Four Reasons Why Leaders Should Write More

Four Reasons Why Leaders Should Write More

As I write this, I have the urge to check Facebook and LinkedIn. I feel the need to see if there’s anything new in the news. I want to minimize the page upon which I’m typing and look for new e-mail. 

I also know that such satisfying those desires, in a way, is a drug that’s killing purposeful thinking and thoughtful action for millions of leaders around the world. 

And it’s only getting worse, with intentional efforts to make these distractions ever more addictive increasing daily. Web sites need faithful eyeballs to boost their revenue. 

Yet I argue that leaders must practice distraction-free existence, even if just for a short time every day. One way to do this is

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Cowards Need Not Apply

Cowards Need Not Apply

Much ink hath been spilt on the inspirational nature of leadership. Although such thoughts have merit, I have long wondered if we overemphasize the inspirational aspects of being a leader to the detriment of underemphasizing the perspirational aspects of being a leader. 

That is, we like to talk about the glory, the soaring rhetoric, the passion that one person can infuse into situations. We like to idealize—and maybe idolize—people who do those things. 

Yet being a leader demands a higher standard of behavior and an attention to detail that can be isolating. It’s often unglamorous. When you’re leading the charge, you’re often at the tip of the spear—sometimes making the most impact, but also frequently encountering the most resistance. 

Quite simply,

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What’s Your Unfair Advantage? 

What’s Your Unfair Advantage? 

In one of the early episodes of the StartUp Podcast—which features Alex Blumberg, formerly of This American Life and NPR’s Planet Money—he meets Chris Sacca, a renowned former venture capitalist and entrepreneur. 

Blumberg painfully bumbles through an attempt at pitching his business idea to Sacca. Believe me, it was bad. I found myself embarrassed for Blumberg just listening to it in my car. Then, Sacca follows by showing Blumberg how he should have pitched it. 

And within Sacca’s formula for pitching a startup, he reveals what I’ve come to think of as a highly useful concept for not just startups, but for leaders, teams and organizations of any size. 

That useful concept? 

It’s the idea of

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Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

It was a new organization, a new unit in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and someone—in his infinite wisdom—put me in charge of it. One of my first tasks was to make some sort of sense of how to organize the 55 members of the loosely defined group into an arrangement that would divide the work in a relatively sensible way and allow for an efficient and effective flow of communication. 

I had some specific ideas. In fact, I had a clear picture of what I thought would work. 

Yet I paused when deciding how to proceed. And instead of announcing my plan and telling everyone to get in line, I chose a different path. 

I

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Make Sound and Timely Decisions

Make Sound and Timely Decisions

Rate the extent to which you would agree or disagree with the following statement: "My organization promotes making decisions at the lowest possible organizational level."

Strongly agree? Strongly disagree? 

If you’re like the 800 business leaders who have participated in The VUCA Report survey, a project I’ve led for almost two years now, you’re almost right in the middle on this one.

A solid, “meh.”

The average response to this item on decision-making is consistently the lowest of

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Train Your Unit as a Team

Train Your Unit as a Team

“Where is your squad member? Why isn’t he here?” 

Probably because he slept in, I thought. He should’ve gotten here on time (i.e., early) like the rest of us. 

In those pre-dawn moments on the dewy grass outside of John Barry Hall on the campus of Villanova University, a lecture was underway. No professors were involved—it was far too early in the morning, and I suspect few of them, had they been awake or aware of what we were doing, took much interest in our initial training as new members of the university’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. 

Rather, this

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Is Micromanagement Really That Bad? Making Sure the Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

Is Micromanagement Really That Bad? Making Sure the Task is Understood, Supervised and Accomplished

One of the courses I’ve taught to both graduate and undergraduate business students is “Managerial Skill Development.” And among other high-energy theatrics that I employ during our class meetings, I typically ask students to think about the best managers they’ve ever had and the worst managers they’ve ever had. 

I then ask them to share some of the characteristics of these “best” and “worst” managers. The answers have become highly predictable. You probably wouldn’t find many of them to be surprising. 

Their “best” managers tend to (among other behaviors):

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Life is About Interactions

Life is About Interactions

“Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others: Life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.” – His Holiness Pope Francis

One benefit of my unusual career path is that I’ve had the chance to interact with and learn from numerous people across the worlds of business, academia and the military. 

I’ve listened to top executives describe their triumphs and their challenges, both personal and professional. 

I’ve worked alongside some brilliant researchers, who opened my eyes to new ways of seeing the phenomena of human behavior in organizations. 

I’ve followed and led military professionals whom I’ve trusted with my life because I knew they trusted me with theirs. 

I’ve been lucky. 

Another benefit of these diverse experiences has been the realization that time marches on without ceasing and material success is fleeting (and grossly unimportant in the grand scheme of things). What’s important is how you treat people and how you make their lives a little bit better.

What’s important is to remember that in every interaction with our fellow humans we have the choice to

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What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change: Part 2

What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change: Part 2

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to engage with hundreds of people from around the world as part of a webcast titled, "What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change." The Human Capital Institute (HCI) hosted the webcast, and afterward, HCI gave me the recorded version so that I could share it with people who weren't able to join the live presentation. 

Here it is--enjoy. 

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Set the Example: Wisdom on a Wall in Afghanistan

Set the Example: Wisdom on a Wall in Afghanistan

Although I had already been a commissioned U.S. Navy officer for more than 11 years at the time, the message hit me anew every time I read it. 

The message—stenciled in black letters upon a white sign and affixed to one of the many blast-resistant walls that encircled Camp Eggers in the heart of Kabul, Afghanistan—greeted us just inside one of the vehicle entrances to the small, crowded base.

It simply read as follows: 

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What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change

What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change

Models for planning and executing organizational change abound—for example, Kotter’s eight steps, among many others. These models are helpful in highlighting many of the critical aspects of organizational change, and I highly recommend immersing yourself in them. 

That being said, I find that such models often deal more with planned organizational change than with unplanned or continuous organizational change. 

And in an increasingly turbulent world, it’s important for human resources (HR) professionals and the HR function overall to

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The Poetry of Organizational Change

The Poetry of Organizational Change

“Successful organizational change,” he said, “requires analysis, diagnosis and dissatisfaction with the status quo.”

“It also requires a process for getting the change started, and it requires an ideal vision for the future. 

“The first part—the diagnosis—is analytical. It’s about collecting evidence.

“But creating an ideal vision? No amount of evidence will help you. 

“Creating an ideal vision—that’s the land of poets.”

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Keep Your People Informed

Keep Your People Informed

By nature, we humans continually seek to reduce the uncertainty and ambiguity around us. We’re all different to some degree, of course, but we generally like to know what to expect each day, and we like to have clarity about what’s going on. 

As a result, we’re information seekers. 

We look for cues in what people say and how they act. We try to figure out what’s important and what’s not important in part through the words and actions of others. 

And when we don’t have much information to go on—for example, when our direct supervisors don’t communicate with us on a regular basis—we tend to fill in the gaps. 

We guess. 

We assume.

We interpret—and sometimes contribute to—rumors among our peers. We do our best to reduce our own uncertainty and ambiguity. Sometimes that works. 

Sometimes it doesn’t. 

That’s why

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Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

Know Your People and Look Out for Their Welfare

It’s often said but less frequently done: “No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care.” 

Being a technical expert can help you be an influential leader or manager—people like to follow people who know their stuff. 

But if you want to motivate people for the longer term, if you want people to follow you because they truly want to do so, you need to dig deeper. People need

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Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

Know Yourself and Seek Self-Improvement

My first encounter with the U.S. Navy’s leadership framework came when I was barely 18 years old. I was young and eager to do well as a new midshipman in Villanova University’s Navy ROTC program. Like everyone else starting at college, I was also trying to adjust to the basics of education and life away from home. Unlike our fellow freshmen, however, we midshipmen were also beginning our introduction to military service. 

Part of that initial training involved memorizing numerous facts. 

Facts about ranks, facts about weapons, facts about history.

And facts about leadership. Quite a few useful models of leadership behaviors and traits exist across all of the U.S. military branches, but one that I’ve revisited lately is the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. They’re virtually the same as principles claimed by other services (such as the U.S. Army), but 

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Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

Getting Better Does Not Take Genius or Shiny Things

“Arriving at meaningful solutions is an inevitably slow and difficult process. Nonetheless, what I saw was: better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.”

- Atul Gawande, Better, p. 246

Health care in rural India would shock most of us in the United States. As Dr. Atul Gawande describes in Better—his fascinating book about improving performance in health care—many hospitals in rural India are overcrowded and under-resourced. The demands upon their services continuously outstrip their resources. 

They continuously must do more with not just less, but in some cases with nothing at all. They must improvise. They must make use of what is available and do their best. 

Despite their circumstances,

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Long Live the Organizational Heretic!

Long Live the Organizational Heretic!

The pressure to conform is tremendous. It starts before we can walk.  

Be nice. 

Share. 

See what your brother is doing? He’s doing a good job. Be like him.

As Yusuf Islam, better known by his former stage name of Cat Stevens, once sang, “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen.”

And that’s just at home. We then, very quickly,

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Practical Tools to Change Your Organization’s Culture

Practical Tools to Change Your Organization’s Culture

Most executives with whom I interact get it—they know that the culture of their organization must be aligned with what it needs to accomplish in order to compete and win. They understand that without the underlying values, norms and routines that encourage productive behavior, their organizations will fail to execute their strategy. 

But then comes the simple-yet-tough question, how do you change your organization’s culture? For example, if you need to become more innovative yet your culture is overly risk averse, what do you do? 

It may sound counterintuitive, but

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Bad Team Conversations? You Might Be Why

Bad Team Conversations? You Might Be Why

Like many well-intentioned executives and managers I’ve met, it’s likely that you genuinely want to engage your team; you want them to feel like active participants in the decision-making process. You know that you don’t have all of the answers. 

And when a problem arises that needs to be solved, you gather your team together.  

“So, how are we going to solve this? I want to hear your ideas.” 

Silence. 

Then, someone cautiously speaks up, offering a suggestion. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s certainly not particularly creative or original. 

A few more team members chime in, providing slight variations on the first person’s ideas. But the ideas are hardly flowing freely. And they’re staring at the table, out the window or up where the wall meets the ceiling—anywhere but at you. 

You’re left wondering,

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