06/18/2013

12 Things Successfully Convert a Great Idea into a Reality

EntrepreneurshipHow many times have you been in a meeting and someone says to you, “That’s a great idea, you should take the initiative and make it a reality.” What typically happens? Most of the time – nothing.  Most great ideas remain dormant because people don’t have the courage, resources, time and/or money to take action. And for those who take action, most are unprepared and thus find themselves spending their valuable time and money on a dream that simply goes astray.

Converting an idea into a reality (regardless of the required investment of time and money) is never an easy task. In fact, it is extremely difficult. Whether you are an entrepreneur or corporate executive, “giving ideas life” is much like giving birth to a child. You must own the responsibility regardless of the circumstances. No one will ever understand your idea or the dynamics associated with it like you do. In this regard, you are on your own and the journey will require you to learn about yourself – more than anything else will in your career.

As the old saying goes, “If it were easy – everyone would do it.”

Many articles have been written about this subject, but I have yet to read one that really digs deep enough to help one truly understand what is required mentality, physically and intellectually to go from idea to reality. Perhaps it’s because the process of cultivating an idea into a reality is a never ending cycle if you want to keep the idea alive over changing times. For example, we see this all the time with companies based on great ideas that then did not remain innovative and/or competitive enough to sustain their market leadership positions. . Let’s face it, Blockbuster should have thought of the ideas behind Netflix and Redbox – and made them a reality – well before these two companies became their competitors.

The same thing holds true in the workplace – where according to a recent study conducted by my organization, the workforce is not innovative enough because we are trained and wired only to execute on what we are told to do. No wonder we are most proficient at completing short term, immediate tasks. On the other hand, employees are least proficient at multiplying the opportunities inherent in the initial task they were asked to complete. Yes, we should be concerned about our ability to remain competitive – as both individuals and in our organizations.

Today’s fiercely competitive marketplace requires us all to either convert our own ideas – or be a part of converting someone else’s ideas – into a reality. If you are not participating in either of these activities, you must re-evaluate your purpose, what you stand for and your desire to be relevant. Everyone must be a part of cultivating innovation around the clock. You must begin to accept that embracing the entrepreneurial attitude is a requirement to cultivate growth and opportunity for the organization you lead and serve.

Entrepreneurship is no longer just a business term anymore; it’s a way of life. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial.

Did you ever think that not being involved in innovative activities was irresponsible? Well, it is – not just to yourself, but to those around you.

As you think about how you can begin to embrace the entrepreneurial attitude more actively, here are 12 things you must actively do – at all times – in order to convert ideas into reality:

1.       Believe in Yourself

You can’t take action until you believe in yourself enough to handle the consequences of your decisions. Any time you assume the responsibility to give something that had not existed before an opportunity to become a reality – you become accountable for your actions.

Accountability requires believing in yourself enough to be 100% dedicated to getting the work done. Most people fail to take an idea to fruition because the unexpected challenges become more than they think they can handle and thus they no longer want to be accountable. They lose the belief in themselves to see things through all the way to the end.

2.       Create Your Own Personal Board of Advisors

Learn from those who have done it before. Don’t ever think you have all of the answers, just because it’s your idea. Ideation is distinctly different than execution.

Allow your personal board of advisors to guide you with wisdom born from their own failures and subsequent successes. I talked to a couple of fellow entrepreneurs about this and they offered some of their own wisdom.

Rich Melcombe, President & CEO of Richmel Media & Productions, says that: “If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, listen to everyone because you never know when you will hear a good idea. Advice from stakeholders is usually more meaningful, but not necessarily right. Few people will have enough context to fully understand what you’re trying to do. Synthesize their comments so they make sense to you, understand the thinking behind any negative comments, and then make the decision on your own.”

Brad Lea, Founder & CEO of Lightspeed VT, adds: “Although it is valuable to have a personal board of advisors, be careful not to let them deter you from your vision. Steve Jobs’ board said he was "crazy" to enter into the cell phone space because it was saturated and it would not be worth the long and laborious effort.”

 In the end, carefully evaluate any input that you get – but proceed with your own gut instinct.

 3.       Embrace Risk as Your Best Friend

Risk becomes your best friend when you give birth to an idea. If you can accept this fact, you will approach the process with a lens that keeps your dreams and ambitions in perspective and on track. When things don’t go as planned along the way, stay focused on the mission at hand and do not allow disruption to set you backward. Risk is normal and steps #1 and #2 will keep you looking forward.

You often hear that “working hard” is an imperative to convert ideas into reality. But in fact, it is the most fundamental commitment one must make to assume any form of risk management. As such, you must find a way to make this level of commitment if you want to continue on the journey.

 

4.       Be Extremely Patient

Compromise is a choice, not a sacrifice.  Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Take the time to appreciate the journey and understand how things work. Most people are too anxious to get their desired results and thus start to make bad decisions as they go.

One thing is certain: the journey will be filled with unexpected outcomes that you may not be prepared to deal with. Don’t let this get you down, but keep your head up and respect the process and where it takes you. You will learn a lot about your threshold of risk and ability. Equally, you will learn that many doubters are ready to stand in your way and may attempt to bring you down; this is when the ride gets uncomfortable. Constantly reevaluate those with whom you are sharing the journey (i.e., your inner circle).

5.       Learn How to Sell Your Vision

Converting your idea to a reality requires you to help others understand your vision. Selling vision is much like selling change. Clearly define your value proposition and how it can generate revenue. Selling lofty ideas without understanding how it will achieve financial results will never get you the right audience. The bottom line is what gets everyone’s attention.

Simplicity is the key to selling the vision for your idea. Making it easy for someone on the “outside” to understand what you are trying to accomplish will create engagement and increase your probability of expanding buy-in for your idea. This skill comes into play when selling to possible investors. Learn how to sell your vision sooner than later. Don’t wait as it takes time to piece together and refine your message.

6.       Connect the Dots Along the Way

Everything is connected to something else. Learn how to spot the paths of connectivity along the journey.  What may be your “core idea” today can mature into something bigger as you connect other tenets that naturally associate with your idea along the way.

For example, I launched a food business in 1997 called Luna Rossa Corporation. I started with a product line of specialty vegetables anchored by my flagship product of marinated artichoke hearts. The idea was to market a gourmet / higher-quality line of Luna Rossa branded products inside warehouse retailer Costco – which we successfully accomplished. Over time, this core idea led to gourmet line extensions that included pasta sauces, salad dressings, etc. We sold products to over 6000 retail stores throughout North America, eventually creating new brands and entering into licensing arrangements.

Never stop connecting the dots!

7.       Be Passionate With Your Pursuit

The pursuit of excellence requires you to unleash your passion. When you put your passion into everything you do, it gives you the power to become a potent pioneer. You will blaze paths few would go down, and see them all the way through to the end. Your passionate pursuit of converting your idea into a reality will open new doors to endless possibilities.

Your ability to remain passionate about what you stand for is the ultimate enabler for the success of your idea.

8.       Be Purposeful

Your intentions for your idea must have purpose and meaning. If not, your probability to quit along the way will increase. It will also increase the likelihood of you “psyching yourself out with unnecessary excuses.”

Rich Melcombe adds: “Entrepreneurs must have passion and believe in what they are doing or they are destined to fail. You need to make a commitment to yourself and have a fiduciary responsibility to anyone who supports your idea or concept. Your purpose is to execute the idea and make others believe too.”

Purpose fuels your passion and makes your journey less lonely. Perhaps this explains why family-controlled firms outperform their public peers by 6% on company market value. Today, one-third of all companies in the S&P 500 index are run by families.

9.       Focus on Building Momentum

Carefully identify all of your resources and build upon them via relationships, networking and sharing of resources to expand the opportunity for your ideas. Building momentum is critically important to convert your idea into a reality.

Stay focused, stick to your plan, eliminate distractions and neutralize the noise. Remember to manage your time wisely and never get overly excited about new opportunities that stem from your original idea. Step-back, don’t commit too quickly, and understand how the dots connect.

Building momentum has a lot to do with timing and the management and deployment of resources. Every resource counts. Know when and when not to use them so their value is optimally utilized at the right place and time.

10.   Always Make the Idea Better

Never grow complacent. You can always expand upon your idea and make it better. When you begin to see how the dots connect, challenge yourself and your personal board of advisors to make your ideas even better.

This is what Steve Jobs did with Apple, Pixar Animation and Apple again. Continuous improvements were part of his legacy. He never stopped thinking of ways to make his ideas better. The Japanese even have a name for it: Kaizen.

11.   Make Work/Life Balance a Priority

No matter how smart, passionate, or focused you work, without balance we are all susceptible to burnout. Mind, body and soul must be properly aligned. Take the time to make work/life balance a priority. It will give you greater clarity of thought and help you keep things in perspective.

Successfully converting an idea into a reality is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself so that you can reflect upon the mission at hand. Always be aware of what you are attempting to accomplish. Don’t overwhelm your mind; give yourself some breathing room and allow your creativity to expand.

12.   Build a Legacy Around Your Idea

Let’s say you made the commitment to assume the responsibilities associated with the first 11 steps and have already been successful. Your original idea was born and its impact has now morphed into multiple areas that you would have never thought possible at the beginning.

You have “earned your serendipity” and the opportunities you have created for yourself and others have been momentous. The success of your idea is now real; it has become something more significant and it is up to you to make sure its legacy remains sustainable.

Once you give your idea its life, it is your responsibility that its impact stays alive forever.

7 Ways to Value Yourself, Beyond Social Media

We live in a world where people are quick to judge others and value them based on perception rather than reality.    Where people believe that there is more value in on how you “package yourself” than there is in the “real” you.   This leads people to think that it’s better to sell perception versus reality.  It also reinforces the fact that people don’t value themselves as much as they should, regardless of their professional status or credentials.  

At a time when people are uncertain about themselves and their future – and need their authentic voices to be valued and heard – this approach is counterproductive.   

We can see why this is so by looking at social media, which perhaps more than any other tool enables people to reach others with the power of perception over reality.  Someone might have 5000 Facebook friends, 10,000 Twitter followers and 800 LinkedIn connections – but this doesn’t define their value and real influence. It only means that they are actively seeking to build an online identity.  In fact, social media measurement tools like Klout.com and Kred.com reward you for your perceived influence based on the online impact of your content followership. 

People use perception as their reality even when it represents no real value at all.  The perceptual power of social media has allowed people to position themselves as experts – while in many cases the real experts have yet to be discovered or have decided to share their content and leadership with others in private communities with no social media presence at all.

Do you seek strong social media influence to be a valuable asset?  Does your lack of social media participation minimize opportunities for you in your career?  Clearly it is becoming a tool that is too powerful to be ignored.  But should you depend upon it to shape your identity?

Social media is serendipity on steroids.   Engage responsibly and earn serendipity.

Social media is still a maturing platform that requires a full commitment; it demands your time and high-levels of responsibility.  If you are active on social media only to increase your number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections – and not to offer any real value during the process – then you are doing it for the wrong reasons.   The goal is to add value to the audience that you are serving.   This requires work, but more importantly it requires you to value yourself.   And if you don’t value yourself, you are being irresponsible to those who expect value from you.   In a world where perception is increasingly being confused with reality, we don’t need more people being “catfished.”

Unfortunately, there are many self-proclaimed experts and thought-leaders whose sole focus is to leverage social media as a “self-promotion” platform rather than using it to engage with meaningful and purposeful intentions.   The reason most people don’t engage with social media the right way is because they don’t value themselves enough to stand for something of significance that they can share unconditionally with others.  Instead, they mismanage their valuable time, thus further devaluing themselves.

Social media should not be your sole basis for “self-valuation” – yet many people have become addicted to managing their online presence because it is a platform that gives them attention; it makes them feel more important and valued.

Will the social media bubble burst?  Is it a matter of time before many of the disingenuous voices get weeded out? What will happen to those people who desperately need social media to validate their own leadership identity?    If the bubble bursts, will this finally expose the real value of those people that don’t really add any value at all?  

Here are seven ways to make sure this doesn’t happen to you – by valuing yourself enough to authentically discover your impact and influence: 

1. Don’t  Rely Solely on Social Media to Define Your Self-Worth

Take the same amount of time that you are using to build your online credibility and channel an equal strategic effort in the offline world.   Balance is the key.   Engage responsibly.   Use social media to build and enable your offline relevancy.   How people experience your perceptual value in the online world must be the same if not better in the real world.

People will value you more if they can believe you are just as impressive in person.

You only have so much time, so manage it wisely and think about the bigger picture impact you can create.   In the end, this is what is really valued.

2. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others 

People who don’t have a good sense of their own self-worth tend to waste their time comparing themselves to others – rather than focusing on how their unique talents can give them a competitive advantage.   As such, whenever you compare yourself to others, you risk losing your identity and further minimizing your value. 

The potential for innovation in the workplace weakens as people continue to brand themselves with other people’s content.   Instead, focus on spending your time developing the skill-sets and characteristics that naturally lie within your uniqueness into roles & responsibilities that will allow your inherent talent to flourish.   Be original and create your own platform. The key is how you – and you alone – convert your lemons into lemonade.  

3. Believe You Can Be More Valuable

Many people give-up on themselves rather than step-back and evaluate the bigger picture.   It’s never too late to start over, regardless of the circumstances.   It amazes me how many talented people focus more on selling other people’s dreams rather than valuing themselves enough to sell and accomplish their own.  Don’t ever believe you can’t be more valuable.   

Only you can control how much you are valued by others. 

4. Be Honest With Yourself

Understanding your self-worth / true value as an individual requires you to be honest with yourself.  Evaluate your current body of work.   Are you proud of what you have accomplished?   Does it support the next natural progression in your career?

Self-evaluation is critical.  You can only be valued by others if you have learned to value yourself. 

5. Manage Your Personal Brand or Someone Else Will

It’s astonishing how many people allow their personal brand to be defined by others at work.   We all have a personal brand and most of the time it’s misrepresented, misunderstood or undefined.   

If you are not living your authentic identity (the person that you truly are), then you are living someone else’s perception of you.   You must be your own brand manager.  You have to take charge of your own brand in this fast-moving world to get attention and get discovered.  

You need to know yourself in order to value yourself.    

6. Associate Yourself with the Right People

Tell me who you associate yourself with, and I will tell you the person that you are.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve. Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity. An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people. As you grow, your associates will change. Some of your friends will not want you to go on. They will want you to stay where they are. Friends that don't help you climb will want you to crawl. Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream. Those that don't increase you will eventually decrease you.”

Those with whom you associate yourself with should be people who increase your value.   If this isn’t happening, you need to evaluate your inner circle.

7.Trust Yourself

We are transitioning from a knowledge-based to a wisdom-based economy. It’s no longer about what you know, but what you do with what you know.  In the wisdom-based economy, it’s about balancing “the head” and “the heart” in everything you do and how you do it.  

Trust yourself enough to live whatever value you represent each and every day.   This is what the most effective leaders  do automatically and why they are so successful.

Today’s economic uncertainty has left people feeling stuck in their careers rather than being in charge of their career succession.   Too many opportunities are being left unseen.   It’s difficult to find success – whether you’re trying to be an effective boss,  a responsible parent, or even just a good friend – if you don’t trust yourself enough to recognize your own self-worth.   

Trusting yourself requires you to stand for a set of values that you can hold onto and that represents the person that you are.    What are your top values?  Do you live them every day in your work or is someone else defining them for you?    Your values serve as the foundation of your self-worth.

Be original, create distinction, and know that it’s okay to be different.  Even among those who know this to be true, few have the courage to act upon it.   Don’t compromise your values, nor settle for less than what your standards call for.   Believe in what you stand for and put yourself to the test every day.   Hold on to your values and never allow others to minimize who you are.

10 Ways to Inspire Your Team

Team-membersMore and more people feel stuck at work and are looking for validation.   Not only do they want to be heard, but more importantly they want to know that their contributions are being noticed and not taken for granted.  Not for the sake of attention, but more so because they want to know that their skill sets are still relevant and useful and that they are making a difference to advance the organizations they serve.   With professional development budget cut-backs in recent years, employees have had to start investing in themselves as concerns grow about where their capabilities best fit in their organizations and what their futures hold.

At the same time, leaders are trying to make their employees feel more secure in order to keep the ship afloat, aware that if too much disruption leaks out into the workplace, there is risk of losing top-talent that is difficult and costly to replace.     In this ever changing workplace terrain, leaders need to think differently about how to keep their teams on track.  They must become more intuitive; diverting from the traditional ways of leading that have become too predictable and uninspiring.  

Many leaders are out of touch and disconnected from their employees, focusing solely on their own personal agendas.   This is most evident in leaders that still try to use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to earn trust, build loyalty and stimulate team and individual performance.

Leaders must understand that in today’s new workplace, there does not exist a single recipe to encourage employees to perform better.   Rather, it’s about how to maximize the ingredients in order to create hundreds of recipes that are customized and authentic; that provide long-term continuity and impact.    To get you started, here are ten ways to inspire teams to optimally perform.

1.Solving, Not Just Selling

Stop selling your employees about why they need to perform better.  Explain why their contributions help solve problems and contribute to the company’s advancement.  Employees are more inclined to step up their game when they know their work can add-value to the healthier whole.

For example, I would always show my team the outcome of their collected efforts.   We would go to the manufacturing plant and watch a new product on the production line or to the stores to see new label designs  on the shelves.   Inspire performance by connecting the dots of your employees’ efforts.

It’s not only about what you are trying to sell, but also what you  as a team were able to solve along the way.

2.Purpose, Not Just Profit

Employees are inspired by knowing that their hard work  makes a difference beyond profitability.  Employees want leaders who see beyond the obvious and look to create wider reaching impact that extends into the community and influences social causes.  

Look what IKEA did in1995, after they discovered that some of the factories that manufactured and sold carpets to IKEA were exploiting child labor.  Founder Ingvar Kamprad and his IKEA executives immediately took action, addressing the problem from within and taking all steps necessary to ensure that an IKEA product never again would be created by manufacturers that exploited children. IKEA then solidified its commitment to eradicate the problem at its root. The company partnered with UNICEF to create a program to help prevent child labor by changing the conditions that lead to child labor in the first place, namely: poverty, hunger, and illiteracy.  Today, this same program serves more than five hundred villages in India’s Carpet Belt, an area with a population in excess of 1.3 million.

3.Know the Ingredients, Not Just the Recipe

The secret recipe to inspiring employees is to know the “ingredients” of the people you are inspiring.  People want to know that their leaders understand their tendencies, aptitudes and behaviors well-enough to best work-with and motivate them.   The best leaders and coaches always do.

When you spend time with your employees, make it matter.   Don’t just expect your time and title to inspire them.    Employees want a leader that pays attention and genuinely cares about them.

Great leaders take the time to know the ingredients before they can create the best recipe for success.   Employees are most inspired when a leader takes the times to know them and show that they have their best interests at heart.

Leaders that know how to prepare thousands of recipes are those who continually make the ingredients better – and keep them from spoiling.

4.Learning, Not Just Lecturing

Employees are tired of being told what to do.   They are eager to learn and remain relevant.   But they find it difficult to be inspired by leaders who only inflict fear.    In today’s fast-paced world, people don’t have time for lectures; they want continuous coaching and leaders that are paying attention.  Eager to grow, they want objective feedback.

Simplify the process.  Don’t exhaust your employees through complexity and buzz-words.    People seek direction that is too the point.  Remember, most people have mastered the art of execution.  Let your employee do their jobs well by providing the right tools and support to make them better at carrying out their roles & responsibilities.  Be a great teacher, but quickly shift into facilitator mode.   People are inspired when given the opportunity to learn how to do new things. Stop lecturing and start teaching.   

5.Innovation, Not Just Ideation

Employees want to create impact.  Allow them to be part of the innovation-based projects in your company by letting them get their hands dirty.    Ideation is important, but being part of implementing the ideas that come to life can be a more exciting and meaningful growth opportunity for your employees that will inspire them to perform.

Additionally, provide your employees the resources to be innovative in their work.   Stay close enough to your employees’ activities to know the 2 or 3 tools  and/or resources that  each would require to take their performance to the next level.  

When given the right tools and resources, the best employees will instinctively challenge themselves to be more innovative in their work – and will perform better.    That is why incentives inspire performance – but remember that money alone is not the sustainable answer.   Focus on giving your employees the opportunities to elevate their individual value while serving the needs of the company.   

Allow innovation to inspire performance.

6.      Significance, Not Just Success

Helping your employees to be successful is important, but not inspiring enough in itself.  People want much more out of their leaders and if you can activate the natural talents of your employees in ways that make them feel more responsible about their jobs, you will be inspiring something that is more significant – and has longer lasting impact.

The next time you conduct an employee performance review, evaluate each performance in two areas:  success and significance.   Let’s say that “sales” is a performance category – and your employee has performed at 90% of plan.  That’s good.   After you discuss what is required to reach 100% of plan, measure the significance of the sales generated.  For example, perhaps reaching 90% of plan generated enough revenue to hire 5 more people or contributed to a particular community outreach plan as a result of a local market push.  You never know the significance of someone’s performance until you measure it; and when you do, it’s an effective way to inspire even greater performance.

7.Ownership, Not Just Accountability

Enforcing accountability is a key component to sustaining performance momentum. However, when you can give your employees “ownership” in the process of defining how accountability is enforced – you inspire trust and a desire to go above and beyond the call of duty.

Giving your employees ownership means that you have shared and entrust them with your authority.   You are now allowing your employees to “call the shots” based on what they believe is in the best interests of the team and the organization.    For example, create a special project and allow an employee to take ownership of it.   Outline your expectations for the end-result, but allow him or her to take charge of the project.  Agree to meet once-a-week and observe the change in attitude and desire to perform.     Use the results and what you learned along the way about the employee as a means to customize your approach to best inspire that employee’s performance long-term.   Again, this is a great way to learn more about “the ingredients” as noted in point #3.

8.Respect, Not Just Recognition

Beyond appreciation and praise, show your respect and admiration for the work of your employees.  While people want to know they are respected, you must establish the ground rules for how respect is earned.   

There are too many recognition addicts in the workplace.  In a world of fierce competition, we have come to believe we are our own best allies. We believe we must rely only on ourselves. We believe we can sell ourselves better than anyone else.  But this attitude puts our long-term careers in danger.

Unfortunately, too many people want recognition because they forgot the significantly greater value of earning respect.   Re-train your employees about the importance of respect and lead them in how to earn it.  When they see the greater impact respect delivers, they will be inspired by your example.

9.Personal Growth, Not Just Responsibility

Historically, leaders have used “increased responsibility” to inspire performance.    While this approach may still have merit, it is when a leader can help foster the professional growth and development of their employees that performance most flourishes.    Leaders must take more time to mentor and / or guide their employee’s development and growth.

Encourage networking opportunities and performance development forums.  If the budget gets cut,– put your money where your mouth is.  For example, purchase copies of a book that you believe will help your employees advance and grow in their work. 

Phil Jackson, former basketball coach of the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls, has won 11 NBA championships – the most in history.   Jackson became known for giving each one of his players a specific book that would help the player be a better teammate, decision-maker, leader, etc. on the basketball court.  

10.Trust, Not Just Transparency

Ultimately, it is a relationship based on trust that inspires employees to perform.   When you are mindful of managing and concurrently implementing points #1 - #9 this will certainly jump-start your ability to earn trust with your employees and inspire their performance.  When you trust someone, you believe in them.   People are inspired when they know that their leaders believe in their capabilities to deliver. 

As a young executive, I had a boss that I trusted, not only because he was transparent with me – but more importantly because he believed in me.   He created an environment that helped me grow and prosper.   For example, he assigned the most significant corporate growth strategies to my team and me.   This level of trust inspired us to perform not only for the sake of seizing the unique opportunity that was given to us – but equally to prove to those above my boss that it was the right decision for the organization.    We wanted our boss to earn respect and recognition for the bold decision he made to place such a significant amount of trust on the youngest leader and team in the organization – and not to let him down.

Inspiring employees to optimally perform requires a leader who can see beyond the obvious in people.  Inspiration comes not from something that you turn on and off, but rather   from constant behavior – triggered through multiple ways – that makes your employees feel that they matter and that you genuinely care.   

 

 

6 Ways to Detect a Trustworthy Boss

Today’s economic uncertainties have fueled an unstable job market and created an unsettling environment in the workplace – where the lack of transparency, internal politics, the growing number of siloeddepartments and hidden agendashave made it more difficult to trust yourself, let alone others.What appears to be an endless path of disorganized chaos is now “the new normal.”As such, we must become mentally tough and learn to anticipate the unexpected.Employees must approach the workplace through a lens that can detect the pot holes of distrust while staying focused on seeing and seizing the next opportunity.

During a recent executive coaching session, my client asked, “How do I know if I can trust my boss?”We had spent severalof the preceding sessions talking about how to detect certain behavioral patterns, body language and interpersonal conduct.While she successfully implemented the mutually agreed upon plan, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting upon our sessions and began to further explore the issue.Much to my surprise, there were many points of view on the subject matter, including:

Clearly, this is a topic of interest and employees in the workplace want answers.

Finding the right formula for “trusting the boss” is subjective and has a lot to do with the engagement of specific personality types and how they mesh in certain circumstances.But to help someone identify a baseline for how to most optimally “trust the boss” requires you to have had experienced a boss that, i) you have trusted a lot; ii) you never trusted; iii) and another one in-between.Fortunately, I’ve lived all of these experiences first hand, both in the workplace and as an entrepreneur.These experiences have shaped my “trust filter” and have allowed me to trust my gut about people and their ultimate intentions.As such, it no longer surprises me (though it still disappoints me) when people that I’ve grown to admire have become untrustworthy and as a result have made poor decisions and turned against their colleagues for the sake of personal greed.

To make sure you do not become the victim of someone undeserving of your trust, here are six ways to detect if your boss (or your colleagues for that matter) can be trusted:

1.   Transparent Communicator

Leaders who are transparent communicators make it easier for their employees to most effectively listen, learn and minimize mistakes.When your boss embraces an open dialogue, you feel safe to speak-up knowing that there are no hidden agendas.

 While not mandatory, it makes it easier to trust your boss when your interaction is not always limited to the workplace.I once had a boss that eventually became one of my best friends.While at work, it was all about the duties and responsibilities at hand.When we went to a baseball game as friends, we spoke about our families and had fun.She was a master at “separating the issues” and we grew to trust each other enough that our genuine friendship never harmed our working relationship.

 2.    Embraces Unconditional Feedback

Leaders that can be trusted are looking to grow and mature in their work.They embrace unconditional feedback because they want to continuously improve and become a better resource for you.Bosses like this are rare, but they do exist.They don’t leverage their title or authority to limit your voice.On the contrary, they give you a voice– without feeling that your voice should be restricted to its place on the hierarchical organizational chart.

 If your boss embraces feedback, you must trust them – and yourself – enough to give it.If not, holding back may backfire on you because he/she may lose faith in you if you don’t engagein trust-building when you have the opportunity.This type of boss will expect you to be consistent with your feedback and once a baseline of trust has been established will come to you for advice.

3.   Empowers People

Trustworthy leaders want you to succeed.They empower people to take action and to be themselves.They encourage their employees to take risksand donot judge or penalize them for failed but well-intentioned efforts.When a bond of trust is formed, they are able to acknowledge their areas of deficiency and will more readily enlist your help.

Trustworthy leaders want you to develop your own identity.While they will “coach you up” they will not expect you to emulate them.Unfortunately, many leaders that have power believe that their way is the best way – and therefore will celebrate those who attempt to emulate them.

One of my former colleagues decided that she could get ahead by becoming a clone of her boss.”Kelly” spoke like her boss, dressed like her and over time even started to act like her boss in meetings.Kelly lost her own identity because she felt that emulating her boss would get her noticed for the next promotion.Kelly’s boss found this to be amusing, but instead of course-correcting the situation,she took advantageof it and began micro-managing Kelly for the sake of fueling her own ego. Needless to say, Sandy annoyed several of her colleagues and eventually lost the career momentum she had worked so hard to build – and in the end, she also lost trust in her boss.

4.   Focuses on Creating Leaders, Not Followers

The boss you can trust wants you to be successful.They want to teach you how to be a great leader, not a follower.They share the secret of their success and are not concerned about whether you will use it against them.A boss that can be trusted is not threatened by your success, but rather finds a sense of accomplishment because of it.

They want you to be a star and  will not steal the spotlight from you.They are humble about their success and seek to help create the roadmap for yours.

Perhaps this sounds too idealistic, but I was fortunate to have two bosses like this.They saw my potential and helped me nurture my raw talent.They viewed me as the future of the company; and rather than limiting my abilities, they assigned me elevated roles and responsibilities to showcase my talent and capabilities.I will forever be grateful for these experiences as they taught me the value in always being mindful of supporting what is in the best interest of the healthier whole.

5.    They Invest in the Relationship

Once a boss acts upon the first four points, they have made the commitment to invest in the relationship with you, long term.When the boss has made the decision to trust you, you can feel safe in trusting him or her too.

It is at this point that your boss “technically” begins to sponsor your career; they have your back and will help you navigate your succession plan.

6.   Consistent Behavior

Finally, your ability to detect if your boss can be trusted is predicated on their level of behavioral consistency.If your boss is consistently acting upon points 1 – 5, you can confidently trust him/her.When your boss is consistent – the relationship feels natural – and you begin to understand why people gravitate towards him/her.Your trustworthy boss now serves as the standard by which to measure your relationships at work.

Review these points again carefully and put them to the test.A trustworthy boss is one of the most rewarding assets you can have in your career.Equally, a boss that can’t be trustedwill  not enable the development of your skill-sets and will set your career back many years.Remember that you have a choice and the consequences are serious, the benefits immeasurable.

Good luck on your journey!

11/02/2012

6 Things That Will Make You (and Your Manager) a Better Leader

There are distinct differences between managers and leaders.  However, the new workplace is starting to see the interconnectedness of managers and leaders as organizations get leaner. For example, managers are being forced to become more strategic to cast their own vision for course-correction as the marketplace shifts more rapidly and competitive pressure impacts the bottom line faster. As such, managers must become better leaders as the demand for instant results and higher levels of performance are required to navigate the fiercely competitive landscape. 

Today’s manager must have a more authoritative mindset. In other words, while their role and responsibilities are that of a manager, they must carry the executive presence of a leader that instills commanding confidence in his or her team. Managers need to step-up their game and prepare themselves for the next opportunity that awaits them. If you are a manager who is not investing in yourself for advancement and leadership roles, your relevancy in your organization will diminish. 

If you are at that stage in your career, or if you believe that you could help someone who is, the following are six proven ways to more rapidly become a better leader in your workplace:

1. Strengthen Your People Skills

Having solid people skills represents the essence of leadership. Being able to relate to others and for others to relate to you is critical in earning trust and building a foundation of respect. This means that you must learn to get along with those  who may not necessarily like you or desire a relationship with you. The best you can do sometimes is earn respect – and in a workplace environment that can carry you a long way as a leader.  

In strengthening your people skills, remember that the best leaders are always mindful of what matters most to those they lead. They believe that the goals of others are as important as their own.  As such, make the time for others – you will be building meaningful relationships that can then serve to achieve results together.

Be mindful that leadership is a give and take and the by-product of a trustworthy relationship that is focused on the betterment of a healthier whole.

2. Motivate and Inspire Others to Achieve

Strengthening your people skills will help make you an effective motivator (as these two factors are dependent on one another).  Great leaders focus on helping others become better.  They are advocates for the advancement of others.  They want the impact of their legacy to be directly related to the success of others and the organization they serve.

Always remember that every person is unique and how you inspire others to achieve requires you to know their goals, desires and aspirations.  Motivation is a personal thing and while there are general motivational triggers – the most powerful are the motivational tools that can resonate with a person’s individual needs.

3. Be Authentic and Genuine

You can’t be a leader unless you can be authentic and genuine.  Sustainable leadership is not an act (though we have seen many who have tried). Sincerity is a powerful thing and comes from knowing who you are and what you desire to represent.   It is something that people witness through your passionate beliefs and concern for others.  

The most powerful leaders make you feel as if they are speaking directly to you.

A leader must establish an identity that is true; one that others can relate to and be comfortable with – that makes a leader easier to interpret and understand.  This is a problem today as most people find it difficult to trust leaders because they don’t know if they are being genuine.  In fact, many would say that leaders are not taking the initiative to be understood so as to be more effective in connecting with others.  Leaders must stop being someone they are not.  Employees respond better to those they can trust, who are sincere and transparent (enough) within the work environment.

4. Resolve Difficult Situations

The best leaders know how to create a harmonious environment in the most difficult of times.  They rally the team to solve problems together.  They promote collaboration and simplify root problems into manageable solutions.    Leaders turn difficult situations into “engaging learning moments.”  They also use times of duress to discover new leaders: those who can manage pressure and who have the mental toughness to handle the requirements of strong leadership.

You know that you are a good leader when you can solve problems with a quick look at the situation at hand.  Effective leaders can detect the experienced ones in the room and those who are not afraid to make decisions and embrace risk.  They also know where the egos and hidden agendas reside.

5. Achieve Results in Different Ways

Leaders are effective  at identifying opportunities that others don’t see. They are strategic and push the envelope to discover results that can be more sustainable.  Leaders are fearless when embarking upon new things and will challenge the status quo – responsibly.

How many times did  you believe you had a better way of accomplishing corporate goals?  Did you remain quiet or did you design a strategy that you could confidently “sell” to your team or department?   

Leaders always think ahead and can calculate what lies around the corner.  They make things happen through their creativity to achieve results.

6. Cast a Clear Vision

The key to defining an overarching goal is to make it: 1) simple to understand, 2) relevant for the needs of your customers, and 3) memorable for people to  repeat and execute.   Casting a vision is being able to anticipate crisis and/or change (which very few can do).   But to cast a vision clearly requires a high level of expertise and intelligence about your business, industry and marketplace climate. 

Communicating vision requires know-how and those leaders who don’t hesitate to “get-their-hands-dirty” will be more effective at casting a clear vision in multiple ways.  In other words, they are able to communicate their vision across the rank and file and are able to provide concrete examples to explain “why and how” their vision will be attained.

Your journey from management into leadership is a road of trials and tribulations – but these six traits will help you leap ahead faster, smarter and wiser.

Email or follow-me on Twitter @GlennLlopisLike us on Facebook!   Join our LinkedIn Group

09/20/2012

Build Momentum Back Into Your Career With 5 Forgotten Resources

I recently met with a group of professionals in transition who were extremely uncertain about their future.  They all previously enjoyed success but had lost their momentum in the past 3 years.   Recent changes brought on by the economic climate have made it challenging to re-build their careers.  Sound familiar?   If you are in transition or not satisfied with your career and looking to reclaim the momentum that has been lost, ask yourself this question:  Are you fully realizing the benefits of every resource at your disposal? 

Whether you answered this question “yes or no” – you are probably unaware of all your resources and how to most effectively use them.   This is the problem with most people who feel stuck in their careers:  they don’t know what they don’t know.  They are unaware of what is and is not a viable resource.  In today’s marketplace you must be knowledgeable about what it takes to win in your work and to catapult your career.   The rules are changing quickly and in many cases it’s up to you to create those rules yourself.   This requires you to approach your career as if it were a field of unseen opportunities – with your eyes wide open, always aware of your surroundings; constantly moving steadily forward (not wasting any time) and continually testing your talent until you find what unleashes your passion and allows your creativity and entrepreneurial spirit to take root.  

Only you know when you find your zone.  It is when your talent is enabled in an environment where you are 100% focused and you are truly enjoying what you are doing.  It’s when your job doesn’t feel like a job, but rather a mission or cause - that is purposeful and meaningful. This is when you have found your zone and can now create and sustain momentum in your career.  

You must view yourself and your career as a business.  You must know how to value your assets and know which assets enable the greatest results.  Know the revenue streams you can impact most as this will guide you to more effectively manage the career choices you make and the opportunity you create.  

When Olympian Michael Phelps failed to medal in Saturday’s games, it was a dramatic example of what can happen when you start to burn out and lose your will to compete. If you feel burned out, have lost your zone or are in search of a competitive edge – you can build momentum back into your career by leveraging the following five forgotten resources.

 1.      Establish Distinction

What makes you unique must be enabled.  When you start to lose your momentum, you begin to believe that you have lost your competitive edge. Step back and reevaluate your career, what you have accomplished, and your trademark – the one big enduring idea that you instinctually deliver every day that makes you stand out from the crowd.

Package what distinguishes you from others. Not just your credentials, but those intangibles that have allowed you to deliver results, enable others and / or make you a great team player.   If you get stuck in this process, think of what you naturally gravitate towards and the things that get you excited.

Too often, people lose the game before they play it.

Here is an exercise for you to consider: if someone were to write your Wikipedia page, what would it say and why would Wikipedia value it enough to publish? What types of publications would serve as your references.  

2.      Network Wisely

Until you have defined your distinctions, you can’t get the most out of networking.  Networking is both an art and a science. Don’t just go through the motions; value your time and what you expect in return.  

Networking must be strategic. It is one of those activities that people who are looking for momentum don’t leverage enough.  It is one of the most forgotten resources that people still don’t know how to maximize.  I talk about this in detail in my blog titled, 7 Reasons Networking Can Be a Professional Development Boot Camp.

Networking wisely means knowing how you plan to enable your distinctions to build new relationships, generate leads and get discovered.   

3.      Positive Mental Attitude

Yes, this is a forgotten resource.  How you choose to think and your attitude has a direct impact on your career and ability to build momentum.  Stop procrastinating and giving yourself reasons not to do things. You must stop creating your own uncertainty. 

 People complicate and confuse matters by allowing doubt to guide them rather than a positive mental attitude to inspire them.  This is much easier said than done. It requires you to make a commitment to reevaluate your life, those people who are in it and the type of people you need to fuel your career momentum once again. This is why networking wisely is so important. You must align your career goals with what excites your mind and burns your belly – this begins with the right frame of mind and whom you allow to influence your attitude, focus and intentions.

 Embrace the challenge, break old habits, innovate and reclaim the desire to compete.

4.      Get an Executive Sponsor

A sponsor is someone willing to share their career momentum to help you find yours. A sponsor is proactive about helping you identify career opportunities and unconditionally protects you – they “have your back.”   Sponsorship is a powerful relationship that is earned over time. It is much different than having a mentor.  Where a mentor will be more reactive to your needs, a sponsor provides proactive guidance and is more fully vested in your career advancement.

5.      Time

This may sound too simplistic, but you must never forget that time is your most valuable asset.  How you use it, manage it and make the most of it has a direct impact on the momentum you  build in your career.  

Think of how you use your time today. Can you eliminate certain activities to better focus on the other aforementioned forgotten resources?   Be critical as you can never replace time.  Perhaps this is why you lost your momentum in the first place.   To be certain, avoid these 6 types of people as you focus on building your momentum. 

As we all acclimate to a workplace environment with fewer resources, more structure and increased restrictions and red tape – it makes it much more difficult to find the career momentum that you desire. However, we live in a moment of uncertainty where you must learn to create your own opportunities – previously unseen. These 5 forgotten resources will help you get back on track and give you the jump start you need to reclaim your career momentum.

07/09/2012

5 Ways Young Professionals Want to be Led

Recently, my organization facilitated a roundtable session with fifteen young professionals.   Their main concern was how to advance in a multi-generational workplace.  Several of these young professionals felt that they didn’t belong or fit in their workplace; they were uncertain about who to trust and didn’t respect the manner in which they were being led.   These young professionals were eager to learn the best ways their generation could take control, influence their workplace culture and start performing at the highest levels.   They wanted to get noticed, create impact and at the same time discover how to start generating more income and accelerate their advancement.

This three hour roundtable was intense, but we successfully identified what these young professionals were really looking for:  how to most effectively teach their baby boomer bosses how they seek to be led.   As one young professional said, “if my boss understands how I am wired to work, I will not only teach the organization’s old guard how to lead my generation, but my performance will help contribute to the organization’s success.  I will make them more relevant.”  This confident perspective changed the conversation and helped to define the following top five ways young professionals want to be led by their baby boomer bosses.

1.  Empower us; don’t micromanage our talent

Without question, young professionals want their space and an opportunity to express their voice without limitation.   As much as the boss may want their young colleagues to do it her way, she must step aside.   As one participant mentioned, “baby boomer bosses must allow us to find our purpose within the job and the freedom to discover the opportunities for them.” 

When young professionals are empowered, they are deeply responsible for the authority given to them.  Because young professionals are socially conscious and responsible, they won’t abuse the power that has been granted upon them.   To the contrary, they will pour their strong work-ethic and their loyalty into their boss and the organization will become abundant.

2.  Sponsor us; serve as role models

Young professionals seek mentorship and are like sponges when it comes to learning short-cuts.  They want to get to the result as quickly as possible.  As such, they want their baby boomer bosses to share their wisdom in the form of storytelling, not corporate speak. 

Young professionals are most comfortable when they can relate to concepts, strategies and ideas on their own.  They need time to process and once they reach the comfort level they seek – they have laser-beam focus and are extremely productive.   They want a boss that “has their back,” not on their back.   

Supervise, but let your young professionals improvise.  Allow them to ask questions.  Make them feel as equally as important and valuable.   Don’t speak at them, communicate with them.   Remember, the more you invade their space, young professionals begin to naturally detach.   This makes reconnecting more difficult as they begin to lose trust.  Young professionals are curious and naturally skeptical.  Provide guidance and specific examples they can use to perform better.  You must allow them to control the pace of their comfort level and responsibilities.  Lead them through observation.  Play to their strengths!

3.  Allow us to manage our own brand; don’t define us

Young professionals desire an identity that they can feel proud of.   Don’t try to define their identity, give them the tools and support the work environment they require to fit and feel relevant.  This begins by letting them be their own brand.   Help define it with them, not for them.

Young professionals were raised on the internet where their online community participation influenced how others defined them.   They understand personal branding more than most.  As one young professional said to the group, “my baby boomer bosses need to stop thinking that they understand me, when they don’t.  It’s obvious when they try too hard.”

Remember that some of the characteristics that define the young professional’s personal brand are (to name a few): tech savvy, creative, independent, work well in groups, entitlement, requires a safe environment and trust.   Equally as important to young professionals is work/life balance.  They work hard and play hard.  Life outside of work must be in order to deliver their best work.   Don’t disrupt this formula.

4.  Trust us; don’t question our intentions

Most young professionals that seek fast-track advancement in the workplace are contrarians.  They define the Apple generation.   Baby Boomer bosses need to trust themselves enough to not always question their intentions. 

Leading young professionals is a tricky thing.   They are social entrepreneurs that are naturally wired to innovate and desire to change the world.    Since most baby boomers don’t think this way, they can learn a lot about how to raise their own children if they can grow to trust that their young colleagues operate best when they can accept them for who they are.  That is why points 1, 2 and 3 must be embraced by baby boomer bosses in order for them to trust unconditionally.

 5.  Challenge us; don’t marginalize us

Once baby boomer bosses master points 1 -4, this is when they must completely let go of the reins and invest in the value of their young professionals and in their future.    Because they get bored easily, young professionals are quick to find new challenges with a new employer.  However, if you can quickly accept that young professionals must be continually fueled with new things – they can serve as a powerful innovation force.

Never marginalize your young professionals just because you have not taken the time to work with them to truly understand how they operate. Challenge them to perform unconventional tasks and you will quickly begin to recognize their performance capabilities, skills-sets and know-how.  Don’t box them in a corner, stretch their thinking and put them to the test.   Young professionals are comfortable with change and can serve as your greatest talent assets if effectively led.  

While compensation management and allowing young professionals the opportunity to give back to society were also important – in the end they seek respect.  They don’t want favors and the easy way out to be accepted.   They just want you to realize that everyone is important and should be treated equally.  The organizations that lead and grow the talent of their young professionals will immediately give themselves a competitive advantage.

Email or follow-me on Twitter @GlennLlopis.  Like us on Facebook!

05/20/2012

7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations

Leadership

I am often asked whether people that are effective leaders in their current organization can lead as effectively in any organization. My response: only a few can – and they are able to do so because they have an intuitive sense about how to lead people, cultivate relationships, be authentic, manage change and navigate the political landscape that exist in every organization as well as their respective industry.

Leadership is a funny thing.  You either are a leader or you are not.  You either have the ability to inspire and guide others to perform and be successful or you don’t.  Leadership can be taught, but leadership is more of an attitude than a set of learned skills.   Leaders know when they are leading.  They recognize and are aware that others are paying attention and taking note.  Great leaders have the intangibles that translate and shine in any environment. 

President Reagan was able to take his leadership from Hollywood into the White House.  Steve Jobs took his leadership from Apple to Pixar Animation Studios and back to Apple.   Phil Jackson took both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to three-peat championships.

Leadership is always being purposeful and mindful of your actions and how they impact those around you.   That is why the selfish know-it-all type leaders fail in environments they can’t control.  In fact, the very best leaders are less concerned about controlling others and more concerned about creating the environment that allows those around them to be successful.   People love to be led by those that help them mature, develop and prosper.

So what makes these great leaders tick?  To get the conversation started, here are seven of the most important areas that you must master:

1. Lead people (don’t treat them like puppets)

Employees (regardless of hierarchy or rank) want to know that their leaders are paying attention to them.  People want their leaders to be knowledgeable of what they are truly capable of achieving.  Great leaders have an ability to detect great talent.  In many cases they are able to unleash the hidden talents in others.

Leaders that treat people like puppets are short-lived leaders.  They drive talented people away.  And they destroy organizations.  Look at the dismal series of recent leaders at Hewlett-Packard for good examples of how to destroy a great organization. 

2. Earn relationships (don’t use your power to manipulate others)

Too many leaders use their power to manipulate and purposely create confusion in their organization to maintain control of others.  This is artificial leadership and I have witnessed this too many times in my career.  

Great leaders take the time to earn relationships.  They cultivate them by being responsible for them.  This approach injects confidence and builds trust.  People in the organization begin to feel that you care about them and are able to view them as peers not subordinates.  This is the only successful form of leadership in today’s global marketplace with its instant feedback and 24/7 news cycle.    

3. Be Authentic (don’t hide behind the title)

Reveal who you really are as a person.   Whether you like Bill Clinton or not, in person he makes you feel like he is approachable, and fun.   How about Tim Tebow?  His popularity is not an accident.  He is as authentic as it gets and extremely humble and grateful for the opportunity to lead the Denver Broncos as their quarterback.  Tebow’s leadership style will transcend and be equally as effective in any organization he leads.    Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi – is another great example.  Her warmth and eye contact make you feel that she is listening to you and that you are able to have a candid conversation.

Too many leaders hide behind their title instead of delivering the responsibility that is inherent in the title.   Are you always impressed by those you meet that have important titles?  Of course not.  It’s because they lack authenticity and deep down inside they also lack self-esteem.

4. Manage change organically (don’t try to control outcomes)

Great leaders have a way of going with the flow.  They don’t panic and are incredibly strategic about how to handle change and uncertainty.   They step back, carefully assess the situation and utilize points 1 -3 to when communicating and working with their teams to resolve problems.

The leaders that try to control the problem believe that they are at fault and don’t want to be exposed.  During times of crisis, it’s about solving the problem not identifying the culprit. 

5. Be Politically Savvy (don’t create the politics)

Every organization has its inherent dynamics and no one individual can completely control them.  They’re just part of the company DNA.  The most effective leaders embrace that and don’t try to change too much too quickly.  They observe and give people the benefit of the doubt.  They don’t attempt to create their own political web to override the current culture.

6. Serve the Industry your lead (don’t disrespect it)

Just because you were a hero in your previous industry, doesn’t mean the industry you are about to serve will easily accept you.   Believe me, I have lived this first hand when I entered the seafood industry after being an executive in the beverage industry.  It took time, but I was able to use what was unique about the seafood industry to incorporate the best practices that I had brought with me from the beverage world.   Ultimately, my peers respected the fact that I was trying to make the industry better.

Don’t undermine the industry.   If you do, it will undermine you.  It doesn’t matter how powerful you are, the industry defines the ground rules – not you.  Respect it and learn to grow with it.

7. Know the Organization and its History (don’t ignore it)

This probably is the most valuable point: know your employer and its backstories (both internally and externally).

The smartest thing I did when I moved from one company to the other was to understand the organization’s past.  I found that the most effective way to do this was by leading Town Hall type meetings and asking the employees to share their perspectives about the organization’s future -- because when you ask about the future, they always tell you about the past.  This helped me connect the dots more quickly and allowed me to plan more effectively.  It also helped me accomplish points 1,2,3, and 5 quickly.

Leadership is a rare quality, and those that can lead in more than one organization are rarer still.  These 7 characteristics form the basics of the intangibles that distinguish great leaders.  Study them and make them your own, especially if you are moving up – or over – in the leadership ranks. 

03/18/2012

4 Things That Set Great Companies Apart from the Crowd

Comapny-crowdMost businesses these days are operating in survival mode. But take a look at the ones whose performance has been steady. This may sound idealistic, but the companies flourishing in this environment are finding non-traditional ways to compete, they’re staying focused on what matters most to their clients, and they’re not losing sight of how their product or service can make a difference in the world.

Here are four ways the best companies are naturally wired to lead:

1.They Discover Opportunity in Unlikely Places

Great organizations are always on the lookout for opportunities that others don’t see. Think of what Steve Jobs did with Apple: he sought to create new industries rather than competing in highly saturated markets. Leaders who seek to discover new opportunities are fearless when embarking upon new things and will continually test different methods to get the formula right. 

The best companies focus on the opportunities that create new kinds of experiences for their clients. They take on projects that most would see as unnecessary, or too complicated to invest in. They end up with products and services that make people’s lifestyles more enjoyable, more secure and easier to manage.  Clearly, Apple’s iPad is a great example of this, but there are others like Groupon, Facebook, Google, Skype, Zipcar, and more.

Great organizations are also always looking for talented people who can help them create new opportunities. For example, the New York Knicks signed Jeremy Lin after losing Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to injury. They needed fresh talent with a new attitude and the ability to reignite their momentum and ultimately win games. Not only has Jeremy Lin delivered, he has turned out to be a media darling, and the fans love the way he plays. The Knicks were able to see a winning opportunity in a player who was undrafted and even released by other teams where he didn’t fit with the organization’s culture.

2.They’re Structured, Yet Entrepreneurial

This is a tricky one, but the best companies have mastered it. Companies like Zappos, Google and Facebook (all Gen Y companies, by the way) have designed their cultures to be structured in how they operate, yet entrepreneurial in how they encourage their employees to think, act and innovate. They encourage transparency and open-mindedness. But their leaders are disciplined enough to ensure that the organization’s performance goals are met while the company culture remains intact.

This requires a leadership team that trusts its people and celebrates differences. Leaders must recognize that there are many ways to find success, and that diversity of thought creates serendipity. Those who earn serendipity see what others don’t, do what others won’t, and keep pushing when prudence says quit. Here is a list of the top 10 serendipitous product discoveries, including Viagra, chocolate chips¸ artificial sweetener, and brandy.

3.They Don’t Let Their Focus Get Clouded By Distractions

The uncertainty of the US economy makes it difficult for any company to stay focused. But in today’s marketplace, being strategic is not only about anticipating your competitor’s next new product or advertising campaign, it’s about having an instinctual feel for the crisis and change that may surface around you. Leaders with high levels of strategic focus have a knack for anticipating the natural ebbs and flows of the marketplace.

Companies like Nokia and Blackberry were caught off guard by the disruptive technologies of the Android OS and the iPhone; Blockbuster never anticipated Netflix. Most automakers and consumers alike were shocked by the sudden reinvention of Hyundai and its sister company KIA that captured market share not only in the US, but around the world. This is why businesses talk so much about risk - and why companies shake up their C-suite from time to time. 

Strategic focus requires leadership with circular vision: vision with the capacity to see around, beneath and beyond what you seek in order to anticipate change and find the most valuable opportunities. 

4.They Seek Social Significance

The best companies use the platform of their corporate brand to create social significance that reverberates and multiplies. For example, IKEA partnered with UNICEF to create a program to help prevent child labor by changing the conditions that led to child labor in the first place: poverty, hunger, and illiteracy.

Because poverty is often the result of illness, IKEA and UNICEF also worked with the World Health Organization to establish a five-year vaccination program, vaccinating almost three hundred thousand women and children from three thousand villages from 2002 to 2007. IKEA has consistently been a leader as a company that makes the world a better place.

That kind of charitable work may seem like mere marketing, or worse, a distraction from the bottom line. But it’s the mark of a truly great company to recognize that a sense of mission and purpose inspires workers and customers alike. When people work for a company that is genuinely trying to make the world a better place, they’re inspired. They see opportunity in new places, and they’re willing to take risks to achieve great things.

02/29/2012

Leadership Success is no Longer Measured by Money or Power

LeadershipWhat is leadership success? Is it money, promotions, happiness, raising a family, changing the world, or advancing your industry or community? This simple question has grown complicated over the years, so it’s more important than ever to clarify what success means. Leadership success is measured by one’s complete body of work in life: nothing more, nothing less.

Historically, leadership success has been associated with money and power. The more you have, the more successful you are. This is a false idea of success. How many people do you know that have money and power that are also happy, ethical, and purposeful? Sure, there are a few - but only a few.

While I support free enterprise, it’s important to put things into perspective. There are a lot of people who are successful but not wealthy. They view success through a lens that balances their professional, personal and spiritual lives.

Leadership success is earned and its impact is timeless.   

The post-2008 economy has taught all of us that greed, selfishness and short-sighted leadership aren’t sustainable. Today’s global marketplace requires better judgment from our leaders. Think of the hundreds of decisions leaders make each day. These decisions will ultimately define their body of work. Unsuccessful leaders make decisions without thinking through the consequences or considering how their decisions will reverberate throughout their professional, personal and spiritual lives. Successful leaders are always consciously aware of their body of work and the purpose that it serves. Are you?     

Your journey to leadership success starts with figuring out what matters most to you and then doing something to advance that goal every day. It’s about focusing on the body of work that you are creating and making sure that it represents your leadership style and the outcomes you seek.   

Unfortunately, most leaders prefer to just be what others want them to be, rather than doing the harder work of setting goals for themselves. This is why there are so many leaders that are financially well-off but aren’t connected with those around them. Some of the most powerful executives I have met are single-minded and shallow. They’re insensitive, selfish and insecure. Their identity is their company and their title; they focus only on recognition, salary and bonuses. These selfish leaders believe that they have all of the answers. While these leaders claim to understand the bigger picture, they don’t see what matters most – the people that have made them successful. 

Leaders in the workplace must recalibrate their definition of success so that it’s based on the opportunities and advancements they create for others and not just themselves. Successful leadership is something that happens organically when a leader focuses on the true impact of her actions. A true leader must be mindful of his personal and spiritual goals as well as his professional goals, and take care that his decisions at work reflect not just the kind of money he wants to earn, but the kind of person he wants to be.

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