Category: Leadership


Outside-In® Chronicles: Leaders, Admit When You’re Wrong Please!

August 20th, 2014

Originally posted on April 3rd, 2013

Today’s companies operate differently than a decade or two ago. Globalization, technology, cultural and social change, demographic trends and shifts have all impacted the way business is conducted. This structural shift has impacted the worker too. Today’s worker must be focused on knowledge building and embracing change skills to maximize themselves.

ID-100147926However, I think this structural shift has impacted the way leaders need to lead. One of my personal pet peeves is when leaders don’t take the time to admit fault. There is this funny thing called “leadership pride” that keeps our lips shut.  We may act like we did something wrong, we may make amends or attempt to fix a mistake, however, we don’t often vocally admit mistakes enough. When we don’t admit our mistakes, we damage trust on our teams and in our company. Trust is a funny thing. Easy to lose. Hard to get back.  Must be built through your actions and of course, your words.  They better be close to one and the same.

By not admitting mistakes we look fake and disingenuous. Today’s worker must do their job on the edge of their seat and take risks in their job to create some wow (or do something Nth degree in Outside-In® language). But the risk is the key.  If you won’t show vulnerability as a leader and expose yourself how do you expect others to do so?  And if you expect creativity or new thinking from your people, then celebrating mistakes is a requirement.

Making mistakes makes you real.  By making mistakes you are human. By admitting them, you allow others to admit them and creates an open channel for improved communication to blossom. A problem said out loud, is a problem half solved! Openly addressing mistakes you’ve made as a leader allows trust to grow and build between you and your employees. It’s about being Open Book — being honest, vulnerable, and transparent – and living Outside-In® leadership, where accessibility and trust are key components of a strong leader.

We all need a culture of admission, right?

What Would Alan Burkhard Do?

July 30th, 2014

Throughout most of my formative years as a leader, I started off my thinking with the basic question, “What would Alan do or say?” Alan Burkhard is my Pop, a serial entrepreneur, a good Father, an activist for the community & any underdog that he comes in contact with, and most importantly, the most unique leader I know.

Alan's PictureFor example, I used to call him every Friday when we worked together and without fail he thought differently than most leaders. For most situations he would not give me the answer I sought. Rather, he would point me back to the information. He would say, “You don’t have enough information to come up with the solution. Go back and get more.”

Recently, the Outside-In® Companies was awarded with a very large contract. We have worked for it for years. As is typical of a comprehensive workforce program, the customer needed help well before we finished implementation! We had a choice stick with our higher retail price for services until we implement or give the volume price and trust that this is the right thing to do.  Do we have more margin now or do we establish a great “wow” moment of trust with a new customer? What would Alan do? Most grab the margin. We gave the volume price and we will trust that the rest will take care of itself!!

So my statement, “What would Alan do or say?” has nothing to do with seeking fatherly approval or anything like that. It is simply a phrase that keeps me sharp and focused on what being an Outside-In® leader is really all about.

Another example of his unique leadership occurred while at a recent baseball game. Alan commented on the recent security changes at the MLB ballparks. Essentially, ballparks are going to be like airports and large office complexes in the sense that game goers will be patted down and go through scanners. All in the name of homeland security. We might mumble and grumble about our loss of rights and civil liberties but we go along with the crowd and think that this is just another precautionary measure. Not Alan. He brings forward the classic Outside-In® leadership principle. We always seem to police and create rules for the handful of wrong doers and then punish everyone else. Security is serious business of course. However, I get his point as he as always applied this to his business.

Stereotypically speaking, leaders create too many rules and over complicate things. We create policies and handbooks galore. Don’t misinterpret me, I believe some structure and system makes sense. Just don’t over do it! Allow good people to follow simple rules and be allowed to operate freely within that loose system. That is why Outside-In® leaders lead with values. Values are there when we are not (which is often). Besides, bad leaders want to be superheroes anyway and are much too quick to dole out answers. That is NOT what staff wants. Staff wants to grow and be challenged in their job.

So for me, “What would Alan say or think?” is my mantra. It keeps me sharp. I am reminded that it is OK to cut against the grain and to be Outside-In® every moment of every day. This is very hard as most of those in the leadership world would rather make a rule than to actually lead or take action!

An Entrepreneurial View of Failure

July 23rd, 2014

When Edison searched for something to use to illuminate a light bulb he spent months and months with hundreds of different filaments until he found one that worked. Do you think he viewed each unlit bulb as a waste of time or something irrecoverable? He knew with each failed experiment, he was one step closer to something that would work!

ID-100209779As a small business owner, I have failed many times. I have hired the wrong people, put the wrong programs in place, even launched the wrong business ideas. However, I don’t view this as failure. Rather, this is a process to make something right and unique. This is how business works. Try something, fail quickly. Tweak it. Make adjustments. Learn from it. These are the basics. This is not failure. This is how we grow and gain knowledge.

Some say that being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. How do you handle the rejection? The no’s? The pats on the head when your business is just starting? Some will say, “When are you going to go get a job?” This is all part of the failing—dealing with the fact that most people really can’t handle the risk of trying.

I always feel as if I have more control of my own destiny when I am my own boss than when I work for others. That is just my my view. I would rather have tried to be a small business owner,  to have launched new services, and to have hired the wrong person because most of the times we end up getting it right. And we only need to get it right more often than not in order to be successful!

So the next time someone is taking a risk, think twice about your commentary. Risks create learning, knowledge, and opportunity. Everything changes. Why not be the one that initiates and drives change? Then failure will not be an option!

Servant Leadership: Vacation & Days Off

July 2nd, 2014

At Outside-In® Companies, we work hard to share content and to communicate regularly with our employees, customers, and other key stakeholders. When this week’s marketing went out, mostly automatic responses came back. “I am sorry I am out of the office until July 7th, the 14th, or whatever it might have been. Please contact (fill in the blank) if you have any urgent matters.” I stopped and thought about all those that left working—those employees who got the extra call, email, or workload because you or someone else was out on Holiday.

ID-100135888Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs (and earns) their time off. Generally speaking, the average employee never seems to take all the time off that they have earned. However, with technology only a touch screen away, work always seems to get in the way.

I have a culturally-led goal for Outside-In® Companies—for leaders to encourage the newest or least senior person get that choice week or Friday off before the Holiday weekend. Leaders should be in the office working and getting things done. And yes, you should close the office down. (I am not bragging but four of my leaders were working and wrapping things up long after 5pm on July 3rd so that others could get started on their long weekend).

The average leader works so hard to climb the corporate ladder, to have the title, company car, three-week vacation, or big bonus that we have forgotten what servant leadership is all about.  To be a servant leader, you need to anticipate and meet the needs of your employees. You must be honest, direct, and fair. Leaders must share the truth. Especially when it prevents an employee from being good or great in what they do.

However, being a servant leader also means showing sacrifice and equality. If you expect your values to be real and for all to be equal, you must show it in your actions and policies. Next week take a look around the office. Are all the leaders on vacation and the employees working hard? Or is their servant leadership in place? Either way, all can live this trait. Take on the burden and offer to close the office for someone. That is what servant leadership can be; especially when your staff is getting the job done!

World Cup: Who Wears the Yellow Arm Band?

June 25th, 2014

Almost half of the entire planet is watching the World Cup. Perhaps not where you live, but here in the Mid-Atlantic it’s all we have. Hockey and basketball are over. Our baseball team stinks. And football has not started just yet. The sentiment of local sports radio personalities is that the World Cup is boring. Soccer does not score enough. This is cross country running with a ball! In fact, the radio folks seem restricted in their ability to talk about it, even if they are one of the few DJ’s that will embrace the sport and the Cup.

ID-10056952Well, not in my house. And frankly the public sentiment is changing. Today kids play the game and parents socialize on saturday mornings on the sidelines and at tournaments. Soccer is becoming a lifestyle here in the states. Now I will get off my soap box!

As a leadership coach, entrepreneurial leader of a company, and a high school soccer coach, I tend to see the world of soccer through a different lens that comes from an adoration for the sport and the study of what makes a leader in any life situation. What has fascinated me most is what it takes to be Captain. In soccer, this is signified by the yellow arm band. My curiosity lies within the question of if the traits of a leader are the same on the pitch as they are in the board room. What do you think? My sense is that you can insert the President, the VP or a Manager in any of these situations if they represent good leadership behavior.

What it takes to wear a yellow arm band:

  • You have to have players that will follow you. Every leader must have followers. Leaders can’t send a message or create a vision if no one believes in it. No one can be Captain without buy-in from the players!
  • A Captain is vocal in both big and small ways. A captain knows all aspects of the game. And they put their teammates in the right place while on the field. They communicate constantly. They direct and put players in the right position. The team listens and respects the chatter. This mental direction is so critical in the game. The smallest mental lapses in spacing, positioning, and decision making on and off the ball create most of the goal scoring opportunities for your opponent.
  • A Captain can put the game on their back as they say. No matter what is required. Shut down the other team’s best player. Make the critical play or pass. Even the score—go ahead and make a goal.
  • The captain must lead the team 24/7 on and off the field. Winning and being competitive is not contained in a 90 minute game. The season begins the day the last one ends. Being a leader is learning more about the game, playing it, getting in better physical condition in the off season, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • Captains do everything with intention. Every meeting, every Friday night game or spaghetti team dinner is with a purpose. Closeness in a team off the field relates to trust and understanding of your teammates on the pitch.
  • The captain respects the entire team and knows that all have value. However, the captain also understands and respects individual roles and contribution levels.
  • A captain knows the team values and communicates with them. All action, word recognition, and discipline stems from living the values or helping teammates do it better.

Interesting to note, leadership behavior is just as hard to notice in a soccer game as it is in the game of business. You really have to look for it because it is effortless for good Captains and good leaders.

Why is Bruce Springsteen Called “The Boss”?

May 21st, 2014

I recently attended my first Bruce Springsteen concert this past week in Hershey, PA.  We talk about leaders only being leaders when they have followers. Well Bruce has followers. After all, he is the “Boss” right? I bet you don’t know why he is called the boss. Well, back in the early (glory) days he was the one who had to collect the night’s receipts and be responsible for distributing the money to bandmates. At first, Bruce hated the name because of what boss typically means as a stereotype. I think it’s safe to say at this point he has tacitly accepted his moniker. And after watching him play for three hours and ten minutes with barely a sip of water? There is no doubt in my mind that he is in charge, in control, and on top of every little detail as a master showman can be.  He is The Boss today but for very different reasons than way back when!

After watching his performance I can assure you he is a good leader. He has such high energy and regard for people including his bandmates and crew, the fans, and all those that he can help. (Bruce brought seven different fans on stage to jam with him, sing, and to share their cause). Without fear or thought that they might in anyway be there to hurt or harm him or others!

All of this Boss talk got me thinking. Do you like being called boss? I had a favorite admin. who called me jefe, which means boss and I hated it. She insisted she meant it in a different meaning than the stereotype. Jefe meant that I was in charge and that she could count on me.

So I looked up the definition of boss. And guess what I learned?

Boss as a noun seems reasonable enough to me. Someone in charge of a team or organization. Each culture and its value is different in each group however, someone, is always responsible for a team—even in self-directed teams.

So how about Boss as the adjective? Boss means excellent or outstanding. If everyone can be the boss and live up to excellence or be outstanding then let’s all get name tags!  An environment of results and outstanding can’t be all bad, right?

ID-10066133Now we are getting into it. Boss as the verb. To dictate. To lord over. To domineer.  To push around. To browbeat. To create undue pressure. This is where the stereotype exists!

No one wants to work for a boss. Few people tolerate dictators or lords if they can help it.  No one wants second class treatment when they can be equally important. I’m sure that being pushed around or browbeat isn’t motivating for long. Bossing and managing by fear mongering works for as long as the Boss has power. Which is usually only as long as it takes employees to figure out what to do about it.

So unless you’re Bruce Springsteen, be careful about acting like a boss!

Can Your Team Handle the Truth?

May 14th, 2014

Several weeks ago my leadership team went through a self-conducted Patrick Lencioni exercise. If you don’t know Patrick he is a consultant and writer of wonderful books that generally use the power of a good story to reinforce certain principles around team building, leadership, communication, and organizational health.

In his newest book, The Advantage, Patrick recommends that each leader write down the answer to the following two questions:

  • What is one strength that each individual team member brings to the group?
  • What is one non-strength or challenge that negatively impacts the group?

ID-100255083At first, most leaders have to think long and hard about whether or not their team has the organizational maturity and closeness to pull this off. So, it starts with the leader and with all team members giving their positive feedback. That part is not so bad really. In fact, it is actually a compliment and a feel good. Then the negative feedback begins. And guess what? That is even better than the positive. We all kind of know our strengths and our big impact. However, we all really wonder what people think about our leadership qualities. To get this directly without caveats and not sandwiched between two positives is beyond refreshing.

So what did my team say about me? NOTHING surprising. They said that I need to be more direct and clear. (Be careful what you ask of people) I also need to make sure I am not too understanding in our team environment. My team reminded me that we all want to be in a winning environment and that it is my job to hold all to that high standard along the way!

The best part about all of this is that it’s a shared experience. One that leaders remember and can use in their efforts in the grey areas with their peers. This is a safe reminder for all of us. Chris, be direct. Leaders, please be more open. Listen. Or whatever else you need to work on.

This is all about creating an open, honest environment that encourages and builds a real team. One that can work through differences, can care enough to offer feedback, and challenge each other. Most teammates fight to get their work improved, not help the broader team. To know that this behavior will be rewarded—well, then we have something special to build on!

No Excuses Leadership

May 7th, 2014

no excusesWe make them all of the time. In our home life. At work. In our minds. We say it out loud. We think of it often and we blame others all too much. Our kid got a bad call on the sports field. We would have gotten that promotion or bonus if the boss was more reasonable. We could have hit our budget, however, the winter weather kept workers home. As leaders at the Outside-In® family of companies, we have serious responsibilities to consider as a team.

No Excuses as a value seems self-explanatory, right? Try hard to control the space between your ears and learn to own whatever you are responsible for and for whatever happens to you. Placing blame, well, that is the easy path to take. Everything can be rationalized and made someone else’s fault.

As a leadership team No Excuses requires a commitment to some important management ideals and practices.

1. As leaders we need to think in terms of contingencies. Things always go differently than planned. Thinking through different options. Planning to stay ahead of your business. Making sure you stay ahead of things. The concept of getting ahead matters.  

2. Getting ahead and staying ahead and out in front of your business. Having enough focus and balance on the future of your business is critical. Do you have enough staff? Do you know who your next hire is? Are they ready for your next opening?

3. Balance of today’s workload with tomorrow. Did you just barely get through the day? Are you growing your business? Are you giving employees a reason to come back? Would anyone notice that you’re not working towards a future state or plan? A business is a plan of resources that meet today’s demands but also keep you aligned to your future. Too much today focus can mean that stakeholders become disinterested and begin to question where we are headed. Too much forward focus? Well, the bright picture you’re creating maybe too big a chasm for your employees to believe it today and it looks ugly!

4. Anticipate. Everyday clients have issues. Staff needs help and coaching. You will have interruptions, distractions, things that occupy time. New prospects need cultivating. You know everyday these things happen. And this is just a normal day, where, nothing big happened good or not so good. If you know this be ready for it.

5. Have a daily plan. As a leader you can make it through your day and have a full one simply by helping the staff and customer that need it and by going to the standing meetings on your schedule. I bet success for you is defined by more than reacting to your day.

Avoiding excuses starts well in advance. To avoid making big ones requires planning, delegation and an effective of balance on the work of the day versus the long range direction you have set for your business.

Do you SEE, THINK, and ACT?

April 16th, 2014

Big data is Everything. Analytics are King. Business leaders have more information at their fingertips today than ever before. However, with all these reports, databases, spreadsheets, and software systems, you would think that being a leader is a piece of cake. We have more information, yet we may have too much information.

If you went to college for undergraduate studies or an advanced degree there were/are many tools, theories and ideas on decision making. Perhaps we have so many ways of making decisions that it makes decision making, well, harder than ever. Should we use a SWOT for that? Or a decision-based flow chart? Or maybe channel Ben Franklin with a list of pros and cons? Go ahead Google it. I got 599 million pages of articles, books, blogs and models all on decision making!

Have you ever been the leader that takes over a job, a department, maybe even a whole company? So many expect you to set the tone and direction. It takes time, intuition, meetings with employees, and customers to get a sense of things that are good and things that need fixing. The idea of making big, important, strategic decisions sounds better in theory than actually doing it. And I propose there is a basic fundamental reason why.

ID-10091482Decision making is not easy. Let’s start with the basics:

1.  Trust your gut.  If you have ever noticed that reaction or feeling you have about a key issue or topic, and perhaps later you realized you were right?  Learn to react to your insights.

2.  When you’re not sure—talk to customers. I am not sure much needs to be said about this one other than time with customers is energizing. And this can free your thought process about where you need to better serve your customers and your business.

3.  Keep at it, but keep it simple. When I was first learning to lead I was taught three simple words for decision making: SEE, THINK, and ACT.

If you pull back and think about it, most of us try to ACT too quickly. We don’t look at all of the reports and data. We don’t meet with customers and employees. We want to make the decision to simply make it go away or to enjoy the rush.

However, what all leaders really need to do is work with their teams to make the best decisions. This is probably not the easy one. Nor the first one. We need to SEE all there is to see.Then we need to spend some time THINKING about it. And then we ACT.

So this week someone is going to bring you a problem or opportunity. Are you willing to SEE, THINK, and ACT in that order? Or will you get stuck in the information gathering phase? Or perhaps skip all that and dole out yesterdays answer. It is up to every leader to respond uniquely and differently to each days events.

Addicted to Dope: 4 Chemicals We Need to Feel Fulfilled at Work

March 5th, 2014

Guest blog spot by Outside-In® Team Member Caitlin Olszewski

1. Dopamine

dopeDopamine (3,4-dihydroxyphenethylamine for my nerds) is the human chemical responsible for releasing good feelings of satisfaction, achievement, and completion. If you’re anything like me, every item you cross out on your to-do list summons the invisible arms of progress as they comfort you in their warm embrace. Ahhh. Instant gratification. A hug so fulfilling you find yourself craving, no, needing more. You can quit anytime you want, right? Don’t quit. Goonies never say die!

Two weeks ago, I attended a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce networking event where TED celebrity, leadership expert, and completely awesome dude extraordinaire, Simon Sinek spoke about the four social chemicals humans need in order to feel fulfilled. This goes all the way back to our monkey roots in the Paleolithic era when human survival was dependent on hunting and gathering so these built in survival chemicals encouraged us to succeed. Although we’re well past knuckle-walking and spearing wild boar, dinosaurs, or whatever, all of these chemicals are still present in our daily work lives. And these drugs are biologically what motivate us to set goals, complete tasks, and to keep going under all circumstances.

2. Endorphins

How about that feeling you get when you run a few miles, lift weights, or complete a P90X® workout without passing out? Hel-lo sweet, sweet endorphins—the personal opiate. Often referred to as the “runner’s high”, endorphins sole purpose are to mask physical pain with pleasure. During a rough patch at work, endorphins are what kick in to give you that “all hands on deck” instinct to overcome and obtain that feel-good high. Laughing is one of the quickest ways to release endorphins, explaining why it is highly encouraged to participate in some lighthearted humor during tense times.

3. Serotonin

So what happens when you shatter those goals? Complete those tasks and exceed expectations? Serotonin rolls out a red carpet and hands you a trophy. Serotonin gives us pride, the feeling of being respected, and an invincible attitude. In work life, serotonin is what emboldens us to put out the best work we can in order to feel acknowledged and valuable. It’s what pushes us to constantly impress and please those around us so we can feel a sense of achievement and comradery. Think about how you would feel running on your own time versus running a marathon in front of people cheering you on. Serotonin pushes us to go further, be stronger, and work harder.

4. Oxytocin

What about the warm fuzzies? The most popular of these chemicals, oxytocin, is correlated with feelings of friendship, love, and trust. Oxytocin provides us with the need for human connection, social interaction, and vigilante actions. Unlike the other three chemicals, oxytocin is a long-lasting feeling. This chemical is all about relationship building and creating a deep trust for those around us in order to feel safe and protected. At work, oxytocin is the feeling we achieve when our colleagues are there to watch our backs, encourage our growth, and give us the tools we need to succeed.

Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t is currently on the New York Times Best Seller List. You should buy it not only because it’s a thought-provoking look into the way we work as humans, in teams, and as leaders, but also because I said so.

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