Monthly Archives: June 2013

Leaders: Can you give, and take, criticism?

Criticism shoesWhy do leaders need to be concerned with criticism at all?  Doesn’t the adage say you will get more of whatever you focus on, so focus on positive reinforcement?  Focusing on criticism will bring a negative response.  It’s why the first word for most children is NO; that’s what they hear the most.

Deep inside, no one really likes to hear criticism.  It’s much more satisfying in the short run to hear how good we are.  But in the long run the most successful leaders not only accept criticism, they ask for it – that’s how we got 360 degree evaluations.

The best leaders are good at giving criticism because they were first good at receiving criticism. Mark Twain said, “One mustn’t criticize other people on grounds where he can’t stand perpendicular himself.”

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Leaders: Show and Tell doesn’t guarantee success

cs lewis, magicians nephewThe main responsibility of leaders is to influence people to follow your vision to success. If you have had any success as a leader you learned to share your vision with your actions as well as your words.  Some leaders stop right here; they believe that “Show and Tell” is all they have to do.  Some leaders go one step farther and think as long as people “Look and Hear” I know they are paying attention and success will follow.

Bill Cosby once said, “Every closed eye is not sleeping, and every open eye is not seeing.”

“Showing and telling isn’t enough; looking and hearing isn’t enough either.  What leaders need for success is seeing and listening which brings understanding and action.”

Here are three roadblocks to seeing and listening that you can overcome: 

1 – Your team members are not ready to accept your vision: Just like you prepare the ground to accept the seed, you must prepare your team to accept your vision.  Similarly, once the seed is planted, you water the ground to encourage the plant to take root; you must also reinforce your vision.

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” – Robertson Davies

There is a saying among presenters that goes like this: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them, Tell them what you told them.” These three steps are the keys to success to ensure your message is heard and understood.

Tell them what you are going to tell them: In this step you are preparing the audience to comprehend your message.  Your goal is to make your message as understandable as possible.  Tell the audience what they should look for in your presentation by outlining the points you are going to make.

Tell them: This is the step where you plant the seed.  Following the points you outlined in the first step, you add stories, jokes, and quotes that support your premise.

Tell them what you told them: In this final wrap up, you are reinforcing your points to take root by giving a call to action to use what they heard today to make a difference.

2 – You are not at the level that your team members need In his autobiography, Will Rogers said, “The fellow that can only see a week ahead is always the popular fellow, for he is looking with the crowd.  But the one that can see years ahead, he has a telescope but he can’t make anybody believe he has it.”

By definition, great leaders look from the top of the mountain, always searching for the future success of the team. From the top of the mountain you see far and wide but without great detail.  It is only from the ground that the detail becomes clear. If you want the attention to be turned from you and to the vision, you have to come down from the mountain.

“What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” – C.S. Lewis

My advice to visionary leaders is: “Don’t just shout your vision from the top floor, live it on the office floor.”

3 – You have not managed expectations When you ask people to follow you, what do you think they expect to happen?  Great leaders are great because they have a history of being great.  They have demonstrated time and again that following them leads to success to everyone on the team.

Without a history of success to draw upon, your team will set its expectations on the history they know – the past. You have to create success in small ways before you are allowed to ask for dedication in big ways.  There is no better way to remove doubt or fear than through the observation of success.

“People see and hear actions and words that fulfill their expectations.” – Denis G. McLaughlin

There are three age old steps you should follow to build small successes and set the right expectations:

1 – Do it for them – Go ahead, jump in the water first and show them it’s ok for swimming.

2 – Do it with them – The first time you skydive it’s in tandem, strapped to an expert.

3 – Watch them do it – So you can applaud and cheer.

Remember leaders, show and tell doesn’t guarantee success; only understanding and action can do that.


The prodigal employee – it’s all about the right goals.

20130619-170211.jpgMany people mistakenly believe prodigal means lost, wayward, or not achieving up to one’s potential. This notion comes from the Bible story named the Prodigal Son in which a son leaves the family and is welcomed back upon his return. The word prodigal actually means extravagant, extremely generous and overly free in giving away valuables. If you further study the Prodigal Son parable, you will see that it is about a son who asks his living father for his inheritance so he can leave the family and spend lavishly on himself and his friends. He does return, but only when he has spent all of his riches and has nothing to show for it.

How does that lead us to a prodigal employee?
All employees are given resources like money, training, equipment, and sometimes a team of their own to lead. These resources are an investment from their owner intended to fulfill the goals of the company. A prodigal employee therefore is not one that is lost, or wayward, or not living up to their potential. No, like the parable, a prodigal employee is spending the resources that were provided in areas that don’t generate the expected return for the team or the company.

How do you handle the prodigal employee?
If you find that one of your team members is fully using every resource that you have provided but not generating the success that was expected, they are focused on the wrong goals. From the surface it often appears that they ignored the goals that you had for them and pursued other goals that achieved individual success but did not accomplish the purpose of your team.

Before you settle on the easy conclusion that the prodigals only care about themselves, I suggest you follow the advice from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. In essence he said, “In times of success great leaders look out the window to credit others, and in times of trouble great leaders look in the mirror to evaluate what they could have done better.”

You see, prodigals are very capable of generating success when provided adequate resources. Your job as the leader is to focus your team’s strengths on successfully accomplishing the vision of the team.

Here are four questions to review with a prodigal employee:
Once you review these four questions with the prodigal employee, then it is up to them to turn their focus to the right goals.

1) Does the prodigal employee understand the purpose of the team?

If you have not fully defined the purpose of the team, your team has two choices; operate with no purpose or define their own purpose. Absent a clear purpose, the prodigal employee, who is geared to success, will have chosen their own purpose. You are responsible for defining the purpose of the team so each employee will seek to accomplish the same end.

“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.” – Denis G. McLaughlin, The Leadership GPS

2) Does the prodigal employee understand how your vision achieves the purpose?

Even if you have a clearly defined purpose for your team, there are many ways to achieve it. Your vision sets the route your team will take to reach its purpose. If you don’t over communicate how your team will achieve it’s purpose than you aren’t communicating enough. Left undefined, the prodigal employee will define their own vision.

“The very essence of leadership is that you have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”
– Theodore Hesburgh, as quoted in The Leadership GPS

3) Does the prodigal employee understand how what they do fits into the vision?

Ok, so you have a clearly defined purpose and vision for your team. There is one more level of understanding you must focus on: taking the vision down to the employee level. The prodigal employee may struggle in seeing the connection between their individual goals and the larger vision and purpose of the team. Remember, the prodigal employee is success driven, without this connection they will instead focus on what they think will help achieve the teams goals.

“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who…offer a solution everybody can understand.”
– Colin Powell, as quoted in The Leadership GPS

4) Does the prodigal employee obtain personal success in accomplishing the success of the team?

Each person is looking for personal satisfaction in their life and in their job, the prodigal employee is no exception. For your vision to be effective you have to set it in motion and it must have an immediate impact on your team members. With each success, they need to feel that their job satisfaction is improving, along with the purpose of the team being accomplished.

“Successfully achieving your team’s purpose comes through a vision that consistently delivers small successes for each team member.” – Denis G. McLaughlin, The Leadership GPS.

Lead with integrity, even when you don’t want to, have to, or need to.

integrity-quotesYour example of integrity is the best teacher for those who are watching – and believe me, your followers are watching.  They may hear every word of advice you give, but unless they see you living out your own advice it won’t stick.

“Make sure the tongue in your shoes goes the same direction as the tongue in your mouth.”  – Ken Whitten

As a leader, your team members seek your approval.  Whether it’s intentional or not, they will imitate your actions in an effort to align with your expectations.  In my first book, The Leadership GPS, Brian Alden learned from his mentor that “Imitation is preferred when you are following success.”

Your example of integrity is also the best teacher for yourself.  Unless you keep the bar of success high; you will never know what you are capable of achieving.

“Remember that the bigger the goal, the stronger a person you must become to achieve that goal.”  – Robin Sharma

Brian Alden’s mentor taught him early in life that “The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”

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Leaders: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

20130613-194535.jpgLet’s be clear, this isn’t a lecture on honesty; of course we must always tell the truth, that is a given. I am talking about leaders being open with real issues and real choices that need to be made. Your teams have a right to know what they are up against. They have a need to be part of the decision making process. They also have the best ideas about how to approach the issues.

Tell them what has happened. Tell them what is happening. Tell them what is going to happen.

But, before you jump right in and tell the truth, follow these three steps:

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You have more control than you think. Ask How.

solving problemsDo you like your current circumstances? Ask yourself how you got there? Would you like to change your circumstances? Ask yourself how you got there? Why am I telling you to ask yourself this question? As Tony Robbins says, “The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the quality of the questions you ask yourself.”

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The choices you make, will make you


This morning I woke up at 5:30am, exercised, finished this blog while I ate breakfast and headed to work. My morning, like yours, was filled with choices: what time to wake up, will I exercise or not, if I choose to exercise will it be cardio or weights or both, what to wear to work, what to eat for breakfast, what the title of the blog should be, what route to take to work…I am tired just thinking of all the choices I already made today and its only 7:30am.

In the grand scheme of my life, this morning’s choices may seem trivial. I could have made a different decision on any single one of them and had only a minor impact if any on today – would anyone really notice if my tie was gray or blue?

The point of this blog though isn’t to highlight one single choice on one single day or even many choices in one single day. The point is to highlight that the success we achieve in life will be determined by the outcomes from all of the choices we make in our life.

It isn’t about if I woke up at 5:30am today, it’s about if I have a pattern of rising early enough to have the opportunity to make choices.

It isn’t about if I exercised today, it’s about if I have a habit of regular exercise.

It isn’t about what route I take to work today, it’s about if I make it to work on time each day.

It isn’t about if I wrote a blog today, it’s about if I write enough to have an impact on people’s lives.

Our lives are a sum total of the choices we have made.” – Wayne Dyer

We all make choices like this each day. In fact, the thing about choices is you don’t have a choice not to choose. William James, referred to as the father of American psychology said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

So every day, all day, we make choices that impact our lives and the lives of many around us. The odds that every choice you make is ultimately the one that you and everyone else would agree we’re the right ones are low. But that is ok, that’s how you learn for the next time.

Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.

Right now, one of you is thinking, “But I made some really bad choices; what about me?”

Sometimes, good people make bad choices. It doesn’t mean they are bad people – It means they are human.

A bad choice isn’t the end, but it makes the next choice that much more important. Legendary NBA coach Pat Riley said, “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

Mary Pickford is most well known as the silent film star whose fame dwindled with the start of the talking movies. It is said that she made the choice to resist this change and paid the price as the silent movie industry ended. You may be surprised then to read this quote from Pickford, “If you have made mistakes, even serious ones, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.” This quote made perfect sense to me when I learned that along with her acting career, Mary Pickford was the co-founder of United Artists Film Studios, and one of the original founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This was her second chance at success.

I will wrap up this blog with a wonderful quote by Michael Josephson:

You are what you are today because of the choices you made yesterday, and the choices you make today will make you what you are tomorrow. Take control of your life. Choose wisely.”

Are you planning for the rest of your life?

CoveyMy family and I are just about finished planning our annual summer trip. We love to travel and summer is the big trip of the year. This year we are going to Ireland and England for two weeks. We started planning last year after that summer vacation. So between discussing the trip, researching the countries and working with a travel agent, we have invested probably 30 full days getting prepared for this trip. That’s roughly two days of planning for every day of vacation.

I take comfort that we are not alone in our zeal for planning. Time management expert Alan Lakein said,

Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

Imagine if we invested that much time in planning for other major life events:

The average working life time is forty years. You would have to plan eighty years before your first job. Unless you are Moses planning in the desert to return to Egypt, not many wait this long for their first job. But many do find themselves out of school in their twenties with no plan; wondering what direction to take in their career. Now, at twenty years old, you may not have found your dream job, but planning works nonetheless. It doesn’t have to be the last plan you ever make, just make one so you can move in a definite direction.

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

The average life expectancy in United States is seventy-seven years. It isn’t physically possible to plan your life for 154 years before living it. But, like your career – you’ll be better off with a plan than without one.

After all, we plan lots of things in life very well. I already mentioned vacations. There are entire industries built around planning individual life events like weddings, birthday parties, relocations, and of course funerals. We are great at planning when the outcome is within reach and life changing We are sometimes not so good when the outcome is far away even if it might be just as life changing.

The idea that you can’t plan your whole life keeps people from planning anything for their life at all.

Here’s the secret to a life plan:
You don’t have to plan every turn in your life to have a life plan. You just need to have a destination in mind and plan the short term steps that will move you in that direction.

In his best selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey discusses this in his second Habit: Begin With The End In Mind. He uses the analogy of climbing a ladder as activities we undertake. We often hear about people who are climbing the ladder of success. Covey’s main point in this area is before you begin climbing you have to define success.

If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster.”
– Stephen Covey.

Your life plan, therefore, begins with defining where you want to end up; then works backwards planning the steps you think will get you there; finally, it focuses intently on the shortest steps that you can take today and requires you to take them. As stated by Peter Drucker,“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

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