three simple steps to great leadership

There are several fantastic leadership development programs you can attend to improve your abilities. The best programs can take several days and cost thousands of dollars, yet are worth every minute and every penny if you are able to create better results throughout your team or organization.

That said, I can sum the knowledge of the ages up in three simple steps. At the risk of putting myself out of a job, let me share the essence of every outstanding leadership program I’ve come across:

1. Only hire really great people.

2. Help them understand the results you want them to create and why those results are important.

3. Provide feedback and accountability, but otherwise stay out of their way as much as possible.

That’s it. Simple, but easier said than done.

Your thoughts?

flashback friday: easy or great?

It’s been said that you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Is that good news?

Did the last person you hire make you think, “Man, I’m going to have to raise my game! I love being around people who inspire my best!” OR did you think, “I’m glad that slot’s filled. Next.”

The people you’re filling the company with – the people you’re surrounding yourself with – are pulling you up or dragging you down. There is no neutral, there is no holding steady – they are forcing you to be better or letting you slack. Do you go for easy and comfortable or do you go for greatness?


[This was originally posted on July 31, 2012.]

the credible hulk

Just a little Halloween / political silly season amusement. I don’t know who originally created this (I’d love to give credit where it’s due), but it cracks me up every time I see it. And, of course, great HR and leadership is all about credibility…

flashback friday: book review: “dangerous ideas” by Alf Rehn

[I originally posted this on May 16, 2012. This book came up in a conversation I had earlier this week and it’s one I really enjoyed.]

Innovation and creativity are all the buzz. You can’t escape the flash flood of blogs and articles telling you how to be more creative. I had gotten pretty jaded and had started thinking that maybe we should worry less about being Innovative (with a capital “I”) and worry more about just making better stuff and providing better service.

I want to believe that the true masters of creativity and  innovation do NOT start the day with a big whoop and a cheer of “Let’s innovate today!” Rather, they just relentlessly ask how they can improve things and look beyond the walls of their own fields and ideas. They ignore how it’s “supposed” to be done and instead do it right.

That’s where this book comes in. The subtitle is “When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset” and Alf delights in being provocative and contrarian. He works hard to keep us thinking creatively about creative thinking.

I found it a straightforward and good read. It flows well and moves right along, which is a bit of a rarity amongst business books with substance. And it does have substance. Some of the high points:

  • He shows how people typically approach creativity from very uncreative ways. And why that shouldn’t surprise us.
  • Alf takes on the Belief around the cult of innovation that prevents us from innovating and he shows how our brains are hardwired to avoid innovative thinking. He goes on to point out that our discomfort with being different causes us to back off and prevents truly creative thoughts.
  • Creativity is hard freakin’ work. It’s unpleasant. It’s difficult. It involves wrestling with the unknown and untried. No wonder people resist.
  • When innovation is more hindrance than blessing (blasphemy?).
  • How and why copying other ideas plays a big role in actual innovation. What, you say, copying is not creative! Well, you may be wrong (hint: Steve Jobs did not actually invent the MP3 player).
  • Why we only think we want a bunch of creative people in the company.
  • The fun of conflict and value of opposition when trying to think creatively.
  • Diversity and creativity and why efforts at diversity generally come up lacking real diversity.
  • “The World’s Shortest Course of Creativity”. Yes, he does actually provide ideas and exercises to help you be more creative. It shouldn’t surprise you that they are probably not quite what you’re expecting.
  • The importance of shutting off creativity and actually producing something. Analytical types suffer “paralysis of analysis” and creatives can get caught in a similar whirlpool of thinking, thinking, and thinking some more without actually doing. That doesn’t help.

All in all, a very good take on creativity and innovation and one that I have enthusiastically already recommended to others. A little hard to track down in the States (the internet is your friend), but well worth the effort.

we like to talk

We like to talk about innovation, but hate to talk about change.

We like to talk about taking risks, but hate to talk about failing.

We like to talk about learning from mistakes, but hate to talk about making mistakes.

We like to talk about learning and growing, but hate to talk about what we can do better.

We like to talk about diversity, but hate to talk about differing ideas and perspectives.

We like to talk about shareholders, but hate to talk about the connection to stakeholders.

We like to talk about today’s stock prices, but hate to talk about sustainability.

We like to talk about the bad economy, but hate to talk about budgets and opportunity costs.

We like to talk about all that’s wrong, but hate to talk about everything we can be grateful for.

We like to talk about what others should do, but hate to talk about what we will do.

We like to talk about what went wrong in the past, but hate to talk about what we’ll make right in the future.

We like to talk about blame, but hate to talk about our personal responsibility.

We like to talk about all the differences between those we disagree with and ourselves, but hate to talk about all the similarities we share with them.

We like to talk about the things we can’t control, but hate to talk about the things within our control that we have let slide.

We like to talk about what we would do, but hate to take the actions that would back those words.

nerves of steel or just nervous?

I recently did a post on public speaking called the one skill to develop. Yesterday I was asked, “How do you not get nervous when doing a presentation?” It’s a great question that got me to thinking and I realized the answer is not what one might expect. I don’t have any tips to not be nervous because, for me, it’s all part of the process. The trick is living with it and using it to your advantage:

Nervous is normal: you are going to get nervous when doing a presentation. This is the big one. Everyone gets nervous and excited when doing something significant. Trying to not be nervous is only going to draw your attention to how nervous you are and make you even more nervous. It’s like trying to fall asleep by thinking about how much you need to fall asleep. Accept your feelings as normal and go do a great job.

Never compare yourself to how you think others are.The problem is, we look at people who are good at speaking and presenting and think that not being nervous is the way we should be. But we don’t see the practice, and fretting, and worrying. We don’t know that they felt like they were going to puke adrenalin right up until they started. We didn’t see them all jittery. We don’t even know what nervous looks like for them.

There is a very fine line between nervous and excited. Very fine. For me, the physiological response is the same – shaking hands, butterflys in the stomach, my attention span shortens, sometimes I start to sweat. I suspect that we often confuse being excited for being nervous.

Nervous does not equal failure. You’re nervous – so what? Don’t judge your presentation on how you felt. Judge it on the end results and the impact that it had on the audience.

Use your nerves to your advantage. I get nervous/excited when I’m looking forward to something, when I want to do a really good job, when there’s some consequence. There’s a ton of energy coursing through your body. Channel it and use it to put life and passion into your presentation.

Look forward to your nervousness. We’re all different. I used to race motorcycles and bicycles and developed a habit that’s served me well when speaking. No matter how nervous I was before a race, sitting on the starting line always created intense calm, focus, and confidence for me. All the internal chatter gets quiet and my whole being was laserbeamed on the first corner. I find speaking is the same for me. No matter how nervous/excited I am, experience has taught me that once I get started it all comes together. I look forward to those first moments when I stop being scattered and my brain quiets down and I get focused. Over the years, I’ve simply trained myself to look forward to those opening moments.

Experience helps. No lie. The more you do anything, the less awkward you’ll feel. You’ll never get better if you stay on the sidelines kicking yourself for getting nervous. Get out and do it.

Have fun. In a weird way, the audience will reflect your state of mind. If you relax and have fun, they will too.


Anyone else have some favorite tips to help deal with nervousness when giving presentations?

is price is less important than we think?

“When value exists, price doesn’t matter. Price is what we talk about in the absence of value.” ~ John A. Jenson


“I think it’s breaker #26. Right hand side, a couple up from the bottom.” My wife had called to tell me the air conditioning had stopped working and the temperature was pushing 90 degrees Fahrenheit inside the house and climbing. This happens periodically and is always just a breaker that’s tripped (it’s probably not a good sign that I know my breaker box by memory). Reset the breaker and cool air starts flowing from the vents again.

This time was different. No amount of fussing with the electrical system could get the air conditioning to kick on. It was a long, very uncomfortable night…

That was Wednesday. Thursday afternoon, the repair folks came out and said the a/c unit was done for and needed to be replaced. Did we want them to plan to come on Friday and get it done?

*          *          *

In business we often talk about value – creating value, providing value, value, value, value – but it’s an abstract boardroom concept that gets all tangled up with words like satisfaction, quality, and price. We’re told we should never get emotionally attached when we buy houses or cars as individuals so we’re able to walk away if we can’t get the right price.

And in all of that is the challenge. Despite all of humanity’s evidence to the contrary, economists, accountants, and financial types often have the mistaken impression that us humans are rational. That we are always seeking the lowest price and greatest benefit from our money. That we are concerned about price. That we don’t make emotional decisions. That price = value.

But that seems incorrect. Here’s a better (oversimplified) formula:

Solution = Value.

The smaller the problem, the easier the solution, the less emotional attachment, the less value there is and the more price matters. The bigger the problem, the more difficult or imperative the solution, the more emotional attachment, the more value there is and the less price matters.

*          *          *

Thursday afternoon at 4:50pm, needing to make a decision if we want them to fix the a/c on Friday. Sure we could do the rational thing, the thing that economists think we do, and get several quotes, study which air conditioning units are best, consider impact on resale value, etc. That would delay things well into the next week. We live in an area that (to me) feels like it is on the face of the sun for four months a year.

The quick discussion my wife and I had as we faced another sweltering night was: Can they make it work tomorrow? (yes) Can we afford it? (we will, regardless). Done.

John Jenson is right: when value (a solution to a significant problem) exists, price doesn’t matter. The bigger the problems you can solve and the better you can solve them, the less people worry about price.

Let’s spin this to HR/training, sales, or any business function: when people are worried about price it means: a) we aren’t providing enough value; or b) the customer doesn’t fully understand the value we provide.


the traps of fossils and fads

I suspect we’ve all known people who cling to youth long after youth is gone. Those middle agers who wear clothes currently in fashion with college students, hang out in clubs, are inordinately proud of how up to date they are, get their nose pierced with their teenage daughter to show how cool they are, etc. It’s silly and sparks mid-life crisis jokes, but overall tends to be harmless.

I suspect the opposite is actually more dangerous. Those who get stuck in time and fossilize prematurely. They cling to the world that existed when they were coming of age. Anything new after that date is feared, ridiculed, shunned. Every year the world becomes more black/white, right/wrong, good/bad. It’s like their brains crystalize and they are unable or unwilling to adapt past a certain point.

This carries over into the organizational level. There are leaders who jump on every latest trend and fad of the moment only to quickly discard it for the next-and-better trend and fad of the moment. They adopt an approach before it’s proven and then toss it aside before it has a chance to work. And… there are the leaders who believe that whatever worked when they first became a manager still works today and they aren’t about to get suckered into using any of this newfangled stuff.

This isn’t a young vs old, Generation Up and Coming vs Generation Soon to Retire issue. People can be cynical beyond their years or in a desperate short attention span search for new and trending at any age. So can teams, departments, and organizations.  HR is guilty of both, but I suspect that these extremes exist in all fields.

I started off wondering which extreme is worse, but realized that it doesn’t matter. Neither extreme is very useful, helpful, or fun to be around. The bigger question is how do we benefit from the new, evolving, and experimental without needlessly abandoning the approaches that do work (or work well enough for now)? How do we dodge the equally dangerous traps of the latest fads and that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it?

read any good books lately (updated)

Note: I originally published this back on May 5 and thought it was time to revisit it. Instead of rewriting it, I decided to just make a few updates (in bold). The rest of the information still holds true.


I love books. One of my great frustrations in life is the knowledge that I will never be able to read (and reread) all the books I want to. No matter how deep the stack of “must reads” gets, I’m always looking for more. So, I thought I’d share my list of current reads and maybe a few favorites. There’s lots more I could have included (how could I skip Jim Rohn?!? – next time), but this is a good start.  (The links will take you to Amazon. I get nothing out of it and only provide the links as a convenience.)

Currently reading:

Adaptability: the art of winning in an age of uncertainty by Max McKeown (twitter: @maxmckeown). I’m a HUGE fan of Max McKeown. It frustrates me to no end that he is still relatively unknown in the States (that will change). I feel he’s one of the best at taking complex ideas and making them simple, practical, relevant, and important. I got so tired waiting for Adaptability to come out on paperback that I borrowed my wife’s e-reader and purchased it electronically. Well worth it. JUNE 25 UPDATE: Just finished it today and a review will be coming soon. Loved it.

Social Gravity by Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt (@TalentAnarchy). I actually started this book several months ago and then got sidetracked by Alf Rehn and Max McKeown. For shame! Jason and Joe put out outstanding blogs, both as Talent Anarchy and individually, and it’s been killing me to have this book on hold. I’ll be giving it my full attention again starting tomorrow morning. Yes!

Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success by Matthew Syed. In the vein ofTalent is Overrated and Outliers. A nice reminder that talent and interest get you in the game, but passion and hard, hard work keep you there.

Next Up:

Degrees of Strength: The Innovative Technique to Accelerate Greatness by Craig Ross and Steven Vannoy (@rossbestever). The latest from the boys who did Stomp the Elephant in the Office: Put an End to the Toxic Workplace, Get More Done – and Be Excited About Work Again. Full disclaimer: I used to work with Craig and Steve and consider them important mentors in my life. They are also two of the most passionate people you’ll meet when it comes to transforming leaders and workplaces.

Linchpin by Seth Godin. There are two blogs I seek out first thing in the morning and Seth’s is #1. I’m continually amazed by his ability to take some very big ideas and make them simple, clear, and brief. Daily. Can’t wait to read.

Dangerous Ideas: When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset by Alf Rehn (@alfrehn). I haven’t read any of his books yet, but love the concept of the book and ideas he puts out on twitter. Can’t wait to read it. JUNE 25 UPDATE: Ok, I skipped ahead and read this one before some of the others. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. I finished this one a while ago and thought it was great. Alf likes to push the reader beyond their comfort zones and shake things up a bit (as you might expect).  I did a review on it here.

 The Supermanager by Greg Blencoe (@gregblencoe). Greg’s been following this blog for a little while and I always appreciate his comments on leadership. I’m looking forward to reading his book and finding out more about his ideas behind the Supermanager. 

Recently Read:

The Strategy Book by Max McKeown. I recently did a short review of this book here.

The Truth About Innovation by Max McKeown. From the back cover: “Innovation rocks. It rolls. It makes the world go round. In a definitive set of ‘home-truths,’ you’ll discover how to harness its power to increase creativity, collaboration and profit. Are you ready to change the world?” Yes, Max, I am. Thanks for helping.

Unshrink Yourself, Other People, Business, the World by (you guessed it!) Max McKeown. No, I don’t know Max personally, have no stake in him selling more books, and do actually read books by other authors. However, I was so impressed by The Strategy Book that I immediately sought out other books by him and with each new book my enthusiasm only grows. He writes the books I wish I could write. Good, good stuff. This one is about destroying the myths that keep us small and prevent growing ourselves, those around us, business, and (yep) the world.

Long-Time Favorites:

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Combine the ideas in these two books from the 1930’s and very, very little new has been written since then. Most personal development and success books since can trace their roots back to these two books.

The Greatness Guide: 101 Lessons for Making What’s Good at Work and In Life Even Better by Robin Sharma (@_robin_sharma). I’ve read this book at least four times in as many years. Although he’s better known for The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, I feel this collection of short lessons (none of them more than about a page and a half long) is a far superior, more practical, and more motivating book.

It’s Called Work for a Reason: Your Success is Your Own Damn Fault! by Larry Winget (@larrywinget). He’s fun, down to earth, and doesn’t suffer victims or fools.

How about you? What are some books you’d recommend adding to my must read list?