Decisiveness and Leadership

13 09 2017

If there is one thing that defines a leader, it is decisiveness.  This is that indispensable ability to weigh the facts, select a course of action, then execute it at the right moment.  When the heat is on and somebody needs to act, it is the leader who looks at everything, makes a plan, and moves forward without looking back.

Chuck Missler, US Naval Academy grad (class of 1956, pictured above), once said, “Weak men hurt people.”  He made this statement in 1982, at a gathering where he spoke on business ethics.  Chuck made his living as a professional executive in the Defense and semiconductor industries for over thirty years.  He happened to be teaching a group of Christians to be ethical and stable in their business dealings.  Chief among these qualities are decisiveness and keeping one’s word.  “The sanctity of a commitment” was a value he saw in short supply after leaving the executive suite.  At the time of this talk, he was CEO of Western Digital Corporation, a proven leader with ballast.

You will never get anywhere being wishy-washy.  Vacillation and inability to come to a decision are fatal to leadership.  In contrast, people will follow someone who knows where he is going and knows how to get there.  And with dispatch, knowing that time is too precious to waste with “analysis paralysis.”

When the pressure’s on, the leader cannot afford to buckle.  Time, money, confidence, respect; all are lost when someone positioned to do the right thing can’t make a decision or takes too much time doing so.

It is far better to make ten decisions and have seven of them prove to be good decisions rather than to wait and wait and only make two good decisions.  The reason is that although both decisions turned out to be good, the effect of waffling has compromised your influence.  Playing it safe often makes your followers feel unsafe.    Why can’t he make up his mind?  Are we staying or going?

Your high calling as a leader—whether as a husband, business leader, captain of a sports team, etc.–means being decisive.  You cannot afford to be ambivalent in the clutch.  It is charming when we watch “Fiddler on the Roof” and see it with Tevye the Dairyman.  In real life, vacillating is uninspiring at best and dangerous at worst.  It certainly doesn’t win our respect.

Being decisive and stable brings a host of benefits not only to the leader but to those who follow him or her.  You earn admiration.  You inspire those watching.  In the marketplace, if you can weigh the facts and act quickly, you’re worth more money than those who can’t.  If you’re a military leader, you will undoubtedly save more lives than you lose.

Here’s the challenge.  This next month, make a calculated effort to make quicker decisions.  Do this with anything from where to go out to eat to vacation plans to starting a new growth project, like a blog or exercise program.  Weigh the evidence, do a cost/benefit analysis and then act.

You’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

 

Suggested Resources:

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (Chip & Dan Heath)

Decisiveness: An Essential Guide to Mastering the Decision Making Process to Quickly Move Forward in Life on the Best Possible Path (Sergio Craig)

 

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Wisdom from the Oracle of Omaha

11 09 2017

Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s greatest investor, when considering an investment tends to look at and stay within what he calls his “circle of competencies.”  He learned this concept from Thomas Watson, founder of IBM.  Watson said, essentially, “I don’t know everything but what I know I know.  And I tend to operate within my circle of competency.”

When Buffett first met fellow billionaire Bill Gates in 1991, he declined to invest in computer technology, specifically Intel and Microsoft.  He didn’t know computers, simple as that.  (He later invested heavily in Bill and Melinda Gates and their philanthropic ventures.)

Bill Gates knows computers.  Henry Ford knew cars.  Gene Simmons knows rock and roll branding.  Warren Buffett knows chewing gum, soft drinks, insurance and textiles, among other things.  These successful men stayed and stay within what they know.  And they profit doing so.

What are your circle of competencies?  What things do you know better than the average bear?  Buffett tells potential job seekers to seek a job they would do if money were no option.  Corollary to that he likens the résumé building approach to career development the equivalent of saving sex for old age.  It misses the point.

Here are some things to think about when evaluating your circle of competencies:

  • What do you find yourself thinking about and pursuing when off the clock?
  • What ignites your passion—what subjects and pursuits? Dead giveaway on that one is your body language.  Your eyes fire, your pulse increases, you get excited and it’s obvious to those who know you.
  • What do you read about that is not part of some school or work assignment? Same goes for viewing and listening.

Challenge:  Focus on what lights you up and genuinely interests you—whether the pursuit is popular or not.  Then start doing deep dives in these areas.  You’ll be surprised how far you can go with them.

 

Suggested Reading:

Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist (Roger Lowenstein)

Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2013 (Carol J. Loomis)

 

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What Time Is It?

1 09 2017

Time is the only inelastic commodity that any of us possess.  We are each allotted 24 hours to the day.  Given the fact that time has an end for all of us, it is priceless and demands we steward it carefully.

Those who make their mark on the universe learn this well, the earlier the better.  I’ve listened to some outstanding lessons on time management by Brian Tracy.  This material is about a quarter of a century old but is timeless (pardon the pun).  You can drink from the same well here.

A leader advances because he knows his time and that of those with whom he interacts is precious.  So without further ado, here’s some tips that will increase your effectiveness, production and value in the marketplace:

  • Arrive early for any appointments. People will take note quickly that you are a pro, a force in business.  Being fashionably late may be de rigueur for parties and proms but it will destroy you in the marketplace.
  • Use early morning hours to get a lot of work done. Tracy points out that it’s possible to get the work of a typical day done in 3 hours of undisturbed effort.
  • Turn off your smart phone. If it’s important, those trying to get you will leave a message or call back.
  • Find gracious ways of economizing or taking leave of people who tend to waste their time as well as yours. “Hi.  What can I do for you?”  You’re not helping them or yourself by letting them simply drop in to chew the fat when you should be working. Again, this is for business.  Don’t do this with family or friends.
  • Keep your workspace organized, free of clutter.
  • When making appointments to meet with someone, prepare an agenda on paper, smart phone, PDA or iPad. Set a definite timeframe for the meeting and announce it ahead of time.  If it’s 30 minutes, end it at 30 minutes and be on your way.  It will speak volumes.
  • Write down the contents of phone discussions or meetings. When meeting with customers, follow up your discussions with an email.  This keeps assumptions crystal clear.  It will save your time and your neck, believe me.
  • Remember that really high achievers understand the value of minutes, not just hours.
  • When discussing a topic, ask direct and specific questions. When answering, get to the point.  The only time you should exercise the urge to “Ramble On” is when you’ve got Led Zeppelin’s 2nd album cued up.

Enough for now.  If you follow these steps diligently, you will see your production increase, your influence grow and your income go north.

Suggested Resources:

 

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (David Allen)

15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management: The Productivity Habits of 7 Billionaires, 13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs (Kevin Kruse)

 

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Passing the Buck or Not?

29 08 2017

President Harry S Truman was famous for many things.  A plain-spoken man.  He made the terribly weighty and controversial decision to drop two nuclear bombs on the Empire of Japan, no doubt hastening the end of World War II.

But he is perhaps best known by a little sign he kept on his desk (see image above).  He was the chief executive officer of the United States and Commander-In-Chief of our armed forces.  He made choices that affected history and lives.

“The buck stops here.”

Buck-passing is currently in vogue now and has been for some time.  But it has never served anyone who has participated in it.  President Truman used this maxim to communicate one thing: I am ultimately responsible. See the picture.

Some time ago, I heard someone say, “The moment in which you grow up is when you take complete responsibility for your life.”

Complete.Responsibility.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, owning up to my position in life.  I’ve done my share of buck-passing, blame-shifting and the like.  What I have found, however, is that as I have embraced full responsibility for my life—where things went bad, where I fell short of some objective, where life ended up being the pits—I feel strangely liberated.  Like a young man who moves out on his own for the first time and assumes the responsibility that had been his parents’.

As a leader, you will grow rapidly as you wrestle with this challenge and not permit yourself to be seduced by the siren song of the culture.  No more will you say “I can’t” about a thing when you know inside that you can.  It will just cost more.  Longer work.  More exercise.  Loss of a friendship because you tell the truth in love.

  • I am responsible for being out of shape. I chose to eat poorly and not exercise.  Now I’m trying to eat better and am exercising and weight training regularly.
  • I am responsible for my career advancement or lack of. I chose to stay in an unfulfilling job when the time came to go.  I chose not to pound the pavement and send out résumés.  I chose not to further my education in one way or another.  I spend my weeks furthering my learning, polishing my skills and gifts.  On my own time.  Without monetary pay.  There’s more than one form of remuneration, after all.
  • I am responsible for inferior relationships. I chose not to cultivate friendships or to repair those that have taken a beating in the rough and tumble of life.  I’ve recently reconnected with old classmates.  It’s an important step.

Challenge:  Take a long and honest look at your life and see if there’s a time you ducked responsibility.  Evaluate it.  And own it.  Then craft a plan to do things differently the next time you are thus challenged. You will feel empowered immediately.

 

Suggested Resources:

Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S Truman (Harry S & Margaret Truman)

Personal Responsibility: Why It Matters (Alexander Brown)

 

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Sharp Tools Are the Most Effective

25 08 2017

Fall 1994. I hired on as an apprentice carpenter for a company that built staircases and hung trim.  Thus began, for me, a lifelong enjoyment for working with wood, especially hardwoods like red oak and poplar.  I was privileged to learn how to build curved staircases and these now fill quite a few houses in lower Michigan, where we lived at the time and have since migrated back to.

A carpenter learns very quickly that it is critical to keep his tools in good repair in order to do fine woodwork.  Chiefly, this means sharpening cutting implements regularly.  You may be surprised to find that dull tools—saws, chisels, router bits, etc.—not only do inferior work, marring the wood, but they are also dangerous.  You risk injury using chisels with dull blades.  A sharp saw does the work quickly, effectively, and safely.

In life, we have tools that we use to mold our lives and become effective and reach our potential.  Like planes and gouges, they must be kept sharp to be effective.  Here are a few:

  • Vocational Skills – What talents and acuities do you have that you can sharpen now and in the days ahead? I work in Information Technology and am a musician.  I try to read up on the latest technological innovations as well as become more proficient with the software apps I use in my work.  And with my instruments, I practice and learn new stuff.  Do you have a plan for skills development?
  • Relationships – “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” (Jim Rohn) What kinds of relationships do you cultivate to 1) add value to others and 2) help in your own development?  If you walk with wise and ambitious people, you fuel your passion to grow and develop.  But if you make a practice of hanging with people who are pessimistic and complacent, like it or not, it will affect you.  Enthusiasm is contagious.  So is discouragement and criticism.  Choose wisely.
  • Reading ­– That readers are leaders is axiomatic. And you are called to lead.  What kinds of books do you plan on reading or listening over the next year?  Here’s a good place to start: The Magic of Thinking Big (David J. Schwartz); How To Read A Book (Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren); Spiritual Leadership (J. Oswald Sanders); Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman); Talent Is Overrated (Geoff Colvin).  Possibilities are endless, but whatever you do, develop a reading plan for the next year.
  • Physical Fitness – Your effectiveness is charged or limited by your physical fitness—or lack of it. Regular cardiovascular exercise 1) improves your focus, 2) makes you feel better because of endorphins and 3) increases your longevity.  Also, there are numerous other benefits to staying fit, fighting the national epidemic of obesity.  Your career and its growth are one of these. As some have said, “Your shape will shape your future.”

Now go sharpen your tools and build.  You will be astounded at what they produce.

 

Suggested Resources:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Stephen R. Covey)

Stay Sharp: 52 Ways to Keep Your Mind, Not Lose It (David B. Biebel et al)

 

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Specific Goals and Hitting Them

18 08 2017

Goals.  How do you hit them?  How do you place them within sane and profitable range?  How do you avoid the extremes of setting the bar too low—being unchallenged and bored—and shooting unrealistically high (and being discouraged and defeated)?  Where is that happy in-between where you can reach the cookie jar by standing on your tiptoes?

A few years back, a colleague and I were discussing the importance of setting goals that were challenging yet attainable.  My friend told me that when he was an insurance salesman, he and his fellow agents would huddle in the mornings and lay out their sales goals for that particular day.  His buddies would generally shoot for the moon:  “I’m gonna sell ten policies today.”  He would set more modest but sufficiently difficult targets: “I’m going to sell two of this policy and one of that package.”  And he would usually hit the mark, while his co-workers failed to meet theirs and were thus discouraged.

There’s an old adage that says “slow and steady wins the race.”  This, of course, is a nod to Aesop’s famous story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”  Through patient plodding, the much slower and ungainly tortoise won the race over the faster but cocky hare.  If you persevere, you win.

This is not to discourage the practice of giving yourself a worthy but difficult task.  But it is important to keep a healthy balance between mediocrity and insanity.  Those who avoid the shoals on either side generally sail on to success.

What are your goals for 1) continuing education—whether at a learning institution or through self-education via reading, listening and viewing, 2) physical fitness and weight loss, 3) strengthening your relationships, 4) improving your vocational skills?  Have you written them down, which is critical to their fulfillment, having engaged your conscious and subconscious mind by doing so?  Do you have a process, broken down into manageable bites, so you can meet these targets?

Here are some of the benefits one derives from setting goals and then hitting them:

  • You get the benefit of meeting the goal itself. If you lose that portly thirty pounds, you feel better about yourself and have become healthier.  If you learn a new skill, you can use that to help others, elevate your station and earn more.
  • You receive a boost in self-confidence and self-respect rooted in genuine accomplishment, rather than fantasies.
  • You strengthen your goal-attainment muscles because you are encouraged that, yes, you can do this!

Set goals.  Set them high enough to stretch you.  Write them down, with concrete dates and metrics indicating you’ve met them.  Then hit them!

Suggested Resources:

Goals!: How to Get Everything You Want — Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible (Brian Tracy)

Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! (Tony Robbins)

 

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Sound People Investing

26 07 2017

This summer I’m learning about financial investing, the market, economics and how emotional volatility affects judgment in one’s investment strategy.  A basic investing principle is that you find companies that are undervalued, whose stocks are priced below what they’re worth, and then buy their stock—which is ownership in the business–leaving a margin of safety for market fluctuations that occur inevitably.  (Disclaimer: This is not financial advice and I am not an expert.)

Many of us are situated in life in a way that allows us to have input into the lives of others.  This may be because of our positions in the workplace, an organization, a group of people and our families.

I’ve had the privilege for quite a few years to be asked to mentor people in their personal, spiritual and professional self-development.  I don’t ask for this—it’s always a case of being invited into someone’s life and business.  I don’t take it lightly.

I’ve learned some things after doing this a while.  My recent learning about sound financial investing has stimulated my thinking about the kinds of people we do and don’t invest in with our time, talent, energy and money.

What then are indicators of strong value in another you’re seeking to mentor?

  • Strong work ethic. Two of the finest guys I ever worked with happened to be brothers raised on a farm.  During the six month time I mentored them, they both carried multiple jobs, including the farm, and each worked ninety to a hundred hours a week.  They weren’t looking to outsmart the work.
  • Bias for action. They deliver on their word and aren’t all about planning to do something.  They actual follow through.  They ship.
  • Character. They are true to their word and apologize when they fall short.  They’re not trying to live two, or three, or four, lives.
  • Intelligence. They can think on their feet, whether well-educated or not.

There are other value indicators.  Add some of your own. What kinds of qualities other than these do you find motivates you to invest in another?

Now, what are indicators of weak value in those into whom you intend to pour your life and learning?

  • Liars.  No brainer.  If they have trouble telling the truth, your investment is already at risk.  Your name is attached.  Bill Hybels, minister of a very large church in suburban Chicago, says that if you find someone on your staff who plays fast and loose with the truth, “Fire them.  Fire them immediately.  Fire them.”
  • Lack of initiative. A former colleague and I had a discussion many times over the question, “Can you really motivate someone who will not motivate themselves, is not a self-starter?”  We both concluded, having managed lots of people over the years, that you can’t.
  • Sloppy communication habits. I once lived in a region where someone in business could make a ton of money simply by answering their emails and phones and text messages promptly.  A common attitude with a lot of business people who live in the area is less than diligent about this. There are some forms of financial want that are avoidable.  This is one of them.  If people are slipshod about basic courtesy and good business sense in the matter of prompt response, move on.  Your time is too valuable.  If you’re in business with them, you’ll go broke.

There are other signs of potentially poor investments.  What are some you can name?

There is a place for charity and for giving people a second chance.  This post is not about that.  The market goes up and down and people have good days and bad.  This is about well-established habits of engagement with life.

Invest carefully.

 

Recommended Resources:

A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring (John Wooden & Don Yaeger)

Mentoring 101 (John C. Maxwell)

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson (Mitch Albom)

 

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