LEADING THROUGH DISTRACTION
What are the keys to leading an institution when it’s facing severe outside distractions? Here are five lessons that Hewlett-Packard CEO Carleton S. Fiorina gave the Wall Street Journal in an interview:
1. Have a strategic vision and a peripheral vision, so you can look ahead and look around.
2. Be proactive in communicating constantly with team through face-to-face meetings, e-mails and voice mails.
3. Be flexible. Stuff happens.
4. Build a strong team. Success is always derived from the right people and teamwork.
5. Trust that you know more about your organization than observers or critics.
Making the cut(s)
All leaders face difficult decisions, but the most difficult often are the ones that come on a personal level with another person – like making cutbacks because of mergers, cutbacks or restructuring. According to Michael Wakefield of the Center for Creative Leadership, effectively leading in such times requires significant emotional competence.
“First, leaders should tell their people the facts as early as possible – recognizing that people’s anxiety levels will skyrocket and some of your best people may jump ship,” Wakefield says. “Withholding information, in the spirit of being kind and sparing people anxiety, indicates a lack of respect for people’s ability to handle reality.”
“Second, leaders need to be authentic. In other words, don’t simply play a role, Lead from your own experience, emotions and empathy.”
Tips for leading in tough times:
* Become self-aware
* Hone interpersonal skills
* Demonstrate emotional maturity.
* Be genuine, authentic, open
When a group of soldiers found themselves locked away in a German prison camp during World War II, they easily could have waited out the end of the war there. Or, they might have made a few small attempts to free one or two people.
At one such camp, however, the goals were much bigger. These prisoners organized themselves around the collective goal of freeing 250 soldiers in one night. Their story became the basis for the 1963 movie, “The Great Escape.”
Imagine the teamwork required to pull off such an ambitious goal. Groups of prisoners had to engineer and dig tunnels, build supports from wooden slats, dispose of dirt, create bellows to pump air into the tunnels, and light the tunnels.
According to one list, the supplies included 4,000 bed slats, 1,370 battens, 1,699 blankets, 52 long tables, 1,219 knives, 30 shovels, and 600 feet of rope and 1,000 feet of electric wire.
In addition to finding materials for the tunnels, each escapee would need civilian clothes, German papers, identity cards, maps, homemade compasses and emergency rations.
Everyone had a job, from tailors to pickpockets to forgers. There were even teams that specialized in distracting the German soldiers.
“It demanded the concentrated devotion and vigilance of more than 600 men – every single one of them, every minute, every hour, every day and every night for more than one year,” John Sturges, who directed the movie account, once said. “Never has the human capacity been stretched to such incredible lengths or shown such determination and such courage.”
To pull off such an elaborate mission, the soldiers moved beyond cooperation and into collaboration. You see, there’s a difference between cooperation and collaboration.
Cooperation is working together agreeably. Everybody sits down, and they’re agreeable. Collaboration is working together aggressively; and there’s a world of difference between those two.
There are four changes needed to become a collaborative type of a player:
Perception: You need to see teammates differently; you need to see them as collaborators, not as competitors.
Attitude: As a team player, you need to be supportive, not suspicious, of teammates, because if you trust others, you’ll treat them differently – you’ll treat them better.
Focus: A collaborative type of team player concentrates on the team, not himself or herself. Cavett Roberts said it right: “True progress in any field is a relay race and not a single event,” so the focus is different.
Results: You begin to create victories through multiplication.
One is too small of a number to produce greatness. In fact, nothing can be accomplished in a great way without help. You have to learn to collaborate. You have to learn to come together.
When you’re developing a team that collaborates, it begins to be aggressive, not just agreeable. And it begins to accomplish a vision that mere cooperation never would allow.
Committing to the Commitment
At the age of 67, Thomas Edison watched as fire destroyed much of his work and equipment. Time to retire, Time to hang up the lab coat? No way; “All our mistakes are burned up,” the inventor said. “Now we can start anew.”
There is a time to retire, but Edison knew his time hadn’t come. The fire that consumed his work didn’t destroy the fire that burned within him to continue his work. Edison’s commitment remained.
People tend to associate commitment with emotions. If they feel the right way, then they can follow through on their commitments. But true commitment doesn’t work that way. Commitment is not an emotion; it’s a character quality that enables us to reach our goals.
Emotions go up and down all the time, but commitment must remain rock solid. A solid team – whether it’s in business, sports, marriage or a volunteer organization – must have team players who are solidly committed to the team. Let’s look at four things every team player needs to know about being committed:
1. Commitment is usually discovered in the midst of adversity.
You never know the level of your commitment or that of a team player until things get tough. Every one of us could stay committed to a marriage if everything was always good. Every one of us could stay committed to good health as long as we were healthy. The trick is to stay committed to the commitment when the economy takes a turn for the worse or when you lose your biggest account or when your plant burns to the ground. Commitment, because it is a character trait, is revealed, not built, by adversity.
2. Commitment does not depend on gifts and abilities.
Commitment and talent, I have found, are unconnected. Many very talented people lack commitment. Many people who lack skills and talent are tremendously committed. So if you find somebody who’s extremely talented, there is no guarantee that there is a high level of commitment.
For this reason, it becomes a great day when we connect talent with commitment – for ourselves and for those on the teams we lead. The moment that happens, the team goes to a whole new level.
3. Commitment results from choices, not conditions.
In writing about choices, Frederic Flach notes that most people look back on their lives and point to a specific time and place that marks a significant life change. “Whether by accident or design,” Flach writes, “there are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.” Our commitment springs from those choices.
4. Commitment lasts when it is based on values.
Establishing commitment from a team is a critical piece of leadership, but leaders I work with are equally concerned about sustaining that commitment.
I’ve found the only way to sustain commitment is to link it with the personal values of an individual. Once your commitment is based on your values, you have no problem sustaining it. Values are what drive your choices; they transcend your talents and skills and they stand up under the tests of adversity.
Commitment based on something other than solid values usually is a house of cards; when the wind kicks up, the house comes down.