Leading Through Chaos

There were cows and barn doors flying through the air! Whole trees were spinning in the clouds like toothpicks! Okay, not really. But the storm had been so frightening that each time we told the story we embellished our tornado experience.  This is nothing new to folks who live in Ohio. When I was a teenager we had a particular spring with more tornadoes than usual. Nearly every week there was a damaging tornado in our area. One particular afternoon my brother and I had come home from school during a storm that quickly became a full-blown tornado. We had no warning, other than the black, blue-green sky, hail, high winds, and spinning clouds. Quickly we headed downstairs. Having a walk-out basement we had the vantage point of windows from which to watch nature’s furious show. Being the curious sort, rather than obey what we’d learned in school about staying away from windows and tornado safety, I made a bee-line for the action. I just had to see this. And there it was, coming down out of the sky, swirling with debris truly moving round and round inside. It was a twisting cloud of chaos. Electrical lines popping, sparking, flashing. I was awestruck. What power and chaos this storm had! Then I snapped to my senses and thought of heading to a more safe place. But it was too late. The storm had passed, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It was awesome and frightening at the same time. Thankfully, no damage at our house.  And, of course, as soon as our parents got home from work, my brother tattled on me for not following the rules. I am sure I got a lecture for that!

Sometimes my leadership journey is a lot like that tornado experience. From time to time there is chaos brewing, a storm swirling out of control. These are situations outside of my control or influence, and I can see them coming. There are indications such as organizational high winds, cultural dark clouds, and damaging hail. In the swirl of the storm I can see debris getting caught up in the chaos. People, careers, livelihoods. And still I am curious enough to walk up close and look in, to observe, to understand. But, unlike the tornado experience, I have learned when to simply observe and when to step into the chaos and lead through it. After all I have a team to navigate through the storm. Things are not just about me anymore.

So, how do courageous leaders navigate the chaos? I propose that there is more here than simply navigating through to the other side. Rather, I propose that the differentiator between convenient leadership and courageous leadership is leading in the middle of the chaos; despite the chaos.  These are lessons I’ve learned, some from great and influential leaders, much more capable than I’ll ever be. Some come from my own mistakes. Others from research I have conducted and the intentional application of excellent leadership models found. And let me confess something here. Leading through chaos is difficult, and exhausting. But it can also be the most professionally rewarding leadership work we will do; particularly if your passion is to influence change, impact your organization, and make a difference.

Let’s be specific about the leadership behaviors required to successfully lead through chaos. These are intentional, observable behaviors, not philosophical theories to discuss while clouds swirl around you. So, let’s dive in.

1. Be aware of climate change

Let’s be honest, a leader who is completely oblivious to the cultural, organizational and business climate, is ineffective to say the least. To be aware you must be engaged. Observe changes in decisions being made by company executives. Stay in touch with your professional network across functions, your peers, and your team. Listen carefully to the tone of organizational messages. Ask questions of your management team. Seek to understand. Know the indications. As an example, when a business unit leader departs suddenly, you can expect that the new leader is going to make some organizational changes, whether out of necessity or just to add their finger print. But you know change is brewing. Your first reaction may be to lay low, off the radar. Rather, be intentional in your engagement and relationships as these will likely be your barometer. Become a climate watcher.

2. Stay calm

We all know that at the first indication of chaos our human response is fight or flight. Self preservation. However, as I study the most effective leaders in history, I observe in them  demonstrating self-control. These folk didn’t run screaming “the sky is falling!” while packing up their offices, “just in case.” Leaders such as Nehemiah from ancient history.  A little closer in time, Abraham Lincoln. Winston Churchill, from more modern times. In their closest circles they may have shared their personal fears. But on the front line they controlled their fears and intentionally demonstrated behaviors and decisions that led the troops through the chaos to the other side of the storm. People react positively to self-control and a calm attitude, in contrast to the swirl going on around them.

So, how might this principle look? Here is an example: Quality problems causing conflict between business units? Choose not to get involved in the gossip and unproductive finger-pointing. Make it widely known that you choose to lead a collaborative approach. Model this for and hold your team to this standard. Folks will respond, some not necessarily positively; this is fear manifesting as control. Stay the course of calmness and others will rise up and follow suit.

3. Hold on through organizational high winds

Years ago our family used to go camping. My husband always took time and paid great attention to anchoring the tent pins. He checked for sure ground, and once found took great care to pound the anchors in firmly. He would check and double-check the lines for strength. Only then was he confident that the tent could withstand winds and rain and keep us safe and sound.

During organizational high winds convenience leaders usually abandon cultural anchors first. They start cancelling one-on-ones and staff meetings. Management routines are blown over. Communication just stops, or trickles to a select few. Performance reviews seem to be more of a chore than a means to differentiate those that made a difference.  Often these convenience leaders don’t show up for the office picnic. And reward and recognition becomes non-existent. This is contrary to everything we know about human nature. During chaotic times folks need as much normalcy as possible. It is the tie that binds. So I challenge you to stay true to cultural anchors even in the midst of organizational high winds. You may not be able to share confidential information, and find that awkward or frustrating. But this is not about you. This is about the people who comprise the organization. Latch onto those anchors. Have birthday cake.  Celebrate the sales win. Keep your commitments to your management routines, with more rigor than ever. These anchors will firmly ground you and your team while others are tossed about in the swirling chaos.

4. Cultural dark clouds and damaging hail

There is just no ignoring an ominous sky. I mean, you can try. But everyone around you is looking out the window at the dark, swirling storm clouds gathering. They are texting their kids, “You home? Go to the basement, listen to the weather report!” You can ignore the dark clouds but they are up-staging you. The best thing you can do is acknowledge what everyone can plainly see. “Gosh, looks like a big storm is brewing. Let’s get ready together!” And everyone gets ready differently, so acknowledge that, too. Some folks want to get right up against the windows, in awe of the power. Some will go outside, experiencing the storm first-hand, desiring to feel the wind in their face. Others are headed for the tornado shelters. Know your team. Give them a little individual space before you pull them in as united front, moving through dark clouds together.

This is particularly true when there is damaging hail. No one wants to hear that a team member lost their job. Shoot, people do not even feel comfortable learning that a work place nemesis was a casualty of the storm.  No one likes pay cuts, cost cutting that goes deep, or organizational restructuring.

What’s a courageous leader to do? Communicate often as much as you can. Stay the course of normalcy relative to work projects and goals. Where business objectives change as a result of the chaotic storm, communicate clearly with as much certainty as possible. When appropriate, invite executives to your team meetings to give your staff the visibility and exposure to decision makers. Do not be fearful of that exposure, rather trust your leaders and your team.

Now what?

If your desire is to truly make a difference in the lives of the people with whom you work, to leave a legacy of courageous leadership, the water hits the wheel during a storm. I hope you are encouraged to intentionally leave convenience leadership behind, and choose to lead through the chaos that inevitably comes.

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Posted in 21st Century Leadership, Courageous Leadership in Business | 6 Comments

My Big Summer Blow Out – Part 2

perspective3Chaos. Rushed to surgery, ten inches of colon removed and a colostomy installed. This did not fit into my summer plans. Shoot, I’d been kayaking the weekend before. I’d worked in the flower gardens the night before all of this. I was supposed to be in Phoenix for business in the next few days. Chaos. When I woke up after surgery, my hospital room was full of family. I was shocked. They acted as though someone were very ill.  Not long into my journey I learned that not only was I very ill, but that some folks don’t survive a colon perforation; or as I refer to it, my big summer blow out.

During my seven day hospital stay things were relatively calm. Nurses took care of me. I had the sweetest personal care assistant. My enterostomal nurse was phenomenal. I thought I was doing well to walk the halls of the 7th floor a few times each day. But when I got in the car to head home, chaos ensued. Every little bump in the road caused me pain. My poor husband was driving the car and did his best to choose the smoothest parts of the road.  But if you live in central Ohio you know the condition of our roads was against me. And then there was getting out of the car.  Have you ever attempted to get into and out of a car post major surgery? I still had a row of staples about 10 inches long in my belly. I didn’t think I could get out of the car.  I wanted to go back to the safety of the calm, controlled hospital.  A little more chaos ensued as I acclimated to my own home.  Nearly everything I used to do, now had to be accomplished differently.

Learning how to manage in my new colostomy life, what to eat, what not to eat. How to manage pain. Even how to get in and out of bed – well I gave up on that and took to the recliner for a little while.  I thought I knew best and decided not to take the prescription pain medications. Did you know that excessive pain can cause your blood pressure to sky rocket? Even finding clothes that fit my new colostomy body was a new adventure. More chaos. I had some choices to make.  We all have choices to make when life happens.

First, I chose not to dwell on myself. And, I’ll be frank, it was difficult at times. About two weeks after surgery one of our sons and his wife came for supper. I introduced something new into my diet and wham, more chaos.  It would have been very easy to spend the summer thinking about myself every minute of every day.  But, this journey is not about me. This journey is about God and who He is.  While still in the hospital my cousin shared a worship song with me.  Every morning I started the day with that beautiful song, as it  reminded me that God is my healer, my protector, my strong tower, my shield, strength and my provider.  It was a choice to intentionally focus on who God is, and not on who I am, or my situation.  The result was that the chaos was overcome by peace. The chaos gave way to an unexplainable peace. The impact was that an amazing strength grew inside of me. I had this new inner strength that resulted in a confidence that I could do this, that I could manage this new season in my life. And, I did just that. I managed in such a way that surprised my doctor, my family, and my co-workers. What a great testimony to the power and faithfulness of God’s love and kindness!

Secondly, my perspective changed. A few weeks before my big summer blow out, I was returning from a business trip and the plane was flying high above thunderstorms. The clouds were a beautiful, thick, pure white, fluffy, solid-looking carpet of wonder. I snapped the photo at the top of this post from the plane. The sunlight on the carpet of clouds was an amazing sight.  Soon, the plane descended through the mass of storm clouds, rattling and shaking through the rain and wind.  And then we were safely on the ground in Columbus. As I emerged from the airport to the top floor of the parking garage, where my car was parked, I looked up at the sky expecting to see that white, beautiful cloud carpet. But, instead it was an angry sky, grey and cold, threatening more rain at any moment. Wait, this was the same sky I’d just seen from 30,000 feet. But my perspective from the plane afforded me a much different view of the same sky.  Life is like that. There are two or more perspectives, and we have the choice of where we will focus.

Suddenly, my job, my hobbies just didn’t seem as important. Not that it’s not important that I do my very best at work and ensure that my testimony as a Believer in Christ is not compromised; it is. It was just that I realized that God can do whatever He wants, when He wants. He can allow life to come at us, and permit us to be tested. And, from that perspective I determined to invest what time I have left on planet earth wisely, with intentional purpose. My entire perspective of what is important versus critical, changed.  And my job is important, particularly to the bank that holds my mortgage, but it is not critical to God’s plan for my life.  This new perspective certainly has me thinking about things that make a difference in the lives of others, things with an eternal consequence.

This new season of living with the colostomy provided a choice of perspectives. I could focus on the negative, spend my days thinking about the challenges, or I could face it head on, be open and honest and just move on. Same life. Same wonderful husband and family. Same great friends.  Same faithful and merciful God. New challenge. It is all in perspective. After all, my husband did not have a funeral to plan! I chose to move on.  I got back to work, quickly. I got back to being a wife, daughter, mom and friend.  Life was different but my perspective was the same; I am not a victim of anything.  But, God allows trials so that we can refine our relationship with Him, and encourage others.

As I write this, please know that I have had the second surgery which reconnected my colon and I no longer have the colostomy. It’s been 4 months since my big summer blow out and I am healthy and well and stronger than ever. But, this is not about me. It is about God. The mornings spent in prayer, the learning as I dove deeper into the Bible, and singing His praise resulted in silencing the chaos and directing my perspective.  It was the sweetest, most joyful spiritual mountaintop I have ever experienced. Do I want to do it again – no! However, what I learned about God and myself during this journey, I would not trade for anything in this world.

You will no doubt have life come at you when you least expect it, too.  A child who makes poor choices, a spouse that loses a job, a boss that throws you under the bus, serious illness,  tough decisions, the death of a very special loved one.  Life happens. Please let me encourage you to draw near to God now.  Make the choice to invest the time now to build a strong foundational relationship with Him so that when your journey gets cloudy, the chaos will be minimal and your perspective clear and peaceful.  If you’d like information on how to have that relationship, please feel free to e-mail me, or leave a comment. I’d be happy to share with you.

What is your perspective and what you have learned from the blow-out experiences in life?  Join the conversation….

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My Big Summer Blow Out – Part 1

Life Lessons - road of life

Remember when you were a kid and summer was ending, sending us all back to school?  Inevitability on the first day the teacher would assign a paper entitled, “What I did on my summer vacation.”  And we would write about going to summer camp, or trips to grandma’s farm, or family trips to Cedar Point or Myrtle Beach.  Well, this is my ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ paper. My hope is that this story encourages you to courageous leadership and to consider choices available to you.

Have you ever met someone who just thinks they are invincible? That’s me. It had never occurred to me that I might die.  Now, I’ve experienced death in my family.  I am well aware that no one lives forever.  But, I hadn’t thought about dying because I’ve been so busy living. I love my life.  But that changed on June 5th of this year.

It was a normal Wednesday morning. I headed off to work with my coffee and oatmeal in one hand, laptop bag in another.  But, instead of heading to my office in the suburbs, I drove off toward downtown Columbus for an important meeting.  During the commute, I ate my breakfast, drank my coffee, and put my make-up on; all things I normally do while driving to work.  But, that nagging stomach ache that had started just as I left the house soon turned into pain so severe that I decided to divert to the emergency room; which was a big deal because that downtown meeting was really important.  I couldn’t figure out was was happening as I hadn’t been sick, in fact I had worked in the yard and garden the night before. But the pain just persisted and worsened with each passing mile.

While calling my husband, and someone on my team to report I would miss that important meeting, I drove to the hospital and parked in the garage. But, I couldn’t even walk over to the hospital building and emergency room, because the pain in my stomach was so severe. So, I got back into my car and called 911. The emergency squad drove into the parking garage, located me, and took me over to the emergency room.  There I confided to the kind woman who checked me in that I would be mortified if they determined that the problem was constipation.  Soon enough, I would wish that was my problem.

As it turns out, calling the squad helped out because I was taken right into the ER, and didn’t have to wait to be assessed. Shortly after my arrival, my husband met me, and I had a CT scan.  And moments later there were three surgeons standing at the end of my hospital bed. That severe pain was the result of a ruptured colon. My colon had perforated, my abdomen was filling up with waste, and if not corrected promptly I would soon have sepsis infection; literally a deadly state of affairs.  My response to the lead surgeon, who as it turns out happened to be the pretty well respected in his field? “Shut up!” Yes, my brain just could not comprehend the message my ears were receiving. I had not been ill. I was healthy. What on earth was happening to me?

Let’s fast forward a little bit. How did I spend my summer vacation? Choices. I made a lot of choices.  Intentional decisions that directed my behavior. I chose to focus on the positives. Faced with a decision to either become self-absorbed or turn my thoughts toward others, I chose to develop a long prayer list including others recuperating from illness. While, to be frank, I started many a day in tears, the decision faced me everyday to push a little more and own my recuperation. It was difficult work. I spent the entire summer of 2013 making choices that would directly impact my future.

What did you do during summer 2013? I’m sure you made choices of some sort. Take a vacation or work through on the big project. Spend time with the family catching all of your son’s baseball games, or answer 10 more e-mails. Coach that associate who owned up to a mistake or procrastinate, leaving them feeling lost and uncertain. Speak up and answer with an honesty that comes only from the very core of your being, or sit back in silence.  Oh, you made choices this summer. The real question is how do you feel about your decisions? Did you intentionally choose in such a way as to positively impact your future; or that of someone else in your life?

I just want to get you thinking about choices.  We have the power to change the trajectory (a path, progression, or line of development) of our lives through our choices.  We’ll talk more about how choices changed not only my big summer blow out, but my outlook on life overall, in part 2.

I hope you’ll join the conversation.

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Lessons From Dad

Knot in a RopeSeveral weeks ago I took my dad to visit his good friend, Don. They’ve been friends for over 30 years.  They worked together at Battelle Memorial Institute. Their wives were friends. They went to church together. Don just celebrated his 90-something birthday.  My dad will be 85 in two weeks.  In January Don drove himself to the doctor’s office for a routine appointment, and while getting out of the car slipped and fell, breaking his hip. He’s been bed-fast ever since.  Now Don lives in a skilled nursing facility.  My dad has Alzheimer’s. During his career he was part of the team that developed the ceramic tiles used on the NASA Space Shuttle.  Using radiation he developed a way for the NASA astronauts to safely take food into space, without the worry of spoilage. Today, my dad is not able to write out a check.  These two men loved their families, loved the wives. They served in church together. They love one another. So, daddy wanted to go visit Don and off we went.

As we entered the room, I noticed that Don had a new roommate but I kept on going. Don was fast asleep. So, Dad and I pondered this, then I wrote Don a note and we determined we’d come back soon. As we left the room, Don’s roommate motioned to us. I quickly surmised that this gentleman was ill and not did not have all his faculties. I pulled on my dad’s sleeve, signaling to come with me.  But Daddy stopped.  He leaned in. He listened. The gentleman was offering to tell Don we’d been there. My dad stopped and engaged Don’s roommate in conversation, “What is it Bud? Do you need something?”  I was in a hurry, I didn’t see anything more than the time on my watch.

My dad cannot make coffee. Most days doesn’t remember his grandchildren’s names. Wants to go home, but home may be from 50 years ago. He no longer reads his Bible, a life-long habit now gone. He unplugs things and then gets frustrated that they don’t work. But, my dad remembers something he purposed in his heart many years ago.  He is a courageous leader.

Let’s look at Daniel, from the historical account of the same name found in the Bible. Daniel was one of many young Jewish people taken captive when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Israel (Judah) around 605 B.C.  Daniel actually ended up working in a very high position in the Babylonian empire through the reins of Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar, into the rise of the Medo-Persian empire.  He had a long career to say the least. But that’s not my point.  My point is this, when Daniel found himself outside of his comfort zone, through no fault or desire of his own, he had some choices to make.  Daniel chapter 1:8 tells us that he purposed in his heart. Some versions say, Daniel resolved. Other versions indicate that Daniel determined.   What did he determine?  Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not give in to the ways of this culture, because they were counter to the ways of God.  Daniel resolved, determined, purposed in his heart in such a way that his resolve was completely in tune with God’s will. Daniels resolve and God’s teachings were intertwined.

There is significance in determining something in your heart. Have you ever noticed that when you think you’re going to get fit, eat healthy, stop smoking, or get rid of a bad habit that it is almost impossible? Change, big change, takes a resolve and purpose that is deep and soulful.  It is a change of heart, so to speak; a decision that cannot be undone. A decision that is intertwined with a purpose bigger than just a thought or whim. That’s the type of decision that Daniel made. Purposeful. Intentional. Determined.  Resolute.  As he was suddenly thrust into a culture so foreign to him, Daniel made up his mind not to change the core of who he was, to please the popularity and whims of the culture. And, to be real, this decision could well of cost him his life.

In  21st century America, we don’t have to worry that an intentional decision not to dive into popular culture will cost us our life. But it could cost us relationships, job opportunities, social status, acceptance. In fact, I would venture to say that in America today you can count on some sort of cost should you intentionally choose to not give in to popular culture as a result of a resolve to stay true to the tenants and teachings of God.

The temperature in American culture currently is pretty uncomfortable for folks who intentionally choose to reject popular thought, and hold on to the tenants of God’s teaching. And it can be a struggle balancing an extension of the grace and love of Christ with the truth of His teachings. So often popular culture responds to us with words like judgmental, old-fashioned, outdated, and hateful.  Just how do we extend love and lean into engage this culture, without adopting it?

Long before I was born my dad purposed, resolved, determined in his heart to live a life that is an example of Christ on earth. This resolve is as strong as the strands of string intertwined and woven to make up a strong, hefty rope. This resolve is intertwined with God’s truth.  Daddy has walked this out in a consistent intentional way, accepting people of all walks of life just as he found them. He has long been a student of God’s Word, studying it, applying it, living it out at church, at home, at work. He has always had an easy laugh, a quick joke, engaged people in conversation in a real way, and cared deeply that everyone he meet see Christ’s love through him.  His cognitive abilities and memory are diminishing every day. This resolve, made oh so long ago has not left him, and in fact is as strong as I ever remember.  It is indeed an intertwining of his will with that of his Creator that runs so deep that even the mysterious power of Alzheimer’s cannot diminish its strength.

I’m still learning from my dad.  And, I’m learning from the Daniel model just how to walk out my faith in this culture in which I am a stranger. I never want to stop learning from daddy, a truly courageous leader, while I’m just beginning my journey with Daniel.  I so want to learn from him just how to effectively live out the resolve I have adopted, in an engaging way so that people see the love  and the truth of Christ in my life. And I invite you to join me as over the next few months we look at The Daniel Model of courageous leadership in 21st century America. Come on – go with me!

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When Leadership Fails

My friend Frank share some thoughtful insight in the demise of American icons like Wonder Bread and Twinkie. I am glad to see Frank lay blame at the feet of both the management and union leaders. However, and please know that I am no union fan, the employees of Hostess could have taken a lesson from the UAW. I can’t believe I am about to say anything good about this group, but let’s give credit where it is due. The UAW worked with Ford during very tough times. While GM took the gov bail out, Ford with support of its unionize workers knuckled down, made sound business decisions and has done very well. Labor cost, including benefits are the largest line on the balance sheet. Pensions went the way of the dinosaur years ago. This is a sad indication of greed for all involved, including employees who could have decertified that union at any time. Bye-Bye Twinkie.

I hope you enjoy this repost from Frank Ryan, this morning.

When Leadership Fails.

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A Life Lesson To Ponder

image

This past week I regressed, and then analyzed it. And I designed an experiment to measure the likelihood that my hypothesis was correct. I did math despite my statistically challenged brain. And, while it was difficult, I loved every minute! From this experience I was brought to tears of joy. Wierd? Strange? Well, hear me out and then make up your mind.

For several years I have had a desire to complete a certain professional certification. The thing is that God created me with some natural interests and passions. He instills in all of us an excitement for something. Photography, gardening, accounting, chemistry, caring for others, teaching, math, cooking, hunting, writing, painting, music, computers, speaking, running, swimming, law, something.  We are all created with a natural curiosity and interest in something. So why wouldn’t the same God who instilled that passion give us opportunities to pursue those things? Actually, He does.

I know this to be true with significant certainity. I know it because God’s promises and my own experiences line up.  Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that He will direct us to great opportunities to pursue our passions. It is an if-then statement. If we:

1)  Trust Him with all our heart
2)  Don’t try to force things on our own
3)  Acknowledge Him by making His ways our ways, in all things

Then

1) He will direct your path

God desires that His people be happy. Psalm 144:15 is where we find, ” Happy are the people with such blessings. Happy are the people whose God is Yahweh.” Jeremiah 29:11 is where He declare that His thoughts for us are for fabulous things!

Deuteronomy 28:1-14 is a fabulous promise from God to people who choose obedience to His ways above everything else. Here it is, from The Message version of The Bible:

“If you listen obediently to the Voice of God, your God, and heartily obey all his commandments that I command you today, God, your God, will place you on high, high above all the nations of the world. All these blessings will come down on you and spread out beyond you because you have responded to the Voice of God, your God:

God’s blessing inside the city,
God’s blessing in the country;
God’s blessing on your children,
    the crops of your land,
    the young of your livestock,
    the calves of your herds,
    the lambs of your flocks.
God’s blessing on your basket and bread bowl;
God’s blessing in your coming in,
God’s blessing in your going out.”

So, here’s what brought me to tears: God created me with interests and passions. I choose His ways because I love Him so much that I don’t want anything to hinder our relationship.  I love Him because I know what He has saved me from, provided for me, healed me from, brought me out of, ways He has changed me; the peace and hope that never leaves me because we know each other.  Because I love Him, I choose to live by His rules, and have experienced satisfaction 100% of the time. His ways work. Mine, not so much.  And I am here to testify that time and time again He has provided me with opportunites to pursue these passions in ways above and beyond anything I would have ever thought possible. 

It is the desire of my heart that others come to love God so much that they want to know His thoughts and ways. This happens only through relationship with His son, Christ Jesus. (John 14:6)  The reason I so strongly desire this is so that the others experience the same blessings, joys, provision, and peace that I have known in a tangible way time and time again.  (From the Thesaurus, experience is “to come to a knowledge of (something) by living through it”) 

You would tell me of a great vacation resort where you had a wonderful experience, and recommend I visit there. You would share with me the name of a realtor, with whom you had a fabulous experience. You would tell me about a doctor with whom you have had success. So why wouldn’t I tell you about a life changing experience that works 100%of the time: obedience to God for no other reason than love for Him, resulting in blessings, joy, and peace beyond my wildest dreams.

This week I had yet another of many experiences, that surpassed anything I could have imagined. It wasn’t the service provided, although they delivered with excellence. It was the innate knowing that I had accomplished something challenging only through God’s provision of the opportunity; because He loves me so much that He cares about my passions, interests, and desires. Why wouldn’t I love a God like that?!

Let me encourage you to trust Him, try His ways, and see what He does with your passions and dreams!

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The Real How-To for Leaders

LIFE!

Okay, okay! I know it has been way too long since I’d posted to this blog.  Life has been phenomenally hectic. Business travel has finally settled down. Football season is in full gear.  (My nephew is leading his high school division in rushing yards!) I am taking a class at The Ohio State University.  I’m leading strategic planning for a faith-based community family life center. And, let’s not forget this absolutely crazy political season.

I will be honest part of this craziness is my own fault as I always seem to take on more than I should. Then I am always a step behind.  But, somehow I deliver. I had better be careful, as this is not the optimal leadership mode of operation.  In the end, seems the last three months have been tremendously chaotic.  Can you relate?  So today I thought I’d ponder how to lead through chaos. And in my research, here is what I found.

How-to books and YouTube videos on how to succeed in leadership are everywhere, easily accessible  and are very popular.  What about leadership behaviors, where do folks find how-to guides that apply in chaotic times?  While, there are many sources, many mentors from which to choose, today, I’ll propose a simple how-to  from a proven source of wisdom.

Ready?  Here it is.  “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.” Phillippians 4:8 (HCSB)  http://bg4.me/g6hE3k

You may ask, how in the world do we concentrate on truth and honor and right and purity and loveliness and good reputations in this crazy, crazy world? Let’s try this:

1. Whatever is true: don’t be a person who believes 1 side of the story. Seek truth always.
2. Whatever is honorable: in everything decision we make, everything we think and say ask this, “Will this bring honor to God?” If no, there’s your decision.
3. Whatever is right: do the right thing.  Don’t do the right thing for this group or that group.  Just do the right thing. Seek wise counsel. Seek truth. Choose the right thing.
4. Whatever is pure: there must be a pattern here – what does the Word of God say about the issue? It’s all there and applicable to business and leading: language, business dinner behavior, team activity locations, movies, TV shows, book content – what does the Word say about purity and Holiness? Seek this and then choose the His path of purity.
5. Whatever is lovely: this is the hard one. Love one another. They will know us by our love. Love is the great differentiator. Love even and particularly folks who might be rascals. Still, lovely – loving – choosing love – unconditional love. This goes right along with #1 – choose to love in truth, and #2 – choosing to behave in love rather than stick-it-to-em so as to give honor to God, and #3 – the right thing to do is to love no matter what, and #4 – choosing love in words, attitude, deeds, thought – keeping pure thoughts of choosing to love someone despite the behavior of others. (Even your boss, or most challenging direct report)
6. Whatever is of good repute – what’s your reputation like? Hmmmm…..how will your words/deeds impact your reputation? Our reputation is the single most life impacting intangible thing we own.
7. Dwell on Excellence – So you think  your team deserves your excellence? Your boss?  Stakeholders? Stockholders? Family? Community? Then do everything as though God is standing right beside you. Oh – He is! He is deserving of excellence – don’t you agree?
8. Anything worthy of praise – Praise Him, Praise Him, Jesus our blessed Redeemer! Praise Him when you rise up, when you go through your day, when you lay down at night! Praise Him in the midst of trying to deliver a huge new strategy.  Praise Him as you deliver a difficult message. Praise Him as you make the difficult decisions.  Praise Him with each new opportunity. He is worthy of our praise all the time, in every situation. Choose this and see what a difference it makes in your life!  In the lives of others.
9. Dwell on these things – go back to #1

Join the conversation, if you’re pondering the how-to on these what-to-dos, post your thoughts and let’s get the discussion going.

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Hey! This Is A 2-Way Street!

Do the following phrases  mean anything to you?  Eight to five. Twenty-two and a half inches. Check your diagonals.   For some of you these terms may bring back memories of high scool marching band because you spent years listening to a squad leader yelling his or her expectations that you fit eight steps into each five yard increment, hitting the hash marks perfectly every time.  To accomplish this you had to make eight perfect 22.5 inch long strides, 100% of the time.  No more, no less. And the expectation was not that you hit the hash mark with your toes, or heel, but with the in-step of your foot perfectly placed smack dap on the middle of that thing! And rows and columns of marching musicians are kept perfetly straight by each individual constantly checking to ensure that the diagonal of which they are the center is perfectly aligned, left and right.  That squad leader had no trouble screaming these expectations during each practice and drill.  And if your experience was anything like mine, he didn’t have any trouble holding me accountable for delivery exact results to those expectations. He had a 15 ft. pole marked in 22.5″ intervals that he would lay on the field to measure whether or not I was steppeping with precsion.  He would follow me for a few bars and check my placement in the diagonal to check whether or not I was paying attention.  He held us accountable, because the section leader held him accountable.  And the band Director held that leader accountable. Failure to deliver excellence resulted in the dread words, “Salmons, take a lap!”  I hate running laps!

 This is where I learned two important life lessons. The first: multi-tasking with attention to detail, no mistakes, memorize music perfectly, learn the drill, deliver with precision, and know my position in relation to the moving, constantly changing organization. Life changing, charachter building stuff.  However, it is the second life lesson that is the key to differentiating myself as a leader among leaders. That is, I had to allow myself to be held accountable.  Many students dropped out of our championship marching band. It was too tough, they said.  But looking back, I am convinced that the accountability factor was much more difficult than the work of it all. Perhaps they were not willing to accept that accountability is a two-way street: holding others accountable and being willing to be held accountable.

 There are four keys to differentiating yourself as a leader among leaders, on this two-way street.

 1.)  Courageous leaders allow themselves to be held accountable.  They acknowledge and  accept that there are others in positions of authority over them.  It takes courage to play by the rules within the framework of organizational structure and respect the rules that come with it.  It is easy to spot the folks who operate against this grain. You know them.  Nothing is their fault. Not delivering results is always because someone or something got in their way. They lay blame easily. They throw their team under the bus. The goal was just unrealistic, they say.

 Let’s contrast with the courageous leader.  This individual understands their personal responsibility and owns it, no matter how great or lousy their particular leader is. They participate in the process. They respect the structure.  They remove barriers and deliver results. They ask for help, and they help others. They understand the principle of consequences and choose to participate in meaningful conversation along the way.

 2.)  Courageous leaders hold others accountable. This is ciritical to alignment with the greater   organization. These leaders hold those in authority over them accountable. They manage up, very well. They hold their peers accountable. They hold their direct reports accountable.  Do not confuse this activity with the venacular used so often today, where folks complain they’re being judged.  Holding folks accountable is not being judgmental.  It is courageous committment.

 3.)  Courageous leaders fully understand the consequences for not holding others accountable.  They realize that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and therefore consequences; whether intended or unintentional. Positive results and rewards are positive consequences. However, the outcome for choosing not to hold folks accountable is never good.  In the book, How Did That Happen, Holding People Accountable for Results the Positive, Principled Way authors Roger Connors and Tom Smith provide solid advice results-getting action for people leaders who find themselves scratching their heads when expectations are not met.  In my opinion, devoid of accountability, leadership is reduced to process management. Excellent leaders understand that the consequences are measured in key performance indicators, credibility, opportunity cost, revenue, quality, and satisfaction.  So, they choose to build accountability into their management routines, with a defined cadence.

 4.)  Courageous leaders comprehend the consequences for not allowing others to hold them accountable.  It doesn’t matter if it is the Board of Directors, stock holders, your direct manager, your direct reports, your peers, your customers, your spiritual leader, or the police officer pulling you over for a traffic violation.  We all have people in positions of authority over us.  Being willing to be held accountable separates the cream from the milk; the professionals from the wanna-be’s.  It is a choice.  And frankly, it is freeing.  Choosing accountability offers opportunity for development, challenges our capability, and provides real difference-making work.  Choosing accountability is character building. It is the stuff integrity is made of.  It is a great differentiator. 

 Failure to allow yourself to be held accountable has significant consequences, and courageous leaders know that.  Consequences such as loss of credibility, absence of self-awareness, loss of integrity, and loss of good reputation. The opportunity cost is huge. 

 There is a Biblical example we can take from 2 Kings chapter 5.  Elisha had just healed the King of Aram of leprosy, and declined any payment for it.  However, Elisha’s employee, Gehazi, decided he was going to collect the compensation offered for himself, despite Elisha’s explicit directive not to accept payment for the work.  However, Gehazi refused to be held accountable to Elisha.  He took action based on his own thoughts, his own desires, without regard for the consequences.  The result was that Gehazi took on the leprosy previously apparent on the King.

Now, we don’t see leprosy evident in 21st century America, as a physical disease.  However, we do see it prevalent in our culture, as a metaphor for folks who refuse to allow themselves to be held accountable.  It can manifest as the leprosy of lost credibility, lost reputation, lost opportunity for advancement, or lost desirability as a valued business partner.  We all know folks like this who have made decisions or taken action outside of their accountability circle and today are just treading water in our workplaces.

 I’d much rather place myself in a position of being accountable and hold others accountable for the goals we’ve signed up for, than experience the consequences. Wouldn’t you? Weigh in – what experiences or thoughts do you have about accountability in 21st century American business?

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Orange Barrels in Leadership

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Orange barrels.  I am pretty confident that all I have to do is mention orange barrels and everyone who reads this will understand what I mean.  Road blocks. Traffic snarling confusion.  Sit and go nowhere road construction.  In America the orange barrel is the symbol for barriers and roadblocks, in the name of progress.  A few years ago motorists in Ohio joked that the orange barrel was the State flower. They are just simply everywhere.  Yesterday, while my husband and I were travelling through Virginia, we had the privilege of getting behind a truck full of orange barrels.  I couldn’t help but wonder to what highway they were headed, and how they would be used to block or redirect traffic.  I could only pray that they weren’t going to start putting them down right in front of us!

These tools used in road construction are a great visual representation of leadership in 21st century business.  Leaders navigate all types of barriers, roadblocks, redirection, and changes in strategy.  It is par of the course in this web-based, global, real-time, 21st century market place.   Many folks successfully manage through or around these unforeseen obstacles.  Leaders successfully guide their teams through the unforeseen.  But, what about courageouse leaders?  What attributes differentiate this higher level of leadership from the pack?  There are specific choices and believe it or not orange barrels make a great metaphor as we seek to apply leadership capabilities that result in market advantages for our organizations.

1.     Courageous leadership is a barrier-free zone. When I led the HR Operations group for the State of Ohio, I made a sign and posted on my door that said, with one symbol, that my office was a barrier-free zone.  In my office direct reports and extended teams could come and talk about the problems they were encountering as they endeavored to deliver services.  This was the place they could come and not encounter additional barriers.  Never would they hear me say, “We can’t do that.”  Instead this was a safe place for brain storming new ideas, innovating, problem solving, a bit of designed tension, and maybe even a little whining.  An amazing thing happened in a short period of time.  Not only did more folks drive through problems to solutions, but soon their work space became a barrier-free zone, too.  It was, as many a manager told me, a culture shift; and welcomed.

2.    Courageous leaders remove barriers. Pretty often this involves looking out ahead, identifying barriers and actively removing them for our teams.  Other times someone may come to us with a barrier that they just cannot get through.  A goal or objective is going to be missed if this barrier remains in place.  They are hitting roadblocks, smacking up against brick walls, and they need you to take action, do something so that things can get going again.  What folks do not need is to hear the sound of the bus engine starting.  Or perhaps they have already been thrown under the bus and need you to help them crawl out from underneath.  Again, at the State of Ohio we had a compliance issue and at every turn the Manager in charge hit a barrier.  This heavily bueraucratic environment continually met the initiative with, “That cannot be done”.  So, I used my position (a rare thing for me) and called a meeting with all of the stakeholders from muliple State agencies, getting everyone at the table at one time. (This is not a common practice in the public arena.)  Using the language of urgency and presenting the burning platform, even with some  fussing and discussing we were able to finally able to gain cooperation, remove the barriers, and move the project foward.  Do not underestimate the power of your folks observing your willingness and capability in building collaboration as you model couragous leadership through chaos.  As you choose to consistently remove one barrier after another you will build a trust that will result in duplication by others following your lead.

3.     Just keep driving.  Have you ever noticed, as you drive through the orange barrel construction zone, that you just have to keep driving.  If you allow yourself to get flustered, things can get confusing amid the chaos of the redirection to a new traffic pattern.  The same thing applies in courageous leadership.  Just keep driving through chaos.  Keep your eyes on the objective at hand.  Do not allow yourself to be confused.  As you lead your organization through obstacles, continue on course.   Recently I was heading a project for a large organization, with multiple stakeholders and perspectives.  Some of the project participants work in cultures fraught with confusion and chaos.  Daily they face gossip, conflict, and ladder climbing misdirection.  Everyday there was swirl.  I just refused to be moved off the project plan.  I stayed inside the defined scope of work, put my head down and moved on.  To my amazement, folks followed me.  Work was completed and delivered.  The initiatve moved forward, toward the original goal.

This brings me to the Biblical model.  Nehemiah is a historical figure from Israel who encountered obstacles and barriers throughout his project.  He did not give confusion makers the time of day.  In fact in Nehemiah 6:8 we hear him report that he finally just told the head instigator, ‘What you’re saying is not only untrue, but you are inventing it in your own mind!’  We also see in this diary provided to us by Nehemiah, that he was concerned that his workforce would become discouraged by these nay-sayers.  What was his response?  He prayed, asking God to strength their hands. In other words, he asked God to prosper the work he and his team were doing.  Courageous leaders pray for their work, for the folks on their teams. It is not only okay to do this, but is found in one model after another throughout the Bible; Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, Esther, David, Paul, Peter, and of course Jesus.  James 5:16 – 18 reminds us of the miracluous things that can happen when everyday people pray about their circumstances.

Join the conversation, by sharing.  What barrier removing leadership attributes have you found to be beneficial to the work in which your teams are involved?

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GEMBA!

My mother was a pioneer in LEAN business methodologies. (Learn, examine, analyze, and notate.) Oh, she never had any training in LEAN tool application but she was an expert in learning what I was doing, examining how well I had completed a chore, analyzing whether or not I needed to do it all over, and notating my mistakes. Mom was a pioneer. And, how did she know how things were going? Gemba! My mother practiced gemba. She observed me, where the work was occurring.

Gemba is the Japanese term for actual place, meaning where the value is. The place where value is made. Where the work happens. You might think of it as the place where billable work occurs. In manufacturing this is the shop floor. In a call center, it is the place where folks are actually on the phone. In a hospital, the value is where patient contact is made. This concept can be applied to any environment. Using my childhood example, the value was in getting the dishes done right the first time. (My mother did not have any qualms about making me do it over to get it right.)

Officially, what is gemba? It is to go where the value is. The Lean Lexicon tells us, “The term [gemba] often is used to stress that real improvement requires a shop-floor focus based on direct observation of current conditions where work is done. For example, standardized work for a machine operator cannot be written at a desk in the engineering office, but must be defined and revised on the gemba.” http://www.lean.org/Bookstore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedProductID=83
Gemba is also a verb. For people leaders to gemba is to intentionally get up from their desk chair and go to observe the work being completed. This is similar to the management by walking around premise, from years ago. (MBWA) However, the difference is in engagement of the employees performing the value-added work. In fact, employee engagement is key to gemba.

In this blog we seek to help readers differentiate themselves as courageous leaders when compared to your run of the mill everyday leader or manager. This practice of intentionally building gemba into your management routine with a regular cadence is another tool that will set you apart. But, make no mistake gemba takes courage. Observing the current conditions of the work being done requires a strong stomach because it also requires interaction with the folks performing the value-added work, and most likely some sort of following action. Here are some guidelines on how to employ gemba in your leader standard work.

1. Intentionally build time into your calendar to go to where the value is on a regular basis. Some companies subscribe to a LEAN business environment such that they employ Standard Work as a tool to drive rigor in work routines. Leader Standard Work is a tool that helps managers build discipline into a certain percentage of their time, removing variation from their calendar to some extent. Regardless of whether or not you choose to apply such a tool, thinking in terms of building standard tasks into part of your day is the key. And going to where the work is completed is a critical part of that regular schedule.

For leaders with remote, or multiple sites, visiting in person cannot be substituted with telephone calls or video conferences. You have to actually go visit the site. Walk around. Talk with employees. Ask questions. Answer questions. Observe behaviors. Examine outcomes. Problem solve with folks. Be available. Watch. Listen. Remove barriers for the employees, so they can accomplish their goals. Provide feedback. Be present.

2. Engage the employees you encounter as you gemba. The difference between the old philosophy of management by walking around and gemba is employee engagement. The gemba way is that leaders remove barriers and provide resources necessary so that employees can achieve their goals. Provide an atmosphere that encourages employee engagement in analyzing problems and creating sustainable solutions. This approach puts the capability for problem solving with the folks that do the work every day and are involved most closely. Enable this capability. Trust them to deliver on this expectation.

The Pauline letters of the Bible are an excellent example of gemba. The Apostle Paul visited all of his sites, so to speak, and observed. He watched, listened, built capabilities, enabled folks to remain engaged, and provided an atmosphere for growth. And after each gemba he provided feedback to leaders in writing; a letter. Sometimes the observations led to praise and repeatability. Sometimes the result was continuous improvement and corrective action. Always the goal of gemba, or going to where the value-added work is actually being done, is to observe and provide meaningful involvement so as to drive improvement.

How’s your courageous leadership style? Do you gemba?

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