Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leadership When the Heat's On Lesson Two

Use Problems to Enhance Your Career

I've broken the sound barrier over 1,000 times at the controls of everything from the F-86 Sabre, to the F-102 Delta Dagger, to the F-101 Voodoo to the F-16 Viper.  I have knocked off more than my share of plaster and broken way more than my share of windows.  My extra duty job in the Air Force was to speak to groups of upset, hostile civilians and convince them that those sonic booms were "the sound of freedom."

 Having built a reputation in the military as the "sonic boom salesman" I got into sales when I stopped flying. Those hostile audiences must have been an excellent training ground because the transition went smoothly.  I did so well at my first job as a salesperson that the company asked me to manage one of their sales offices after only one year of experience. One year later, the same executives who had put me in that little office the year before showed up again and told me I was being promoted to manager of the top office in the 36-office chain. 

That's when I started making the same kind of mistakes nearly every manager makes.  I urged my people not to think of me as their boss, but as a friend who was always right.  My goal was to turn everyone in that office into a copy of me.

 It made perfect sense at the time.  Turning the entire office into Danny Cox clones seemed to be what my bosses wanted me to do.  If I could get my salespeople to do their jobs exactly the way I had done mine when I was in their shoes, they wouldn't bring me any problems that I hadn't already solved. 

Under my management, the number one office plummeted to number 36 out of 36.  One day, as I was scratching my head trying to figure out the problem, my boss showed up in my office, unannounced, without his usual smile and pleasant demeanor.  "Cox," he said through clenched teeth.  "I can now see that it was a mistake making you the manager of this office and I feel it's only fair to tell you that I'm already looking for your replacement."

That was the shortest and most effective motivational seminar I ever attended.  I needed to learn how to lead­­­­––and I needed to learn fast. 

I sought out the counsel of many successful people and soon learned that I needed to work on myself, not the salespeople.  Salespeople get better right after their manager does.

The techniques I began using had such an immediate effect that within two weeks my boss stopped looking for a replacement.  We were heading back to number one.

 Here are three ways you can start turning problems into opportunities:

Think of a problem in the past that turned out to be, a positive.

Choose a problem that you can turn into a positive if you apply the right attitude and plan.

Decide on one thing that you can do in the next 24 hours to improve your leadership style.

“High performance is often the result of a sudden change in direction.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Leadership When the Heat Is On: 24 lessons in high-performance leadership


Lesson One
Leadership When the Heat's On

Only a few feet separate the lead pilot's tailpipe from the nose of my supersonic fighter as we rip through the sky at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour. I feel the blast from his engine vibrating through my feet on the rudder pedals and through my right hand on the control stick. There are seven more jets behind me packed just as tight in our nine-ship formation.

Almost with one motion, the nose of each fighter gently drops below the horizon. The airspeed builds until the lead pilot pulls back on the stick. The nose of every fighter rises in perfect symmetry as the G forces build. I feel the blood being forced into my legs and feet. All nine of us are now experiencing the same 5 G force ––5 times our body weight. We tighten our leg and abdominal muscles to keep blood in our upper extremities to avoid blacking out.

I concentrate on keeping my hand on the throttle. If it slips off, the G force will push it down between the side panel and my ejection seat. I will lose my ability to make minor throttle adjustments and hold precise position. As we curve over the top of our perfect loop, the world switches places with the sky. The G forces diminish down the backside. I steal a millisecond glance at the two rear view mirrors. Everyone is still tucked in tight. The G pressure builds again as our lead pilot pulls the nose back up to level flight and eight pilots follow in perfect unison.

The lead pilot takes us through a series of horizon tumbling rolls followed by a formation shift to a nine-ship diamond. It's my turn to fly center position as we make a high-speed, low-level pass over the airfield. The noise of eight other jets in front and back, and on both sides, flying two to three yards from wingtip to wingtip is deafening. It's high performance flying right to the edge. There is only one word to describe it: exhilarating. WOW! How I love it!

It's the ultimate team experience. The difference between life and death can be how well we learn from our successes and failures. Our synergy comes from courage, creativity, and being there for each other, no matter what. After leaving the Air Force and entering the corporate world, I had to transfer the principles of individual and team high performance to new challenges.

I had to make some tremendous adjustments, but my drive to again be a part of a high performance team was strong. I sought out advice and counsel from the most successful people I could find in various industries. What they taught me, along with some innovations of my own, put my new team into a supersonic climb. In five years, we increased production 800 percent, morale soared and turnover dropped to nearly zero.

Consider this your supersonic flight plan as you discover how my team broke the old records and continued to break the new ones. You're going to find out how to become the lead pilot for your team and a barrier-breaking leader.   

"The managerial moment of truth comes when you realize that, as the leader, you are the trigger for change in your organization."

Leadership When the Heat Is On: 24 lessons in high performance leadership by Danny Cox