One of the best, yet under told, stories of the Battle of Thermopylae is the story of deciding where to build the wall that would restrict the Persians advance. Leonidas listed. As his officers debated where the wall should go. One by one they each made their case and raised great points both strategically and practically. Yet, after a long discussion, they were nowhere near a solution.

They kept making points and counterpoints until the king had heard enough. While they continued to talk he stood up, walked over to a pile and picked up a stone. The officers took notice and began to watch their king.

He took the stone and placed it on the ground. He then returned to the pile, picked up another stone and placed it next to the first one. After repeating this process a couple more times it was clear to all the Spartans, this was where the wall was to be built. Without saying a word to them they all joined their king and constructed a structure that would be instrumental in achieving their immortality.

The point of that story? Be a person of action. People follow other people who take action. Listen to input. Weigh the consequences. Make a sound and timely decision. Set the example. Be a person of action.

From vision to plan in a few steps

 

No matter what level of leadership you are at in an organization you will be asked at some point to create a plan. This plan will be born out of the organization’s visions and directed towards meeting one or more of your goals. But, how do you accomplish that effectively?

That is a question I get asked a lot. The good news is the process is pretty simple. The bad news is the process takes a lot of focused, dedicated, and intentional work to get to the final answer.

First, let’s discuss the process. It revolves around asking four questions over and over until they can’t be answered anymore. What are those questions?

Why?

If you have a clear understanding of the organization’s vision then this one should be easy. The answer to this question should always be some variation of, “Because it moves us towards X goal.” If that isn’t the answer then the real answer is that it isn’t worth doing in the first place. So, your real goal here is to make sure the effort is aligned with the overall vision and goals.

How?

Once you have determined the action is worth taking you need to ask how can you accomplish it? This is the strategy you will use to achieve success. The first time you ask this question the answer will be fairly broad but it will narrow each time you ask it again.

What?

Now that you have identified how you have to ask, “What do we need?” This question is where you identify the resources you have available. If you don’t have them available then you go back to “how?” How do you get the resources?

When?

You always want to give each step its own time component. “When can this piece be accomplished by?” Take the answer and set a date.

Be sure as you are answering these questions you aren’t doing it alone. You must have your team involved along the way. By doing so you get better answers, find better solutions, and you make the plan their plan. You generate buy-in because you generate ownership. That, in and of itself, increases the effectiveness of the plan.

That is it. By repetitively asking these questions until they no longer need to be answered you will have the plan. You created it from the top down with the overall vision and goals at mind and checked that alignment at each step so there are no moral or ethical obligations to worry about. You have identified each incremental step that needs to be taken to achieve success, you have a complete plan.

All that is left now it to execute. But, by knowing the small pieces of the plan and having incremental milestones to celebrate along the way you have even taken the sting out of that a little bit. People love achieving. By not having some obscure plan with no real measurables you have built in points where the team can actually stop and celebrate those achievements and that motivates them to hit the next point.

Now, think of a time when you had to create a plan for your team. What method did you use? How did it work for you? Do you wish you had followed this process instead?

Hit me with your feedback, I look forward to hearing your tips as well.

What did the election really teach us?

election diversity

This election highlighted the need for diversity.

Since the night of Nov. 8th, 2016 and the world found out Donald Trump would be the next President of the United States of America there has been a lot of discussion about what is wrong with our election system. The problem is almost every discussion has missed the real problem, the two party system we have fallen into.

What is wrong with the two-party system?

On the surface, the two-party system in the US may not seem like a bad way to operate. It has served us fairly well for many years. But, it flies in the face of everything we know to be true about problem solving, team building, diversity, and leadership!

How so, you may be asking? Steadily over the years each party has mainstreamed their party philosophy so well that Congress is essentially comprised of 4 members, one from each party in each chamber, instead of the 535 members it is intended to have. When you homogenize such an important team to that level it is no wonder we are seeing the issues we are as a Nation.

Why are more parties the answer?

Professor Scott Page has made a name for himself in the world of diversity, specifically in the area of cognitive diversity. Mr. Page’s research has led to the development of an equation that has been proven fairly accurate in each situation it has been tested against. That equation is; Collective Accuracy = Average Accuracy + Diversity.

What this tells us is the more diversity we add to our teams the higher the accuracy of the final solution. The more important the decision being made the more important the diversity of the team becomes. Think of each party like a unique person on your team. They will each bring a different perspective to the same solution and allow you to view it from more angles. This means the final outcome will be a much better, well-rounded, and more appealing solution than is you just have two parties making it.

Personally, I can’t think of a team that makes grander, more important, decisions than them United States Congress. U.S. Congress makes decisions on a constant basis that have immense global impacts. So why do we leave those decisions, essentially, up to two thought streams?

Now is the time for more parties!

With the importance of Congress’ decisions only rising now is the time for the American voter to embrace the concepts of cognitive diversity and get comfortable exploring, and electing, 3rd, 4th, and even 5th party candidates. We need more perspectives, more eyes on these critical issues in order to come to better solutions.

So, I urge each of you to take this time in between election cycles to do your homework. Find your true voice and let us all lead the way in building a much better team in our United States Congress. This is truly a situation where each and every U.S. Citizen has a leadership role!

Microsoft “Women in Business”, SkyCity Convention Centre, Auckland, New Zealand. Frances Valintine presents at the Women in Business event leading and following women.

Microsoft “Women in Business”, SkyCity Convention Centre, Auckland, New Zealand. Frances Valintine presents at the Women in Business event.

It is my opinion we don’t have a problem with women leaders, we have a problem with people following women.

Maybe it is because of my background as a Marine but I’ve never had a problem with following women. In fact, some of the best leaders I have had the pleasure of serving, both in and out of the military, have been women. Personally, I don’t see a bit of difference in male and female leadership. I get that “Women’s Leadership” is a niche born out of necessity but my hope is one day that need goes away. Leadership is a human thing that doesn’t care about gender. You either have it or you work to get it.

But, after reading an article on Forbes titled “10 Commandments For Women In Leadership” I decided to write this article as sort of a companion piece. The ability to follow is just as important as the ability to lead.  I want you to walk away from this changed and ready to follow women into the future, if you aren’t already.

Again, good leadership is good leadership regardless of race, sex, or religious affiliation.

On to the list!

Continue reading →

The Paradox of Leadership

The Paradox of Leadership

I’ve said it before, leadership is one of the trickiest words in the English language to fully understand. In fact some would argue that you never really can understand it all. I consider myself one of those “some”. Why? Well, today’s post will outline the paradox of leadership. I will also give you some tips on how to navigate through it. Let’s dig in!

The Paradox

You are simultaneously the most important factor and not the most important factor in your organization! Let that sink in just a second, you are simultaneously the most important factor and not the most important factor in your organization. You are probably already asking yourself, “How can I be both the most and not the most?” Well, we will explore that by breaking down both sides.

You Are The Most Important Factor

Leaders and their leadership are the most important factor in an organizations success. The tone they set, the examples they display, and the culture they foster are all critical elements that define success or failure. Their guidance can be the difference between sustainability and decay.

This is a responsibility you must take seriously. Not only do your teammates depend on you and your guidance but so do their families. For every team member you have you should view them as at least 2-4 people once you include families into the mix. That makes you and your skills the most important factor in your organization.

Your Team Is The Most Important Factor

No amount of leadership will make up for bad and under-performing teams. High performing and innovative team members are the most important factor in an organization’s success. True, it is your responsibility to pick the right people and this makes you one of the most important factors again but after that it is up to those people to take initiative and ownership of the organization to keep her successful. These teams and their performance represent the reputation of the organization. From the front desk receptionist to the CEO, bad team members contribute to bad reputations and good team members contribute to good reputations.

Furthermore, you will not be around forever. The people you bring in are the future of the organization. In order to build a strong, successful, and legacy generating organization the people you bring in must be of the highest quality and by in to the mission completely.

Balancing The Paradox

Balancing out these factors requires a high level of maturity, unselfishness, and willingness to see others succeed. The leader must balance when to lead with when to follow and do it so seamlessly that nearly nobody notices. This paradox is a big reason why two of the principles even exist, know yourself and know your team. Mastering these is the only way to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to make the right choices.

It also helps to accept this paradox and remember you can do nothing about it. If you truly believe that you are simultaneously the most important and not the most important factor to your organization you become more comfortable transitioning between the two roles. When it comes your time to be important you will know it is true and when it is your time to empower and step back you will also know that it is true.

Closing

This paradox has existed since man began forming tribes. At times we need a leader to make all the decisions and other times we need it to be a team effort. Every time we have gone astray it is because we did not accept and honor this simple fact. Dictatorships occur because the team is never the most important and anarchy rules when there is not a leader that is most important.

Extreme Ownership Book to help you succeed

by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

What I am about to tell you is something you likely already know. You succeed as a team or fail as a leader. You may not realize you know it but, thanks to your personal experiences in life, you will know it is true by the end of this post. It is a concept so integral to leadership and team building that Jocko Willink and Leif Babin made it the focus of their first chapter in Extreme OwnershipIn this chapter Jocko relays the story of a mission in Ramadi, Iraq that went sideways in one of the worst ways possible.

 

The short version (For the details you should read the book, great read!) is that , despite intensive planning and coordination of the mission there were a lot of small failures that took place leading up to the actual execution of the mission that l;ed to one fatal mistake and several near fatal mistakes. As is typical when mistakes of this magnitude occur there would be an investigation that would follow. As the SEAL in charge of the mission Jocko would be tasked to do a thorough analysis, write the report, and brief it out. While gathering this information he quickly discovered many contributing errors. He knew the higher ups would be looking for someone to blame and it was clear they would have their pick of people. Hell, Jocko could have picked any one of several people to completely dump blame onto but, he did not. He took full responsibility. He took Extreme Ownership!

 

You see, Jocko understood the simple that you succeed as a team or fail as a leader. In fact he writes in this chapter, ” On any team in an organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world.” He goes on a bit later to say this about leadership, “It mandates that a leader set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team. Such a leader, however, does not take credit for his or her team’s successes but bestows that honor upon his subordinate leaders and team members.”

 

Wow! Now tell me you wouldn’t already follow that guy to hell and back! Leaders how do this, who reach this level of Extreme Ownership as they call it, set excellent examples and positively influence the organizational culture. This culture will not fear failure because they will not be thrown under the boss, they will learn from it, they will implement change to prevent it from happening again, and they will move on as a team. This removal of fear relieves pressure, promotes innovation, promotes deeper teamwork, actually reduces mistakes thanks to the increase in personal ownership, and in general builds stronger teams.

 

The team succeeds because it is led well. It fails because the leader has failed the team. There is no way around this truth. As I wrote here, get comfortable with the phrase, “It’s my fault!”

 

Now, I can practically hear you screaming at me right now. You are likely thinking, “No, mister know-it-all! We failed because X showed up late to the meeting!” No, Mr. or Mrs. Leader, you failed for one of several reasons. Perhaps you didn’t clearly state the time and date of the meeting. Perhaps being on time is not part of the culture you have fostered so being late is not considered to be a big deal. Perhaps you failed to emphasize the importance of the meeting. Perhaps you have a message on your phone that you missed stating this individual was in an accident and would be late due to unforeseen circumstances.Or, perhaps you had the wrong person on your team to begin with. In any case, its your fault and you need it identify why it happened and take corrective action so it does not happen again so your team will succeed next time.

 

“But, but, what if we failed because Y just didn’t execute the plan properly?” They may not have executed the plan but that is your fault. Perhaps they were never capable of executing the plan and you chose them for it anyway. Perhaps the plan was flawed and in-executable. Perhaps the plan was too rigid and needed adjustments but you have built a culture that does not foster adapting on the fly and requires several layers of checks for changes and by the time approval was granted for change the objective slipped away.

 

Again, team succeed because they are led well and equipped with the tools, culture, responsibility, trust, and sense of ownership needed to succeed. They fail because they are led poorly. It truly is that simple. You may think you have done a great job at all of these and that you have led your team well. The only way you truly measure that is by successes and failures. Own the failures, adapt your approach and correct them. Acknowledge the team for success and build off of what worked and what you did well.

 

So, do you still not believe me? Then I challenge you to post up a scenario and let’s talk through it. I guarantee you that we will find where you failed your team and how we can fix it to increase your leadership success!

MillennialsOkay, so in total it will be way more than three words but by the end of this article you will have the three words I believe best truly describe millennials. What may surprise you is that they are not going to be words like lazy, selfish, or entitled. No, I believe these words should be tossed out of the millennial conversation all together. I mean, are there lazy, selfish, and entitled millennials? Sure thing! But really no more than any other generation has had. Which is why I really do not understand the bad reputation this generation gets. If you by into the millennial trashing you are missing out and I am here to change your mind!

 

So, now, onto those three words!

 

Millennial Word One:

The first word I am going to use is, misunderstood. Yes, millennials really are just misunderstood. They are motivated by vastly different things than previous generations. I think the main reason for this is, thanks to technology and social media, they have more tools to cause more change easier at a smaller scale.

 

In previous generations there was a pecking order of sorts. You worked hard, made money, and then you turned to philanthropy. Well, millennials don’t have to follow that model anymore and they know it. They can find a cause, create a movement around it, market that movement, make money doing it, and change the world. There are countless programs out there that are millennial run and operated that have built schools, provided food and clean water, provided clothing, vaccinations, housing, and even employment to the less fortunate around the world.

 

What some see as just bumming around the world on donations and profits from “cheap” products is really an individual hell-bent on making a difference in the world through the best mechanism they have to do so. Don’t dismiss millennial endeavors just because you don’t understand what makes them tick!

 

Now, lets talk a little bit about the lazy part. There is a magic statistic that everyone loves to quote that millennials “quit” their job every 4 years on average. That isn’t entirely true. They don’t quit as much as they outgrow their current positions at that rate. The reason they leave is most organizations are not nimble enough to take advantage of that growth.

 

Millennials are driven by two words that are near and dear to veterans like myself. Those are task and purpose. They are driven by the purpose that calls to them and are loyal to the tasks that help them reach that purpose. If you and your organization do not fill those roles then they will find a place that will.

 

Finally, they do not tolerate bad business and/or bad leadership. As an entrepreneur today you have an immense pressure to provide a great, purpose driven business model and lead them well. If you don’t someone else will, or, they will strike out on their own and lead themselves.

 

The point of this section is that all the problems we like to lump on the millennial generation are as much, if not more, our problems than they are theirs. Take a look at yourself and your business before you just blame it on a “lazy and entitled generation.”

 

Millennial Word Two:

The second word I am going to use is, disruptive. Now, you have no doubt heard this word a LOT lately. And I do mean a LOT! Well, millennials are nothing if not disruptive and I mean that in all the best possible ways the word can be taken.

 

You see, that misunderstood passion for creating world change coupled with the technological leaps and the ease of messaging through social media have allowed millennials to disrupt the status quo in ways no other generation has ever been able to before. They disrupt through problem solving and they do it regularly.

 

Homeless people don’t have shoes due to cost? Give a motivated millennial a half a second and they will be connecting you with cheap shoes made in a small village half the globe away that will not only enable the homeless to have shoes but provide employment to the villagers. And they believe they can because they have been inspired by those who came before them just at the tail end of Gen X, sometimes referred to as “cuspers” because they are on the cusp of the generational transition point, like Blake MyCoskie of Toms.

 

Truth is, if you see a problem today and you want to fix it you NEED to have millennials on your team.

 

Millennial Word Three:

The third word I will use is, greatest 2.0. And, yes, in the modern era that is still one word!

 

Remember you heard it from me that the millennial generation will go down in history as The Greatest Generation 2.0. Millennials comprise over 70% of the active duty U.S. military and have now been at war longer than any other generation in U.S. history. When you couple the natural resourcefulness and problem solving I spoke about earlier with the discipline and leadership skills instilled by military service and combat experience you have the next Greatest Generation and they are already living up to that name you just haven’t realized it because they don’t fit the stereotype.

 

Just look around you at the number of veteran run businesses that pop up. They are businesses that are innovating their fields and changing lives.

 

Misunderstood, Disruptive, Greatest 2.0

So, the next time you feel like cracking jokes and belittling millennials just remember these three words. Take the time to understand them. Don’t be afraid of their disruption. Above all else, recognize them for all their generation has actually lived through already and understand that you are witnessing The Greatest Generation 2.0 finding their feet and beginning to reshape the world!

…and how to get to “Yes”

Answer

So, you have this great new idea but you are afraid of the answer. You know your idea can be a game changer you just have to get up the nerve to ask and ask right. Getting to “yes” means understanding why the answer is often a “no”. We will discuss three reasons and how to get around them.

 

The “Presumptive No”

The biggest enemy of getting to “yes” is never asking. The “Presumptive No” has derailed more dreams and ambitions than any other mistake in history. Now, most people fall for this because they believe they are saving their organization some time and trouble. They also believe they are saving themselves some embarrassment.

 

The truth is all you are doing is guaranteeing the answer will be no. Don’t rule yourself or your idea out. Don’t presume the answer is no. If you believe it is a great idea then you have an obligation to present it and give it a chance. Make somebody else tell you no for sure. Many times when you ask you will be surprised by the answer.

 

The Terrible Ask

Now, if you get past the “Presumptive No” you have to give your ask a chance. This isn’t as simple as walking in and saying, “I have X idea. Can I do it?” You need to craft your ask like a sales pitch. You must start with why it is important to the organization, what are the costs in money and time and what are the returns on that investment going to look like.

 

Those are the types of answers your leadership are going to be looking for. If you come in prepared with those answers you give your idea the best possible chance and hearing a yes.

 

The “No” Follow Up

Okay, so you have pushed past the “Presumptive No” and you have prepared a great pitch and delivered it flawlessly. You’ve done everything you can but you still hear no. At this point too many people just accept it and walk away. But, that is not the best course of action.

 

If this happens your best response is to ask, “Why?” Do it tactfully but find out what the objections may be and see if there are any points of concern you can help answer. Sometimes the gap between hearing yes or no is razor thin so with some minor revisions to your pitch you can allay those concerns and change the no to a yes.

 

Putting It All Together

Every single revolutionary event in the history of the world began with an idea. From politics to technology, we are where we are because people decided to give their idea the best chance for success. They pushed past the presumptive no, they made great asks and they followed up negative responses with revisions and information to answer any objections.

 

Only by doing the same will you ever have the impact on the world you are meant to have.

 

Team BuildingTeam building is an important aspect of any organization and building strong teams is the sign of a great leader. The best part of it all is that team building is amazingly simple if you make the right investments. There are three essential investments you must make to build high performing, resilient and successful teams.

These aren’t monetary investments, money can’t buy good teams. No, these are investments made by and of the leader and the organization. So, what are these three amazing team building investments? Continue reading →

Marines from C Company, 2nd Radio Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), pay their respects to Cpl. Lucas T. Pyeatt at a memorial service at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 15. Pyeatt, 24, of Westchester, Ohio, was a team leader and linguist with C Company. He was killed in action Feb. 5 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province showing love as a leadership style. Regional Command Southwest Photo by Sgt. Jeremy Ross

Marines from Company C, 2nd Radio Battalion, I Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd), pay respects to Cpl. Lucas Pyeatt at a memorial ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, Feb. 15. Cpl. Pyeatt, a team leader and linguist with Co. C, was killed in action Feb. 5. (Official USMC photo by Sgt. Jeremy Ross) (Released)Love and leadership

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to be writing about a very touchy leadership style for most of you. In fact, if you even keep reading past the headline you are already a special breed of leader. Love is a word that brings up all sorts of visions and emotions.

So, how does love impact your leadership? First we need to really define the type of love we are talking about. Continue reading →

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