At the beginning of the Academy Awards telecast the other night, Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame paid a visit to the show’s host, Seth MacFarlane. Because Captain Kirk comes from a time in the future, he was privy to the results of the show – including the reviews of MacFarlane’s performance. And, having read the reviews, he had come back in time to offer MacFarlane some advice: Stop screwing this up.
Captain Kirk showed the host the next morning’s headlines, and they read something like this: “MacFarlane Worst Oscars Host Ever.” To prove the point, he showed a clip of something MacFarlane was going to do that would make the show a disaster. MacFarlane, having learned from the peek into the future, then came up with and performed a different skit that was less controversial and more satisfying to the critics. This went on for three or four skits until MacFarlane improved to “mediocre” in the reviews.
MacFarlane, the creator of the show Family Guy, is known for pushing the envelope when it comes to what’s tasteful, and he used the Captain Kirk bit to bring some of his more edgy humor into the show and make fun of the Hollywood establishment.
As champions within our organizations, we aren’t tasked with pushing the edges of humor. But we are tasked with pushing the organization beyond its comfort zones in the name of progress. We need to come up with and champion fresh ideas, ideas that some might resist. And that means we have to test the boundaries from time to time. So while MacFarlane might not be our gold standard for establishing what’s tasteful and what’s crossing the line, we can learn a few things from his approach.
One, get ahead of your critics and don’t let them define you. When you need to push things beyond the conventional, think about the resistance that might come and find ways to outsmart it. Don’t run from it or change what you fundamentally believe in order to conform to what someone else thinks.
Two, push yourself, and others, to the edge – and sometimes go too far. If you don’t fail from time to time, you probably aren’t trying hard enough. Be willing to admit your mistakes and to change course when you’ve gone too far, but don’t spend your life playing it safe.
Three, find creative ways to challenge established thinking. You can attack, attack, attack, and sometimes that will produce a victory. But you also can approach challenges in fresh ways and, by demonstrating innovation, make your case.
In comedy, the mavericks often go too far by making their jokes too personal. They offend people – or groups of people. As an organizational champion, we have to learn to push the limits when coming up with new ideas, but we want to do so in ways that respect the people around us. That’s the challenge as we blast into the future.
It’s the time of year when college football fanatics focus their attention on the game that drives the game: Recruiting.
As a leader, you probably can relate to this game. Recruiting the right talent is the lifeblood of every team, be it the University of Alabama or Walmart (which offers a different type of “rolls” and “Tide”).
But let’s focus on a different challenge we face that relates to college football recruiting: Commitment.
College football is a dog-eat-dog world, and that’s not to mention the Tigers, Bears, Gators and, yes, Razorbacks. But so is business. There is competition and a struggle to survive. If you’re at the top, you want to stay there. If you’re not, you’re trying to get there.
Commitment to success – to the goals, strategies and tactics – is huge for football programs and businesses. But what about commitment to each other? You know, to the people?
In college football, commitment, frankly, means almost nothing. High school stars “commit” to the college of their choice and, in the same breath, say, “but I’m still open.” The reporters and bloggers who follow this game use terms like “a soft commit” for someone who is committed but, you know, not really. Then there’s the “de-commit” for someone who officially changes his mind.
College coaches set the tone because their commitment to the program extends as far as the next offer from a bigger, better school. Ask them if they’re entertaining an offer from another school, and they will dart and dodge the question like a mouse trapped in a room full of cats.
What’s at stake here isn’t our right to change our minds or to pursue opportunities (new, better, different). It’s more about devaluing a word and, in doing so, devaluing an important ideal: That our word matters.
If you’re a champion within your organization, you have to live with high integrity and a commitment – not a soft commitment – to your word. When you mess up, own your mistake. But don’t de-commit on your team. Otherwise, you’ll lose their trust and all your great recruiting will get you nowhere.
Every profession out there has a culture that’s created over time, and that culture always includes integrity. That doesn’t mean ever profession operates with high integrity; it means every profession sets its own bar on integrity – it’s what those in the profession expect and are willing to accept from each other.
Even the criminal world operates by a “code.” In fact, one of the barriers to rehabilitation for ex-convicts is their unwillingness to hold each other accountable to society’s rules because they think doing so would break their rules against “ratting” on each other.
The bar for integrity in any profession changes over time, and it’s up to organizational champions to move that bar higher and higher within their ranks. You do that by demonstrating integrity, and one way you do that is by self-policing your actions.
Consider golf. Few professions self-police better then golf. Several years ago during an amateur state championship, a golfer arrived at the final green with victory in his sights. All he needed for the win was a chip and a putt, and it appeared that he nailed both shots to make par on the hole. But when his playing partner congratulated him, the golfer pointed out he hadn’t made par. When he chipped the ball onto the green, he said, he accidently hit the ball twice. No one knew this but him, but he counted the extra stroke and lost the championship.
Recently, Blayne Barber made a similar admission when he called the PGA Tour to let them know that he had signed an incorrect scorecard during a “Q-school” tournament. These are the tournaments aspiring pros play to earn a coveted spot on the PGA Tour. Barber had given himself a one-stroke penalty when his club moved a leaf on a bunker shot. After the tournament, however, he learned that the offense came with a two-stroke penalty.
One stroke wasn’t going to change Barber’s finish in the tournament, but signing an incorrect scorecard came with its own penalty – disqualification from the tournament. Barber knew the significance of his phone call – he’d be disqualified, meaning he wouldn’t advance to the next tournament.
“I continued to pray about it and think about it, and I just did not have any peace about it,” Barber told Golfweek magazine. “I knew I needed to do the right thing. I knew it was going to be disqualification. … Doing the right thing and doing what I know is right in my heart and in my conscience is more important than short-term success.”
Barber’s personal integrity contributed to golf’s long history of self-reporting indiscretions. And that’s our call as organizational champions – to create a history of high integrity that compels others to follow.
When you think of a technologically innovative company, Walmart might not immediately spring to mind. You probably gravitate toward the Apples and the Googles and the YouTubes of the world. You might not remember that Walmart set the pace for innovations in retail technology by helping develop everything from systems that manage the supply chain to some of the first high-tech cash registers in its stores.
If you did remember that, of course, you might point out that many of Walmart’s innovations came a decade or more ago. But as Farhad Manjoo pointed out this week in an online article for Fast Company, Walmart is at it again, this time by pushing to become a leader in social, mobile and other e-commerce technologies to drive its business.
The progress didn’t happen accidentally. It took an organizational champion in Walmart CEO Mike Duke to cast and carry out a vision. Duke was opportunity minded because he wouldn’t settle for the ordinary and comfortable. And he was a change maker because he persevered to make something new a reality.
Manjoo illustrates this by telling the story of how Walmart hired Jeremy King, an engineer who built key parts of eBay’s infrastructure, as Chief Technology Officer for walmart.com. King was ignoring Walmart’s recruiting efforts until the day he dismissively told the retailer he might listen if the CEO called. The next thing he knew, Duke was personally giving him a sales pitch about Walmart’s commitment to e-commerce.
“We’ve hired hundreds of incredibly talented people, in Silicon Valley and around the world,” Duke told Manjoo. “We are playing to win.”
Walmart isn’t going to win in e-commerce without organizational champions, and clearly it has one at the top. Not only that, but by modeling the passion, enthusiasm and commitment for his vision, Duke no doubt created an organizational champion in King. That’s how you spread leadership throughout an organization – by living it.
This post was originally written by Mike Thompson for ALPFA Institute.
As our business grows, I’m often evaluating myself as a leader of SVI. That process involves looking at examples of other leaders: Should I be more authoritative like Lou Gerstner, IBM’s past CEO? Should I be more like Indra Nooyi, the very compassionate CEO of PepsiCo? Should I be more like authors Mark Sanborn, who is a great analytical thinker and teacher, or Tommy Spaulding, who has such a strong passion for relationships? Or should I be a creative thought leader like Seth Godin?
But what I’ve come to realize over the years is that I can never be those leaders. I can only be me. So I borrow something (or multiple things) from every one of them and apply it in my leadership at SVI. For me to be most effective, I’ve got to lead in my own skin even if I lead with the “flavor” of others.
Someone who really inspires me here is Richard Branson, founder of the mega brand Virgin and its 300 companies. I’ve read several of his books and I’m now reading his latest one. He’s a brilliant knucklehead who takes things too far … and it works for him. He leads in his own skin. I relate to his sense of adventure and to his eclectic style.
Join me in learning to lead in your own skin this year. To begin, consider these things:
Finally, there is one behavior we can all share in our leadership for 2012. Be optimistic. I believe 2012 is going to be an amazing year and you should be a champion of it.
When the ancient Greeks faced calamities that had no identifiable cause, they attributed them to Tyche, the goddess of luck. That flood? Blame it on Tyche. The drought? Tyche. As one scholar put it, “the blind mistress of Fortune governed mankind with an inconstancy which explained the vicissitudes of the time.” Sounds like the goddess of misfortune, but she also occasionally saved a city or pushed fate in some other positive direction.
I’ve always struggled with the idea of luck – or fortune or fate or whatever word you personally prefer to describe positive or negative events that seem like they happened by chance. Blame it on my theological world view. If something is really out of my control, why wish for it or worry over it? When good things happen that are out of my control, I’m thankful. When they don’t, I’m not bitter.
Regardless of their worldviews, champions are the same way – they don’t bank on luck. They are thankful for their good fortune. But when things go bad, they don’t lash out. They take responsibility for their bad position or challenging circumstances, and they try to learn from them. They might pray for relief, but they also work toward that relief. Hope and faith strengthen their resolve and their outlook, but they realize the results are often out of their control. And that run of adversity that feels like the bad breath of Tyche might actually be the crucible that leads to a greater blessing.
Are you banking on luck, thereby giving little or no effort? I hope not. Do you have faith and hope? I hope so. Luck requires no action. Hope and faith require extensive action. The actions of a champion are necessary to push through life’s challenges, even when good outcomes aren’t entirely visible. Champions develop the necessary perseverance and resiliency to push forward despite the setbacks seemingly brought about by “bad luck.”
Is the pursuit of a significant life getting in the way of being productive? A recent blog post on HBR.org by Umair Haque provided another reminder of the importance of pursuing a life of significance. It even provided some helpful tips to achieve that. But as I read it, I wondered if such pursuits get in the way of my productivity at work. Can I have both? Can I achieve significance and be productive? Can I keep my eyes toward the stars while logging my time? Can I dissect the monthly financial reports while contemplating our company’s vision?
But to do so, we need to consider productive activity and significant pursuits on a continuum. Let’s put productive actions on the left side of the continuum and significant pursuits on the right. Place a mark somewhere on the continuum that represents where you typically operate for each principle.
Are you more skewed to the productive life or the significant life? I hope your continuum doesn’t always line up on either extreme. The key is to have your marks move across each continuum at certain times. Sometimes you should follow societal order, but not always. Change often calls for challenging our sacred tenets. Always pursuing our desires would be counterproductive. But never pursuing them leaves us stale and boring, not inspiring. So I hope your marks are at various places on each of these lines. And I hope the next time you take this simple assessment, your marks have changed locations. Don’t always be on one side or the other. To be productive and achieve significance, you should move back and forth along each of the continuums at various times in your life.
Several weeks ago I posted my status on Facebook as, “Reinventing today. This process always starts with confusion.”
The reinvention reference was related to SVI’s growth. As an organization, we knew who we were, what we were good at, what we had accomplished, and we knew, strategically at least, where we were going.
My confusion came from, how we were going to pursue our strategy? Although I was confident in our strategy, I was confused about how to best execute it.
What exactly should we do operationally?
What do we change?
What do we keep doing the same?
Since that time, we’ve restructured a significant part of our organization – new people and old people in new places – behind the same strategy and vision that was cast almost two years ago.
There is some anxiety around this new structure and these new operations. But when I think about the motives behind some of the structural and operational shifts, I gain a great deal of peace and confidence in our decisions.
I was motivated to encourage these shifts because I could answer “yes” to the following questions.
1. Are we good at what we do and do we deserve to be in this game?
2. Are the people at SVI here because they are committed to the mission and vision of SVI beyond the paycheck?
3. Are we capable of attracting the right people and making the right hires to move aggressively toward our vision?
4. Is our leadership team completely aligned behind our direction?
5. Can we better align our people to necessary roles that fit their skills and desires better?
Are you finding yourself on the cusp of reinvention and wondering if you should pull the trigger in order to better pursue your strategic vision? If you can answer “yes” to the questions above, then move forward with confidence. If you can’t, then work on getting your organization to the “yes” answer to these questions before you take on a significant reinvention process.
“Successful” people fail a whole lot more than they succeed. In fact, many claim that failure is necessary for success – Thomas Edison, anyone. In the past three days alone, I’ve failed to rectify a broken relationship, I’ve been called out by a good friend for my actions, and I was too aggressive and vocal in an important conversation that should have been much more collaborative.
Like you, I hate when I blow it. When I experience those failures, I really just want to crawl into a hole and disengage from society. Such a move, however, would be unhealthy emotionally, and completely unproductive.
So, how do you move beyond failure and not be defined by it? Below are a few tips to consider.
These tips helped me get over my recent failures. Being defined by my values and my purpose instead of my failure helped me get back up after I had been knocked down, emotionally. Admitting my mistakes helped bring closure to my failure. After all, what more was there to say – it had all been said. Only then could I move forward. Because of my failure, I found myself adopting a new resolve and new energy to be better the next time. But even in my failure, I was thankful for learning something, being alive in the daily battles, and being tested – because those battles and tests are the things that ignite new growth.
Everyone fails. But the most extraordinary people accept their failure and grow stronger out of it. And because of it, they experience newer and greater triumphs. How you have handled failure in the past?