Tag Archive for 'leadership'

As CEO, you’re the futurist of your business

Every small business owner should display in a prominent place this John F. Kennedy quote: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

As the CEO, you’re the futurist of your business, and the product of a futurist’s work is foresight.

Professional futurists are neither inspired by God, clairvoyant, nor have ESP. But they do look at the world differently than the average person. They typically see things before others do, largely because their focus is influenced by the following factors:

Extreme curiosity: This isn’t first by accident. Curiosity is to foresight what oxygen is to life.

Orders of implication: Futurists imagine the impact of multiple possibilities from a single scenario that hasn’t happened yet.

Collaboration: Futurists study the work of other futurists, work together, and welcome peer reviews.

Foresight tools: Some resources are sophisticated, some not so much.

As you can see, there’s nothing supernatural about these. Nothing you don’t already have or can’t acquire, at least at the level of CEO futurist. Let me lower the intimidation factor and make foresight easier with CEO foresight tools. You’ll recognize the first two:

Curiosity: The only person who’s more curious than a futurist is an entrepreneur. Curiosity is your most powerful tool-unleash it.

Watch for implications: When you see something new - a thing, idea or a development - unfocus your eyes and imagine the short and long-term implications. Play the “what if” game with your team.

Read: Professional futurists call it scanning. Read everything you can get your hands on about your universe and your customers’ universes. Start connecting dots.

Pay attention: This is the first cousin of curiosity. You pay attention to your business every day. Now add what’s outside your four walls to your scan.

Experience: Never underestimate the foresight value of past successes and failures, especially to the implications element.

Peer relationships: This includes CEO roundtables, whether formal or informal, but also attending industry events to listen to and compare notes with other CEO futurists.

Intuition: This is the love child of experience and curiosity. You have intuition, plus experts say you can grow it. Intuition is educated by experience and employed by curiosity.

These CEO foresight tools will help you track trends for opportunities and disruptions in areas such as: demographics, customer behavior, society, production/supply, politics, technology, and global events impacting large customers.

With tomorrow, next year and the next decade in mind, use questions like these to include your stakeholders in the foresight process: What will my industry look like? What will my market look like? What will happen to my existing customers? What will my new customer profile look like? What will be their expectations? What kinds of products and services should we sell?  How will we capitalize growth? What kind of technology will I need? What will be the greatest opportunities? What will be the greatest disruptions?

Use the tools, ask the questions, uncover and prepare for the possibilities that will allow you to take advantage of opportunities and minimize disruptions. Leading change as the CEO means applying the foresight tools of a futurist in order to avoid surprises. All surprises.

Even if a surprise turns out okay, you still shouldn’t celebrate. In fact, you should be just as frightened as if it turned out badly. Because it got through your foresight filters unnoticed until it manifested in front of you. That means a bad surprise could do the same thing.

Remember Blasingame’s Law of Surprises: Surprises are for birthdays — this is business.

Write this on a rock … “The future doesn’t fit in the container of the past.” Rishad Tobaccolwala

Can you sell your leadership product?

What is a leader? A mentor once told me a leader is someone who can find others who will follow him (or her).

But as we all know, followers can be high-maintenance folks, requiring constant tending to whatever it is that attracts them; most of the time “it” is something intangible. Napoleon is reputed to have said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Intangible.

Leadership, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So we asked our radio and online audience which of five characteristics is THE most important to being a successful leader. Two of the leadership traits we offered, courage and perseverance, got the lowest ranking, each in single digits.  The highest ranking went to “ability to communicate,” with about 40% choosing this one, followed by “ethical behavior,” chosen by almost one-third of respondents,  and “vision” selected by a little more than one out of four.

At first, I was surprised that courage and perseverance didn’t rank higher, because it’s my belief that both of these are defining traits of a successful leader. But surprise turned to clarity when I realized that our poll had revealed what we all know but don’t always remember: There are two faces of a leader. One is the face leaders see when looking in a mirror, and the other is the one followers see. When seeking the definition of a leader, we have to be clear about which point-of-view is being sought: leadership traits we seek in ourselves or those that attract followers.

The face in the mirror knows courage and perseverance are definitely among the imperatives for leadership success. But to followers, these are merely raw materials used to manufacture the product they demand of leaders - that intangible “bit of colored ribbon” delivered by communicating a vision that is executed based on mutually held values.

Turns out, being a leader is a lot like being a business owner. To be successful in business, it’s not enough to offer quality products you’re proud of - customers drop the gavel on that judgment. Similarly, it’s not enough for leaders just to please the mirror - followers are the customers of your leadership product.

In order to get others to follow you, both faces of leadership must be in evidence. Nurture those traits that success requires of you personally, like courage, perseverance, faith, commitment, etc., while simultaneously delivering what followers expect: ethics, communication, vision and performance.

Write this on a rock … Are you finding followers for your “bit of colored ribbon?”

Are you looking for answers in the wrong places?

This is a story about three small business owners who had one thing in common: a wise man named Luther. Oh, by the way, Luther is their janitor.

On Mondays, Luther cleans the offices at National Supply Co., Inc. Sometimes he talks with the founder, Mr. Gilbert.

One Monday afternoon Mr. Gilbert said, “Luther, I don’t know how long I can survive.”

“What’s wrong, Mr. G?” Luther asked.

“It’s those big-box competitors,” Mr. Gilbert said. “I’ve looked under every rock for ways to lower our prices and increase advertising, but I just can’t compete with those guys.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Luther offered.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Gilbert asked.

“Those big competitors will always be with us,” Luther reminded him. “Why don’t you emphasize the value of the human connection and customized service that only a small business like yours can deliver? Those two things alone are worth more than anything the Big Boxes offer.”

On Wednesdays, when Luther cleans the offices at Central Data Corp., he often visits with the owner, Sarah.

“Luther, I always assumed my kids would take over my business, but now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” Sarah lamented one day.

“Why aren’t they interested in the business?” Luther asked.

“I’m stumped, she said. “I’ve shown them the opportunity and how profitable the business can be. What else can I do?”

“Maybe you’re asking them to look in the wrong place,” Luther suggested.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Sarah, I’ve noticed how much you love what you do,” said Luther, “even when times were tougher and things weren’t so rosy. From what I’ve seen, being an entrepreneur is as much about nourishing the spirit as growing the bank account. Help them think about that.”

On Fridays, Luther cleans the offices at Westco Dynamics, Inc. Mr. West usually talks with Luther for a few minutes, but he seemed pensive today.

“Luther, my family was so poor that we struggled just to survive,” Mr. West said. “When I left home, I vowed to never be that unhappy again.”

“Mr. West, it sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your craw,” Luther observed.

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Mr. West fibbed. “It’s just that, with all my money and stuff, I still can’t stop looking for ways to make sure I’ll never be poor again.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” said Luther.

“What do you mean?” Mr. West asked.

Then Luther said, “You’ve been motivated by the fear of being poor instead of the joy of creating something from nothing. Try finding happiness in knowing that you provide valuable products and services for your customers, and jobs and income for your employees and their families. Remember, money and stuff only give you options, not happiness.”

Write this on a rock … When you’re looking for answers, make sure you look in the right places.

4 Power Questions That Will Cultivate Your Leadership Tree

Most agree that there are many traits of a true leader, including: highly competent, professional, visionary, trustworthy, instill confidence, good communicator and, of course, courageous.

But great leaders have three other qualities that further set them apart.

  1. In the 21st century marketplace, the prime devotion of leaders is to their people because they know it’s through engaged, high-functioning teams that their “bottom line” goals are achieved. If you can deliver on this trait, you’ll be more likely to accomplish your professional and personal goals.
  2. The most successful and beloved leaders I’ve known had another trait that’s sometimes overlooked: They mentored their people to become leaders. Great NFL coaches like Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Bill Parcels became legendary through the subsequent performance of the coaches they mentored. It’s called the Coaching Tree. Whose names will be on your Leadership Tree.
  3. This quality has two parts that are as inextricable as the sides of a coin: 1) They’re devoted to asking questions; and 2) they listen.

Number 3 is so important that I want to offer four cardinal questions that will help you become a legendary leader and build your own Leadership Tree. The first two are from my friend and Brain Trust member, Chester Elton, co-author of “What Motivates Me.” The last two are mine.

How’re you doing?
Chester says this isn’t a drive-by question. It’s a look ’em in the eye, “I’ve got time to listen” question. The setting has to be where the leader can be “in the moment” with the other person. And answers are not pre-supposed – might be about their job, their aspirations, or their personal life. Great leaders care about all of that.

How can I help?

Chester says this question creates a safe environment. A mentor once told me, “If you’re in trouble in your job, don’t go down by yourself. Get me involved early and let me help you get out of trouble.”

What do you think?
I call this the Leader’s Power Question and it produces two kinds of fruit: 1) few things cultivate the illusive engagement factor more than when the boss asks the opinion of an employee; 2) valuable information almost always spouts.

What did we learn?
I call this the Leader’s Magic Question, and it may be the four most important words in management. Surely redemption is the most human behavior a leader can demonstrate. And the most powerful mentoring moment happens after a team member makes a mistake taking initiative and the leader says, “Okay, now we know what happened,” then redeems him with: “What did we learn?” Powerful!

Write this on a rock … Become a legendary leader with your own Leadership Tree.

Risk failure to enjoy success

Here are three pieces of wisdom which can only come from those who have known failure and from that acquaintance, found success:

In Uncommon Wisdom, my friend, Tom Feltenstein wrote, “When winners fail, they get up and go again. And the very act of getting up is victory”.

Robert Allen, author of Multiple Steams of Income, wrote, “There is no failure, only feedback.”

Paraphrasing Thomas Edison just a little, “Failure is successfully identifying what doesn’t work.”

And since I certainly am no stranger to failure, here is Jim Blasingame’s contribution to understanding its value, “Failure is the harness mate of success, and I expect to be acquainted with both as long as I live.”

You will never enjoy success until you are prepared to risk failure.

President Lincoln’s leadership continues to impress

This month marks the 206th birthday of America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln’s life and hard times continue to inspire generation after generation of leaders and followers so much that 150 years after his death Honest Abe is still one of the most important individuals in the history of the United States.

Lincoln’s story is especially important for small business owners. Every day along the business ownership continuum, from startup to locking up for the last time, Main Street merchants can draw strength and inspiration from the uncomplicated and honest witness of Lincoln’s character.

lincoln-memorial-2464_1280

CC Photo via Pixabay

But, ironically, beyond his leadership record, we’re perhaps more inspired by how he persevered in the face of painful adversity and professional failures. Consider this partial list of Lincoln’s life challenges:

•  Failed in business in 1831 and 1833

•  Defeated for state legislator in 1832

•  Fiancee died in 1835

•  Had a nervous breakdown in 1836

•  Ran for Congress in 1843 and ’48; lost both races

•  Ran for the Senate in 1855 and ’59; lost both races

•  Ran for Vice President in 1856 and lost

•  Buried two of his four beloved sons

•  Elected President in 1860 as America’s house divided and dissolved into “a great civil war”Reading this list, one is overwhelmed by two emotions:

1.  Sadness - that any one person would experience so many unfortunate things;

2.  Admiration - that in the face of such adversity, anyone could accomplish so much.

Nine years after critics wrote him off as a political player, Lincoln accomplished leadership feats and professional successes that were nothing short of heroic. And for these, history recognizes him as one of America’s greatest presidents.

As 2015 unfolds, if you’re ever tempted to slump into a self-involved pity party because the marketplace licked the red off your candy, go back and reread Lincoln’s failures and setbacks. This time you might feel two other emotions:

1.   Shame - that you allowed yourself to lapse into a funk;

2.   Renewed perseverance – now realizing that, like Lincoln, as long as you’re alive, every new day you show up to work on your business and life could be the day you turn the corner and win the war.

Lincoln taught us that often the difference between bold accomplishment and painful setback is the courage, character and diligence to persevere.

Write this on a rock …

There is no better model of courage, character and perseverance than Abraham Lincoln. Let his life inspire yours.




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