Riding Out the Storm

“A Smooth Sea NEVER made a Skilled Sailor” – English Proverb

“Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.“ – Charles Caleb Colton

“To reach a port we must set sail – Sail, not tie at anchor. Sail, not drift.”  – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“However bad the storm you are in, there is still sun somewhere over your horizon” – Ken Nutt

I’ve been thinking a lot about storms and turbulent times these days. Figuratively speaking, it seems the warm glow of the sun and light breeze has been replaced with a gathering storm. The building clouds of economic uncertainty are on the horizon. An undercurrent of change is already moving below us and a cold sharp wind is already blowing in our face. Whether its macro challenges or specific ones we face in our private lives, there is no doubt storm winds are blowing.

I used the storm metaphor specifically as I’d like to share a relevant story from my past. I had the fortune of growing up living near the water. Our house was a block away from the bay, and as fate would have it, my step-father owned a boat repair business. That combination meant a childhood spent on the water, and in time boating became my passion. Sailing, skiing, fishing – you name it. I literally worked two part time jobs through high school to fund my boating habit.

My step-father was also smitten by the sea. At times it felt as if he managed the business not only to keep the lights on and support the family, but to allow maximum flexibility for boating. As a result, any time good weather allowed we were on the water. Continue reading

Opportunity or Difficulty – You Decide

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

Those who know me recognize my affinity for Sir Winston Churchill. His leadership, while cantankerous and arguably self-serving, may well be the very reason the allies were victorious during World War II. What’s most interesting about Winston Churchill is to understand the history that forged both his style and his philosophies on leadership. Bear with me as I share highlights of his life and the connection to the quote above.

Born of nobility in Great Britain in the late 1800’s, one could argue he was given all the opportunity necessary for success. Despite this privileged status, he had an interesting and somewhat rocky childhood. Raised largely by his nanny, his interaction with his parents was fairly removed and arguably of limited influence.

Churchill struggled mightily during his formative years. A young, stocky red headed boy (I can relate to that), he spoke with both a stutter and a lisp (something that plagued him most his life). In and out of 3 different schools, Churchill’s early academic record was quite poor. And while excelling in certain subjects (Mathematics, History, and English), he was generally thought of as “a poor student”.  Continue reading

It’s Time to Think of Yourself as a Leader

We’ve made leadership in to something bigger than us. Something beyond us. We’ve taken this title of leader and we treat it as something that one day we are going to deserve. But to give it to ourselves now is a level of arrogance that we are not comfortable with.”  – Drew Dudley

A few weekends ago I was catching up on my ‘white space’ activities, one of which is to watch TED Talks on business, leadership, and innovation. As much as I might think I know about leadership I still spend countless hours researching and gaining insight from others who offer a new and different perspective.

On this particular day I was watching a clip from a speaker named Drew Dudley. In this clip Drew opens his speech with the question “How many of you are completely comfortable calling yourself a leader”? Only a handful of people raise their hands. Perhaps not surprising, but most of those in the audience were uncomfortable recognizing they are leaders in their own right today. And what’s amazing is that the audience for a Ted Talk is generally individuals who are enamored with the topic of leadership. Of all people you would think they would overwhelmingly be ‘leaders’. Continue reading

The Importance of Grit

“As much as talent counts, effort counts twice. Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals—and it is what turns talent into skill, and skill into achievement.” – Angela Duckworth

One of the members of my leadership team recently shared with me an article/blog post from Daniel Pink (www.danielpink.com) on the importance of grit in driving individual and team performance. The article included excerpts from an interview with Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, who recently published a book on her findings and observations on the topic of grit [Book is entitled “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance”].

At any rate, it got me thinking – what is grit, and how can we as leaders leverage this to drive superior performance? Is it something that’s inherent in a person’s character, or can it be learned/developed?

Simply put, grit is a measure of an individual or team’s determination to a cause. It’s a mentality fueled by a relentless persistence to succeed. It reflects the tenacity and perseverance individuals will endure to see things through. Continue reading

Engagement and Respect

“Jim, you are not doing a good job of hiding your disdain for your company” – Jim Spivey

I was recently sharing my thoughts on the qualities I look for in members of my team with a fellow colleague. The first is simple – capability. Each member of the team must be able to do the job asked of them in a competent, effective manner. Experience, effort, tenacity, and a willingness to learn are all part of being a capable team member. No surprise there.

The second is more abstract but vital to the success of any team – integrity. Members of any group that don’t practice integrity both in words and actions becomes a hindrance to the team. It forces the other members to operate in an environment of distrust, clouding the focus on its objectives. Eventually the team will fail. Again, no surprise here.

But the third quality I look for is just as important – Engagement and Respect. That includes a passion and intensity for the job, but must also come with an equal conviction to the team…and the organization that team serves. One that weathers the daily challenges and the ebbs and flows of progress without resorting to critical and unconstructive behavior – overt or subconscious. Continue reading

The Truth About Me…

“The victim mindset dilutes the human potential” – Steve Maraboli

“Difficulties break some men but shape others. Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” – Nelson Mandela

As is so often the case, the inspiration for my leadership messages come from my travels and interactions with others. Thus is the case in this message. A random business meeting to discuss the possibilities of working together turned in to an open sharing of personal passion and motivation, leaving me with a positive and lasting imprint to shape my future thinking and inspire the best in my behavior. I want to share some of this discussion in hopes it will similarly inspire you.

The discussion began as so many business meetings do – introductions, a presentation of the company’s service offerings, and some exploratory discussions where those services might be of value to us. But in the course of these discussions a moment of vulnerability was revealed. It was simple and innocent, but the impact was significant.
Continue reading

“How I Can” vs. “Why I can’t”

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“I can.” “I can’t.”

Two simple phrases separated by one small letter, but the meaning couldn’t be more different. So many times in our lives we’ve been faced with these two words – taunting and tearing at us like the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. And yet I can’t imagine a more crisp distinction in how we choose to live our lives.

Do we really approach life with such a binary outlook – either living our lives with an optimistic outlook (searching for the path forward), or one of pessimism (a resolve that we are where we are)? You might be inclined to argue this point, because life isn’t that black or white – Right? But in my experience, we do. It’s human nature to allow our past and present bias to influence how we approach the daily problems we face both in business and our personal lives. And yet, we do have a choice.  Continue reading

Intensity is the price of excellence

“Intensity is the price of excellence” – Warren Buffett

What an interesting word – Intensity.  For some, the word implies a measure of obsession.  For others, it suggests hard work and effort.  But the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the nuances are important to understand. 

I’ve been accused of being an intense person more than once in my life.  Maybe it’s how I’m wired, but I’ve always believed in doing things with energy, focus, and purpose.  Otherwise, why bother.  Yes, there are times in life when we must do things we really don’t like, but only going through the motions takes longer than doing it focus and effort.  And so I tend to bring intensity in most everything I do.

Now to be fair, that’s not always a good thing.  Take for example my golf game.  To be blunt, I stink!  After years and years of playing I’m still carrying an 18 handicap.  And I know exactly why.  I can’t seem to approach the game with anything less than full intensity.  Every swing is over analyzed – my stance, my swing plane, my hands, even my follow through. And instead of letting my muscle memory take over, I end up in the woods or the lake instead of the fairway.  What’s worse, I can’t seem to shake the frustration from the last swing which generally makes the next even worse. Continue reading