Thursday, April 29, 2010

Leaders vs. servants

Tuesday night I attended a ceremony where ministers received their license and some took additional steps to be ordained.  I watched as each one was given a "servant's towel".  The symbolism being that, as leaders, they are to be true servants and this towel was a physical reminder.  What a great visual!  Leaders reminded to be servants first.  It seems so easy in this day and age, to forget that concept.  We often see self-important leaders with big egos, who forget that part of leadership is serving first (by example), then leading (to expand service to individuals & groups).  They have the attitude of "I already put in my time".  And that attitude may work in the short term, but if you want to continue to expand those that you lead, you have to continue to serve.  How you serve may ebb and flow.  Your activities have to change to meet the needs of those you serve.  Often, when things get out of balance, the answer is to get back to basics - find the need, meet the need.  Who will you serve today?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I've heard many in leadership lamenting about the lack of volunteers.  If you lead a church or other non-profit, or are in direct sales, you lead an army of volunteers.  Sometimes, your volunteers will not hit you over the head with their willingness to serve.  Sometimes, they will.  Are you ready to mentor them in their volunteer position so that they will be successful?  Do you follow through with them while enthusiasm is high?  I think we all believe we do.
About two years ago, I volunteered with a non-profit in the Quad Cities area.  It took several weeks just to be able to get through to the correct person to volunteer my services with.  I was invited to attend an open meeting, where I spoke of the service that I was willing to provide.  Although there was much agreement that my service would be a great addition to the service they were providing, and several follow up calls on my part, I never was given the opportunity to volunteer.
After I moved to the Des Moines area, I volunteered with my church outreach program.  I was turned over to the director of the program who e-mailed that she would love to meet with me to talk about where I could help.  After I have initiated many attempts to schedule this meeting, my services are still not being used (several months later).
What poor leadership this is!  I was practically begging to get involved with these organizations, and I was met with little more than apathy.  Here's what happens to your volunteer pool - they either volunteer somewhere else, or they stop volunteering.  Ouch!
Sometimes we have volunteers that we forget to train properly so that they can succeed, or we don't help them along when they need it, or we don't show how much we appreciate everything that they do.  If these volunteers are not self-motivated, we lose them, too.  Are you treating the volunteers around you with the respect that you would like in return?  Or are they "tired" and ready to take some time off of volunteering?  Do you have people volunteering, but you're just not recognizing them?  Look around - are you missing an opportunity?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Have you ever walked into your closet, pulled out a piece of clothing, and realized that you've had the item for a decade (or two or three)?!  Sometimes, the item hasn't even fit for longer than you care to remember.  Why is the item still in your closet?  "I'll fit into it again, someday."  "It'll be back in style someday."  "I forgot it was there."  "I'm saving it for a special occasion."  "I just need to mend the small hole in it."  These are all excuses that are cluttering up your closet.  When it comes back in style, it won't be quite the same.  If you were going to fit into it, you would by now.  How many years have you waited for that special occasion?  Do you even know how to mend a hole?  You can take control.  Be realistic.  Let go of things that don't flatter you where you're at right now.  Purge.  Make room for something new.  Fix it, if it's of value.  Throw your own special occasion.  Don't put it off for another year, or two, or decade.  There's a lot of good intention sitting there, but if we don't get it out and use it, it's just clutter.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is your role?

This past week I was reminded that sometimes it's hard to define your role.  My oldest, Kate, had the grandmother of her boyfriend pass away.  I've always believed that funerals are about the families, not so much the deceased, so there is a certain amount of awkwardness when you're not family.  You care about the family, but you only met the grandma and grandpa a couple of times.  Your sadness is not for the deceased, but empathy for the family.  So what do you do?  What do they need?  Do they need a shoulder to cry on, a bottle of water, a distraction or some comic relief?  Don't be offended that comic relief came up, because sometimes you just need to be reminded that it'll be okay to smile and laugh again.  Even "Saturday Night Live" came back on the air after the tragedy of 9/11.  You need to listen.  You need to be responsive.  They need to know that you care.  Sound familiar?  These are leadership skills that are invaluable in all parts of your life.  Leadership is not limited to your work.  It comes through in all areas - family and friends included.  How do you see your role as a leader?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Do you smell that?

Have you ever played the game "you touched the baby last, so you have to change him"?  Even though you know the baby needs it, and you are the parent, AND it will smell better once it's done, we resist and avoid.  We don't want to do it.  It's unpleasant, we're tired, and "isn't it somebody else's turn?".  Change is like that.  It happens all the time - your favorite shampoo is discontinued (or your hair color, yikes!), your job description changes, your children grow and develop into actual people (with opinions!), you buy a new home, or a family member passes away.  Some changes happen and we barely notice.  Others change the course of our lives.  Sometimes change happens to us and sometimes we initiate the change.  Sometimes we resist change until we have no other option than to face change and make a choice.  Do you change the diaper right away?  Or do you have to smell it for a while?  Are you ready to embrace change?  Or are you hoping to avoid it?  How stinky is your diaper?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What are you selling?

"Nothing happens until someone sells something to someone."  This quote has been around for many, many years.  You probably sell something every day, whether you realize it, or not.  Sales reps sell manufactured products to consumers.  Applicants sell themselves to interviewers.  Thinkers sell ideas to others to act on.  Speakers sell motivation to their audience.  Ministers sell God to a congregation.  Parents sell ideas to children.  Friends sell friends on movies, restaurants and vacation locations.  Leaders look at what they're selling (ideas, motivation, encouragement) with purpose and consistency.  What are you selling?  Who are you selling to?  Are you successfully getting your message out?  What can you do to be purposeful in your activity?  Will you lead, or follow?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Who's watching?

In 1984, R&B artist Rockwell sang these lyrics - "I always feel like, somebody's watching me...".  The song's lyrics relate the narrator's paranoid fear of being followed and watched. (It featured Michael Jackson on the chorus.)
Big Brother is a fictional character in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  In the society that Orwell describes, everyone is under complete surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the phrase "Big Brother is watching you".
Even Santa "sees you when you're sleeping..."
Although these are all original examples of paranoia, is someone always watching you?  The quick answer is "no".  But what are you putting on the internet?  How many people can see what you've been up to?  Although Facebook and other social media sites have been a revolution in the way we connect with people, there are some problems.  It's easy for those you interact with to know when you've been out partying, when you're on one of these sites during work or on a call, what causes you support, and how late you were up playing Farmville.  Even potential employers are "Googling" applicants to get a better picture.
In leadership, particularly, you need to protect your image.  What do your sites say about you?  Are you saying one thing, but "Big Brother" is seeing something else?  You open the door to allow yourself to be watched and judged.
Feeling creeped out?  Look at your personal sites with a critical eye, or have someone else give you feedback.
Who's watching you.. and what are they seeing?

Friday, April 16, 2010

What a difference a day makes

Shortly after I woke up this morning, I started thinking about how different my morning was yesterday.  Yesterday - dizzy, spinning (and worse), today - calm (where's my coffee?).  Yesterday - "how will I get everything done that's on my schedule?", today - "what still needs to be done?".  Yesterday - laying in bed (or on the floor), today - working at my computer & making phone calls.  Yesterday - couldn't even think about food, today - where IS my coffee?  Yesterday, I was reminded that sometimes other people need to take care of things so that I can take care of my most important things.  Yesterday, it was taking care of my health so that I could be productive today.  Sometimes, it's saying "no" to a project or commitment, so that I can say "yes" to the things that make the most difference.  Sometimes you need to take a day, a few hours, or a few minutes to take care of yourself, so that you can be your best today.  Will you let your schedule be filled with "yesterdays"?  Or "todays"?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

If a tree falls in the woods

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Aah... I remember this debate in science class. The debate centers around the definition of sound. defines sound as "the sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium". This definition seems to require ears to be sound. But wait, this is a blog about leadership, isn't it? If a leader performs the activities of a leader, and no one is around to hear it, are they really a leader? Can someone be a leader only in their heart? There are definitely those who seem to be born with the heart of a leader (passion), and those who have learned the skills of a leader, but how do you recognize them as leaders?  Are leadership activities leadership? Or do you need "ears" for leadership?  Does your leadership make a sound?  The debate continues...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Out of the nest

In leadership, we learn that we need to recruit and grow people, then let them go.  In theory, that should work, right?  And it usually does, for a while.  It works as long as the new leader stays motivated.  Aren't all leaders self-motivated?  You wish.  There is initial excitement as they spread their wings and start to fly.  Then rocks start getting thrown at them - confusion, disappointment, isolation, anger, fear, embarassment, CHANGE.  All these things start coming at them to take them off course.  Often, they don't reach out - they don't want to disappoint, or they're embarassed that they are not meeting expectations.  They may even avoid you when they need you the most.  So now you get to decide what kind of leader you want to be.  Will you wait, and assume that "they're fine" because they haven't reached out to you?  Or do you continue to offer your support, train them to keep them on track, and recognize their efforts to keep them excited?  Do you just throw them out of the nest and hope they get their wings?  Or do you stay along side them to help them soar with you?  A wingman makes your flight easier, too.

Monday, April 12, 2010


A "mulligan" is defined as a shot not counted against the score, permitted in unofficial play to a player whose previous shot was poor.  It's a "do over".  How many times do we need to take a mulligan in our game?  In our work?  In our business?  In our family?
The problem with do overs is that they aren't always easy when we're dealing with people.  There is a 3 step process:
1- Take responsibility.  Don't play the blame game.  Own it.
2- Apologize.  Sincerely.  And repeatedly, if necessary.
3- Do better.  An apology with no change in behavior, is just words.
Currently, lots of people take a different approach to the mulligan.  They just start a new game.  A new job.  A new city.  A new spouse.  It takes more strength to turn things around than to run away from them.  Sometimes you have your foot run over but, eventually, you can get back in the game.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Video Killed the Radio Star

In August 1981, the Buggles had the first video to be shown on MTV (back when MTV actually showed music videos). It was called "Video Killed the Radio Star". The song spoke to the idea that you couldn't just make great music, you had to make a great video, too.  Before MTV, if you wanted to see an artist, you either had to go to a concert, or maybe, you could see them perform 1 song on tv (when there were only 4 channels).  Next came videos on MTV - 24 hours a day.  Now MTV is about reality shows and you can watch music videos on YouTube.  Originally, you had to be somebody before you made a video.  Now anyone with a webcam can be a "star".
Are you keeping up with progress?  Are you relevant in the 21st century?  In your job?  In your community?  In your family?  Do you have to know everything about everything?  Of course not.  But it is in your best interest to be current.  Get some education.  Talk to teenagers.  Surf the internet.  LEARN something!  Dinosaurs were a big deal in their day, too.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Technology in leadership

Is technology undermining your leadership?  Do you use it so much that you've lost the personal touch?  Can you really have a personal relationship with someone only over the internet?  Are you certain that wonderful, sensitive soul you've connected with online isn't doing 20 to life in the penitentiary?  But, I digress...
At some point, you have to talk and touch and feel people.  Do you know what motivates the people you lead?  My children are very different.  When they were little, and being naughty, I could stop the oldest in her tracks with a stern look.  The youngest, however... if she set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.  Why do I mention this?  Because they are motivated differently.  The oldest is a people pleaser, the youngest, not so much.  This is information that could never be learned in an e-mail.  This is also true with those around you.  It's nearly impossible to learn someone's motivation if you don't have a personal relationship with them.  I'm not saying that you need to be their new best friend, but you need to connect with them on some personal level.  It may be cliche, but the old adage "they don't care what you know until they know that you care" rings true when you are in any type of leadership role.  Those that you lead need to know that you care for their success, not just your own.  When was the last time you personally connected with those you lead?  Has it been a while?  It's time to step away from your computer and pick up the phone.  Just be sure to introduce yourself - they may not recognize your voice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

8th grade spelling bee

When I was in the 8th grade, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the state, and ultimately the national, Scripps Howard Spelling Bee.  Now, having a certain amount of talent in the spelling area, I made it through my school and regional qualifiers without much effort.  Once I was qualified for state, I knew that I needed to put some work into learning new words to be more prepared for the contest.  I started going through old spelling lists and reading (yes, reading) the dictionary!  My mom quizzed me almost every day and my parents gave me my 8th grade graduation present early - a huge, electric typewriter (that kind of dates me, doesn't it?) so that I could type words as another way to learn them.  My teacher/principal would send me to the library during school to study.  Since my teacher/principal was also the school librarian (and she was teaching class), I often ended up falling asleep during this time.  After winning state, the local newspaper came out to do a story and take a picture.  The picture showed me sitting on the front lawn of the school with my teacher/principal, studying together and the news article quoted her as saying how much she had worked with me to achieve this accomplishment.  I always thought that was a little humorous...
So why am I telling this story?  There are several lessons we can pull out of this story:
1- Natural talent can only take you so far.  Once you hit a certain level, you must practice your skills to advance.
2- There are different ways to learn.  Some need visual, some verbal, some interactive learning and a combination of these is ideal.
3- You can't send a child into the library and expect them to stay awake.  Wait- that's not the lesson...
You can't just tell someone to do something and expect that they will actually do it.  There needs to be some monitoring and accountability.  Progress should be checked and sometimes additional instruction may be needed.
4- You don't have to know every word in the dictionary to coach or mentor someone else to greatness.  Parents are awesome.  Spelling is definitely not my dad's thing.  But he was there (mom, too) to support and encourage me in the challenge.
5- Be deserving of what you take credit for.  What is your perception of the teacher/principal in this story?  Insincere?  A bit of a weasel?  Do you know people like that?  Are you people like that?  Who really deserves the credit?
What kind of leader will you be today?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Image matters

You probably don't want to hear this, but... image does matter.  What you wear, how you communicate, your position, how you perform under pressure, all contribute to your effectiveness as a leader.
What you wear-
Society, as a whole, has become much more casual in what is considered as appropriate attire.  Now that may be fine if you are attending an event, or working for someone else.  But, as a leader, or someone who wants to be a leader, you should dress one level above what you expect everyone else will be wearing.  If the group as a whole is in "business casual" (which often means jeans or khakis & a knit shirt), then your business casual should be crisp & put together (not a wrinkled shirt you just pulled out of your suitcase).
How you communicate-
Grammar & spelling count!  If these are not your strong suit, be sure you have a good spell check and grammar check program for written communication, or someone who can proof for you.  If you stumble over your words, practice (out loud) before you present.
Your position-
Are you a "salesman" or a "consultant", a "manager" or a "team leader", "secretary" or "executive administrative assistant"?  What makes you a "professional" in your field?  If you get paid, you're a pro.
How you perform under pressure-
Do you crack & lose your cool or do you take a few minutes to assess and readjust?  Do you blame others or do you take responsibility?  Are you the problem or the solution?  Would those around you agree?
Is it "fair" that people make immediate judgments about you in the first few seconds of meeting you?  No... but they do (and you do it, too).  So the question is... if you know this to be true, shouldn't you be aware of the image that you project?  You will be more believable and more effective.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Control your time

You are busier than ever before.  Your job demands more, your family has multiple schedules to juggle, and you can't remember the last time you read a book just for the pleasure of reading.  Sound familiar?  I'm sure you've heard it before, but you need to create a schedule for yourself.  When you don't, you're pulled here and there responding to the activities around you, instead of controlling the activities that put demands on your schedule.  There are many tools to use for managing your schedule from Stephen Covey, Outlook, a simple calendar grid with your activities blocked out, and many others.  There are 2 important keys in any schedule:  schedule enough time for the activities you choose to do (this means being realistic about how much time tasks require, delegating some tasks and saying no to other tasks), and stick with it.  Which works the best for me?  All of them.  I have used many different schedulers over the years and find that they all work.  The only tough part is to stay disciplined in using them.  Are you controlling your time?  Or is your time controlling you?  I will guarantee that even if you don't quite follow your schedule 100%, you'll be more productive and have more free time than if you don't have any schedule at all.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Know when not to work

Good leaders know that when you are with your family - you need to be with your family.
Happy Easter!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Buy In

If you are employed by a company, a franchise owner, a direct salesperson, a minister or a volunteer leader, you have to "buy in".  What does that mean?  When you are a leader in any of these types of positions, you have guidelines to follow and a certain amount of oversight.  You may not like everything that your company puts out there - you don't have to (but you do choose to be there).  "But I want to be innovative!"  That's great!  But have you tried what's presented?  More than once?  Have you personally, quietly tested your idea before recommending it to others?  How did it compare?  Were your results significantly better?  What does it say to your team (employee, congregation) when you immediately dismiss guidelines, ideas, incentives or even rules?  It says that these have no value.  It says that you "know better".  It says that you have to question everything.  It says that you need to "re-invent the wheel" to be successful.  But, what if they're not like you?  You have set them up to fail.  And, they will also question other ideas (including yours).  "Buy in" and use your influence for good - not to further your own agenda.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Are you a leader?

Are you a CEO? Run a home-based business? Run a home? Do you chair fundraisers?
Are you a parent? A volunteer? An event organizer? A caregiver? A coach?
Do you train others? Are you a teacher? A mentor? A friend?
Do you give reviews of restaurants or movies to friends and family? Do people ask you for advice?
You are a leader.
Whether that's how you view yourself, or not, that's how others see you.  Here's the great part- you get to choose what kind of leader you want to be!  Will you be demanding? Stand-offish? "Above" others? Center-focused? Stressed? Stuck in the past? Stick in the mud (or a stick anywhere else!)? Cranky? Ungrateful?
Or will you be open? Informed? Relevant? Personal? Audience focused? Team oriented? Enthusiastic? Genuine? Consistent? Will people want to work toward common goals with you?
Over the next several posts, I will ask lots of questions to help you focus on some of the areas where you may not be projecting the image that will net you the results you want.  I hope to be frank and practical about the information you read here.
If you love what you do, and consistently get the results you want... yay!  I would love to have you share some of your "aha" moments to help the rest of us.  Maybe you're looking to "turn it up a notch".  I like to look at things from a cost/benefit view.  If this blog only takes a couple minutes to read, and you increase your production, then it has value.