I’ve Said it Before, I’ll Say it Again … Communication is Critical!

Ok, so I know I have harped on the necessity for leaders to communicate and, more importantly, to know how best to communicate. Communication is a critically important activity involving all of the senses and in today’s economic environment, communication takes on an even more important role. Employees are not sure if their jobs are secure, partners are not sure if companies are viable, and what once was unthinkable has become commonplace. In times like these, communication can provide some sense of security, assurance and comfort. As Suzanne Bates suggests, think of Captain Sullenberger’s communications to both the air traffic control and to passengers during the recent plane ditching: “We’re gonna be in the Hudson,” he says to controllers. He never wasted words, but he told people exactly what would happen. “Brace for impact,” he told the passengers, a signal that also prepared the flight crew to fall back on their training, remain calm, and get passengers safely off the plane. What’s also worth noting is that in today’s world, communication can take place in so many different ways and from nearly anywhere on the planet. No longer are we constrained by geography. Proximity has been redefined by technological innovations. And timing is no longer an issue either. Often times I have heard colleagues say they haven’t had a chance to reach out or are simply “too busy to communicate.” It’s hard to imagine any one of us, despite how very busy we all are, not being able to find the mere moments it takes to communicate to those that want to hear from us. Imagine going to a...

What Leaders Can Learn from Chesley Sullenberger

Well if we’ve ever needed an example of what it really is to lead during a crisis, this past week’s U.S. Airways flight 1549 water landing shows us loud and clear.  Just moments after takeoff, the 29-year U.S. Airways veteran captain of the plane and a pilot for 40 years, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, knew his plane was in serious trouble.  Barely off the ground, the plane flew right through a flock of geese causing some birds to be drawn into each of the plane’s engines knocking them both out.  Passenger and crew accounts indicate the “deadly silence” that followed the loud bang indicating the loss of the engines.  The silence was broken by a calm, authoritative voice stating, “This is the captain speaking. Brace for impact.” From that very moment, passengers and crew knew they were in for the ride of a lifetime, if not the end of one.  Even those that might not normally be prone to do so, began praying.  And in answer to those prayers and to their collective good fortune, this particular captain was not only very experienced pilot in the Airbus he was flying, but also quite experienced in flying glider planes.  And, of course, one interesting thing to note about glider planes is that every landing is an engine-out landing! So here they were, 155 people on board an engine-less plane, with a pilot well-versed in landing glider planes.  After alerting the passengers and crew, Sullenberger went to work determining his best course of action.  Try to return to La Guardia Airport, attempt to reach Newark Airport across the river, maybe head...

What Leaders Can Learn from Britney Redux

Some time ago, I posted a series on the lessons that leaders can learn from celebrities – and in this post about Britney Spears I explained my STOP approach to crisis management: Story – I believe that a crisis is best handled head on. In a crisis, it is imperative that the leader OWNS the story – gather your facts, position the crisis in the context of your “big picture” strategy, and put forward your story. Remember, the crisis is about you and you will be judged by how you deal with both its resolution and its telling. Timeliness – In a crisis, timeliness is critical. Take a few moments to map out a couple of key milestones that will need to be passed before your crisis is resolved. If you don’t feel capable of discussing details, explain that details will be forthcoming, but in a timeframe of YOUR choosing. Then, make sure you deliver on each of your milestones. Remember, to over communicate. Own the story. Own up to your responsibilities. Objectivity – If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t speculate. Speak only to the facts. Be serious. Professionals – Sometimes a crisis needs the help of a professional. Reach out to those you trust. Look at your story, think about the timelines and figure out if you have the capacity to be objective. Wherever there is a gap, consider hiring-in experienced help. Interestingly, Britney Spears has recently embarked on a social media strategy, with a blog and a Twitter account (while I am interested in Twitter, I simply don’t have the capacity to commit...

What Leaders Can Learn from Kids

In the past, I have written a series on “What Leaders Can Learn from …” entries focusing on leadership lessons gleaned from the lives of celebrities and athletes. In the course of our lives, we all are witness to the lives of such folks given the seemingly insatiable demand to know more and more about those that are famous. But, beyond just reading the paparazzi tabloids for the sensationalist stories, I try to glean lessons from experiences these people have, how they handle certain situations that arise in their lives, and what outcomes are reached by these actions. Along these lines, I just read an interesting piece written by Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies Ltd. discussing lessons that leaders can learn from children. For me, children surely do act in ways that we adults can learn from. For example, children, as is said, say the darndest things. In the context of leadership lessons, what this means is that we need to speak openly and truthfully. Simply put, we all benefit from this degree of openness in our communications. Such genuine, albeit sometimes difficult to hear, communication is what leads to better outcomes without leaving thoughts lingering in our minds that can cloud progress. So, be sure to follow a child’s lead and speak from the heart, without filtering or couching our language to avoid direct discourse. Next, like kids do incessantly, leaders must explore their curiosities in an effort to learn more, achieve more and gain greater understanding. In doing so, we must understand the risks involved – both of our actions and in our inactions. As I’ve...

Nelson Mandela’s 8 Lessons in Leadership

This recent Time interview with Nelson Mandela provides a great, open and insightful view of leadership from someone who has known great power and also been bereft of its influence in his 90 years. His advice for leaders is practical, outcome-oriented and courageous. Be sure to take the time to read the article in full as it provides an excellent primer for aspiring leaders and a unique vision for the way leadership can transform lives (and whole countries). Mandela’s eight lessons are: Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it. Most leaders have faced down fear, but it is during times of stress that the mettle of leadership is tested. This means maintaining the momentum in tough times, or as Mandela explains, sometimes you “must put up a front.” Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind. Mandela focused on a principle objective and employed any and all tactics required to achieve it, however, he always ensured that he brought his support base along with him — to achieve great things, it takes a village. Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front. Be sure to read Mandela’s analogy on this point. And while it appears contradictory, you will smile at the wisdom. Remember also, that leaders can actively assist in the growth of their supporters/teams. Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport. Whether you are fighting against or negotiating with an opponent, your destiny is entwined. Finding a common ground for conversation, like sport, allows you a step inside another’s...

Democratic Dictatorship

When it comes to leadership, no matter how much a leader may seek the valuable input from their village, at the end of the day, the final decision, regardless of the matter at hand, is the leader’s all alone.  This fact makes for interesting management of the decision-making process.  To be sure, leaders have different styles of leadership and management that they employ throughout their careers … in fact, even throughout any given business day.  Some leaders are inclusive and seek input from as many people as possible, while others retreat to their offices to individually contemplate the best course of action.  Leaders realize that the buck stops with them and regardless of the outcome, they own the result. One thing that leaders must learn, especially those that lean toward an inclusive style, is that they are, as with George W. Bush’s nickname, the “decider”.  While they are happy to solicit thoughts and input from others, they must be comfortable with the fact that not everyone will be pleased with the final decision.  But they are not in friendship positions, they are in leadership positions. A leader’s ultimate responsibility is to the best interests of the business not to any individual or group within the organization.  Of course, ideally, leaders want to be both respected and liked.  However, ultimately leaders must live by the expression “it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected.” This is what I mean by “democratic dictatorship”. The success of a leader is in the making of decisions and successfully achieving outcomes or as Jim Estill succinctly...