Follow a 7L Path for True Success

There is a commonly used phrase in our culture that appears on coffee cups, bumper stickers, and wall posters that is offered as a recipe for happiness and success in life’s journey. Specifically, Live, Love and Laugh, or the 3L’s, can be seen in homes and offices across our country. With today’s economic, political, and social challenges, these words of wisdom may seem a bit simplistic and optimistic to some, when they are in fact more important than ever.

With all the devices that keep us connected to the office 24/7, perhaps we need a reminder that a healthy life-work balance doesn’t necessarily start with work. Success is not burnout and living must be more than working. At the same

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time, a changing workforce expects more out of the work environment, just as companies expect more out of their workers. When employees love what they do, engagement and productivity both rise. Leaders at all levels need to raise the bar to create cultures where people excel, where hard work and laughter exist together.

And while I wholeheartedly agree Live Love and Laugh are incredibly important ingredients, I also think there is more to the recipe if the objective is true success.

In light of the number of people currently struggling and the severity of the challenges we are collectively facing, we need more. Specifically, we need to consider adding another 4L’s to the mix to truly create success. To the point, it’s time to consider a “7L Path.” It is time to also Listen, Learn and Lead with Light. Here’s how…

With all the differing viewpoints in the world, one might ask why so many people indicate that nobody speaks for them. Perhaps we all need to develop more trust in ourselves and Listen to own internal voice before we look to others for answers.

With all the different advancements in the world, one might ask why we have not discovered how to solve a large and constantly growing list of problems. Perhaps we all need to Learn to be much more open to new ideas and opinions.

With all the different experts in the world, one might ask why we have so few who are able to show the way for others. Perhaps we all need to exercise our own ability to Lead rather than look exclusively to others.

With all the different religions and spiritual practices that guide us united in their recognition of both a higher order and our inadequacies as human beings, one might ask why so many are so sure that “we” are always right and “they” are always wrong. Perhaps we all need to stay focused on the common Light of truth, respect, service, equality, and connection that unite us.

Live, Love, Laugh, Listen, Learn, Lead with Light. It may be too long for a bumper sticker or to fit on the side of a Grande coffee cup, but it is worth the time and effort. This path can guide all of us to true success in work and in life.

This blog is dedicated to my friend Louige.

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A Senior Leader’s Biggest Challenge

Senior leaders in organizations have never had easy jobs. Among lots other tasks, senior leaders are expected to envision, strategize, and plan tactics for their firms after they have thoroughly researched the market for their products/services. Assuming they have developed an appropriate financial plan for their enterprise and have continually updated their competitive profiles, they are also expected to flawlessly implement their plans and measure with quality and speed to produce predictable results. They are also accountable to align their teams by communicating direction throughout their organization where they need to be confident, clear, concise, convincing, and compelling (5 C’s). Taken together, these tasks can seem daunting. Yet, these may be the easiest parts of their job.

The toughest part of their job might be that while they are communicating with the 5 C’s, they also need to be truly open to input and opinions from virtually every stake owner in and around their organization. With today’s unprecedented pace and change, the most successful leaders may be those who can confidently set the direction for a group while intently listening to input from employees, customers, and partners for the changes they fully expect will come.

In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf describes the approach required of the leader who truly understands that game-changing insight can come at anytime, from anyone. “One must make choices. Perhaps one chooses the same aim or hypothesis again and again. But is always with a fresh and open choice, and it is always under a shadow of doubt.” Leaders open to fresh perspectives are more likely make critical adjustments ahead of others.

Greenleaf also offers a perspective on how a leader can create true communication and engagement. He emphasizes both the exercise of authority and the inner quality of humility that characterize a true servant leader. With a commitment to serve first, a leader is more likely to truly listen. With an underlying belief in equality and respect for every individual, successful leaders appreciate the necessity to learn from anyone and everyone.

With the economic, political, social, and environmental challenges we are now facing, pressure to perform is higher than ever for leaders to perform. Senior leaders will always be looked to for future direction. Their due diligence and the quality of their strategies and plans will continue to be an important starting point for any enterprise. Senior leaders will continue to need to display confidence to their organizations. In light of today’s complexities and uncertainties, however, their long term success balance may hinge far more on the challenge of finding the right balance of confidence and the humility that comes with a healthy dose of doubt.

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All-In Leadership

No matter where you turn today, it seems that groups in both the public and private sector are facing tough tests. With the economic, political, social, and environmental challenges we are facing, blame games seem more common in government and business than ever before. More than ever, we need effective leadership to drive much needed change but it seems in short supply…or is it?

I contend we have plenty of leadership potential, but we are looking in the wrong direction. We need to stop looking “up” when we All should be looking In. All-In Leadership is a term I use to remind all of us about our individual choice to lead and how we can best approach this opportunity today.

My hope is that today’s events will serve as a wake-up call for us to choose to stop delegating leadership to others and step up to our opportunity to set a new direction, each in our own unique way. All-In Leadership also advocates we each make a complete commitment to this opportunity utilizing discipline, insight, support, and creativity.

Discipline starts with a vision we create for ourselves. Who are we and what do we stand for? It is followed by a strategy and plan to accomplish that vision. After we plan the work, we work the plan. Adjustments are anticipated along the way to deal with the unexpected turns in the road. While discipline doesn’t provide complete control, it improves the probability of reaching our vision.

Insight enables us to create a vision and a plan that “fits” us. With so many opinions and views constantly bombarding us “helping” us determine where and how to find success, we need to learn to hear our own voice among the noise. We can find that voice when we are focused, present, accepting, generous, and grateful.

The ability to support others effectively comes after we truly understand their needs. It starts by truly listening to understand and learn from everyone and every opportunity. It also includes questioning, inspiring, encouraging, enabling, and role modeling for others.

The power of our full creativity is unleashed when we connect what we do to who we are. Specifically, when we connect our internal creativity (feelings and thoughts) to our external creativity (our written and spoken words and our actions) we dramatically increase both our effectiveness and our positive influence over others.

All-In Leadership also requires courage. The serious challenges we face individually and collectively can feel daunting if they fall to only a few to solve. We need leadership from senior executives, group managers, and individual contributors. Together, our combined leadership capabilities and skills can make the difference. Why not start today?

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Corporate Culture and Performance

“The single most visible factor that distinguishes a successful culture from a failure… is competent leadership from the top.” —Corporate Culture and Performance

We are coming upon the 20 year anniversary of the publishing of John Kotter’s and James Heskett’s Corporate Culture and Performance. The lessons in this classic are timeless and particularly applicable for those who lead groups today. Rooted in research, Kotter and Heskett provide a blue-print of what to do to build an organization that can sustain strong performance. They also point out that it is not easy.

“Culture represents the interdependent set of values and ways of behaving that are common in a community and that tend to perpetuate themselves.” The performance engine of any company is their community of employees. Specifically, the books central message is that it is critical to build an Adaptive Culture, rather than a strong culture, to create long-term economic performance. Adaptive cultures expect and embrace change. To build the elusive adaptive culture, the authors offer the following:

Senior executives must display an uncommon combination of personal attributes and actions at the very top of a business. Internally, executives must be self-assured and willing to work for others. Externally, executives must exhibit discipline, confidence and humility. According to extensive research conducted by Kotter and Heskett, senior executives must also act to:

  • Create a sense of crisis and a need for change as they set a new direction
  • Communicate consistently and broadly
  • Display an “outsiders” propensity to embrace change and new ideas
  • Reinforce the importance of innovation
  • Build and maintain an “insiders” credibility
  • Institute a balanced focus on the success of customers, employees, and share owners
  • Establish leadership or the ability to produce change as an important focus at ALL levels
  • Decentralize decision-making where possible
  • Promote carefully and demote when necessary
  • Celebrate early success

At a time when so many of our private sector institutions are not performing well, we would all be well served to return to lessons contained in this leadership classic. The good news is that the paperback version of Corporate Culture and Performance was released earlier this year. Is that perfect timing? As a practitioner of the concepts included in this classic, I can assure you it is well worth the time.

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Great by Choice

On October 11th, Author Jim Collins released his fourth in a series of heavily researched books outlining “what it takes to build a great company,” titled Great by Choice with co-writer Morten Hansen. This particular book focuses on requirements for sustained growth in a business world characterized by uncertainty and chaos. The book also consciously builds on, but does not actively reference, the key lessons in the prior three books. The authors build a case that their conclusions complement the important learning offered in his earlier books. These include:

Built to Last – including a focus on the importance of Values

Good to Great – including a focus on the importance of Insight of Level 5 Leadership

How The Mighty Fall – including a focus on the intense Support required of leaders to Never Give In

In Great by Choice, the authors share the results of a nine-year research effort focused on determining those characteristics of companies that achieve superior and sustained performance in the most unpredictable of market conditions. Central among their findings are the importance of the connection between Discipline and Creativity as part of a concept the authors describe as 10X Leadership. “Of course, it is not discipline alone that makes greatness, but the combination of discipline and creativity. “(pg. 77)

As a total body of work, Collins four studies include a deep dive on a select group of 75 companies. As a resource, Collins’ books are invaluable. While certain themes (i.e. discipline) are woven throughout the four books, as a career academic, researcher and consultant Collins concludes that people can build a great company based on their actions and attributes…even in the most challenging of times. I think Collins is spot on.

Going forward, however, this blog will come from the view point of a career practitioner. I believe there is value in the insights and observations of a career business leader who has spent most of his time on the front line, accountable for results. Based on experience, at times I may disagree with parts of the research offered by others or I may offer a slightly different spin. At Choices & Success we APPLY the best of these concepts to drive results and resilience. From this perspective, I will offer a practitioner’s view of HOW Discipline, Insight, Support, Creativity, and Values can be implemented to drive sustained performance. The devil is in the details.

In Great by Choice, Collins offers the following summary of his research on building a great company: “Indeed, if there’s one overarching message arising from more than six thousand years of corporate history across all our research—studies that employ comparisons of great versus good in similar circumstances—it would be this: greatness is not the matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.

On that perspective, we agree 100%!

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