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10 Leadership Lessons from JFK

10 Leadership Lessons from JFK

John F. Kennedy remains a popular president. He was one of those rare presidents who became more popular during his time in office. In the last Gallup poll before his assassination, Kennedy’s approval rating stood at 70 percent!

Some pundits have dismissed Kennedy as “all profile and no courage.” But a closer look reveals that behind the charisma, smile and bold rhetoric, lay courage aplenty, plus vision and substance.

  • Craft a compelling vision. By 1960, a new generation of “Baby Boomers” was coming of age. What was to be their challenge? In his Inaugural Address, Kennedy gave them one: “Now the trumpet summons us again-not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation-a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that effort?” He dared young Americans to take on the status quo and to push themselves to the limit.
  • 'JFK and the Unspeakable' by James W Douglass (ISBN 1439193886) Face adversity with a smile. John F. Kennedy was born with an unstable back, which he aggravated further in sports and in the PT-109 incident. Also, he nearly died of scarlet fever as an infant, was mistakenly diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, developed Addison’s Disease, which could be controlled only with painful cortisone treatments, suffered from allergies, bad eyesight, slight deafness in one ear, and much else besides. Born into a wealthy family, yet cursed with a sickly body, Kennedy could have given in to self-pity and sat on the sidelines. He refused, facing his maladies with a smile and joke. He was thus well-prepared to deal with the frustrations of political life.
  • Don’t follow the crowd. John F. Kennedy set his own course in life, always wary of being seen as anybody’s “man.” As a young man, he spent much time in Europe watching his father make blunder after blunder as U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, and young Kennedy resolved not to repeat them. He rejected his father’s crabbed isolationism in favor of a robust internationalism personified by Kennedy’s hero, Winston Churchill. He and his brother Bobby investigated corruption in U.S. labor unions, particularly the Teamsters. He also took on the American Legion, the House Democratic leadership, the Pentagon top brass.
  • Educate yourself. A passion for self-education might be one of the most reliable markers of leadership: Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan were mostly self-taught. Jack Kennedy became a reader during his childhood illnesses as he lay flat on his back in hospitals. History, biography, and historical fiction, such as Churchill’s History of the First World War and King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, were among his favorites. Before becoming president, Kennedy traveled the globe, visiting places few Americans had ever been, such as Vietnam. The contrast he witnessed between pre-war and post-war Berlin demonstrated vividly the possible consequences of world war, especially if it became nuclear.
  • 'Churchill: The Power of Words' by Winston Churchill (ISBN 0306821974) Learn to communicate. Kennedy was a poor public speaker at the start of his career. He spoke too fast, failed to pause for audience reaction, tended to speak from the larynx rather than the diaphragm and so wore out his voice quickly. He spoke with a pronounced regional accent. He dealt with this by keeping his talks short, and leaving time for questions. But he worked hard to improve himself, hiring voice coaches and a speechwriter, Theodore C. Sorensen, who helped him craft memorable phrases and imagery. Kennedy was also one of the first politicians to receive media training. His live press conferences became a White House tradition. He cultivated reporters who wrote favorable stories about him and his family and declined to write about his affairs and illnesses. He used his communication skills to rally the nation to fight the Cold War, soothe its fears, inspire unity, and achieve its highest aspirations.
  • Don’t let crises manage you. Perhaps the most important quality a leader can possess is the ability to manage a crisis without letting the crisis manage the leader. Kennedy projected a calm confidence that communicated to those around him and to the country. For example, during the Cuban missile crisis (October 1962), Kennedy remained calm and refused to retaliate. To prevent future miscommunications, Kennedy and Khrushchev agreed to establish a “hotline” between the White House and Kremlin.
  • Build a team and find your “Bobby.” No one gets to the top alone. To reach and hold a major leadership position, you need to build a team. Kennedy learned early how to get along with people from all walks of life. He could charm European aristocrats as well as bell hops and cab drivers with equal felicity. His intensity and purpose proved irresistible, and most people who worked for him remained devoted to him (no member of the Kennedy circle ever wrote even a remotely hostile memoir.) When Jack’s first Senate campaign manager proved incompetent, he turned to his brother Bobby, who impressed Jack with his organizational abilities. Bobby took charge, firing those who failed to perform and promoting those who showed drive and determination. He became indispensable to his brother, who defied the charges of nepotism to name him attorney general. Everyone at the top needs someone whose advice he can trust implicitly.
  • Add a touch of showmanship. When Kennedy became president, the presidential aircraft was painted in an orange-white-and-black paint scheme with the phrase “Military Air Transport Command” stenciled on the side. For the New Frontier, this simply wouldn’t do. So Kennedy called in Raymond Loewy, a great industrial designer. Loewy came up with the pale blue and white paint scheme and the words “United States of America” stenciled on the fuselage. Kennedy also discovered the aircraft had a codename: Air Force One. That was too good a name to keep secret, and Kennedy began using it publicly.
  • 'Profiles in Courage' by John F Kennedy (ISBN 0060854936) Learn from mistakes. When Cuban exiles invaded that country with U.S. support early in his administration in an effort to overthrow Fidel Castro, the effort collapsed ignominiously. Kennedy did not blame the previous administration, whose idea it was. Instead, he accepted full responsibility, saying, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Still, there were consequences. The director and deputy director of the CIA were both sacked. The Joint Chiefs of Staff were required to give their opinions to him in writing. Never again would Kennedy simply trust anyone’s word. Instead, he questioned his advisers to ensure all options were explored.
  • Do what’s right. Courage is a leitmotif running through Kennedy’s life. He possessed enormous physical courage, playing rough sports like football and starring on the Harvard swimming team despite his fragile frame. Before the United States entered World War II in 1941, Jack enlisted in the navy. After the PT-109 was sunk by a Japanese destroyer, he joked with his men to keep their spirits up. His best-known book is called Profiles in Courage, which chronicles the stories of United States senators who risked their careers by supporting unpopular causes.

When African-Americans were agitating for their civil rights, Kennedy at first hesitated to embrace their cause, fearing it would damage him politically. But on June 11, 1963, he did so wholeheartedly. Kennedy was the first president to call for equal rights for all Americans. And his words could not be taken back once he had spoken them. In addition to his physical courage, he had inner courage as well.

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Ten Ways to Lead With Honor

  • Ten Ways to Lead With Honor Serve Others. Whatever you do, should benefit others. This includes every product you help make, every service you help provide and every decision you make that impacts others. Not surprisingly, leaders are only leaders if they are followed. Effective and successful leadership depends on a leader’s capacity to inspire, influence, and mobilize followers toward their personal and their organization’s goals.
  • Lead with Integrity. Never… ever… lie, cheat or embezzle. All leaders, when faced with unsatisfactory poll numbers, comfort themselves with the idea that unpopularity is a measure of their boldness. Acting with integrity and moral purpose is not accomplished merely by adhering to a prescribed system of checks and balances; it’s a far more involved process of honoring personal and organizational values while allowing for the far-reaching consequences and implications of actions.
  • Show Respect to Everyone. Everyone desires admiration. Everyone. In spite of of your position or power, ensure you show everyone respect. President Theodore Roosevelt made a reputation of caring for everyone he met. He knew all the White House staff by name and made it a point to make them feel important.
  • 'Leading with Honor' by Lee Ellis (ISBN 098387932X) Agree to Disagree… Without Being Unlikable. We all disagree. As leaders we all have our own thoughts and agendas. If you disagree with someone, just remember to do it agreeably. Our politicians should take note of this one. To act otherwise is childish. But the greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier.
  • Take All Things to Account, Before Making a Decision. As leaders, we often have conflicting roles and responsibilities. We must lead organizations, provide value to stakeholders or the public, yet also care for our employees and staff. You cannot take a position that only values one party. As a leader, you must learn to take all things into account, and make balanced decisions.
  • Listen More. Talk Less. Leaders can only make good decisions, if they understand what is going around them. The last time I looked, you mouth isn’t necessary for comprehension, but you ears certainly are. Listening is the oldest, the most used, and the most important element of interpersonal communication. Listening is a skill. It can be improved through training and practice, just as can reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Reward and Discipline as Necessary. Ensure that those who deserve to be rewarded are recognized and that those that are poor performers get help. The best managers have an internal locus of control—they believe they can mend whatever’s wrong.
  • 'West Point Leadership Lessons' by Scott Snair (ISBN 140220597X) Treat Everyone Fairly. Again, everyone wants to be treated fairly. You can make a profit or get a promotion, while not taking advantage of someone else. Treating people with respect and dealing with everyone in a fair-minded and open matter are just two indispensable requirements for success as a manager.
  • Become an Expert at What You Do. You cannot lead, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Whatever you do, become the best at it. Life is too brief for you to make a bunch of mistakes or to accumulate enough experiences and learn from them; the true cost of your mistakes and experiences is your time—your life.
  • Lead a Balanced Life. We cannot lead, if we are unbalanced. Ensure that your family, spiritual and personal lives don’t take a back seat to your career. Incorporate the fact that neither you nor your job and/or life will ever be perfect.
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Change Leadership: Many Start but Few Finish Well

Organizational Change Management Strategies

Planning and Execution of Change

Most organizations have a leadership deficit because they ignore leadership potential and do not offer training or relevant role models.

When time is restrained and rewards are high, the most effective leaders count on their ranks to do what they do best. These leaders galvanize people to use their proficiency to solve problems and achieve goals.

Great leaders get others to move in a direction that is sensible for themselves, the business, and community. Today, we need more leaders who can help groups come up with visions that are not self-serving—visions that serve the entire enterprise.

Historically, great leaders are self-confident people who have extraordinary capacity to make decisions when others crumble. They are confident, but not arrogant. In fact, great leaders are often described as having humility and vulnerability. I am often struck by the extraordinary arrogance of some leaders—an arrogance that says, “I’m above the game. I am smart and accomplished. Therefore, I know what is best, yet I have to put up with stupid rules set by small-minded people. It’s only natural that I maneuver around those rules.” You do not find that same arrogance in great leaders.

For change to be good, it has to be in a positive direction. Initial stages of transformation are usually positive, but the change effort is perverted as it becomes successful and as executives become more arrogant. Change is not the issue; arrogance is. As some leaders start running into problems, in their arrogance they say, “No problem. We can handle all this. We can cut corners and make our own rules.”

Companies need to be able to exercise sound leadership when responding to a crisis. But what if you didn’t need to be eager to execute this style of strategic leadership?

'Organization Change Theory and Practice' by Warner Burke (ISBN 1506357997) In organizations with a strong brand, if you do not have senior leaders who are humble and vigilant, you develop an arrogant culture. The single biggest challenge in managing change is not strategy, structure, or culture, but just getting people to change their behavior. One reason why that is so challenging is that we rely on giving logical reasons for change but fail to present people an emotionally compelling case. People change their behavior only when they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings.

You need something visual that produces the emotions that motivate people to move toward the vision. Great leaders tell stories that create pictures in our minds and have emotional impact. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, not a strategy or goal, and he shoved us his dream, his picture of the future. People change when they see something visual (the vision) that touches their feelings, challenges their thinking, and incites actions. People may realize the need for change, but not do anything differently because they lack the passion to break out of routines or habit patterns. The momentum of “how we’ve done things” tends to make our future look like our past.

Principles and Theories of Organizational Change

Overcoming complacency—so vital at the start of change initiatives—often requires a bit of surprise, something that grabs attention at an emotional and intellectual level. You need to surprise people and disrupt their view that everything is perfect. Successful change leaders show people what the problems are and how to resolve the problems. They use images that people can see, hear, or touch. This may mean showing a video of an angry customer rather than a report of a customer survey. Change leaders make their points in ways that are emotionally engaging and compelling. They tell and retell vivid stories. You do not have to spend a million dollars and six months to prepare for a change effort. You do have to touch people emotionally.

The ability to move people emotionally is a special gift. Few of us are born with it, but we can learn it. In writing The Heart of Change, we found many people who had learned this skill. Some did not look like leaders, but somewhere along the way, they learned to speak to people’s feelings. One story involves people who realized that they had to start changing their own behavior. Many managers skip this part and start with, “Here’s how you need to change” because it is easier to tell other people that they are acting incorrectly than to admit that you are not perfect. Executives, as they become more successful, get less feedback or information showing how they are a part of the problem. Many of them have never learned the principle, always start with yourself first—and then go from there. It is a great rule of thumb.

Personal example is a powerful method of influence that can affect feelings and facilitate change. However, when leaders do not examine their own actions, they might give the wrong example, something that is inconsistent with what they are saying to people. People pay attention to deeds more than words.

All of us, deep in our hearts, want to be heroes, at least to our children or team members. Today we need heroes at every level. More people need to step up and provide change leadership. Most of this leadership will be modest. It might be a young sales rep who sees a new business opportunity or puts together a vivid demonstration of a problem. The sum of all these heroic actions—large and small—enables organizations to change in big ways.

Change Leadership: Many Start but Few Finish Well

Organizational Change Management Strategies

People need more positive examples of what works. In stories of what works, I never find a theme of self-preservation. Change leaders are not self-centered people. When focused only on yourself, you will not stick your neck out, lead the team to new glory, or create a shared win. You need a larger vision beyond saving your own skin. Several change proposals seem to presume that people will begin to shift their behaviors once formal elements like commands and encouragements get underway. People who work together on cross-functional teams will commence cooperating because the lines on the chart show they are intended to do so. Managers will become clear communicators because they have a mandate to deliver a message about the new strategy.

If you are frustrated and powerful, you tend to fall back on fear to motivate people. You say, “I know the right thing to do here, and you’ll either do it or be fired.” While using fear may be natural, it is usually ineffective. The only lesson your people learn is that you have power, and they need to fear being fired. They learn nothing about the enterprise, its challenges, and the need to do things differently. Fearful people do not listen carefully to customers. They hide or come up with schemes to protect themselves. Fear cannot drive transformation. However, fear may be used effectively as a surprise element. It is the “hit them upside the head with a board” approach to get attention. Then you have to quickly convert it into something positive or you get the drawbacks of fear.

Even if people are motivated to change, they are often blocked by a feeling or belief that they cannot change. Pessimism creates an emotional block to change. Effective change leaders use inspirational stories to bring out the natural optimism in everybody. They know how to inspire confidence, even in tough circumstances where people are depressed. They paint a hopeful picture in such a credible way that it soothes people and lead them to get out of the trenches to do something.

Managing Organizational Change

The change has to seep into the culture. The new behavior must maintain itself for a few weeks and show that it works. Then, the culture must support the change. For the new way of doing things to take hold, one change agent or leader cannot support it all. People need to see the right behavior producing the right results. Too often leaders assume that once they start the change effort, they are done. They must make it part of the culture; otherwise, when they leave, the old way creeps back in.

'Change Leader Learning to Do What Matters Most' by Michael Fullan (ISBN 0470582138) How can people stay focused long enough to create short-term wins and change the culture? This is where vision helps. If you have clarity in your mind and heartfelt commitment to a vision, you stay focused. Again, the vision has to be something you can see clearly—not some blur or list of unrelated items. So many strategies and statements of values, visions, and goals boil down to lists of unrelated items, making it hard to stay focused. Your focus bounces from one item to another because you lack a framework to guide you. You might let something else that is not on the list blow over you and push you in another direction.

You might carefully select two areas where you can achieve short-term successes and have one team focus on one item and another team focus on the other. People need to see that the changes are not oddball ideas being pushed by the boss. They need to see short-term wins that validate the change vision. If the win is clear, visible, and valuable to people, then they will likely make change happen.

To use this emotive energy, leaders must look for the constituents of the culture that are affiliated to the change, bring them to the foreground, and fascinate the attention of the people who will be affected by the change.

Communicating strategic intent empowers leaders to determine direction and noticeably defined goals. Leaders renounce from nit-picking the specific execution of the intent, but still hold their team members or subordinates answerable for change management.

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Characteristics of Transformational and Emergent Leadership

What Constitutes Transformational Leadership

'The Difference When Good Enough Isn't Enough' by Subir Chowdhury (ISBN 0451496213) Transformational leaders are those who bring order to guiding change. They must not only convey a compelling vision and be sensitive and responsive to the needs of their constituents but also behave as role models who walk the talk. These leaders typically are officially designated and have the formal position, authority, and backing. They drive change, establish the vision, and mobilize the troops.

  • Cause / create change
  • Freeze, unfreeze, refreeze
  • Create order from chaos
  • Role model—“walk the talk”
  • Create something different by changing the one
  • Broad issues (visions, paradigms)
  • Space for either/or
  • Transcend and include; refocus
  • Drive change

What Constitutes Emergent Leadership

'Personal Leadership' by Barbara Schaetti (ISBN 0979716705) Emergent leaders, on the other hand, may not be officially sanctioned and are more on the chaos side. They may, in fact, be part of what Ralph Stacy terms the shadow organization—interactions among members of a legitimate system that fall outside that legitimate system. As people operate in the shadow system, leadership roles emerge. The roles then shift based on contributions people make and how they make that contribution known.

  • Navigate in a context of change
  • Go with the flow
  • Live between order and chaos
  • Partner—“walk the talk”
  • Create something different by combining the many
  • Human / existential issues
  • Space for both / and
  • Transcend and include; embrace
  • Allow change to unfold (facilitate / nurture)
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Top Performance from the Bottom Up

Top Performance from the Bottom Up

We can best help people improve performance not by trying to solve their problems for them but by helping them learn to solve their own problems.

We can’t approach performance improvement from a reactive and fragmented stance. Rather than reacting to each isolated performance problem, the key is making performance improvement integral to the way people manage their work. After all, steering clear of problems, identifying problems early, and resolving them so they do not occur again is what managing work is about. All people are responsible for managing their own work; some are responsible for managing work within a team or a function, others for managing across functions, and still others for managing entire firms.

Managing work consists of three components:

  1. setting goals;
  2. letting work happen and comparing work completed against goals; and
  3. deciding whether to change how the goals are being pursued.

When these things are done well, individuals and organizations almost always meet goals. But, these three things are rarely done well. Few managers consistently prevent costly performance problems or ensure that goals are achieved.

'The Performance Pipeline' by Stephen Drotter (ISBN 0470877286) Performance consulting is simply coaching people on setting goals, letting the work happen, comparing results to the goals, and then deciding how to proceed. Most emergencies are simply breakdowns in one or more of these three areas of management. The solution to performance problems is always to help the person, team, or organization manage itself more effectively.

When people learn new behaviors, not only will they resolve the current emergency, but they will know how to address or avoid the next emergency.

Think of these levels of managing work as layers of an onion.

  • The outer layer is like the upper tier where organizational goals are set and monitored. These goals involve overall direction and objectives, and decisions are large in scope.
  • Below that layer is the cross-functional (or process and project) layer. Goals at this layer cover a smaller scope but must align with organizational goals. They include things such as what products and services will be available when, and which internal processes currently need the most attention. Goals are reviewed and revised a little more frequently than at the higher layer.
  • A third layer is where individual and group goals are set and monitored. The same basic practices for helping individuals manage 1heir work apply to helping executives manage their work. Since the magnitude of distractions and decisions are much greater at the executive level, practice this approach at the lower levels.

Self-Sustaining Performance

'Fearless Leadership' by Carey Lohrenz (ISBN 1626341133) The desired end result is a selfsustaining performance system (SPS) a systemic approach that provides an immediate solution while leveraging the performance perspective for sustainable long-term success. The SPS always assumes that the performers are missing one or more of the three conditions that guarantee successful performance. Those conditions are:

  • Clear performance expectations: Each performer must know exactly what he or she is expected to do and how well, and must commit to it.
  • Frequent, self-monitored feedback: Each performer must know, at any given point, whether he or she is meeting performance expectations.
  • Control of resources: Each performer must know that, if he or she provides warning that performance is not meeting expectations, management will either help the performer succeed or change the expectation.

The three conditions summarize all the factors that affect performance in the order they should be addressed. When all three conditions are in place, we have a performance system. When most members are operating in an effective performance system most of the time, we have a SPS.

Just implementing the first two conditions usually results in productivity increases of 30 percent or more within a very short time.

The third condition, control of resources, ensures that productivity increases can be sustained. It also ensures that manager and performers have a stake in whatever performance improvements are implemented. Whether the need is for better tools or better organization, they are more likely to turn the required change into improved performance. And because they have frequent self-monitored feedback, they will be the first to know if their performance is improving.

By implementing a SPS, you help people steer clear of most problems, immediately identify problems when they do arise, and resolve those problems so that they do not reoccur.

A successful SPS means performers are consistently successful and raise the bar on their own performance. Instead of waiting for performance to get worse, they prevent problems and coordinate work effectively.

Contributing to systemic improvement as opposed to everyone tweaking their isolated functions, must be the expectation for every member.

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Marissa Mayer’s Tardiness at Google

'Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo' by Nicholas Carlson (ISBN 1455556610) Tardiness has a detrimental effect on the organization. Tardiness is a display of disrespect. Establishing ground rules, documenting violations, using an official discipline process and identifying larger workplace issues can go a long way toward correcting issues with executive tardiness.

Per this noteworthy anecdote from Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo by Nicholas Carlson:

The other factor compounding Mayer’s coldness was that she had the awful habit of being late, all the time.

Every Monday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. California time, Mayer’s staff would gather for a three-hour meeting with the boss. Mayer demanded all of her staff across the world join the call, so executives from New York, where it was 6:00 p.m., and Europe, where it was 11:00 p.m. or later, would dial in, too. Inevitably, Mayer would show up at least forty-five minutes late. Some calls started so late that Yahoo’s executives in Europe didn’t hang up till after 3:00 a.m. their time. Mayer had approximately two dozen people reporting to her during her first year at Yahoo. In theory, she was keeping up with each of them in a regularly scheduled weekly meeting. In practice, she would go weeks without talking to people because she was so busy.

For a while, each of those two dozen people thought that Mayer was just picking on them, individually. The people who had been at Yahoo before Mayer joined assumed that this meant she was going to fire them soon. The people Mayer had hired into the company, including HR boss Jackie Reses and CMO Kathy Savitt, were even more puzzled. Why had they been hired only to be ignored?

But then, during one of those long waiting periods after 3: 00 p.m. on a Monday, a conversation unfurled that revealed all. Making small talk, one executive said to another: “Did she cancel one of your one-on-ones again?”

A third jumped in: “Oh my God, she does that to you, too?” It turned out that everyone in the room and on the call had been canceled on by Mayer, frequently.

Mayer was also constantly late to product reviews. The meeting would be scheduled for 2:00 p.m., and around 2:15 p.m., Mayer’s assistant, Trish Crawley, would come out and say, “Really sorry. She’s going to be late. We’re not sure when she’ll get here.” Then it would 3:00 p.m. and then 4:00 p.m., and then Crawley would come out and say the meeting was canceled.

The standard joke was that if you had a review with Mayer, you should expect not to know when it was going to be and that it would change at the last minute. It was annoying for people who worked in Sunnyvale. It was brutal for remote teams in India and Europe.

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Seven Innovation Rules for Microproducts & Low-Cost Design

  • Seven Innovation Rules for Microproducts & Low-Cost Design Understand the problem your product needs to solve. You can do this by bringing customers into the development process. Don’t know what it is like living without electricity? Talk to people who do.
  • Make it uber-cheap. Brands like Louis Vuitton and Apple add to a product’s price tag. Microproduct designers do the opposite. If it’s not affordable for somebody living on a few dollars a day, it’s not going to fly.
  • Shrink it down, make it small, and divide it by 600. Small units keep a product cheap, manageable, and easy to transport and distribute. Choose materials accordingly.
  • High tech is OK. Since the 1970s, a movement championing “appropriate technology” for developing countries has shunned high tech. However, it’s come so far that it’s no longer expensive. Modern information technology is a pillar of the micro revolution.
  • Combine ideas. Learn to think in an interdisciplinary way. Harness sustainable energy to new payment systems, education to unconventional design methods. Microproducts bring together innovations in different areas.
  • Think big. Scale up as fast as you can. How can you help millions of people access this product or service quickly? How will you distribute it?
  • Perfect it. Make prototypes and test them before rushing your product to market. It might be small and cheap, but that does not mean it doesn’t need refining. Your product is too important not to perfect—it could change someone’s life for the better.
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Forward-Thinking HR Management

Forward-Thinking HR Management

Times are tough. Companies are cutting jobs. But leaders must climb out of the pity party and look up take a turn for the better. The sun is gleaming! There are brighter days ahead. Leaders must look toward the future. Those who get caught up in short-term thinking make short-sighted decisions that only impede revival.

Who will attract the best talent? Companies led by forward-thinking leaders who understand trends, plan ahead, and inspire others. So, it’s high time leaders start discerning, acting, and talking like progressive futurists with an exciting future. Few companies have the quality or depth of leadership they need to win the competition for top talent.

As the economy heats up, many people will change jobs. Recruiters will target your most competent and productive people. When those people leave, it will be hard to replace them with people of the same capacity. When your cream people leave, so will customers. If your customers leave, your cash flow will tumble.

This situation is in your control as a leader. If you exercise strong leadership now, you can avert the Death Spiral from killing your company.

Bewildered leaders, now is the time to exercise super leadership:

  • Place more emphasis on your relationship with human resources-the department and the people. The Chief Human Resource Officer should hold the same status as the Chief Financial Officer. With the CEO, the CFO and CHRO should form a dominant triangle of inspiration.
  • Get out of your office. Today people want to see their leaders in person. So, lead by wandering around. Get out with your people. Listen to their challenges and concerns. Inform and inspire them. Get them involved in your future plans. People support what they help to create. Talk genuinely with your people.
  • Engage in serious strategic staffing. What will your HR needs be over the next few years-to meet the goals set by strategic your executive plan must team? Be in Your alignment recruitment with your corporate strategic plan. What kinds of people will you need to hire, and how will you do that? What additional training and experience will be needed by the people you have now, and how will those needs be fulfilled? Will you have the talent you need a few years from now?
  • Clean house. Clean out the people who don’t fit. You’ll be doing them a favor. Look for “fit” in terms of productivity, values, inclination to the job and your mission, and how they mesh with your culture. If you don’t have congruence now, you’ll have more problems later. If you have managers whose behavior or values are not consistent with the company’s future, invite them to make a career change.
  • Become more selective. The Age of the Wann Body is over. Every person employed should meet your standards. This means developing standards of ethics, attitudes, skills, and performance that everyone must adhere to. Get your people included in the process.
  • Build emotional bonds. Take a leadership role in orienting new people. Meet them, let them meet you, share your philosophy and values. Arrange for current employees to experience your employee orientation. Many of them are not tuned in to what you’re all about today, so you don’t have the cohesiveness you need.
  • Invest in leadership development at every level. Front-line supervisors need training in how to best work with their people to produce superior results. Leadership skills have an effect.

This decade will be a challenge. It’s test time. Are you prepared? Are you equipped for the challenge?

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Stimulus Events That Can Trigger Employee Disengagement

Stimulus Events That Can Trigger Employee Disengagement

Employee disengagement has huge expenses for individuals and organizations. Employee engagement is indispensable to the health, well-being, and success of organizations and individuals as the work environment becomes leaner, more information-driven, and extremely competitive.

Employee engagement endures to capture the interest of practitioners and scholars, yet estimations are that between 50%and 70% of workers are not engaged. Disengagement has insinuations for profitability, productivity, safety, mental health, turnover, and employee theft.

'The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave' by Leigh Branham (ISBN 0814408516) Though there may be multiple symptoms behind low employee engagement levels, one common culprit is a failure of companies to diagnose that the way people work is developing. From Leigh Branham’s The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave:

  • Being passed over for promotion
  • Realizing the job is not as promised
  • Learning they may be transferred
  • Hiring boss being replaced by new boss they don’t like
  • Being assigned to new territory
  • Being asked to do something unethical
  • Learning the company is doing something unethical
  • Sudden wealth or sufficient savings to buy independence
  • Earning enough money (grubstake)
  • An incident of sexual harassment
  • An incident of racial discrimination
  • Learning the company is up for sale
  • Learning the company has been sold
  • Realizing they are underpaid compared to others doing the same job
  • Realizing they are not in line for promotion for which they thought they were in line
  • Realizing that their own behavior has become unacceptable
  • An unexpected outside job offer
  • Being pressured to make an unreasonable family or personal sacrifice
  • Being asked to perform a menial duty (e.g., run a personal errand for the boss)
  • Petty and unreasonable enforcement of authority
  • Being denied a request for family leave
  • Being denied a request for transfer
  • A close colleague quitting or being fired
  • A disagreement with the boss
  • A conflict with a coworker
  • An unexpectedly low performance rating
  • A surprisingly low pay increase or no pay increase

The costs of disengagement have not been calculated, though some statistics might begin to suggest on important economic reasons to address this silent majority. What makes it exceptional is the high level of employee engagement exhibited by its high performing workforce; the result of true enterprise-wide transparency and trustworthiness that is supported and promoted by all employees and people managers.

Disgruntled customers have a big impact on a business’s bottom line, which brings us to the most important reason employee engagement should be top of mind for executives.

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Disentangle All of Your Mixed Messages to Diminish Anxiety

Disentangle All of Your Mixed Messages to Diminish Anxiety

Anxiety somehow touches almost every aspect of our lives. It is woven invisibly into the fabric of our existence and often sets into motion a chain of reactions and circumstances.

As leaders, we need to ensure that anxiety does not consume our workplaces and degrade the performance of our people. The key to reducing anxiety at work is direct and clear communication that eliminates mixed messages—the catalytic driver of anxiety.

Communicative people are less anxious and more secure because they know where they stand. They are less afraid to ask the awkward questions and less intimidated to have difficult conversations. They know that “meta-messages” live inside of every communication, and they strive to create clarity and understanding.

For example, if you seek new business, you may fail to keep your team in the loop. As time passes, you leave your team without a leader. Soon your people feel disconnected from your activities. Worst-case scenarios seem to be whispered, and one-on-one side conversations echo the halls. As a result, anxiety starts to dominate your team. It shows up as people start distrusting your leadership capability, turning to other leaders outside the team for advice and information, creating concentric circles of communication with others, and building mountains out of molehills.

Our sense of security and well-being are profoundly affected by how well we are kept in the vital loop, how well our leaders interpret and integrate the dynamics and complexities of workplace life for us.

Interpreting Meta-Messages

Anxiety is a natural response to a perception about the future. Employee anxiety often becomes the ever-present fabric when their managers and leaders are suddenly behind dosed doors, speaking in hushed tones, and refusing to address rumors directly. This sends a very direct message. Great leaders put themselves in someone else’s shoes temporarily in an effort to interpret these events for them in a straightforward and truthful way. In doing so, they create a sense of calmness, control, forward movement, security, and direction. Unless leaders set a dear and explicit context for this communication, employees create their own worst-case scenarios.

Anxiety elevates under certain conditions. Lack of shared focus, purpose, and vision creates confusion. Lack of communication opens the door to paranoia (the ultimate anxiety response). Lack of interpersonal communication causes more emotion, misunderstanding, and anxiety.

Emotions have a dramatic effect on our success. Positive emotional connection is good for business. Lack of respect for others undermines security, which causes resentment-another form of anxiety. Failure to tap the inner talent and creativity causes deeper isolation and anxiety. Failure to develop team agreements, strategies, and decision-making policies enhances isolation. Management’s self-serving and exclusionary approaches cause isolation and anxiety among employees. Negativity and complaining become both the cause and effect of anxiety. Low morale due to leadership’s inability to acknowledge the truth causes anxiety.

Tips for Leaders to Diminish Anxiety

'13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do' by Amy Morin (ISBN 0062358308) How can you as a leader build an environment where people feel safe? Mixed messages cause employees to retreat into anxiety. For example, when you say you care about keeping people in the loop, yet fail to do so, you send meta-messages. When you talk at employees and give directives, but do not ask questions to clarify understanding, you set the context for mixed messages. Predictably, employees will think one thing while you say something else, and confusion will result. Mixed messages create a metaphorical moat. We don’t know which side of the river we are standing on, and without the security of knowing where we stand, we can’t do our best.

Instead of allowing mixed-messages and worst-case scenarios to take over, enhance your commendation and set the context for inclusion:

  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for your people. Create a safe environment so they know that you are there for them. When having vital conversations about the future direction, minimize misunderstandings. Repeat what employees say and ask questions to uncover hidden implications. Be sure that reviews are realistic so that people know exactly where they stand at all times. Be genuinely interested and acknowledge good effort and accomplishments for others to see. Clarify what employees are saying before drawing conclusions or making assumptions.
  • Keep an open mind even if you disagree with what is being said so you can understand employee concerns. Remember emotions don’t always reside in logic; they reside in anxiety, and that’s what you want to release, not amplify. Evaluate information without bias. Ask questions to hear concerns.
  • Respond rather than react. Acknowledge employees’ issues and points of view; listen actively so that you can respond. Listen to the logic and the emotion-convey that you hear what is being said at all levels.
  • Accept responsibility for the impact of the way you are communicating. Walk the talk-people will know that they can trust you. Say what you mean and mean what you say!
  • Don’t be a people pleaser—speak the truth. Be a change agent. Take timely action. Give constructive feedback.

Understanding how unspoken anxiety is affecting your business and dealing with it by straightening out mixed messages will have a big bottom-line payoff.

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