Don’t forget to give thanks!

This week, Americans are celebrating their Thanksgiving holiday. I am not American but I love Thanksgiving because I find the premise and practice of focusing on our life’s blessings and fortunes, as well as expressing gratitude to the people we respect and love, to be extremely healthy, empowering, and necessary to all people in all cultures and geographies.I recently came across a quote from Swindoll that is apropos to this topic: “Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it.”

This quote represents such truth!

On a daily basis, we encounter circumstances and situations that give us the opportunity to choose our outlook, mood, and course of action. Sometimes we relate to our circumstances as misfortunate, and, as a result, we feel upset or defeated. At other times, we relate to what life dealt us as fortune and therefore we feel victorious, grateful, and energized.

When we are stuck in a rut and view the glass as half empty, this perspective colors our entire experience of things. Have you ever noticed that when we are upset about one thing, we tend to see other things that are not working, too?

However, when we focus on the glass being half full, this perspective uplifts, empowers, and energizes us. We see all the good things and opportunities around us.

We are often so consumed by the minutia of our daily life that we forget that we really have a choice about how we view and react to things around us.

The reason I love Thanksgiving so much is that this holiday is a designated period in the year when we attempt to deliberately be positive and only focus on the good things around us– our blessings, fortunes and things we are grateful for.

Too many people spend too much of their time being negative about things.

The world would be a better place if more people expressed more gratitude more often.

May we all use this holiday as an “excuse” to start fully giving thanks to everything and everyone in our life that we love and respect.

Don’t take any of it for granted.

Regardless of your nationality, I wish you a great Thanksgiving!

A salute to Paris and Parisians.

I am dedicating this week’s blog to Paris and the Parisians.

My blog is called Leading and Living Courageously, and I believe this week the Parisians deserve this designation.

During the weekend terror attacks in Paris, there were so many acts of courage and bravery by ordinary citizens who went out of their way to help their fellow citizens.

I heard stories about people who took injured strangers into their homes and treated them until the emergency units arrived…. People who took strangers in for the night because they couldn’t get home… taxi drivers who drove people back to their homes in the middle of the night without charging them for it… and many other acts of bravery and kindness.

People then gathered back at the Place de la Republique Square the next day, despite the warning of the security forces, in order to show solidarity in remembering and honoring the fallen victims of these tragic terror attacks.

I have clients and friends in Paris. Throughout the week, as I was in touch with many of them, I was inspired by their brave spirit of optimism, perseverance, and determination to not let the terrorists stop or hinder the liberal, passionate, and life-loving life of Paris and France.

This week I salute the Parisians for their inspiring courage!

May we all have a safe week!

Are you a Leader or a Manager?

Are you a boss or manager?

A close friend sent me this chart:

I see this chart as outlining some of the differences between leaders and managers. There is such a significant difference between the two. Here are some of my thoughts:

Managers manage and focus on the existing reality. Leaders always look forward and think about how to create new realities.

I often hear managers brag about how their team’s performance is the best in the region or group. Leaders, on the other hand, seem to care less about how to reach the top of the current scale. They seem to be more interested in how to put their teams at the bottom of the next-level scale.

Managers ask for permission, while leaders ask for forgiveness. Managers tend to be more hesitant about taking initiative and doing things that haven’t been done before. Leaders tend to be more comfortable making bolder decisions and overall their tolerance for taking risk is higher.

Leaders seem to always stand in the bigger picture and destination. They are concerned with the question “Where do we need to get to?” while managers are constantly looking for “What do we need to do?”

  • Managers strive to drive discipline, consistency, and order. They are often afraid to shake things. However, leaders promote and expect disruptive thinking and productive chaos that shakes things.
  • Compliance is very important to managers because they see it as the route to efficiency. For leaders, compliance is the enemy. The most powerful leaders I know constantly look for how to inspire ownership and commitment in their people.
  • Compliance always promotes an environment of fear. Ownership and commitment inspire courage and innovation.
  • Managers drive things through their authority. Leaders drive things through their personality and charisma. Even when they have the authority to mandate things, leaders choose the path of inspiring and enlisting their people in their vision.

While there is a significant difference between the orientation, demeanor, energy, qualities, and skills of leaders and managers, both are required to make things work. Both have a key role in achieving the best outcomes. And both need to work very closely to complement each other.

In the most powerful teams that I have seen, the leaders facilitated the creation of a bold vision and they inspired everyone to get on board and own them. Managers helped them to turn their bold visions into realities and results.

Unfortunately, too often I see managers playing the roles of leaders. They stifle their team’s energy, innovation, and success.

I also see leaders who don’t empower and use their managers wisely and effectively. Things don’t get done, people don’t see progress, and over time, they get frustrated and discouraged.

When you have clarity and harmony between the two, you can form the best teams who can drive the greatest change, progress, and accomplishments.

So, are you a leader or manager?

The Five Myths of Strategic Planning: Part Two

Henry Mintzberg, in his seminal 1993 book The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, refers to strategic planning as an “oxymoron,” claiming “the process can straitjacket an organization by stifling innovation and commitment.”

In my last blog, I shared the first three of five myths that undermine most leaders’ effectiveness at generating powerful strategies and creating the ownership and accountability of their teams toward their execution. Here are the remaining two:

Myth #4: Size Matters

The typical strategic planning process is an exclusive affair. Executives often believe that the fewer people who are involved in the process, the easier it will be. As such, they often limit participation to a small group of business unit heads and/or the strategy development group.

But putting together the strategic planning team is not a matter of finding the perfect group size — it’s about gathering together the right people.

In order to create the most powerful strategy with the strongest sense of ownership and accountability for execution, you must include both those individuals who have the best expertise about where the organization needs to go and the people who are going to support and implement the agreed upon direction and objectives.

While some impatient executives might see this broader inclusion, for example of support functions, as slowing things down, slower in this case is faster – since doing things right from the start saves time, money, and prevents having to do it all, all over again when people are paying lip-service to the execution down the road.

Myth #5: Communication Creates Commitment

Town halls, road shows, all-hands meetings, and webinars are all popular vehicles for spreading the word and gaining buy-in once the strategic plan has been crafted. Most senior executives will tout these communication efforts as a critical step in helping the organization understand what the strategy means, and what role each person plays in bringing it to fruition.

But while these types of events can generate a significant amount of energy and excitement, they also contain serious pitfalls that can lead to cynicism rather than commitment.

One of these pitfalls is the mistaken belief that staff are empty vessels, just waiting for the word from above about where the company is headed and what they should be doing to help it get there.

Far from being empty, people are already full. Full with frustrations and disappointments about what executives have said they were going to do in the past and what they actually did. Full from promises made and not kept, and full from accepting requests to get involved in a company strategy and then being ignored when times got tough.

Employees who have been around have little time— or tolerance — for fanfare and hype. What employees want to know is that their bosses understand, and are committed to addressing, the challenges they face in putting a strategy in place.

For example: If staff communicate that a certain supervisor is a tyrant, will management listen and hold that person accountable for demonstrating the values they are promoting? If systems are broken or inadequate, will management hear the impact that this has on staff and make the proper investment to set things right? If staff are caught in the crossfire of feuding bosses, will the leaders of the company leave them to their warring factions or let them know political gamesmanship won’t be tolerated?

Only by listening to what the staff are saying, with both their words and behaviors, will leaders become aware of and able to address the issues that are preventing them from embracing the strategic objectives management is asking them to pursue. When this type of listening happens, and action is taken, commitment to the strategic plan follows suit.

Strategic planning is not an accounting and forecasting exercise; it’s not an offsite spent in a room hashing out who’s willing to go along with what, and it’s not a well-written bunch of words put to paper and placed in a binder. It is a living, breathing, organic leadership action. It requires not a calculator, but the courage and conviction to inspire everyone to be their best and get on the same page.

As Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola famously said:

“The first step in making a good movie is getting everyone involved to be making the same movie.”

Photo by: Michael Cardus

The Five Myths of Strategic Planning: Part One

Every year, executives around the world go through the time-honored tradition known as strategic planning. They emerge from days or weeks of meetings with a sacred document that — if adhered to — will increase their sales, make their services shine, engage their staffs and secure their futures. Well, that’s the story they tell us in business school anyway.But unfortunately – as Professor Robert Kaplan of the Harvard Business School and his associate, David Norton of the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative tell us – as much as 90 percent of all corporate strategies fall short of stated objectives.

From many years of experience helping global executive teams generate a clear and compelling direction for their organizations, I have observed several key misunderstandings that lead to wishful, wasteful, or less-than-worthwhile strategic planning efforts and outcomes. In the next two blogs, I want to share five myths that undermine most leaders’ effectiveness at generating powerful strategies and creating the ownership and accountability of their teams toward their execution:

Myth #1: Content is King

Most executives believe that if you get the content of your strategy right, the success of that strategy is a foregone conclusion. They assume that the substance of the strategy must be composed of realistic objectives based on the most accurate and valid information. In many organizations, this belief leads to “analysis paralysis”

What goes unrecognized and unaddressed is that no strategy can ever be right or reasonable enough to account for all the events that might emerge on the road to its fulfillment. Therefore, perfect content, as a path to success, is an illusion and leads to an increasing investment of resources in the pursuit of the one true strategy that will win the day.

In reality, any strategy is only as good as people’s ownership and commitment to its fulfillment. Even the most accurate and well-crafted plan will fail if people don’t own it and take accountability for delivering it.

Myth #2: Predicting the future is key

Most executives create their strategic plans by looking at their rearview mirror. They determine their future goals by benchmarking and analyzing their own, as well as others’, historical performance and trends.

In today’s rapidly changing technological, consumption, and economical environments, this approach can be risky as no one has a crystal ball, and no one knows what the future will bring. So, the more you try to predict the future by analyzing the past, the more you are likely to merely repeat past cycles and trends.

Of course, you need a healthy understanding and respect for the past. However as Alan Kay, ex-Apple Fellow, said, “The only way to predict the future is to create it.”

The most powerful strategies are informed by the past, but more strongly influenced by future thinking. This means a team envisions the future, takes a stand, and commits to a direction and destination as a responsible, plausible, and calculated risk. Then everyone commits to that destination – not because it is perfectly accurate, but because they believe it is the right future to pursue.

Myth #3: Consensus Equals Success

In the eyes of many leaders, the ultimate “buy-in” prize for a strategic plan is reaching consensus. The belief behind this myth is that as long as everyone feels pretty good about the plan, and has no strong objections, that’s about the best that can be hoped for, especially in a diverse system.

But the problem with a consensus-oriented approach is that it requires settling for the lowest common denominator everyone can agree with, rather than striving for solutions that challenge current thinking.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said it quite elegantly: “To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.

Consensus is way too low of a bar for the fulfillment of any strategic plan that requires substantive organizational change. It leads to compliance at best.

To generate this commitment, executives need to set the bar at the higher level of alignment. To reach alignment requires putting people’s concerns, doubts, uncertainties, and water cooler conversations on the table so they can be dealt with out in the open.

Alignment is achieved when people leave the strategy discussions fully on board with whatever decision the group has reached, with no “Plan B,” no pocket vetoes, and no reservations about fully investing themselves in pursuing the agreed upon direction.