Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Leadership When the Heat's On: 24 lessons in high-performance management

Lesson Five

Develop Characteristics of Great Leaders

Here is a list of 10 characteristics that are common in high performing leaders.  They do not come naturally.  Great leaders are not born with them.  The self-developed characteristics of great leaders are universal and timeless.  They reflect what leaders choose to believe and how they decide to behave.  Great leaders demonstrate all ten characteristics--regardless of their field. 

1.     Uncompromising integrity: It's the foundation for quality and service to both internal and external customers.  The would-be leader who doesn't have this will be a "flash in the pan."
2.     Absence of pettiness: The greatest drain of energy in an organization is pettiness.  Eliminating it results in high energy.  Leaders understand the difference between interesting and important. 
3.     Works on things by priority:  This results in stability under pressure and makes for an excellent problem solver.  A leader that works priorities prepares a daily priority list and starts with #1 and doesn't deal with #2 when finished, but instead deals with the new #1, and so on.
4.     Courageous: Leaders don't lead life meekly.  They know there is a deep well of courage within each of us.  Used or unused, it's still there.  Leaders do what they fear to keep fear from taking charge.  Their credo is "It's always too soon to quit!"
5.     Committed: Leaders know that working hard in a job you love doesn't bring an early death but that working hard in a job you hate does.  They never hear low achievers saying to them, "Slow down!  You're going to ruin your health!"  Their work is a developed art form.
6.     Goal oriented: Focus is the antidote for pain in the accomplishment of stellar goals.  Leaders understand that a lack of goals starts both the physical and mental shutdown process.
7.     Unorthodox: These are the creators, the innovators, and the think out of the box types.  They learn from their successes and from their failures.  They are "originals," not "copies."
8.     Inspired enthusiasm that's contagious:  Leaders achieve this by witnessing the accomplishment of their daily goals, not just daily tasks, which are part of a larger plan.  They are acutely aware that if they don't have this contagious enthusiasm, then whatever mood they do have is also contagious.
9.     Level headed in times of crisis: These people do not get the "come aparts" or go cry in their beer.  They are steady and therefore grasp the needed facts quickly.  They know that conflict overcome is strength gained.
10.  Desire to help others grow: Leaders know there is no saturation to education and that passing along knowledge and growth experiences builds synergistic relations and camaraderie.

Here are some questions and "to dos" to start yourself on the road to greatness:

  • How would you rate yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, for each characteristic?
  • How would your team members rate you on each characteristic?
  • Pick out three characteristics you'd like to improve in yourself and map out a plan for that improvement.

“An organization quits improving right after the manger quits improving.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Leaderhip Whenn the Heat's On: 24 Lessons in high-performance management

Lesson Four

Search for What Works 

I love it when people fight against incredible odds to triumph over problems.   Dr. Norman Vincent Peale once said, "You're only as big as the problem that stops you."  I am thankful for men and women who were bigger than the problems that would have and did stop so many others.  The world got better right after they got better.

During the dark hours when my boss was out looking for my replacement, I started looking for articles about successful people in newspapers and magazines.  When I came across someone local, I called them up and said, "You don't know me, but my name is Danny Cox and I've just destroyed the number one office in my company by taking it from first place to thirty-sixth in three months.  My boss is looking for my replacement right now.  Can I have lunch with you?"

These successful people not only took my calls, they agreed to have lunch with me.  Some sensed the urgency in my voice and others just wanted to meet the person who could single-handedly wreak havoc on an entire organization.  The one quality that every one of these success stories shared was an entrepreneurial spirit.  Each saw me as a challenge––or at least a curiosity. 

I listened and immediately started applying the lessons.  I have never stopped seeking out the advice and counsel of effective leaders.  Take someone to lunch before someone else eats yours. Pay attention to what's happening around you in your organization, in your industry, and your local business community, so you can learn without experiencing your own disasters.  Thomas Edison said, "The answers are out there.  Find them."

Work on yourself first.  Your pursuit of excellence will set the agenda for everyone in your organization.  Just before you drift off to sleep, ask yourself, "Who am I impressing…? When people are impressed, they say, ”You do good work.” When they're inspired, they say, "I wish I did my work as well as you do yours." 

You must lead by your example of excellence. Any improvement you make as a leader will be reflected in your organization.  Think of it this way: somebody, somewhere is going to get better because you took the time to read this book. 

Here are some ways to start your pursuit of excellence:

Learn from leaders around you: List the three people you admire most within your organization and the three you admire most outside of your organization.  They should be accessible to you. Take these people individually to lunch or, at least, talk with them about their secrets to successful leadership. They’ll enjoy telling you.

Put those methods and techniques to work: Apply what you learn to your leadership challenges. Give your benefactors feedback on how their methods and techniques work for you––and tell them about any innovations you come up with.

Focus on inspiring rather than impressing: When you impress, you rise above others. When you inspire, you bring them up with you.

“To achieve great things, know more than the average person considers necessary.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Leadership When the Heat's On

Lesson Three

Lift Your Limitations 

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

After reaching the number one position again, our office's production amazingly leveled off at exactly where we had been when I first took over.  Once we returned to our previous level of performance, we unknowingly reached our self-imposed barrier and went no further.  I emphasize the word self because the barriers I refer to are not company-imposed or customer-imposed.  They are self-imposed. 

Self-imposed barriers are not walls around our lives.  They are the margins of our lives where nothing has been written--yet.  A self-imposed barrier is nothing more than the dividing line between developed and undeveloped potential.  Yet, we look at that line as though it's a wall.  Imagine what the world would be like if explorers throughout history believed that they couldn't go anywhere for the first time.  That's what we were up against after my office was back at number one.  Our production curve leveled off once we were back at the top of the office's previous performance curve.  There was no tangible barrier. 

But, pushing production higher than it had ever been before meant venturing into uncharted territory.  We had reached the collective personal barriers of the team.  My people were not slouches by any means.  They were the best in the company and would have been the best in any company.  We were already receiving monthly awards for being the top office.  Success became a barrier for us.  Walt Disney is remembered to this day throughout the Disney organization for warning his staff against "…resting on our laurels."  Ralph Waldo Emerson put it even more profoundly when he said, "He who sits on the cushion of advantage soon goes to sleep." 

Another great executive once said to me, "Good is the enemy of best and best is the enemy of better."  When most people get to be good, they start to think, "What's the point of struggling to be best?  Isn't good, good enough?"  I challenged my team to break through their existing personal production records and they responded.  I asked them to focus on their own records on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis instead of other people's records.  When they did, energy, morale, and production skyrocketed.

As our performance received increasing acclamation and overall attention, I was asked where I got all of those great people and how I came to build such a record-breaking team.  Did I steal top producers from our competition or recruit at the top business schools?  The one word answer was, "no."  They were just ordinary people who discovered they could do the most extraordinary things with their newly discovered potential.  Here are some things you can do right now to help develop undeveloped potential in your team:

  • Meet individually with your key people to set goals:  "Don't worry about breaking anyone else's personal record, just think about breaking your own record on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis." 
  • Monitor each team member's progress continuously:  Help that person stay focused.
  • Celebrate record-breaking performances: Do this on a regular basis to reinforce your support and appreciation for your team's effort.

"Accomplishment is your birthright. Limitations are adopted."