Leading Fully

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Archive for the ‘Vision’ Category

Leading up to the final climactic scene of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, an on-screen adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s famous tale, Alice is preparing to face the Jabberwocky, a fearsome creature unleashed by the evil red queen. The Mad Hatter and Alice are watching as the Jabberwocky approaches. Alice, seeing the monster, says, “This is impossible.” The Hatter’s reply: “Only if you believe it is.” Alice quips: “Sometimes, I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” to which the Hatter replies, “That is an excellent practice.”

I tend to agree with the Hatter. That’s often one of the most important jobs a leader has to do – make the impossible real, and even believable. Whatever your chosen field, there are always challenges. Very often, those challenges masquerade as impossible obstacles. It’s then that we, as leaders, find ourselves in the role of making the insurmountable seem possible — not only for others, but for ourselves as well. How do we adjust our mental focus so that we can help ourselves and others see what’s possible rather than the impossibility of the obstacle that lies ahead. Difficult, yes. Sometimes even scary; but doable.

What Do You Believe is Possible?

What do we have to believe to make it happen? Let’s use Alice’s six “impossible things” to challenge our beliefs about what is possible.

1. “There’s a potion that can make you shrink…”

I can remember wondering what it would be like to shrink to a microscopic size. Imagine what you could learn about the inner workings of the world around us. It would be a leap to say that early inventors of the microscope were thinking of a “potion that could make you shrink” when developing a tool that gave us insight at the microscopic level.  But it’s the kind of curiosity stimulated by imagining such things that can lead to new discoveries. Just read up on recent advances in nanotechnology – it will stretch your mind.

2. “…and a cake that can make you grow.”

My youngest son Jamie has a way of stretching my imagination, often at bedtime as we lay staring at the bottom of the top bunk. On one such occasion, Jamie asked with a distant look in his eyes and dreamy smile playing at the edges of his mouth, “what if I was so big that I could hold the world in my hand?” I don’t remember my answer, but I ask you, what if you applied the same thinking to your business or your career? Do the answers excite you?

It’s popular to talk about growing your business in terms of what it would take to make it happen: grow market share, increase top-line revenue, profits, etc., but have you thought about it in terms of “what if?” Generally with a phase-change level of growth comes an entirely new set of challenges, demands, and expectations. Many times, we know the answers to the “how” questions, but our fear of the answers to the “what if” questions keeps us from moving forward.

3. “Animals can talk.”

OK, not really. Sometimes, however, there are assumptions that we make which may not be true. In our way of thinking, it looks as impossible as animals talking. Assumptions are natural, sensible, and often useful shortcuts that allow us to make sense of our world. We know, because it’s always been that way. Where are you or others in your organization limiting your view of what is possible based on past history? One simple question can help you look beyond this: What if (animals could talk)? What would then be possible? What would we be able to accomplish?

What is the equivalent of animals talking in your business? Who or what are you underestimating based on your history? Have you considered what would be possible if that were not an obstacle?

4. “Cats can disappear.”

The Cheshire cat, with his disappearing act and enigmatic grin, reminds me of a particular breed of person I’ll call the “savvy survivor.” They are keen observers and have learned (rightly or wrongly) when and how to avoid notice. They step in to help when the outcome is relatively certain, but when the going is dangerous, they stay out of the way.

The people in your organization usually know more than they are letting on, and often know more than you imagine. When your organization faces difficult challenges, there are almost certainly people in the organization who have a pretty good idea of what is limiting your business and how you might tackle these issues. This is a leader problem. Your challenge as a leader is to identify and draw out the sources of expertise and talent.  Are there hidden abilities that members of your team have that are not being expressed because of our limits as leaders?

5. “There’s a place called Wonderland.”

I have often wondered whether Lewis Carroll started with the story or the title. I could easily imagine it happening either way. I guess I like to think that he started with the title – fashioning a world on the proposition that it is filled with wonders that challenge the imagination. If there were a place filled with things that challenge your imagination and excite possibilities, what would be there?

6. “I can slay the Jabberwocky.”

There is almost certainly a Jabberwocky somewhere in your business. Is there a problem that seems too big to overcome, a competitor that seems unassailable, or a dream or hope that is suppressed by your belief in its impossibility? It is impossible because of your belief that it is so.  There are times that we don’t take the risk because we are sure that it’s impossible to realize our dream.

One thing that most of us learn early in life is that we can’t control our outcomes because there are so many influences beyond our control. That may be – but the real question is, who are you in the matter? Are you willing to pursue the purpose of fulfilling the worthwhile hope that is hidden in your heart, or are you going to give it up as lost, rather than dealing with the uncertainty inherent in pouring your life into something with an unknown outcome? What is your “Jabberwocky?”

The other day was “Pajama Day” at school for two of my sons – so Jamie (our youngest) went to school wearing his pajamas: Sponge Bob shirt, blue and green flannel plaid pants, and he had his “Lightning McQueen” slippers in his backpack, ready to whip out upon his arrival at school. He did not walk, he bounded through the house on his way to the door, such was his eagerness to get to school in his pajamas.

It never occurred to him that his ensemble clashed with a rarely achieved intensity. The only thought in his mind was that he was “in.” His participation was never in question. He talked about it the previous day, and when reminded of it the morning of, his face lit up, and he dashed upstairs to change back into the appropriate (?) garb.

How many of us would show such unrehearsed and unabashed enthusiasm, especially when we aren’t sure we have it all together? As the end of the year approaches, it is traditionally the time of year that we begin thinking about what we will do for the new year. Very often, we start with a list of what we wished we had done this year. Not a bad place to start, but did you ever wonder why we so reliably can call to mind the things we wished we had done (but failed), rather than those things which are really exciting? Here are 5 tips for doing (rather than thinking about) those things that are important to you:

  1. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes, we go after things because we think it’s what is expected of us. You know what’s most important to you, so start there. If it’s not really important, there won’t be sufficient impetus to get through the times where you miss the mark. Get clear about what matters, and write it down. There’s enormous value in seeing it written in your own hand. Don’t allow your thoughts to be edited by past failures. There may be good reasons you didn’t get it done in the past, but that’s not a reason to give up. If it’s important, then write it down. Leaders are different because they look for what’s missing and provide it. Don’t allow your thoughts to be overly influenced by what other people think – at this point, the idea is to get it clear in your mind.
  2. Let yourself get excited about the possibility. Visualize it. Some find it useful to do a visual exercise, such as a collage, to help yourself visualize what you’re going for. When Jamie imagined himself in pajamas at school, his face lit up with excitement. He was ready to be there. Pajamas (and slippers) that did not match were not an obstacle next to the excitement of participating.
  3. Identify one thing you can do right now. If your idea is big enough to be exciting, odds are that there’s a lot to do. The risk is that you will get overwhelmed when you consider all that needs to happen, so just focus on one thing at a time. A long journey is always comprised of a series of shorter steps – so identify the steps, and act. Abraham Lincoln wisely quipped: “The best thing about the future is that it only happens one day at a time.”
  4. Share what’s important with someone important. When you get clear, make sure you share it with someone who matters to you. They can help keep the dream alive and keep you accountable to take action.
  5. Celebrate progress – as you make progress, allow yourself to celebrate. That begins to fuel your enthusiasm about the original idea (step 2), then you can use that momentum to continue to energetically pursue action towards your goal.

(from “FTL Update” July 16, 2009) click here to subscribe.

What are you bringing to your organization as a leader? Whether they say
it or not, people in your organization are looking to you for hope where
they might not otherwise see it.

Offering Hope in the Swirl that is Today: What Difference Does a Leader Make?

Humans are intrinsically spiritual creatures, and as such, we are fueled by hope. What is hope? A credible expectation that things will get better. We want to know that things will get better, and we need a credible expectation that the belief is real. Real hope is not a feeling or an ambiguous promise for something different. It is a concrete expectation (or set of expectations) based in rational evidence. Leaders are uniquely positioned to offer hope. They are people to whom others look when asking themselves if they should be hopeful. A leader offers hope because she/he is able to offer (and demonstrate) a well reasoned perspective that shows not only that things can improve, but how and why so.

Finding Reasons to Hope

When Rudy Giuliani spoke publicly in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on Manhattan, he expressed his confidence in the indomitable spirit of New Yorkers and Americans. He went further to he cite specific, real examples of actions that he witnessed in the midst of the crisis. Others told similar stories about his actions during the crisis: Simple things, like being there (at ground zero), giving hugs, sharing words of encouragement, expressing genuine concern for fellow New Yorkers in their suffering.

Being Authentic

Giuliani’s example demonstrates another simple truth: It is equally important that the leader’s actions are consistent with her/his spoken word, because this reinforces the sometimes fragile hope that each of us cautiously harbors deep in our hearts. We want to know that the hope that the leader offers is real, true, and trustworthy, and where we look to confirm that is in the actions of the leader. In a US News Article about America’s Best Leaders, Writer Anne Mulrine quotes Nathaniel Fick, a former platoon leader for the US Marine Corps when he comments on the importance of the example set by the leader’s actions: “It’s pretty easy to look another human in the eyes and say, ‘This is going to suck, but I’m going to be there with you,’… “It’s harder saying, ‘I need you to do this, and while you do, I’m going to be sitting in the [command center] tent with a cup of coffee.”