Tag Archives: leadership style

Three More Ways to Make Work More Like Sports

Euro 2012 concluded yesterday. For those not into soccer that’s the European championship. It happens every four years, kind of like the Olympics or the World Cup.

Spain won as predicted and although Italy lost, they showed up in the finals as a complete surprise to most folks. They made a fantastic run and came up just short when all the luck, ans skill of the Spaniards, seemed to turn against them.

During their run to the finals I was captivated by Gigi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper and captain. This guy has been around for quite awhile and is still considered one of the top keepers in the game but what impressed me most was the man beyond the play.

  • Camera’s couldn’t stay off him during the Italian national anthem and commentators kept coming back to the passion with which he sang his countries song.
  • During their semi-0final penalty shoot-out against England he could be seen slapping hands with Joe Hart, England’s keeper, between penalties.
  • After the loss in the finals the cameras followed him as he comforted his teammates and even his coach.

Back in January I posted “What’s the Difference Between Life and Sports?” where I explored some of the ways in which our work environments often conspire to make life a whole lot less exciting than following sports. As this summer wends its way though Euro 2012 and the Olympics more and more Gigi Buffon’s are going to come across our radar screen.

So what can we learn from Buffon’s example?

1. We like to play for something bigger.
That’s why Buffon belting out his national anthem is impressive. He gets that, he connects to it, he’s proud of his country. How often in our work places to we as managers try to instill in our people a sense of something bigger than just a paycheck?

The opposite is true in sports as well…we don’t care for the selfish player who is just in it for the money. How much heat, pun intended, has Lebron gotten for that?

2. We like a class act.
Even in the tension packed moment of a penalty shoot out Buffon makes the effort to connect with the opposing keeper, a guy who he openly respects as an up and comer. That’s class.

How do we create an atmosphere of class even in the midst of competitive tensions in the work place? How do we reward “class”? Typically I find we don’t. We like it, we applaud it, but we hope it doesn’t get in the way.

3. We like team guys who lead.
I watched this world class athlete who had just loss put aside his own grief long enough to comfort guys who may well get a second and even third chance at this tournament. This was a captain leading his men even after the battle was finished.

How many leaders in business have you seen take that approach? We more often see them focused on responsibility and blame for the loss. How do we instill not only this level of teamwork, but leadership in our people?

I wonder who we’ll see emerge from the Olympic games in a few weeks time. I wonder what lessons we’ll be able to take away from these games about how to create more passion, more life, in our work environments.

How much of this connection to class, leadership, and a connection to something bigger is cultural? Do you think it is the same for people outside the US?

Leadership 101: Pronoun Guidelines

It’s funny how powerful mere words can be in shaping reality. From the Little Engine that Could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”, to God’s opening line in the Bible, “Let there be light!”, words shape not only our understanding of the world around us but in just as many cases the world around us as well.

It’s become a bit of a nitpick of mine lately to catch myself on pronoun use and as a result I find myself checking other folks around me as well. Pronoun use can be a HUGE indicator of insecurity or confidence, risk or reward, credit or blame. Don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely NOT the pronoun police whistle blowing and yellow carding my way through meetings. I just listen and make mental notes…copious mental notes.

Allow me then to suggest some simple guidelines for leaders who find themselves choosing which pronoun to use when communicating publicly.

Credit or Blame: Credit should always be “we”. Even if your team did nothing bringing them in on the credit speaks of confidence and, IF they did nothing, puts pressure on them perform next time.In the case where all you did was supervise and the team did all the work turning that “we” into a “they” also speaks volumes.

Blame should always be “I”. One of my greatest leadership memories of all time was being at a CU Miami football game that literally came down CU being a foot short on the last play. A bench clearing NASTY brawl ensued with players and coaches from both sides attacking viciously across 30 yars of mindless melee.

In the post game interview, before the first question was asked, coach Bill McCartney stepped to the mic and addressed the press by saying that he took full responsibility for the actions of his team, players and coaches alike, that it was HIS fault that they behaved that way and that while their would be internal discipline for some specific actions the bulk of the blame should be laid at his feet.


Risk or Reward: This one is easy to remember: When the risk is high use “I”. You can see you’ve talked it over with the team but that the decision, the risk, the iffy proposition, is your call.

Reward I tend to go straight to “they” if I can…at least in my good moments.

I’ve told my teams for a long time that when we succeed they get the credit, when we fail I take the blame, at least publicly…we WILL have a private conversation.  From experience I can tell you that that one has come back to bite me a time or two. But in the end it still made me a better leader of people.

A few more examples:

  • Innovation: They, or you
  • Difficult change: I, or me
  • Challenging authority: I…do it probably too often.

I adopted a leadership mantra from my good buddy Kurt who always says, “Listen, if I make everyone of my people successful then I’ll be successful by accident.”

The words you choose to use, even down to the smallest pronoun, have profound effect on how successful those people can become. It is also a great barometer of a leaders level of confidence, security, or ego. Who was it that once said, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”?  Listen to the leaders you’re around on a daily basis and see where they land in pronoun use. It’s an interesting pastime to be sure.

What other examples can you come up with where pronoun use can effect team performance?

4 Reasons to Recognize Milestones

Today we reached the end of an era in the Fletcher household…we’ve most likely seen our last minivan.

With the price of gas continuing to rocket upward we traded in ol’ blue for a used Honda Civic Hybrid.  The small car payment and a month’s gas will still cost us less than we were paying per month for gas in ol’ blue. I have to admit I’m kinda sad.

I’ve been thinking about random milestones all day.

Way back at the turn of the century, funny when you put it that way, I was working as the Director of eCommerce Marketing at Corporate Express. During my tenure in that position we saw a pretty cool milestone heading our direction. We knew, probably 4 weeks out, that we were going to hit our first million dollar sales day on our eCommerce site.

As the marketing director I wanted to recognize the efforts of everyone who had made the site a success as well as generate excitement and so we started a pool to see who could pick not only the right day, but closest to the right dollar amount.

Our final sales numbers from the previous day typically came in between 10 and noon and on the day we got the news that we’d hit the mark we went crazy. Most of us has seen the first day the site launched, bringing in I believe a total of five dollars, and here we were at a million dollars in a single day!

We sent announcements out to our field offices congratulating the sales folks and throughout headquarters lauding the team that had built and maintained the site. By 3:30 it was time to really celebrate so I invited the entire eCommerce team to happy hour. Several VP’s came over to join in the fun and the CEO even came by for a beer and some congratulatory words.

As a corporate leader I learned the importance of recognizing milestones that day.

1. It honors accomplishment
Our guys were beaming that day from the newest support person to the senior most developer. They knew and understood anew that their work had created significant value for the organization.

2. It measures success
Milestones are stakes in the ground that are tangible measure of success, a goal line crossed. It’s one thing to say, “good job”. It’s another thing to have a measure of just how good.

3. It shows engagement
For a leader to pause and recognize a significant milestone shows that they’re engaged in the business and the efforts of their people. Celebrating even in small ways says more than just “attaboy” it says, “we’re in this together.”

4. It inspires effort
We hadn’t finished even the first round of libations before people were asking when we’d hit a 2 million dollar day. We didn’t dwell there, but we had already started setting our sites on what it would take to get to the next level.

Whether you’re running an organization, leading a family, or building customer loyalty recognizing milestones along the way helps inspire your people to follow your lead and strive for the next level.

What milestones do you have on the horizon? How do you think they ought to be celebrated and, more importantly, with whom?

What’s the Difference Between Life and Sports?

I’m bummed.

Last weekend the Broncos lost, which I thought might happen anyway, but tonight the 49ers lost. I really though they had a shot at winning it all.

I grew up rooting for the 49ers. I’ve personally known some of the players. I DJed a couple team parties back in the day. I’m bummed. And that has made me wonder…

How is it that we can get SO passionate about a team, or a single game, or a season and we rarely experience that kind of passion in the rest of life? Allow me to share a couple observations:

1. Sports span a wide emotional gamut.
There are studies that show that fans actually like games better when there is a chance their team could lose. Blows out are humdrum either way. If we blow out the opponent that’s nice, if we get blown out that’s too bad, but if the game is close our elation of depression are much more deeply felt.

We’re emotional beings so that range of emotions is intoxicating. Threat, risk, despair, hope, anticipation, elation…they’re all there. We like the emotional ride.

2. Faster team sports generate bigger emotions
I don’t have any science on this, I just think it is true. You don’t see fans of individual sports like golf or tennis go as crazy as soccer, hockey, or football fans. I would contend that baseball fans are less crazy too, except perhaps on a hot afternoon when there has been a lot of beer consumed.

We’re social beings made to be in relationship. Team sports are about relationship and interdependence and team work. We love it when all the parts click and wish we could be a cog in that well honed relational mechanism.

3. Sports require split second decision making.
This plays into why faster sports spawn bigger emotions. It is also why soccer fans pick on football fans and football fans pick on baseball fans…the amount of relative dead space in their games. This need for instant decision mixes physical, cognitive, and intuitive skills in an oft times artistic mix that amazes us when it all comes together.

We’re creative beings. When adrenaline courses through our veins our cognitive and physical functions work at max capacity and we are at our most creative. We not only love to feel it, we love to see it in others.

So if that’s how we’re wired why isn’t day to day life more like that?

Probably because we spend a large proportion of our time at work!

1. The workplace engages fewer emotions.
At work we’re asked to operate predominantly out of our brain, sitting on our butt. Emotions are against company policy to a large extent. It’s not: go big or go home, it’s: go big? and we’ll send you home. We’re asked to dial back the range and the volume on every emotion. We must be in control.

2. “Teamwork” takes on a different connotation.
We may be “team players” or “individual contributors” but we rarely, if ever, find ourselves in a place where teammates must connect one after another like a quarterback getting time in the pocket and completing a pass.. (I’ve never worked on an assembly line but I do wonder if it feels more like a team in that setting.)

3. Decisions are generally made over time
…and then second guessed, and then changed. Sports contests are confined to 90 minutes, or nine innings, or the couple hours it takes to play four quarters. Sales cycles are days, weeks, months or sometimes even years. Product life cycles are even longer.

What if we allowed emotional expression in the work place without fear of reprisal? What if we created teams that had to consistently connect the dots one after the other? What if we set up cycle times that put teams in a position to have to do that daily, or even before lunch time?

Would we find ourselves being as passionate about work as we are about sports? And if we were…what might we accomplish?

What can you do to bring the fan experience more realistically into your workplace?


Are you in the right job?

There is a question that I ask everyone who reports to me at one time or another: If you could do anything in the world to make a living, no limitations or restrictions, you could be older, younger, live in the past, live in the future, what would you do?

Would it surprise you to know that fewer than 2% of the people I ask that question ever answer with the job they’re in?  To be fair I don’t know that I have yet answered that way either.  Let’s quadruple my experience though. Let’s guess that 8% of the people you know are in the job that is their perfect fit. Really?!? 8%? That’s horrible. How is it that so few people are really in a job that is what they’d think of as a perfect fit?

The job we land in is typically dictated by a significant number of factors: pay, location, schedule, opportunity for advancement, experiential fit, prestige. If we’re lucky a few of those factors come together and land near what we’d call our perfect job.

I think the trouble, for most of us, is that we never actually interrogate our answer to the question, if you could do anything what would you do? Why never actually ask ourselves why?

For years my answer to that question was that I would either play professional football or act. I played football all the way through college, even a season after college, loved it, miss playing, but I’m way too old now…even by Brett Favre standards. I’ve done some local acting around the edges. Loved it. But I have a family to support and there aren’t a ton of high paying acting gigs in Colorado Springs.

So I guess I’m stuck right? Wrong.

You see when I finally took the time to ask myself why I would pick one of those two professions, and did a little digging, I realized that what those two options had in common was what I call spectacle. They each are imbued  with opportunity to take people out of the course of daily routine and provide them with an emotional experience that is outside their norm.  I LOVE being able to create those moments for people.

For me the word “spectacle” encompasses what I want to be involved in creating. Now, here’s the interesting bit, the rest of that job stuff? Title, location, particular company, prestige etc. etc. all starts to take a back seat. Pay is still important because I have a wife and three kids after all, but as long as what I do has an element of spectacle to it I’m good to go!

So in order to figure out if YOU are in the right job you need to explore the answer to three questions:

  1. If you could do anything to make a living, no restrictions, (the age excuse on football falls out here), what would you do?
  2. What are the elements of your answer to #1 that most inspire you, in other words, why did you pick that?
  3. How much of your answer to #2 is present in your current job?

To be fair you may need someone to help you dig a bit. By way of example my little brother hated question #1, got tired of people asking him about his passion.  He just knew he wasn’t happy in his job and would rather be “doing adventures”.  But you can’t support a family just doing adventures so he’d given up.  Would it surprise you to learn that with some probing and digging we landed on corporate tax accounting as a potential career change? On the surface that seems CRAZY, but once we’d answered the “why” and found the elements he was after HE even agreed that it sounded cool.

Put titles and labels aside. Ask yourself the questions. Get someone to help you dig for the real “why” and you may surprise yourself with where you land.

Are you in the right job? Why do you think you just answered the way you did?


Four Tenets of Servant Leadership

Whether you are a Christian or not the story of Christmas is the story of God becoming man.  That is to say, you don’t have to believe the story is true to understand that this is what the story is all about.

I’m not really too surprised then that in this Christmas season I have found myself involved in several different conversations on what it means to be a servant leader. I know, I know, much has been written on the topic, some good, some not so good but from the conversations I’ve been fortunate to be a part of four particular themes have emerged.

Even if you only give credence to the Christmas story as historical fiction these four principals or tenets, examples of what it means to be a servant leader, are startlingly relevant today.

Tenet 1: It takes a leader
It amazes me how many people miss this and land on some very spongy, soft definition of servant leader. The phrase itself indicates a leader, modified by the word servant. This is NOT the servant who leads. This is a position of strength, of authority, not egotistically swung about like a cudgel but judiciously exercised on behalf of those being lead.

Read the narratives, the stories of Jesus life. From a young age he displayed leadership characteristics. As he grew into a man people followed him. He lead, and served those he lead.

If you don’t know how to lead you can’t be a servant leader.

Tenet 2: It takes commitment
Servant leadership is not a string of random acts to occasionally help someone out. It is a commitment to regularly set the needs of those you lead as primary. Not in some sort of socialistic/Mr. Spock “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” thing, but in a way that sacrifices self promotion in favor of people development.

Jesus went from being God to being man, not transformed into a full blown adult but born as a baby. That’s not a one time act. That’s not a string of wishful helps from a genie. That’s a commitment, probably a bigger commitment than we can even imagine.

We’re talking about a commitment to develop and grow those whom you lead.

Tenet 3: It takes proactive movement
The servant leader is not one who sits around and wits for his followers to make requests. He doesn’t stand at the proverbial door like a butler waiting for orders. The servant leader anticipates the needs and desires of those being lead and seeks to meet those needs. This isn’t a posture of gift giving benevolence but rather an anticipation of what will contribute towards growth, development, and the achievement of organizational goals.

Jesus didn’t stand next to the door as the disciples came in to the last supper and ask if he could wash their feet. “Foot wash today Simon? John? anyone?” He took the proactive step.

The servant leader doesn’t wait to react to a request. The servant leader proactively anticipates needs and meets them.

Tenet 4: It takes succession planning
If you’re going to commit to helping people develop and grow you’ve got to have a target of some kind in mind. Whether you are growing YOUR successor or growing folks who can move up into other positions in your organization you’re growing people in a direction.

Jesus didn’t show up, do his thing, and bail. He grow up some guys who could further His efforts after He’d gone. He was quite intentional about preparing them for the role. In fact, in an interesting twist, the less you believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the more you have to believe that the disciples did a great job growing a religious movement beyond the guy who trained them! In either case Jesus was quite the succession planner.

The servant leader doesn’t just grow an organization. She grows the people who will continue to grow the organization after she is gone.

At the end of the day it is about heart, you can’t adhere to these tenets over time without a heart commitment. Lead, commit, move proactively and take your people to the next level. Watch what happens. You might just change the world.

Have you ever had a leader who exemplified these tenets? What did that look like?

10 Leadership Responses

It’s been a long week. For some reason this week almost everyone I know has been posting pithy quotes on their Facebook status. In response to this rash of pith, i offer my hastily compiled top ten responses to leadership quotes:

1.”You manage things; you lead people”                         

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper

From the rear apparently…

2.”Success for leadership is . . . knowing the great art of directing others without their noticing it.”



3. “Consensus is the negation of leadership.”

Margaret Thatcher                                                                            

All in favor say ‘aye’?

4. “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

John C. Maxwell

Or was that a cab driver?

5. “Leadership is diving for a loose ball, getting the crowd involved, getting other players involved. It’s being able to take it as well as dish it out. That’s the only way you’re going to get respect from the players.”

Larry Bird

Unless you’re a ball girl at Wimbleton …

6. “Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”

John D. Rockefeller

And paying them minimum wage…

7. “There are many elements to a campaign. Leadership is number one. Everything else is number two. “

Bertolt Brecht

I’d agree, most things in a campaign ARE number two

8. “Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Harold R. McAlindon

Unless you’re in a national park…

9. “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

A la Tom Sawyer

10. “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

But truly brilliant minds conjure the ideas the drive the events that astound the people

Got some to add? Please share with the class.

Leadership styles in Lord of the Rings

ring photo courtesy of pirateninjagabs @deviantart.comI confess I am a huge fan of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien particularly the Lord of the Rings. I have read the trilogy multiple times and thoroughly enjoyed the films. While you may not remember all the characters listed below you’ll probably recognize a leadership description that fits your style:

ElrondElf Lord, bearer of one of the three elven rings.

  1. Leads from a base of wisdom: “counted chief among the wise”
  2. Leads from a safe haven: Rivendell, “the last homely house”
  3. Leads as a counselor, not as a participant.
  4. Leads out of enough experience to have become somewhat jaded.
  5. Provides a sense of big picture direction

GaladrielElf Lord, also a bearer of one of the three

  1. Leads out of a safe haven: “Lorien, a place where time seems to have stood still”
  2. Leads rooted in an ancient traditional past.
  3. Leads as a counselor not as a participant.
  4. Leads out of specific commitments rather than overall purpose
  5. Provides potential operational direction: “The mirror of Glaldriel”

TheodenKing of Rohan, the horse lords

  1. Leads from a deep association with his people.
  2. Leads out of militant participation.
  3. Leads with compassion.
  4. Leads with a sense of his historical place within his organization.
  5. Is the prime example of redeemed leadership.

DenethorSteward of Gondor

  1. Leads out of a fortress mentality
  2. Leads out of ancient traditions
  3. Leads out of militant participation
  4. Leads out of an ego that forgets limitations and boundaries
  5. Succumbs to temptation and evil in the end

BoromirEldest son of Denethor

  1. Leads with a sense of his own strength.
  2. Leads as a militant participant.
  3. Leads with fervent passion.
  4. Leads by putting the world on his shoulders.
  5. Succumbs to ego and temptation.

FaramirYoungest son of Denethor

  1. Leads out of a sense of duty.
  2. Leads out of a love that inspires.
  3. Leads as a militant participant.
  4. Leads with a sense of nobility.
  5. Leads out of a humility that is almost his undoing.

TreebeardAn Ent (talking trees)

  1. Leads out of long tradition.
  2. Leads out of deliberate thought not sudden emotion.
  3. Leads out of a commitment to purpose and his people.
  4. Leads as a militant participant.
  5. Is the prime example of a long dormant leader rising to meet a new need.

FrodoA hobbit, ring bearer

  1. Leads out of reluctance.
  2. Leads out of a sense of purpose.
  3. Leads out of compassion.
  4. Leads for a project, not a period or a program.
  5. Retires from leadership after having accomplished his “task”.

Sam A hobbit, Frodo’s “man Friday”

  1. Leads out of devotion.
  2. Leads out of humility.
  3. Leads only reluctantly.
  4. Leads without knowing it.
  5. Easily moves back and forth from servant to leader.

Merry and PippinHobbits, cousins of Frodo

  1. Lead out of a desire for something better.
  2. Lead as militant participants.
  3. Lead out of organizational and inspirational strength.
  4. Lead through crisis and on into stability.
  5. Are the classic examples of leaders being “grown up”.

GandalfA Wizard

  1. Leads out of wisdom.
  2. Leads as a steward.
  3. Leads with a fervent passion.
  4. Leads as a militant participant.
  5. Occasionally allows his passions to overrule his compassion..

AragornKing in exile

  1. Leads out of patience and longsuffering.
  2. Leads with an acute knowledge of the mistakes of his predecessors.
  3. Leads with a sense of timing and purpose.
  4. Leads as a decisive participant.
  5. Inspires others to greatness

I love looking at leadership styles using these characters because we’re given a view of them in the context of an epic story. Your life is an epic story, even if you don’t have to battle orcs, nazgul, and evil wizards. So as you read the above descriptions ask yourself the following questions:

Did you find one that matches your style?

Try watching the film that features the character you chose (or reading the book). What are that characters strengths, weaknesses, blind spots?

How is that character tempted? How do they respond?

Any parallels in your real life?