Category Archives: Hopefulness

On the Papal Conclave’s Eve: Leadership Notes from the Past

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John Paul II proclaimed, “Be not afraid.” Ronald Reagan spoke of “a city on a hill.” Both teamed up to stare down communism, backing strong words with resoluteness.

Having had the good fortune of studying in Rome as an undergrad, I recall with sweet fondness standing in the shadow of Bernini’s great colonnade many a time to see  Pope John Paul II bless the crowds from his window overlooking St. Peter’s square. Now, I wait with eagerness along with billions of Catholics and other interested observers worldwide to see the white smoke emerge and a new pope step out to greet the world.  As we wait, I have been reflecting on events from recent papacies that speak to leading organizations of all sizes.

The Unexpected

When the former Angelo Roncalli became Pope John 23rd at the age of 77 in 1958, few expected the portly unknown cardinal to be anything more than a “caretaker,” keeping the papal seat warm for a few years and not doing much else.  No one foresaw the seismic shift he was soon to usher in with the simple but dramatic calling of the conference (known as Vatican II) which more than any other single event brought the Church into the modern age.

  • Lesson: Sometimes one simple but profound, singular leadership decision can change everything – shaping and re-setting all prior agendas.

Bestriding the World Stage

If no one anticipated John 23rd’s actions as pope, even fewer predicted Karol Wojtyla’s election as the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years.  From the very first moment of his introduction in 1978, though, the then 58-year old Continue reading

Rebuilding Relationships

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At a recent business dinner, the conversation was lively, the atmosphere cozy, and the mood light, as someone rose with glass in hand. “I’d like to offer a toast to Patty, for the terrific way that she has supported us this past year.”  Looking over the clinking of glasses and the round of warm congratulations sat an embarrassed but clearly gratified Patty.  This simple scene represented the culmination of a years-long journey to rebuild tattered relations between the groups present — and therein lies our story.

The Back Story

For more than a decade, relations between marketing and one of the lines of business had been frayed, sometimes to the breaking point—reflecting in large part the contentious relationship between the heads of both groups. Words like toxic, angry, skeptical, uncommunicative, antagonistic, and the like could be used to describe the tone between the groups at various points.  How did things move from this paralyzed state of affairs to the happy dinner scene above?  In a word, hard work—a series of steady, persistent actions over the course of years.

Lessons Learned

Several steps — some intentional, some happenstance — served to break the logjam and help move the relationship between the groups forward.

  • Change in Players—The first key event was the departure of the marketing head (for reasons unrelated to this situation).  The hard feelings between the two heads had become so entrenched that no Continue reading

2013: Making Dreams Instead of Resolutions

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“Make dreams, not resolutions” was a slogan I saw in my Twitter stream recently, and I’ve been quite captivated by the thought.  In that spirit, I offer these few words of encouragement as we head into a new year that—despite looming fiscal cliffs and on-going worldwide strife—is, as always, full of hope and new possibilities.

Resolutions are Duties, Dreams are passions

As a planner by nature, I’m a huge believer in setting goals and establishing plans.  Yet, oddly enough, this doesn’t extend to New Year’s resolutions.  While resolutions are a type of goal or plan, somehow there’s something very downcast and difficult about “resolutions.”  Too often, they seem to be about “giving up” something, rather than moving toward something with vigor and spirit—a duty or obligation rather than a passion.  This is why, I think, resolutions often go by the wayside after only a few days or weeks.  They don’t elevate our hopes or engage our dreams.

We all can be more organized, or manage our time better, or be more focused, or more responsive, or stop doing this or start doing that.  Those are all on our checklist as mature adults—and we should do our best to improve in each area.  But in terms of charting a path for the new year, they’re not going to truly inspire many of us.  What if, instead, our goal was to dream a new dream, or to re-invigorate an old one … even if it’s one that might strike some as impractical or unrealistic?  Maybe so—but that’s ok.  It’s your passion, and who knows where it might lead?

What If

… you gave yourself permission to pursue your love of foreign cultures by Continue reading

Gifts of the Season

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The holidays are a season of lights, and a season of gifts–gifts given, received, and cherished. In that spirit, I wanted to take a moment today to share with you some gifts that I have received from family, friends, and colleagues that have deeply touched my professional and personal life.

I have been truly blessed to have had many role models, guides, and mentors who have been so kind and caring to share their wisdom and their life’s example with me. To those named below, and to the many others not named but who have contributed a warm smile, a caring thought, or a helping hand, I thank you for all you have done for me and for the many lives you touch each day.

  • For my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles – for showing me how to care for and about people every day, with kindness, support, compassion, and dignity
  • For my brother James – who showed me how to conceive and develop the systems and  processes you need; and for my brother John – who showed me that success is showing up and getting the job done day after day with excellence
  • For Kathy – who showed me that drawing clean lines and tidy policies is great, but reality isn’t always so neat and clear, and taking care of people’s needs is the important thing
  • For Vicki and Gretchen – who both taught me that having a good answer is important, but doing the hard work to prepare the fields in advance is what helps the answer be accepted and take root
  • For Doug – who showed me what thinking outside the box looks like, and that taking people out of boxes and putting them into positions where they can do their best work is really the only way to recruit and sustain excellence
  • For Jeff – who taught me that the best way to support the business is to know and love the business
  • For Martin – who showed me that the best “employee relations” starts with the question, “How can we help?”
  • For Paula – who encouraged me to say what I needed to say with a clear voice and a strong heart, and that people would respond to clarity and sincerity above all else
  • For Vicki – who taught me that executives are just like you and me–if you remember that they have their doubts and fears and want some peace and comfort and milk and cookies at the end of the day, you’ll be able to work with them all just fine

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and wishes and blessings for a year of peace, healing, happiness, and fulfillment. May we all have our milk and cookies and comforts today and always!

Lighthouse Leadership

I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

This week, Hurricane Sandy’s massive power left millions seeking a light in the darkness (both literally and figuratively).  The news photos and stories of devastated communities longing for relief brought to mind the image of a lighthouse—a beacon of light, hope, and safety.  It strikes me that this is a good and proper depiction of the role of leaders in both good times and bad—pointing the way forward, toward light and safety.

Organizational Needs

I’ve had the occasion recently to help two organizations implement performance management and employee development systems.  In both cases, they were organizations run by experienced, dedicated, and charismatic leaders, with strong leadership teams, and healthy and positive employee cultures.  Remarkably, though, in both cases, leadership felt that well less than fifty-percent of their employees had a clear understanding of the organization’s direction, why they made the decisions that they made, and where they were heading—a circumstance that the leaders attributed to poor communication on their parts (sins of omission, if you will).

It really struck me that two otherwise high-performing, well-respected leaders openly acknowledged they needed to do a much better job of communicating the organization’s vision and direction to their employees (instead of taking for granted that “everyone knows where we are headed”).  After coming to this realization, both were determined to redouble and refocus their communication efforts.  And both were certain that this would have any number of tangible and intangible benefits to performance, productivity and morale.

It is axiomatic that everyone looks to their leaders for direction.  These leaders believed firmly that if their employees had a clearer sense of where the organization was going, they would advance in that direction much more confidently, quickly, and directly (and with considerably less anguish and costly uncertainty).  This is leadership time well-spent, they reasoned.

Lighthouse Leadership

Strong leaders serve as lighthouses for their employees, offering:

  • Light—shining forth, cutting through the fog of an uncertain environment
  • Hope—giving confidence that the organization has a plan (or at least a direction) for the future (and a path for getting there)
  • Safety—reassurance that someone is standing watch, guiding their ship toward safe harbor

Even in good times, the leaders I worked with this week recognized the need to communicate vision and point the way forward with clarity and confidence.  In difficult times—of economic, operational, and environmental distress and uncertainty—this is doubly and triply true.

Let us remind ourselves often of the need for clearly communicated vision—and let us help leaders point the way with confidence. May we all help steer our organizations to safe harbors.

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Our thoughts and prayers are with all those suffering the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Lin-sanity, The Kid, and the Value of Connectors

Jeremy Lin -- the "connector" -- celebrates with teammates and fans

Two of the biggest stories in the sports world in recent weeks have been the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the passing of Gary Carter.  Though unrelated, these two events have re-emphasized for me the value of “connectors” –  those people (in both sports and all organizations) who somehow “connect” the people and change the game (and the atmosphere) in  important ways.

“Lin-sanity”

Jeremy Lin, the New York Knicks’ new point guard, has gone from an unknown reserve on a faltering team to literally a worldwide sensation in less than two weeks.  When the season began on Christmas Day, Lin was sleeping on his brother’s couch.  By Valentine’s Day, Lin – an undrafted free agent from Harvard, who had recently been cut by two teams and was hoping for a spot on a minor league roster when signed by the desperate Knicks – was serving as an inspirational role model for children around the world (he is one of the few NBA players of Taiwanese descent).

How did this happen? As a point guard, Lin’s job is to get the ball to his teammates in places and at times when they have the best chance of making plays and scoring.  Simply put, he “connects” his teammates – a skill that is vital for successful teams in sports as well as in business.  Add in his can-do spirit, the energy he brings onto the court, and his humility, and you have something very special in the works.  End result:  The Knicks have gone from an 8-15 record and sports writers openly betting on when the coach would be fired to a team focused on the playoffs (with some giddily speculating whether a championship run might even be possible for them).

“The Kid”

Gary Carter's ability to connect teammates led to a dramatic World Series victory in 1986

While post-steroid era baseball may not be “America’s Past-Time” in quite the same way it used to be, there’s no doubt that Gary Carter was an All-American sports hero.  A Hall of Fame, power-hitting catcher for 19 seasons, Carter’s position enabled him to serve as a “field general” behind the plate, and his upbeat personality and strong will to win enabled him to be a leader off the field.

In the many eulogies offered on his passing last week at the age of 57 from brain cancer, there was constant reference to the role Carter played as the “last piece of the puzzle” (literally, a “connector”) when he came to the New York Mets in 1985 – leading them to a World Series championship a year later. He was recognized as the glue that held a very talented but rowdy bunch together, from guiding a young pitching staff through rough spots with patience and care, to – determined not to make the final out – getting the hit that started the Mets’ miraculous game-winning rally in a contest known simply in New York sports lore as “Game Six.”  In short, he “connected” his teammates and helped the whole become so much more than the sum of the parts.

 Business: Connectors and Dis-Connectors

It strikes me that in thriving organizations of any size or scope (from 6-person departments to major divisions of global corporations), there is often a person (or persons) who serve as connectors – who through their skills, presence, and personality serve to bring the group together and help everyone “raise their game.”  Two examples (one positive, one negative):

  • Dysfunction — I once interviewed with the HR department of a division of a Fortune-500 company where – strikingly – there seemed to be absolutely no connection (business, emotional, or otherwise) between any member of the HR team … so much so that the word “team” could scarcely be used.  This extended to the HR VP – an otherwise affable and bright person who was proud to share that he had absolutely no idea what anyone on his team was doing at any point in time (no joke!).  Boy, did that team need a “connector”!
  • Connection — I currently work with a colleague who is absolutely, intuitively brilliant in her ability to bring people together.  With very little fanfare and no one really noticing until after the fact, she regularly brings teammates into her projects in ways in which they can add the most value, expand their contacts, serve the client’s best interests, and play to their strengths – win/win scenarios, to say the least.  (In basketball parlance, she gets people the ball in positions where they can score).  She is a true “connector,” and the team – and the organization — is truly strengthened for it.

Implications

In hiring for, coaching, and developing teams at all levels of our organizations, it seems to me that “connectors” are vital for success.  What are your thoughts?

Knowing When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

The start of the new year is traditionally a time for fresh starts, new perspectives, and transitions. I was reminded of this recently when two close friends – both long-time, high-performing senior operating executives in their firms – confided their intentions to leave their positions this year.

Both had similar reasons – in essence, they were mis-aligned with their companies’ visions and values, and they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) fight the battles there any longer.  Their situations led me to wonder, “How do you know when it’s time to say good-bye?”

Signs and Signals

When one – or certainly, a few – of the following are true, it may be time to move on to greener pastures: Continue reading

New Year’s Hopes, Plans, and Dreams

The turning of the calendar page to a new year is traditionally a time for taking stock, considering the future, and resolving to pursue anew our hopes, plans, and dreams.  In this spirit, I wanted to share two brief anecdotes about looking forward with a hope-filled spirit.

“Rapidly Improving”

A number of years ago, I had the good fortune of working with an attorney representing our office in Puerto Rico who was undoubtedly one of the most “glass half full” thinkers I have ever met.  When exchanging pleasantries upon meeting (in person or by phone), Tristan would invariably respond to the question, “How are you? or “How’s it going?” with “Very well, thank you – and rapidly improving! How are you?”

“… And rapidly improving.” Fifteen years later, I can still see, hear, and feel the smile on his face and in his voice when he would say this. I’ve always thought it quite remarkable.  Mr. Reyes was a labor attorney, a serious and accomplished man who wrestled with difficult and often unpleasant risks, concerns, and dilemmas every day.  Yet, in his speech and in his manner, he conveyed a belief that all good things were on the horizon – and if troubles did come his way, he was confident that he would work through them and come out the other side stronger for the struggle.  All of that packed into one little phrase and a smile (along with the subtly re-affirming implication that part of the ‘rapidly improving’ part came from getting to interact with you that day).

May the new year bring us many upbeat encounters with remarkable people such as Tristan – along with the ability to convey such positive beliefs to all who come into contact with us.

“Let’s Go Exploring”

As a big fan of the daily comics, it was with sadness that I read Bill Watterson’s last “Calvin and Hobbes” strip on January 1, 1996.  (For those unfamiliar with the comic strip, it followed the adventures – real and imagined – of 6-year boy-wonder Calvin and his confidante and partner-in-crime, the stuffed toy tiger, Hobbes).  Mr. Watterson honored the strip’s best purposes with a final entry of great whimsy, innocence, hope, and childlike expectation that I’ve always felt was a wonderful and fitting image and message for the new year.  Returning Calvin and Hobbes to one of their favorite settings, a childhood paradise of freshly-driven snow and endless possibilities, here’s what he drew:

(CLICK HERE for a larger, clearer version of the strip)

May we all “go exploring” with hope, heart, and eagerness and experience good and great adventures and joys this year.  Happy New Year to all!

Hearing Evident Truths

The firm I work for has recently received numerous requests from clients to assist them with employee surveys.  My experience is that the difficulty with employee surveys is not conducting them, but truly listening to the results — a truth that was reinforced to me while watching the classic holiday program, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Linus Speaks Up

Towards the end of the program, ever-beleaguered Charlie Brown — despairing over the commercialization of Christmas — asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”  His wise friend, Linus, steps forward calmly and confidently and gives an answer for the ages (click here):

It strikes me that Linus’ answer, like so many organizational truths, was known to all — but unspoken but by a few.  It took someone willing to ask the question … and someone willing to say what everyone was thinking … for the answer to come forth.

Missing the “Ah-Ha” Moment

A company I worked for used to conduct an employee survey every year about this time.  For several years, they received consistent answers to a number of questions surrounding “What can we do to improve the company?” Responses were invariably to the effect of, “Communication between managers and employees is very poor,” “The company doesn’t seem to have a clear direction,” “I personally like my manager, but people don’t have a lot of confidence in the management team in general,” and the like.

Unfortunately, rather than trying to solve the communication and confidence issues that the employees identified, the management team — hurt and perplexed by the perennially negative results — decided to discontinue the survey.  (Yes — a heavy sigh, indeed.  They did have a penchant for learning the wrong lesson, I‘m afraid).

A Hopeful Ending

The story above — albeit all too common, I’m afraid — isn’t the only possible conclusion to these issues, of course.  To end where we began, the closing scene of A Charlie Brown Christmas offers a dose of hope that groups that wish to learn from evident truths can do so.  After Linus’ heartfelt proclamation, the Peanuts gang has a chance to reflect of what he’s said and, one by one, they reconsider their views on a symbolically important issue — the beauty of Charlie Brown’s scraggly but noble tree.  In the end, the tree is given tender loving care and it “grows” into a true thing of beauty as the group gathers around it for a heartwarming hymn.

Once spoken out loud, Linus’ wisdom was taken to heart and behaviors changed. Here’s wishing that each of us can help our leadership teams to seek out, embrace, and act on the evident truths in our organizations in the coming year.  Happy New Year to all!

A Time of Gifts and Miracles

In my faith tradition and others, the holiday season is a time of great anticipation and preparation; a time of hope and of hopes fulfilled; a time of gifts, and a time of miracles.  These are my wishes for each of us …

… that we may prepare diligently for the tasks that are before us, and that we might look forward with great eagerness and anticipation to new adventures large and small in the new year

… that we never lose heart, always keeping hope and wonder alive, and that our fondest wishes might come to fulfillment in ways we could never expect

… that we share our gifts freely with those around us; and that we might recognize, encourage, and cherish the gifts others share with us

… that we experience a world of miracles that transform us into our better selves, always.

These are my hopes and wishes for us – both professionally and personally – this holiday season.  May peace and contentment be yours.