Archive for the ‘Harnessing Ambition’ Category
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Taming the Abrasive Manager is a quick read and a should be a mandatory read for anyone who works for (or even near) one of those “challenged” managers. Dr. Laura Crawshaw aka The Boss Whisperer shows you in fun, easy to read stories and brilliant instructions based in 25 years of real-world experience taming misguided leaders who terrorized their workplace. What I enjoyed most about this book is that the author doesn’t stoop to cheap caricatures; she succinctly and precisely nails the core driver of “bad” boss behavior – FEAR BASED TRIGGERS – and shows you how you can help yourself and help a boss see the light.
Most successful leaders begin their careers yearning for success, fame, power, or wealth. There is nothing unusual about this motivation as a starting point, but our decisions and actions as leaders are intertwined with the lives of those we lead. Leadership is an intricate web of relationships. Build them and you succeed. Break them and you fail. Focus your effort on the greater good, and you help build a better world. Focus on your own well being, and you destroy far more than goodwill.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a stark object lesson on this topic.
The controversial President of Iran had a humble beginning as the son of a blacksmith, worked hard on his education and served in very difficult assignments in both the brutal war with Iraq and in his early political career. Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist message. He effectively leveraged the anti-American sentiment reignited by then President Bush in “axis of evil” speech. Ahmadinejad also promised the people of Iran a government of principle, in particular focused on using their nation’s oil wealth to improve infrastructure, education, and healthcare.
Once elected, Ahmadinejad promptly revealed his true nature. In the past four years, we have seen a man drunk with fame. He has continued to beat the drum of anti-American, and by extension anti-European and anti-Israeli rhetoric, in an attempt to inspire through bravado and conspiracy theories. He has not invested oil wealth into infrastructure, education, or health care for Iranians. He has invested substantial money and effort into creating a nuclear capability in a vain attempt to lift his own stature at home and abroad.
Whether you believe the election of 2009 is a fraud or not, his actions to suppress allegations of improper voting and calls for a new, fair vote make it clear that he is not working for the benefit of those he leads. If the election were not a fraud, he would have sponsored a fair and transparent investigation to demonstrate that he is the legitimately re-elected President. Instead, he has ruthlessly suppressed criticism and debate. He isn’t using the power of his position to create a better world for Iran. He is using his power to retain his position—at the bloody expense of his own people.
History has shown us time and again—in politics, business, religion and every other field of endeavor— when a leader arrogantly pursues exclusive privileges for the few at the expense of those being led, it ends in failure. Kenneth Lay of Enron, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois, and Governor Spitzer of New York are just a few recent, home-grown examples that reiterate this point. The demise of Ahmadinejad is all but certain without a sudden and radical shift in his focus and action.
For all of us who lead, this object lesson teaches us a core leadership principle. Consider why you are in a leadership role in the first place. You didn’t achieve a leadership role because you are special. You attained this role because the people you lead want you there. Perhaps, they need an opportunity to further their career. Perhaps, they don’t have the confidence or desire to lead. Perhaps, they like you or your ideas. Regardless of the specific motivations of the people you lead, your leadership role is not about you. It never was. It’s about them. If you are sincere and thoughtful about your leadership role, then you are already investing the majority of your waking—and some sleeping—hours in leading your organization. Why are you doing this? Is it for your fame? Your wealth? Your personal satisfaction? Your professional development? Only that? Why not aspire for something more? Are you afraid to take it on? Are you unwilling to make the effort? Please note, the higher the aspiration and the more inclusive the benefit of your ambition, the more you create a sustainable and successful effort that outlasts your own personal investment of time and energy. Anything less is a waste of your opportunity, and if you insist on serving your own self-interests, it will only lead to disaster.
I am getting pretty tired of all the panicy talking heads and all the whining about how bad it is. Yes, we are in a deep recession. But let’s put this recession into perspective:
Great Depression v. Today:
1929 to 1933 our GDP declined 45%. 2007 to 2008 our GDP grew 4% and worst case it will be wobbly or flat for the next few years.
1929 to 1933 unemployment exploded from 3% to 25%. 2007 to 2008 our unemployment jumped from 4% to 8% so far and could conceivably grow above 10% but not much more because we have already injectd $1.3 trillion into the economy and several sectors including medical, internet applications, and green tech are still in growth – just not as high as it was.
1929 to 1932 the Dow Jones Industrials collpased by 89%. 2007 to 2009 the DJI fell by 55% and it’s pretty clear that we have not reached bottom. But to collapse as badly as the Great Depression, the DJI would have to reach 1584 by 2010. Not likely givent that the P/E ratios of many solid earnings companies like MSFT, DIS, IBM, etc are running at 7 while the S&P500 is at 18. Shrewd investors are already evaluating bargains.
And of course, as bad as the Great Depression was for the US in the 1930′s it is just a blip when compared to the catastrophic economic collapses that hit Germany during the Weimar Republic, Brazil during the 1980′s, most Eastern European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yes, many people are out of work and that makes for suffering and anguish for millions. But let’s be honest with ourselves. Most of the people in the US have been living high on the hog for several decades, living a lifestyle well beyond their means. How big of a house do you need? How many cars? How many cellphones in 5 years? How big of a flat screen TV? How many people really need a boat…and how big does it have to be?
Dave Matthews said it best. What we want is what we’ve not got. What we need is all around us.
This setback in our economy will not last more than another year or two. Enough whining! There is a lot of work to do, a lot of opportunity for those willing to try, and for those willing to fail there is enormous wealtht yet to be created.
Let’s be tenacious and get back on our horse and ride.
It’s an ancient metaphor at least 2500 years old. Yet it is so apt today. The DOW has careened around 7500 all day, jumping in the last half hour to 8000 on the news of Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary. If it weren’t for that bit of news, it would have been a terrible day for investors on Wall Street. Sumner Redstone had a margin call. The CEO of AIG had a margin call. Just about everyone I know is lamenting the loss of at least 40 percent of their investment portfolio in the past 6 months. Maybe fire is too gentle a word for this lotus. Maybe Lotus in the conflagration is better.
What is the lotus in this flaming financial hell? My clients are alive and well in Seattle and San Francisco. Everyone is facing financial turmoil. An online game company had it’s B round erased by the credit crunch a month ago. They restrutured, regrouped, and now have raised capital from the orginal investors and a few ballsy new investors to buy time to get to cashflow positive in the near future. A tech company with a huge cashburn has pushed for and attained an enviable client list and found strong interest in several large acquirers who remain undaunted by all the financial carnage around them. A hosting company that survived the bloodbath that killed Exodus, PSInet, and other hosting companies now finds itself completely sold out of capacity and yet unable to finance an expansion, and so they have decided to hunker down and optimize their client list for profitability. A startup that launched a clever social merchandising application on facebook less than a year ago finds its current investors skittish. The team has regrouped and is finding solid interest from new investors who like the progress to date.
The entrepreneurial spirit in this sector is the lotus in the fire. Not one of the CEOs i work with have given up. Not one of them has shown any willingness to concede. Everyone has had their mettle tested and are showing their ability to keep their eyes on the prize. It is a privilege to work with them and a privilege to watch such people of great character and intestinal fortitude driving for a win in the midst of such a storm.
Who says we are a nation of whinerse? I say bullshit. We are a nation of hard driven men and women willing to batte lwith self-doubt and a naysayers and high odds against us in order to have a shot at winning tomorrow.
The lotus in the fire is a beautiful sight
I went to the Washington State Presidential primary caucuses yesterday, which put my brain into history mode. It struck me again that great leaders stand their ground under fire, at times even under persecution. It’s not what they promise; it’s what they do when their mettle is tested. Great leaders face daunting challenges with resolve and inspire others with hope for a better future.
So I began to wonder, what is it about George W. Bush’s war in Iraq that doesn’t pass the sniff test for any but the most reactionary of noses? President Bush has been pestered, ridiculed, and chastised by many pundits and leaders, and in addition he has lost about two-thirds of the country’s support in pursuit of his foreign policy in Iraq. He has been under fire to say the least. He has asked us to aspire to a safer world and freedom for the Iraqi people. Why isn’t he seen by most as a great leader for sticking to his guns for this admirable intention? Without resorting to the same old arguments on this topic, I see two answers of use for all leaders.
The first and simplest answer is, the war in Iraq isn’t over. It hasn’t been won by anyone’s accounting. And although the mission objectives have been ambiguous and fluid over the past four years, not even the current mission objectives have been achieved with any sense of finality. So it is fair to say that judging his leadership on Iraq might be premature.
But there is a deeper answer to why George W. Bush isn’t seen as a great leader on this topic. The primary verb in leadership is “inspire.” President Bush has used 9/11 – one moment of pain in our recent history – to declare a military campaign to root out the source of evil. That’s a flawed promise because the source of 9/11 is essentially one man, who still lives, breathes, and communicates effectively with his followers. It is a flawed promise because the root of this evil is so wide and so pervasive, we would have to kill or subdue everyone who harbors ill will against the United States, which in turn will create more who harbor ill will against us in a never ending cycle of violence.
Leaders who elevate fear and safety as a rationale for action always create more doubt than motion. Why? Because whenever a leader elevates fear and safety as a primary concern to give impetus to an agenda, there are many already willing to face that fear and already have another agenda. Leaders who proclaim “I have the answer” instill either doubt or set themselves up for a reckoning later. Leaders who on the other hand challenge us to build or attain something and say “I believe we can do this,” are inspiring. Though we might fail, there is more motion than doubt. Lincoln, FDR, and JFK understood this. But it doesn’t require a president or brilliant orator to understand this – any decent parent understands this. As leaders, we have the opportunity to demonstrate courage in the face of fear. When we step up to do so, we lead others to do the same.
George W. Bush’s war in Iraq was not courage in the face of fear. It was a simplistic response to a violent act fueled by misplaced hatred and misguided political objectives. And in the process, we became the thing we sought to punish. Worse yet, President Bush created a divisive, exclusionary principle: if you are not with us you are against us. A great leader seeks inclusion – because by bringing people together, we build a better place.
In response to 9/11, a great leader would have challenged us to first forgive those assailants who were manipulated into suicide and then challenged the world to join us in building a deeper understanding of one another while bringing the principal hate mongerers to justice. Had President Bush done this, we would have collectively held him in high esteem as a great leader. Instead, his approach of elevating our fears, focusing our actions on a false sense of security, and forcing his agenda through the use of executive power has left us with a feeling of doubt and anguish.
A fine lesson for anyone in a leadership role.
(c) 2008 BlueSeven Partners LLC