The Life of Nelson Mandela: Archbishop Tutu Describes It Best December 6 2013 one response
It would take days to read through all of the histories, reflections and tributes to the life of Nelson Mandela. I took an hour or so this morning to read as many as I could. There’s so much that can be learned about leadership from the life of Mandela. With the humility, forgiveness, selflessness, vision, creativity, resolve, warmth and so many other traits that he exhibited, he embodied the term servant leader.
In addition to any other articles you read on Mandela this weekend, I encourage you to read the personal reflections of his long time friend and partner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu in today’s Washington Post. It’s a lovely and personal summation of the character of Mandela and the impact his leadership had on his country and the world.
What are your reflections on the life and leadership of Nelson Mandela?
Three Things Leaders Can Still Learn from JFK November 20 2013 one response
The coverage this week of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is a stark reminder of the impact his life and death had on the United States and the world. With the perspective of fifty years, it’s easy to argue for or against Kennedy’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to debate what he did or didn’t accomplish. You may think he was a great president or you may not.
Still, on this anniversary of his death, I would argue there are still some things that leaders can learn from JFK. Here (with links to JFK videos that illustrate the points) are three things that I think leaders can still learn from John F. Kennedy.
Mindful Mondays: Our Help is Needed November 11 2013 one response
As you’ve likely seen in the news, a typhoon of historic proportions struck the Philippines this past weekend. As communications is reestablished and relief crews are reaching the stricken areas, it appears that at least ten thousand people died in the storm, entire communities have been wiped out and hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless.
It’s hard to imagine but that kind of devastation could touch any of us at any time. If it did, we would welcome whatever help anyone could provide. As you consider that, I invite you to consider joining me in making a donation to the relief efforts in the Philippines.
There are quite a number of reputable organizations with strong track records in disaster relief that you can contribute to. Here are the links to a few of them:
If none of those organizations meet your criteria, search online for those that do. Any amount helps. If you can’t make a donation, consider offering a prayer or a thought for the victims and all those traveling to the area to assist them.
Three Ways Leaders Build (or Break) Trust October 30 2013 one response
It’s a bad sign when a leader gets to the point where both friends and foes are asking, “What did he know and when did he know it?” That’s where President Obama is this week with lots of questions being raised about what and when he knew about big problems with the Healthcare.gov website launch and more than five years of NSA eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone conversations.
While I don’t take pleasure in writing this, my guess is the questions being raised over the past couple of weeks mark the end of the President’s ability to get much done during the remainder of his term. The healthcare and Merkel stories both get down to whether or not Obama can be trusted. Which, by the way, is not at all the same thing as whether or not he is telling the truth. That may be part of it, but it’s definitely not all of it.
The problems the President is experiencing now are representative of the interplay of three critical ways that leaders either build or break trust with their followers. These three factors, first articulated by the linguist Fernando Flores, don’t just apply to top government leaders or big business leaders. They apply to any leader from moms and dads raising their kids to small business owners serving their customers to the leader of the Free World.
They’re three simple, one word ideas that are easy to understand and remember. They’re critical for leaders that want to build trust and not break it. Here they are:
How to Keep From Getting Fired October 25 2013 no responses
When the news came out last week that JP Morgan Chase had agreed to pay $13 billion in fines to settle a case with the U.S. government over the sale of “troubled mortgage securities” I asked myself, “How does their CEO, Jamie Dimon, keep his job? After all, it was less than a year ago that Chase lost $6 billion in bad trades made by the “London whale” and the company paid almost a billion dollars in fines on that one. And then there are the charges about the company offering plum jobs to the children of influential Chinese government officials.
I get it that Chase is a very large and complex organization and that mistakes happen and that one person cannot be personally responsible for everything that happens in an organization of Chase’s size. I also understand that Chase is still one of the top performing companies in its category even with all of its recent problems.
Still, it’s an interesting question to me how the top leader of an organization that’s going to pay out almost $14 billion in fines keeps from getting fired. A recent blow by blow account article in the New York Times about how Dimon has approached the mortgage securities case with the Justice Department shed some light on it for me.
Based on the reporting, Dimon has done at least three things that have helped keep him from getting fired. While few of us will ever run one of the largest financial institutions on the planet, there are some takeaways here that scale for leaders who find themselves dealing with big messes and nervous or angry stakeholders. Consider these three steps as companions to my recent post on “What to Do When the S**t Hits The Fan.”
Why Do Women Work Better Together Than Men? October 23 2013 3 responses
One of the few encouraging things that came out of the Federal government shutdown fiasco that ended last week was that the women of the US Senate were instrumental in working together to solve it. As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, the women of the Senate from both sides of the aisle took it upon themselves to start talking and keep talking until they figured out a way out. While the men were squabbling, the women were solving.
Which raises the question, are women better at working together than men? And, if they are, why?
A recent article in The Atlantic (hat tip to Dan Pink for flagging it in his newsletter) summarizes a study released by the National Bureau for Economic Research titled “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?”. The answer appears to be yes “because men (generally) demonstrate more overconfidence in their own abilities and distrust in their colleagues’ aptitude.” Sounds like a finding that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.
What do you think? Are women better at working together than men? Why or why not?
Leadership Lessons from the San Francisco Plane Crash July 18 2013 no responses
My friend and Georgetown leadership coaching colleague, Bob Wohlsen, sent a thought provoking email to his friends and clients last week on the recent crash of an Asiana 777 jet liner at San Francisco International Airport. In it, Bob raises a lot of important questions for leaders and their colleagues to consider. With his permission, I’m sharing his thoughts on the Next Level Blog. You can learn more about Bob and his work with leaders as well as contact him through his LinkedIn profile.
A few Saturdays ago, I was happily engaged around our house in the Bay Area, when I received an AP alert on my iPhone. I was stunned to read Plane Crash at SFO. I hurried to our deck, where Miriam and I often enjoy watching the huge jet liners turn, line up with the runway, and descend to the airport. I was horrified to see a cloud of black smoke drifting over San Francisco Bay. As I soon learned, Asiana Flight 214 had clipped the seawall at the end of the runway and crashed. It was a tough afternoon to know of the pain and suffering going on nearby.
So, while the extremely capable NTSB teams are combing the wreckage, analyzing the data, and interviewing the crew to determine what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again, I’ve been musing about what leadership lessons we can learn from the tragedy. Here’s what I’ve learned, based on the information I’ve obtained from news reports and the NTSB briefings:
Should Leaders Ever Lie? June 13 2013 7 responses
News stories don’t get much bigger than this week’s revelation that government contractor Edward Snowden revealed classified information to The Guardian and the Washington Post that the National Security Agency has a program that collects and analyzes the phone records of millions of Americans.
This post isn’t a commentary on the NSA program or what Snowden did (although I agree with Jeffrey Toobin’s argument on why he should be prosecuted).
Rather, it’s about the question, should leaders ever lie? The question comes to mind because the Snowden case demonstrates that leaders of intelligence agency leaders have been less than forthcoming with the full truth when asked in Congressional hearings about systematized surveillance of Americans.
For example, as reported in the New York Times, in a March open hearing, Senator Ron Wyden asked the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper’s answer was “No, sir. Not wittingly.” As further reported in the Times, “in an interview (last) Sunday with NBC News, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that his answer had been problematic, calling it ‘the least untruthful’ answer he could give.”
The NSA story is a complicated, high stakes case with complex leadership choices and challenges. Most leaders don’t have to play at this level, but almost all leaders encounter situations when they have the choice to tell the truth or lie. It can be helpful to understand your decision making criteria before you have to make that choice. Here are some ideas to consider if, as a leader, you should ever lie:
Mindful Mondays: Presence in Boston When It Mattered Most April 22 2013 2 responses
What a week it was for the city of Boston. It’s hard to believe that the citizens there went from the attack at the Boston Marathon to a citywide lockdown as police hunted for the surviving suspect to the celebratory singing of Sweet Caroline with Neil Diamond himself in an afternoon game at Fenway Park all within the span of five days. When I wrote about the resilience of Bostonians last week, I had no clue just how resilient they would prove to be.
There are so many leadership lessons to be learned from the Boston experience. The medical personnel and first responders on the day of the blast were amazing. Every victim who initially survived the explosions was saved. (Read this story by Atul Gawande for example after example of mindful leadership in Boston’s hospitals.) The coordination between local, state and Federal agencies was equally impressive. Their leaders kept everyone focused on a common goal. The public officials like Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and Boston police commissioner Edward Davis were role models for leaders who need to keep people informed in a high stakes, rapidly changing situation.
There was a lot of mindful leadership in Boston last week, but what stands out for me the most was the leadership of the average citizens who tended to the victims in the moments just after the blasts. We’ve heard story after story of brave and compassionate people who provided critical first aid to the victims or simply sat or laid down with injured strangers to talk calmly with them, stroke their hair or do whatever they could to comfort them until help arrived.
Those people were fully and mindfully present with other human beings who desperately needed them to be. In many cases, their presence was literally life saving as it kept the victims from going into shock.
Fortunately, we’re not often called to be mindful and present in literal life and death situations. But, doesn’t it make you wonder how different life and work might be if each of us brought some fraction of that amount of mindful presence to every interaction we have with another person? What would it take to put down the smart phone or turn away from the computer and really tune into the other person?
There are three ways I can think of to make a start. Have the intention to be present. Take a deep breath to transition from whatever had your attention a moment ago. Make eye contact with the other person.
Where would you start? What would it take for you to follow through on that idea?
A Boston Marathon Memory and Hope April 18 2013 one response
There’s little I can add to what’s already been observed about the tragedy at the Boston Marathon this week. The horror, the heroism and the heartache will stay for a long time with everyone who experienced or witnessed it.
What I want to add to the conversation is my own memory of running the Marathon with my friend Tiffany when we were both graduate students in Boston back in 1987 and how that memory gives me hope today.
In those days, you were allowed to run in the back of the Boston pack with an unofficial number if you weren’t one of the qualified entrants. That’s where Tiffany and I were.
At the very front of the pack was a Boston legend named Johnny Kelley. He was the Marathon winner in 1935 and 1945. On that Patriot’s Day morning in 1987, he was 79 years old and preparing to run his 56th Boston Marathon. Being the legend that he was, Kelley was given the honor of being first off the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass with a healthy head start on the world class runners who were competing for the win.
About four miles into the race, Tiffany and I were cruising along at around a 7:30 minute a mile pace – way below the nine minute a mile pace we had planned to run. We looked over to our left and there was Johnny Kelley methodically running with his escort. We were thrilled to see him and waved and shouted, “Hi Mr. Kelley! Have a great race!” He gave us a slight nod as we ran past him.
So things were pretty great for Tiffany and me as we ran through Natick, past the women of Wellesley College and they were still pretty good as we crested Heartbreak Hill. It was on the downhill that my wheels came off. About three miles from the finish line, I hit the proverbial wall. (Tiffany, to her everlasting credit, did not.) As I was plodding my way to the finish I looked to my right and there was Johnny Kelley passing me back as if he was out on an easy jog. My 26 year old self had just been lapped by a 79 year old man.
It took me a few years to realize that it was an honor to get beat by Johnny Kelley in the Boston Marathon. That man, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 97, represents the indomitable spirit of the people of Boston. They’re down this week and, in our own small and indirect ways, we share their pain. But, just like Johnny Kelley, they’ll be back and blow past whoever was responsible for this week’s terror. That’s what resilient people like Bostonians do.