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Category Archives: Leadership Development

The Metaphor in Chief

In yesterday’s blog I wrote about the importance of metaphor in shaping how people think of ideas. I also predicted that our President would make use of the power of metaphor in his speech last night. This of course was an easy bet. Most leaders understand the power of metaphor and use it in nearly every speech.

What I didn’t mention was that the news media will always key in more on the metaphor than on the content of the speech. They make for good sound bytes. Think of Reagan’s, “Shiny City on a Hill.” Sure enough the media did just that. Here’s a photo of today’s Wall Street Journal.

The pulled quote reads, “If we waited one more day, Benghazi, a city nearly the size of
Charlotte, could suffer a massacre that would have reverberated across the region and stained the conscience of the world.”

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Metaphors Matter

Metaphors Matter. This was the headline of a small but significant report recently published in the Wall Street Journal.

The article focuses on a Stanford University study that demonstrates the power of metaphor in shaping thought in communication.  The study was recently cited in a new book entitled, “Metaphors We Think With:  The Role of Metaphor in Reasoning,” by Paul H. Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky.

The study queried students. They were asked to read two reports about a crime in a particular city and recommend solutions. In the first report, crime was described as a, “wild beast preying on the city.”  The second report was identical except that it began with a different metaphor.  It described crime as a, “virus infecting the city.”

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Common Lies About Leadership: The Hard Truth

Warning: You may not want to read this one.

A dear friend and business owner recently sent me a blog defining core leadership skills. While the blog had some useful distinctions that I found smart and interesting, it also included some traits that are not, in fact, essential to effective leadership. They are actually personality traits that, to an American sensibility, determine good character rather than strong leadership. But the fact remains that they are absolutely inconsequential to determining effective leadership. Allow me to explain.

In the The Power of Losing Control ebook, I devote an entire section of the book to the power of influence and how it works within the social make-up of human beings. I quote from the book, “Effective leadership is determined first and foremost by one thing—the willingness of others to follow.” Every essential trait to one becoming an effective leader (note my use of the word essential) must necessarily be based on influencing that willingness.

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Good leaders recognize game-changers

Last week I attended a wedding.  As the new bride and groom walked past our pew toward the exit at the end of the ceremony, one of my friends turned to me and said, “Well, that’s a game-changer.”

As one who didn’t marry until I was 39, I could relate to what she was saying.  Marriage is a game-changer in that it changes lives in very significant ways—usually for a long time.  Those of us who have been married and who have observed our married friends know that when couples realize and accept the game-changing nature of the union sooner rather than later, they fare much better.

There are game-changers in business as well. Game-changers don’t happen often. They usually arrive unannounced. They can be good or bad. They can happen to you, or, you can make them happen.

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Is your ‘legacy’ knowledge an anchor, a rudder or irrelevant?

In this economy of sea change and uncharted waters, you need to understand the role your legacy knowledge should take.

Recently the Wall Street Journal featured a front-page story on the new CEO of General Motors. The article pointed out that the new CEO is not an auto industry insider, his leadership style is a bit brash, and that this type of person might just be what it takes to turn the company around.

Obviously, this was a PR-led piece fed to the media by GM. After the bashing GM has taken by government leaders intent on justifying the bailout money, GM’s goal was to get the public (read, potential new investors in the upcoming IPO) to believe that GM will run better than ever under new, different leadership. Implied in the piece is that old time industry insiders lack an ability to see things as they are and drive sustainable change. This is not a new phenomenon, nor is it always the case, but quite often, it is true.

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Scrambling for good leaders?

Scrambling for good leaders? Consider leadership development, not just leadership training.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday (Aug. 2, 2010), companies are finding themselves short on leadership talent as they begin to rebound from the economic downturn, and are scrambling to implement training programs.
While HR Managers dust off the files from the training programs they put on hold 18-24 months ago, the sharp ones will see this revamp as a great opportunity to consider whether their leadership programs are teaching the company’s bright stars not just what to do, but how to do it.

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Compromise to Optimize

Most of us like it when things go our way. That’s just human nature. But always doing just what we want whenever we want isn’t always good for us. As Dr. M. Scott Peck pointed out on page 53 of his mega-bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, “It is natural to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth. Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until it becomes second nature.”

Experience has taught me that if I really want to maximize opportunities and outcomes, I need to ignore my immediate desire to take charge and instead think about how I might use compromise in order to optimize. This means learning to go against my nature and letting go of my natural human desire to have everything go my way.

Compromise to Optimize Against Human Nature

This life lesson has served me well through the years—both personally and professionally. I can’t possibly count the times that an event, an evening, an outcome, a relationship or an experience wasn’t in some way improved because I chose to not assert my will on something.

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Company Evolution: Does your company believe in their change or crisis plan?

Recent headlines have shown us that really tough economic times are an equal opportunity event, with the propensity to take out the 800-pound gorilla almost as easily as it can the fairly younger or smaller companies. In fact, sometimes the bigger and more evolved companies have a harder time making the necessary changes in time that would allow them to survive and evolve through the crisis themselves. The good news is that the Seven Missing Links that ensure successful corporate evolution (see my last blog) can be applied by any size organization. It is critical, however, that the evolution or crisis plan is understood and embraced by those who will have to implement it.

While all of the missing links rely on people to make changes and transition, it should be noted that the last link is far from being considered the least link, and should not be underestimated:

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Company Evolution: The Seven Missing Links

Company Evolution, or Stagnation?

“Most businesses get to the top, and stay there, because of their ability to anticipate and respond to change.”

More than half of today’s successful Fortune 500 companies were started during a bear market or a recession, according to a report released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation[1]. No matter when or how your organization started, this study suggests that opportunity indeed exists in difficult economic times, and your organization’s ability to respond to challenging market conditions is paramount to your longevity and success.

When business climates change radically companies can’t afford to merely “redouble their efforts” or “try to do more with less” (two sayings I hear way too often). Radical changes in markets require that companies learn to evolve. Organizations that fail to evolve eventually die out.

What do businesses need to do in order to evolve and survive radical change? Why do some survive and even thrive in tough economic times while others die off?

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Now Is the Time for a Revaluation of Strengths and Weaknesses

I have the opportunity to talk with dozens of company and organizational leaders every week.  Lately I’ve been noticing a theme of denial that I haven’t seen the likes of before.  People are tending to tout and rely on strengths that no longer serve them like they used to as they completely underestimate the costs of their weaknesses.

“Individually and organizationally, we know the value of our strengths much more than we know the costs of our weaknesses.”  — Joe Caruso

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