The Agile Crimson Tide

The Agile Crimson Tide

The Alabama Crimson Tide lost on Monday evening, giving the Clemson Tigers their first national college football championship in 35 years.

But within the world of American college football, it’s undeniable that the University of Alabama’s football program—under head coach Nick Saban—is a powerhouse.

So despite the fact that Crimson Tide fans everywhere are in a state of mourning this week, there’s an interesting lesson to be learned from how Alabama has adapted its approach to the game of football during the past five years. It’s a lesson in

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Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Advanced Manufacturing and Two Ways to Reward Agility

Modern factory floors fascinate me. There’s something about the clang and whoosh of the myriad machines, the hum of an overhead crane gliding along its tracks, the intricate yellow lines demarcating where it’s safe to walk and the ambiguous chemical aroma punctuating the air with hints of solvents or grease or paint or maybe all of them mixed together.

There’s something about the delicate dance of interdependent and interconnected parts and processes that somehow—amazingly—produce that which we and the entire world outside the factory walls often takes for granted. 

When I’m in a factory, I still get the same sense of wonder and curiosity that I had when I was 8 or 9 years old, touring the Rohm and Haas plant in Louisville, Ky. And this week, I had the opportunity to visit one of Cleveland’s (and Ohio’s, for that matter) oldest and largest manufacturing firms: Lincoln Electric. 

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Leadership Advice for the New Administration

Leadership Advice for the New Administration

On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 9, one day after the general election here in the United States, I met with my graduate students who are in my course on leadership and interpersonal effectiveness. 

Up until this point, we hadn’t talked much about the U.S. presidential race in class. But I felt that on that one class the day after the election, it might make sense to do so. It just felt weird to not talk about it. Our course is about leadership, after all.

In particular, we’ve talked at length in the course about the agility required for leaders to pivot into new roles. This is particularly true for people who have never managed or led people before—that first-time manager job can be tough. 

And although both Secretary Clinton and now President-Elect Trump have extensive experience leading people and projects, transitioning from presidential hopeful to President of the United States must surely be a dramatic shift personally and professionally. 

For anyone. 

And so, on Nov. 9, with my class, we

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Never Give Up, Never Stop Learning

Never Give Up, Never Stop Learning

Although I teach courses on various topics related to leadership, I’m quick to admit it: Learning a lot about leadership won’t necessarily make you a great leader. 

Similarly, just because someone has 20 years of experience doing something doesn’t necessarily make him or her an expert. It’s quite possible—and common—for people to have the same experience, 20 years in a row. 

What oftentimes elevates truly great leaders above the rest is their tenacity, their commitment to never give up—and to never stop learning. It’s their ability to persevere through adversity with an open mind, applying the lessons they acquire along the way. 

One such leader whom I’ve always enjoyed listening to and reading about is United States Marine Corps General James Mattis (ret.). Among recent military leaders, Mattis is a legend, particularly if you talk with other U.S. Marines. 

Stories about his selfless, direct style of leadership abound. 

Additionally,

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On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

Years ago, as a young junior officer in the U.S. Navy, a few hundred of my peers and I shuffled into a large auditorium to hear an admiral speak. I don’t remember his name or his title. But I remember one phrase, one nugget of “wisdom” that he provided. 

He said, “Leaders are people who know stuff.” 

At the time this seemed like a simple, yet compelling insight. And it’s certainly the case that one source of people’s power and influence over others can be their expertise. In many situations, we follow those people who know the most (or at least seem to know the most) about how to solve problems. 

We also tend to follow people who have definitive answers. People who are decisive, outspoken, direct. 

But such tendencies grossly oversimplify

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What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

Some people really like to create lists. Often, these take the form of things “to do.” Some people even get such satisfaction from crossing items off of their to-do lists that if they accomplish something that wasn’t on their list, they’ll write it down and immediately cross it off. 

Know anyone who does that? (Sometimes, that’s me. I’ll admit it.) 

These types of lists are great. They help us stay apprised of what needs to happen in various parts of our lives, both professionally and personally. My weekly to-do list helps me immensely in providing structure to my week. 

But there’s another kind of list that can be helpful. It’s one that can be particularly helpful for those whose work has reached a level of complexity that’s overwhelming, a level of busyness that’s forcing them to do everything at a level of mediocrity that’s highly dissatisfying. 

That list is

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The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

The Courage to be Agile and Pivot

My morning routine gives me comfort. I get up at the exact same time almost every day. My coffee maker is set to turn on 15 minutes earlier, so I go downstairs, pour my coffee and fill my 1-liter water bottle. I then head to my home office and get oriented for the day’s activities. 

After about 40 minutes, my coffee cup and water bottle are empty. Then, it’s time to get ready for some exercise. That lasts for about an hour, after which comes the remainder of my tasks to prepare for the day prior to the stampede of our four soon-to-awaken children. 

And so on. 

These are comfortable routines; they are generally productive habits. 

But sometimes habits can become too comfortable. We can stick to routines for the sake of sticking to the routine—when in fact, change is necessary. 

For example, 

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Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

"While I was in the middle of the room, the attic floor and beams collapsed onto the second floor crashing down to the first floor where I was standing. The time between us entering the building and the time of the collapse was no longer than 90 seconds. I was knocked to the floor and was trapped under the debris. I suffered a head injury and a torn patellar tendon. The contents of the upstairs ended up in the first floor room and I could have been killed. By my judgment, approximately 80,000 gallons of water was pumped into that structure and we were ordered in anyway. This was after a previous call to evacuate 45 minutes earlier. This should not have happened!"

Mistakes happen. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt or kill people. I’ve studied them among fire fighters, who sometimes experience events like the one described above (which comes from Report 07-0001036, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2014). The mistakes that people in the fire service and other high-risk occupations make often have important safety implications. In other industries and occupations, mistakes may not hurt or kill people, but mistakes often derail projects or anger customers. They create conflict and they degrade the quality of what we make or do. 

Mistakes aren’t exclusive to any industry or sector. 

Mistakes also almost happen. These close calls or near misses—when discussed well and integrated into a learning program—can serve as powerful wakeup calls for people and teams.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about mistakes or near misses, learning from the past to improve future performance is

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What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

What LeBron James Gets About Leading in Adversity

Both the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and their opponents in the 2016 NBA finals, the Golden State Warriors, are extraordinary professional basketball teams. 

But on Thursday, June 16, the Cavaliers became only the third team in history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals to force a seventh game in the series. Clearly, Cavaliers star LeBron James is central to their performance. They’re one win away from taking the championship, but even if they don’t win, there are some interesting insights we can take away from how James has led his team in the midst of adversity.

Most of the time, we have little insight into what happens behind the scenes within professional sports teams. Or when we do, it might be well after the fact, from memoirs of players, coaches or confidants. 

The case of the 2016 Cavaliers is different. 

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Want to Communicate Change? Do THIS.

Want to Communicate Change? Do THIS.

“Undercommunicating the vision by a factor of ten” is one of the reasons why organizational transformation efforts fail according to John Kotter, a prolific writer on various facets of leadership and organizational change and professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School (Kotter, 1995: 63). 

And as we all know—and as Kotter acknowledged—“Communication comes in both words and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (Kotter, 1995: 64).

Namely, actions speak louder than words. 

So if you want to communicate change in your organization,

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For Those About to Lead

For Those About to Lead

For those about to lead, I salute you. 

The vast majority of people go with the flow. Many people—even those whom we often dub “leaders”—fulfill their roles by finding out what others expect of them and meeting those expectations. This includes many heads of state—current, former and aspiring—military generals and admirals, university presidents and chief executives. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with going with the flow, depending on

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Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

Leading Change and the Distribution of Loss

When I talk or facilitate a workshop with business leaders, making them all really sad isn’t part of the agenda.

But sometimes it’s exactly what they need. At least for a few minutes.

In particular, there’s an aspect of leadership that always requires emotional awareness. And when we attempt to lead change, there’s always an element of loss. When we lead change, people often have to alter their routines, give up responsibilities and work with new people—all factors that are different from what used to be life as usual.

That can make people sad. Confused. Maybe even angry.

To drive that point home, I sometimes

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