Monthly Archives: October 2012

Those who have learned from past mistakes—their own or others’—are better prepared to lead than those who have never experienced mistakes at all.


(Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Fred Brooks, the man who managed the development of IBM’s System/360 family of computers knows a thing or two about good judgment, he wrote the book on it. Brooks wrote about his experiences managing systems development at IBM in the book The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering.

The book coined what is known as “Brook’s law,” which states that “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” Brooks discovered this law when he himself added more programmers to a project falling behind schedule, then concluded that it delayed the project even further. Using this and other examples of what he learned in his career, Brooks is quoted as saying, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

What are you doing to prepare yourself for leadership?  Making some mistakes on your own is inevitable and one way to learn; but learning from the mistakes of others is the easier route.  Are you reading books?  Do you have a mentor?

What is the best way to learn about the challenges you will be facing in new surroundings?

Achieving higher learning through the use of computers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This won’t be news to anyone:  We live in an information society.  In my family there are three laptops, two ipads, four smartphones, and many books in our library (the books are mostly mine – I haven’t completely given in yet).

I think we are pretty average for a family with two Millennial children and parents who have the daily news pushed to our iphones and ipads.  This is the way information is shared today; online and at your fingertips anytime you need it or want it.

As you can tell I love information, and I love how we can access it anywhere anytime.  But, and this is a big one, I believe you learn the most from being around people and learning first-hand what challenges exist in new surroundings.

George Washington Carver said, “Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books.”

Navy Commander Michael Abrashoff had a saying by which he led: “The most important thing that a commander can do is to see the ship from the eyes of the crew.”

Do you agree that studying on the internet and from books is great, but without living with the issues you won’t know what’s really going on?

You have to know where you’re going. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never know if you’ve arrived.

Without a purpose, there is no way to measure your success.  This applies to everything you set out to accomplish. You must have a firm picture of the What, When, and the How:

  • A project at work – What is the end goal? When is it scheduled to be completed? How many resources do you need?
  • A vacation trip – What is the destination? When is your vacation time? How are you going to get there?
  • Your dream house – What neighborhood do you want to live in?  When do you want to move? How will you pay for it?
  • Your goal to lose weight – What is your desired weight? When do you want to reach your desired weight? How will you achieve your goal (stop what, or start what, or both)?

Dwight Eisenhower said, ‘We succeed only as we identify in life, or in war, or in anything else, a single overriding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that one objective.’

Can you share some examples of goals that you have achieved by knowing the What, When, and How?

To be the best, Invest more than the rest. Are you investing in yourself? Are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

I attend conferences all over the country to hear from the best.  I recently attended a conference in San Diego where I had the pleasure of hearing great leaders fill me with their wisdom. Leaders like Les Brown, Sharon Lechter, Gene Landrum, Frank Shankwitz, and others, all spoke from their experience.

We were in a packed room sitting close enough that I could see each of these special teachers in their seats before and after their time to speak.  As I was busy taking pages of notes, I could see out of the corner of my eye that each of them was taking just as many notes as I was.  At one point Gene Landrum asked the people at my table if anyone had more paper so he could continue taking notes.

Along with the knowledge I gained from each leader, I learned a life lesson that day:

No matter how much you know; there is always room to grow!

Denis Waitley said, “All of the top achievers are life-long learners…Looking for new skills, insights, and ideas.  If they’re not learning, they’re not growing…not moving toward excellence.”

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

What have you done today to invest in yourself?  What will you do tomorrow, the next day…How are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

Do you want to have the best team working for you? Good leaders look at people’s strength and make use of it, while great leaders look at people’s potential and make the best of it.

A leader’s job is to see where others can go and open the right doors for them to pass through.  A leader’s job is to focus on what is there – strengths – and remove the focus from weakness – that which is not there.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

Michelangelo said, “A great statue already exists inside a block of stone. The sculptor’s role is to uncover it.”

If you want the best team, you have to intentionally focus your leadership efforts on unleashing the greatness inside of everyone you influence.

Do you remember who recognized greatness in you?  Who told you that you could be anything you set your mind to? Was it a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, pastor, boss?

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn


In 1965 the American folk rock band The Byrds recorded the song Turn! Turn! Turn!  The message of the song is, to quote from one line, “There is a time to every purpose under heaven.”

We can all think of examples of this timing:

  • The seasons always come in order – spring, summer, fall, and winter
  • The phases of the moon always move in the same order from new moon to new moon.
  • The farmer has to till before planting and water before harvesting.

I have found that leadership also has a time to its purpose.  I call it the Three Phases of Leadership Development:

  • Relationship – Through the forming of a trusting relationship, the team will follow as the leader shows them how to be successful.
  • Understanding – By modeling after the leader’s example, the team will understand how to achieve their own success.
  • Knowledge – Through mentoring, the team will gain the knowledge of when to apply what is understood.

For your leadership journey to be successful, follow the Three Phases of Leadership Development with every new team.

Whenever Possible Follow the Road More Traveled

“Keep on the outlook for novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully. Your idea has to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are currently working on.”

I was surprised when I first read this quote from Thomas Edison. Yes the same Thomas Edison that is the holder of 1,093 United States patents and the inventor of the phonograph and the incandescent light bulb among many other inventions.  Leaders are many times told to blaze their own trail; which is sometimes the right answer, but sometimes not.

In my many years of business I discovered that most people are genuinely convinced that their situations are so unique and so difficult that no one has faced quite the same circumstances before, let alone found a way to solve them.  In some way I think it is a bit of pride in the human condition that makes people want a difficult solution for their difficult problems.  But it doesn’t need to be difficult.  Often, eighty percent of a problem has been solved before, the other twenty percent is taking the initiative to accept the solution given to you and implement it.

Sometimes, we don’t need a better mousetrap; we just need to understand how to use the ones that are already out there.

Listen While You Work

“Leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.”  I learned this from John Maxwell and I teach it to everyone I mentor.  The beginning of influence is trust, and trying to influence another person without first eliciting trust is as futile as trying to boil water outside of a kettle.  Trust, like the kettle, is the vessel in which all things work together to generate powerful action.

Developing trust comes from understanding one another.  Ralph Nichols, an expert in the field of listening, says, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”

If you think about the command and control leadership style, you can picture the leader in front of a room filled with their employees and a microphone in their hand. They talk from the beginning of the meeting to the end of the meeting; telling their team what they need to hear.  That style of leader doesn’t understand their team, won’t develop trust with their team, and can’t influence their team.

Kevin Turner, the COO of Microsoft and former CEO of Sam’s Club once described the secret to Sam Walton’s success.  He said, “Walton didn’t have an open door policy; he had an open ear policy.”

The Anam Cara – Friend of the Soul

My family and I went to an Irish goods store over the weekend.  As I skimmed through limerick books, I was reminded of the many stories my Irish Grandmother told.  I bought a book titled Anam Cara, a Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue.  The name comes from the early Celtic tradition of a person who acts as a teacher and guide; that person was called the Anam Cara, or friend of the soul.  The book has many fables that teach Celtic lessons on various aspects of life.  One fable called “The King and the Beggar’s Gift” taught that difficult situations are often disguised opportunities for growth.

As I am reading Anam Cara, I am reminded of one of American History’s most famous leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  It is said that among his favorite books growing up were the Bible, Aesop’s Fables and The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Each one of these great books taught its lessons through parables, fables and allegories.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was a great story-teller. He often disarmed a crowd or an adversary with a folksy tale in which they could see themselves and understand his point of view.

As a leader, you are your team’s teacher and guide.  If you want to be their friend of the soul, their Anam Cara, you have to connect with them personally.   Following the path of great leaders before us, I recommend using parables, fables, or allegories to teach and guide.  Nothing gets to the heart like a well told story.

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