something we do all the time, and have for all of our lives, we often don’t appreciate their significance. I believe the artful skill of conversation is an “invisible advantage.” The capacity to have consistently productive, efficient, and meaningful conversations is one of the best indicators of exceptional leadership. It’s one of the “the quiet arts” of an effective leader ~ the seemingly simple act of consistently convening and conducting high-caliber conversations.

Food for Thought ~

Many of the problems in organizations could be avoided, or at least minimized, by improving initial conversations. If the people involved are clear from the beginning, have a shared vision of the desired outcomes, and agree on the steps to take, a successful result is more likely. This applies to everything from a hiring interview to a new strategic initiative. Of course, in these complicated times of changing circumstances, and accepting the fallibility of human communication, problems cannot be completely avoided. When they happen, a skillful conversation about those problems will determine the next chapter. Are the issues resolved or still unclear? I encourage you to be mindful in each and every conversation. Conversations are the currency of leadership.

Question for the day ~

Have you considered your skill at conducting conversations? Where are you strong, and where might your skills need improvement?

A Footnote ~

An excellent resource on the subject of conversation is the book Crucial Conversations, and its companion book that addresses conflict, Crucial Confrontations, by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.

Mary

#199 – Lead with Strengths

Last week’s essay promoted the value, perhaps even the necessity, of first dealing with strategic weaknesses, whether in ourselves or in our organizations. To use a familiar metaphor, if there are big holes in the dike, no amount of water coming in will solve the problem. This discussion would not be complete without a look at the other side of the coin – your strengths. Once the strategic weaknesses are resolved, then your strengths can be elevated to their rightful position of influence.

Food for Thought ~

On a personal level, your strengths may be called talents, aptitudes, gifts or skills. On the organizational level, they may be called core competencies, strategic advantages, unique capabilities, or some other term-of-the-month. Whatever you call it, your core strengths are your most valuable and meaningful assets. Whatever you do uncommonly well, that sets you apart, is the source of your greatest potential success. Some people and organizations are very clear about what they do especially well and how to convert that into a viable business advantage. Others are not so clear, and may resort to imitation, price competition, or settling for less than optimal achievements. A thorough and honest self-appraisal or organizational assessment should yield a wealth of information. Customer feedback also can be a great source of insight and opportunities. Find a way to identify your unique, or at least special, strengths and then capitalize on them. They will set you apart and set your course for success. A caveat: a boast, claim, or wishful thinking is not the same as a genuine strategic strength.

Question for the day ~

Have you done a good job of taking stock of your current personal and/or organizational strengths? If so, have you been innovative in capitalizing on those strengths?

A Footnote ~

Kudos to those of you who took to heart last week’s message on strategic weaknesses and had the courage and discipline to conduct a self-assessment and make some changes. Good work!

People are still reading my recent Quarterly Newsletter; and if you haven’t yet had a chance to do so, you can click here.

Mary

#198 – Deal with Weaknesses

Scotland born Robert Louis Stevenson, is perhaps best known as the author of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I recently came across something Stevenson wrote, and it translates well into good advice for leaders. It’s strong medicine. He said:

“You cannot run away from a weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”

Food for Thought ~

One of the classic components of a comprehensive strategic planning process involves taking stock of your organization’s weaknesses. This requires courage, self-confidence and integrity. I don’t know a business that does not have weaknesses; even so, it takes courage to conduct an honest appraisal of what isn’t going well. Serious problems, unaddressed, can become strategic weaknesses that may prove disastrous. It also takes self-confidence, in oneself as a leader and in the others on your team, to trust that you can do what needs to be done to remedy the problem or correct the weakness. And all of this takes integrity – to look at the issue squarely and take responsibility for the solution, a far cry from finger pointing and blaming. A significant problem is not going to go away by itself. A serious weakness only gets larger and more complicated with time. Hence the wisdom in his advice ~ deal with it, here and now.

Question for the day ~

Have you made a recent analysis of your organization’s weaknesses? Have you used that assessment to find solutions and opportunities for improvement?

A Footnote ~

If you missed my Quarterly Newsletter last week, you can read it here.

Those of us who live in Northern California may also know that Stevenson spent a summer on Mount Saint Helena, near Calistoga, and wrote a fine, short memoir about his experiences called The Silverado Squatters.

Mary

#197 – How to Sustain Success

In my post a couple of weeks ago introducing my new article on 25 Universal Principles of Leadership, the phrase that summarizes the essence of that short essay is sustained achievement and success. And within that phrase, the operative word is “sustained.”

Food for Thought ~

We have all seen companies come and go; even what appear to be very successful enterprises can implode, wither, or otherwise fail. There are times when circumstances work against even the most diligent leaders, but there are also many times when organizations seem to lose their sense of discipline and direction. I admire the long-established, successful companies that I see, and I’ve observed that their leaders are able to maintain a steady and effective approach year after year. One of the hallmarks of these organizations is their continuous adherence to solid management and leadership practices. Yes, brilliance and innovation are delightful to behold and can be the stuff of great accomplishments. However, those talents must be skillfully managed and partnered with excellent leadership principles and practices in order for their potential to be realized. This is how organizations achieve sustained success.

Question for the day ~

How are you and your organization doing in your adherence to sound leadership and management principles? Where might you need to “get back to basics?”

A Footnote ~

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read my article on the 25 Universal Principles of Leadership, please click here.

Mary

#196 – Follow Your Dreams

Sometimes synchronicity plays a major role in the topics I select for these blog posts; themes seem to “present themselves.” This was one of those times. I have a niece who started college this fall, and her birthday is this week. In the birthday card I sent to her, I wrote about the importance of following our dreams: Our dreams are our deep hopes, wishes, desires and aspirations. They provide us with insight into ourselves and can teach us what we hold dear. They can inspire us to work toward making them come true. With every decision we make every day, we can either go toward or away from our dreams. Just two days later, I was a guest at an intimate birthday party for a dear friend. Around a campfire after dinner, another friend asked the guest of honor about her dreams for the year ahead. After first describing her ambivalence about “admitting her innermost dreams, not knowing whether or not they will come true,” she spoke clearly about her heart’s desire. We were enthralled. She then invited everyone else to talk about their dreams, and a heartfelt, deeply enriching conversation ensued.

Food for Thought ~

In the realm of organizational leadership, the term “vision” is often substituted for the word “dreams.” Around that birthday campfire, our conversation later turned to the strong attraction people have to leaders who are passionately pursuing their dream, their vision. Very often, we may even want to be a part of it, to share in striving toward making the dream come true. An inspiring dream can be profoundly compelling.

Question for the day ~

Do you have a dream, for yourself or your organization? Have you shared your dream with others?

Footnote ~

In a further touch of synchronicity, this quote came my way just today:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the voice of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They already know what you truly want. Everything else is secondary.”
Steve Jobs

Mary