Leadership Lessons from the Sidewalk

In a recent post on walking unplugged, I mentioned that I would be walking the next day with my feet.

I wasn’t trying to be flippant – I was merely stating that your feet can tell you a lot about where you’re walking, and what you’re walking on, and in the process, you can learn a lot.

It brought to mind this post on my other website: Sometimes the Best Part of the Story is Under Your Feet.

With that going through my head, I began my walk – and it wasn’t long before I realized Leadership Lessons the sidewalk could teach me.

In a short, two-mile walk through my neighborhood, I felt and observed the following:

  • Raised Sidewalk – visible, growing tree roots: Leaders should always be looking for things that will help them grow and lift their capabilities.
  • Sunken Sidewalk – hidden sources of water: Leaders should be cautious of hidden things that will bring them down and stunt their capabilities.
  • New Sidewalk Section – replacing to make it functional again: As your leadership grows and matures, you can count on learning new ways to do some things better.
  • Clean Sidewalk – appearances matter: Leaders must present themselves in the best manner possible, which instills confidence.
  • Dirty, Stained Sidewalk – see above: Conversely, sloppy appearances give others pause.
  • Cracked Sidewalk – too heavy a load: Leaders aren’t super heroes, and must balance the “load” they carry.
  • Grass in Sidewalk – maybe lazy, but at least distracted: Leaders who allow interruptions won’t be able to focus.
  • Grass growing over the Sidewalk – know your boundaries: Leaders know that boundaries help focus attention and align teams.
  • Sidewalks – take you somewhere: Leaders don’t fly solo; they must take others with them.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey easier: Well-prepared leaders are in a better position to help others on the journey.
  • Sidewalks – make your journey safer: Leaders watch out for the safety and welfare of others.
  • Sidewalks – lift you above the road: Leaders must rise above their surroundings.

In their civic role, sidewalks play a vital purpose in city, town, and suburban life. As conduits for pedestrian movement and access, they enhance connectivity and promote walking.  Safe, accessible, and well-maintained sidewalks are a fundamental and necessary investment.

But for me, they provide great leadership lessons.

And of course, I couldn’t resist sharing Shel Silverstein’s most appropriate poem:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.”

― Shel Silverstein, Where the Sidewalk Ends

 

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What’s Your Organization’s Creation Story?

Will Mancini, founder of Auxano and Younique, writes about the importance of leadership stories here. He believes that storytelling and understanding the nuances of story will help leaders in the daily ebb and flow of communication. The first, appropriately, is your organization’s creation story.

As a leader, you should know more about the creation story of your organization than anyone on the planet. What are the circumstances—passions, problems, and people—surrounding how the organization got started to begin with? 

Mastering the richness of the creation story will help in two major ways. First, it will hold insight into the unique culture of the organization and therefore future decision-making and vision. Second, your mastery of the story itself will bring tremendous credibility with people when initiating change.

With a passion of Disney history, I’m always grateful to visit Disney properties and immerse myself in the stories and culture of Walt Disney and the “kingdom” he began. During a recent multi-day visit to California, I had the opportunity to visit Disneyland several days, experiencing both the familiar and new perspectives.

Take this image, for example:

 

In talking with current Cast Members, Tour Guides, and former Imagineers, various stories were given as to the origin of Disneyland:

  1. It was Walt Disney’s fascination with trains, beginning as a boy, that led him to first create a scale model railroad in his backyard. Not satisfied, he begin to develop an ever-growing park that would include a railroad. When Disneyland opened in 1955, the first object you saw approaching the park was a train station, and a 5/8 scale railroad encircled the park.
  2. Saturday’s were “Daddy’s Day,” and Walt often took his daughters to play in nearby parks. While sitting on a bench in Griffith Park, Walt imagined what a park would look like that would allow both parents and children to be immersed in a story-rich, safe, clean park.
  3. Fascinated by miniatures, Walt began a hobby of crafting extremely detailed miniature items, building entire rooms filled with objects that were not only beautiful to look at, but fully functional. He envisioned a place to display these miniatures so that people from all over the country could enjoy them.
  4. By the late 1940’s-early 1950’s, Walt had grown tired of making animated pictures, and even his recent venture into live-action motion pictures left him dissatisfied. He imagined a place were people could actually be a part of a story, immersed in all the rich details that a “theme park” could provide.

What is the true origin of Disneyland?

I believe that all of the above contributed to the creation of Disneyland. And the common denominator of all of them?

Passion.

> What about your organization?

ACTION STEP: Write a one-page, 2-minute creation story talk. If you have any gaps in your knowledge, interview people in your organization until you know more than anyone else.

It’s Hard to Go Wrong When You Follow the Advice of Dr. Seuss

One of my greatest passions is reading.

I developed this passion at an early age, and have continued to strengthen it over the years. In addition to being my passion, reading is also an important part of my role as Vision Room Curator at Auxano. In that role, I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix every two weeks. SUMS Remix is a modified book summary in which I develop a solution to a common problem faced by church leaders from 3 different books. So, preparing SUMS Remix in 2018 alone means I have gone through over 100 leadership and organization development books to arrive at the 79 used in producing 26 issues this year.

Other parts of my role requires reading current trends books, used for social media posting and content writing.

Then there’s my passion area of Guest Experience, in which I am constantly researching customer service books for application for churches. I’m building The Essential Guest Experience Library.

And, as many readers know, I am a Disney Fanatic – which extends to building a Disney library, currently over 300 volumes and growing!

Finally, there’s just the pure pleasure of reading – an almost nightly hour or two in the late evening reading a wide range of books, both brand new and classics, fiction and nonfiction.

Add those 5 categories all together, and by the end of 2018 I will have “read” 191 books, pretty much following the advice of Dr. Seuss:

First, a disclaimer: I did not read all 191 cover to cover. With such an immense (and pleasurable) task in front of me, and knowing there is more to my job than reading, I have to resort to some method of finding out what an author is trying to say without reading the whole book. There’s a few dozen of that total in which I only read the “highlights,” following the methods below.

Here’s how I did it – and, of course it starts with a book!

How to Read a Book

Literally – that’s the name of a classic book by Mortimer Adler.  The first lesson of reading is to learn that you don’t need to “read” each book the same way. Here are Adler’s 4 levels of reading:

  • Elementary Reading – What does the book say?
  • Inspectional Reading – What is the book about?
  • Analytical Reading – What does the book mean?
  • Syntopical Reading – What does a comparison of books on the subject reveal?

Some books are only meant to be read at the first level; others are meant to be digested at some of the other levels. Know which is which!

To get the most out of a book in the least amount of time, try this strategy:

  • Read the title.
  • Read the introduction
  • Read the Table of Contents
  • Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and subheadings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
  • Examine the illustrations, captions, charts and diagrams. Read the pull-quotes and sidebars.
  • Scan through the index looking for buzz words that interest you.
  • Read the first chapter.
  • Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph in each chapter. In a well written and edited book, the most important sentence containing the topic is usually the first sentence of the paragraph — but not always.
  • Read the last chapter. If there is an executive summary, read it.
  • Read any other information on the cover or dust jacket.

If the book captures your attention after doing the above tasks, then by all means dive right in!

The converse is true: if a book doesn’t capture your attention after a few attempts, stop reading it. Pick out another one on the topic – there are always more waiting for you!

With that caveat in mind, my “cover-to-cover” reading for 2018 was 127 books.

For the curious, like picking your favorite child (I have four), I don’t typically make a “Best of” list for the year. I find some value in almost every book I read, and for me, that’s good enough.

While the knowledge gained from reading is important, the real benefit is from the habit of reading. When you are continually reading, you condition your mind to keep taking in new knowledge. Your thinking remains fresh and sharp. Your brain is always churning on new ideas, looking for new connections it can make. Every day you pour in more ideas, which your brain must find a way to integrate into your existing knowledge base. Frequent reading fires up your neural activity, even during the periods when you aren’t reading.

Reading is a gift that you can unselfishly give yourself, one that truly keeps on giving. Why don’t you bless yourself and those around you by reading a new book in the first weeks of 2019, and sharing its wisdom with others?

Me? Well, I’m visiting one of my favorite bookstores tomorrow, I’ve got three books lined up for delivery via Amazon by the end of next week, and I’m headed to the library today to pick up another couple on reserve.

After all, you can’t read all day…

…if you don’t start in the morning!

 

 

Getting Your Ideas Off the Ground: 7 Lessons from the Wright Brothers

On December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the Wright Flyer became generally accepted as the first powered, heavier-than-air machine to achieve controlled, sustained flight with a pilot aboard. 

Looking back over these 115 years from a personal viewpoint:

  • In 1903, my grandmother was 5 years old.
  • In 1953, my parents were married.
  • In 2003, the second of my four children began college.
  • Today, in 2018, all 14 of my immediate family have traveled by airplane. My Air Force grandkids, even at 5 and 8, have more frequent flyer miles than I do.

In the lifetime of my extended family, “flying” has come from non-existent to a routine afterthought.

The principles of flying even extend beyond our earth, to travel in space.

How did two men, in 1903, working essentially alone and with little formal scientific training, solve a problem so complex and demanding as heavier-than-air flight, which had defied better-known experimenters for centuries?

Certainly the brothers were talented, but the true answer also lies in their background and early experiences.

With no education beyond public schools, how did the the Wright brothers get past numerous obstacles the world’s other scientists hadn’t even begun to tackle?

In 2003, on the 100th anniversary of the first flight, Mark Eppler published The Wright Way, defining seven essential problem-solving principles the brothers used in accomplishing this enormous feat.

  • A passion for knowledge and information
  • An ability to argue through tough issues in search of truth
  • An ability to identify the hardest part of a problem, and the discipline to begin there
  • A talent for tactile and conceptual tinkering
  • An ability to conceptualize new (often radical) ideas, and the courage to consider them
  • A penchant for method and meticulous attention to detail
  • An ability to create infinitely more together than they could by themselves

On today’s 115th anniversary of the flight at Kitty Hawk, leaders should look at the above list and apply them to problems they are facing.

Applying these principles might just help you get your ideas “off the ground.”

For additional information about the fascinating story of the Wright Brothers, here are four great books I recommend:

 

 

 

Are You Living in the Leadership Loop?

Leaders, by definition (if not practice) have followers. Leaders find, recruit, and train followers for specific tasks. While this is an important task in any organization, a leader who can only lead followers is limited. To make it to the next level of leadership, a leader must be able to lead other leaders – those alongside them.

Leading peers is a unique challenge, no matter what organization a leader is part of. A highly competent leader who is seen – rightly or wrongly – to have considerable influence with his boss is often at a disadvantage when it comes to peer-to-peer relationships.

To succeed at leading alongside your peers, you must work at giving your colleagues reasons to respect and follow you. You do that by helping them win, and in doing so, you will not only help your organization but you will also help yourself.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The 360° Leader, John Maxwell

Don’t wait for that promotion! Start leading NOW…right where you are!

What’s the number one question leadership expert John C. Maxwell is asked while conducting his leadership conferences? “How can I implement what you teach when I’m not the top leader?” Is it possible to lead well when you’re not the top dog? How about if the person you work for is a bad leader? The answer is a resounding yes!

Welcome to The 360° Leader. People who desire to lead from the middle of organizations face unique challenges. And they are often held back by myths that prevent them from developing their influence. Dr. Maxwell, one of the globe’s most trusted leadership mentors, debunks the myths, shows you how to overcome the challenges, and teaches you the skills you need to become a 360° leader.

If you have found yourself trying to lead from the middle of the organization, as the vast majority of professionals do, then you need Maxwell’s insights. You have a unique opportunity to exercise influence in all directions—up (to the boss), across (among your peers), and down (to those you lead). The good news is that your influence is greater than you know.

Practice the disciplines of 360° leadership and the opportunities will be endless . . . for your organization, for your career, and for your life.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

The middle of an organization is a great place to practice and build your skills while at the same time extending your influence in all directions. Leaders above you recognize your contributions to the greater organization. Followers below you are grateful for your leadership and influence in developing them.

However, people who find it difficult to lead alongside their peers are often individuals who don’t excel at building relationships. More so than leading up or down, developing and deepening relationships with your peers is critical to your success in leading alongside them.

If you want to gain influence and credibility with people working alongside you, then don’t try to take a shortcut or cheat the process. Instead, learn to understand, practice, and complete the leadership loop with them.

Take a look at the following graphic, which will give you an idea of what the leadership loop looks like:

You can see that it’s a cycle that starts with caring and ends with succeeding.

  1. Caring – Taking an Interest in People

You have to show people that you care about them by taking an interest in them. People always move toward someone who increases them and away from anyone who decreased them.

  1. Learning – Get to Know People

Take time to talk to your peers in the organization. Ask to hear their stories. Try to discover their best skills. Ask for their opinions on work-related issues. And as much as you can, try to put yourself in their shoes.

  1. Appreciating – Respect People

We should strive to see others’ unique experiences and skills as a resource and try to learn from them. If you treat your peers with this kind of respect, appreciating them for who they are, then they will be more likely to respect and listen to you in return.

  1. Contributing – Add Value to People

Few things increase the credibility of leader ore than adding value to the people around them. When you go out of your way to add value to your peers, they understand that you really want them to when with no hidden agenda of your own.

  1. Verbalizing – Affirm People

Few things build people up like affirmation. When you affirm people, you make firm within them the things you see about them. If you want to influence your peers, become their best cheerleader.

  1. Leading – Influence People

The things you’ve done up to know have served to build your relationship with them, give you credibility, and display that your motives are good. With that kind of history, you will have earned the opportunity to influence them.

  1. Succeeding – Win With People

Great leaders don’t use people so that they can win. They lead people so that they all can win together. The wonderful thing about helping others succeed is that it earns you more opportunities to help an even greater number of people.

If you help others succeed, additional people will come into your life whom you will have an opportunity to help succeed, and the cycle will start over again.

John C. Maxwell, The 360° Leader

A NEXT STEP

Draw the leadership loop pictured above, and post it in a visible, but out-of-the-way place in your office or work area as a reminder.

Create a matrix on a spreadsheet listing your peer’s names in a horizontal column, and the seven leadership loop actions in a horizontal row across the top.

Over the next month, review the seven actions above on a daily basis, and intentionally schedule and follow through on these actions each day with your peers. At the end of each day, make a brief note in the respective place what action you have taken with each of your peers.

At the end of the week, review your progress, and consider how you will continue and improve in the next week.

At the end of the month, call your team together and debrief your experiment with them.

  • Ask them at what point they realized you were doing something differently.
  • Ask them what they thought about your actions.
  • Encourage them to express what it felt to them as an individual.
  • Ask them if they, in turn, began to do some of the same things with others.
  • Discuss with the group how the actions you took increased the relationships of the team.
  • Challenge your peers to work through the leadership loop in a similar manner.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 79-2, issued November 2017.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

 

Exploring the Continuing Leadership Influence of Walt Disney

J. Jeff Kober’s latest book, “Disney, Leadership, and You” is an excellent work that more than delivers on its title.

Drawing from an inquisitive mind and keen insight, Kober has nearly five decades experience with Walt Disney – from both within and without the company – which provide a very readable, practical, and thoroughly enjoyable leadership book that you will find yourself returning to time and again for just the right nugget to use.

I have “known” Jeff for years through his writing, and earlier this year was grateful to meet him and engage his services for an immersive park experience with a group I was leading. The warmth, wit, and sheer knowledge of Disney, coupled with his ability to instantly link it to practical applications of my group, was one of the highlights of our experience. That same experience has been translated into this book.

If you are a leader in any size or type of organization, the stories Jeff Kober has captured in “Disney, Leadership, and You” should be a valuable addition to your library, a source of personal encouragement, and a wealth of practical training for both you and your team.

The book is divided into four sections:

  1. Defining Leadership
  2. Leaders Attain Results
  3. Leaders Build Relationships
  4. Putting It All Together

In those four sections you will find 18 themed chapters, each chock full of leadership principles illustrated with stories of Disney leaders from all ranks. The principles are solid in themselves, but what makes them memorable is the stories of the Cast Members.

The stories and principles perfectly describe how Disney Cast Members create magic each day through their hard work and respect for Walt Disney’s original vision.

You organization is not Disney, but you can learn from their excellence. “Disney, Leadership, and You” is an extraordinary source of lessons and learning to help you make a dramatic impact on why you do, what you do, and how you do it.

 

 

Effective Leaders Know How to Make the Shift from Critic to Critical Thinker

Leaders, by definition (if not practice) have followers. Leaders find, recruit, and train followers for specific tasks. While this is an important task in any organization, a leader who can only lead followers is limited. To make it to the next level of leadership, a leader must be able to lead other leaders – those alongside them.

Leading peers is a unique challenge, no matter what organization a leader is part of. A highly competent leader who is seen – rightly or wrongly – to have considerable influence with his boss is often at a disadvantage when it comes to peer-to-peer relationships.

To succeed at leading alongside your peers, you must work at giving your colleagues reasons to respect and follow you. You do that by helping them win, and in doing so, you will not only help your organization but you will also help yourself.

SOLUTION #1: Shift from critic to critical thinker

THE QUICK SUMMARY – How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins

Are you letting your lack of authority paralyze you?

One of the greatest myths of leadership is that you must be in charge in order to lead. Great leaders don’t buy it. Great leaders lead with or without the authority and learn to unleash their influence wherever they are.

With practical wisdom and humor, Clay Scroggins will help you nurture your vision and cultivate influence, even when you lack authority in your organization. And he will free you to become the great leader you want to be so you can make a difference right where you are. Even when you’re not in charge.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

As a leader, you have undoubtedly been told “no” at some point in your life. When that happens, what is your typical reaction? Do you become cynical and defensive, or do you redirect that energy into a more positive direction?

Leaders who want to become a positive influence with their peers must learn how to overcome the tendency to be critical and become a critical thinker.

Great leaders know how to listen, watch, connect the dots, and fix problems because they’re able to think critically.

If you are seeking to develop the skills of a critical thinker, there are four subtle shifts you must make.

Shift #1 – Stop thinking as an employee.

Start thinking as an owner.

Owners see things others don’t see.

Owners have more buy-in than others do.

Owners care more deeply because their future depends on it.

If there is trash in the hallway or in the parking lot, employees may decide to walk past it. Or worse, they call someone in facilities to pick up the trash. Owners pick up the trash because it’s their reputation on the line.

Shift #2 – Stop stacking your meetings.

Start scheduling thinking meetings.

As a staff member, you often get sucked into a multitude of meetings. It’s the natural gravitational pull of any organization. The worst is having a stack of meetings, back to back. While this may seem efficient, it can also be an enemy of critical thinking. You get to the end of the day and realize you’ve generated no new thoughts or new ideas.

Schedule space to think critically, marking it down like a meeting, at points throughout the day. The greatest enemy of thinking critically is an overcrowded schedule.

Shift #3 – Stop being critical.

Start thinking critically.

If thinking critically is a skill, being critical is a snare. Many leaders don’t want to be critical. They don’t sit around planning to be cynics, but they still get caught in the trap.

The key difference between someone who is critical and someone who is a critical thinker is motive. People who are critical want you to lose. They’re bringing problems, not solutions.

People who are great critical thinkers want you to win. They’re motivated to make something better.

Shift #4 – Stop giving others a grade.

Start lending them a hand.

No one likes the feeling of being constantly measured and monitored. If you’re not careful, your critical thinking will make others feel like you’re giving them grades.

This is not about whether you should convey the thoughts that could better those around you. It’s about how you pass on those thoughts. When you communicate critical thoughts to others, you need to do so with a helping hand, not a grading tone.

Clay Scroggins, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

A NEXT STEP

On a chart tablet, write each of the shifts, leaving space below each one to add comments.

Set aside time to review your actions in the last week, focusing on activities in which you were involved with one or more of your peers.

Write down, under each shift, the actions that fit the first part of the shifts – the “negatives.” For each one, write out how you can make the shift as described in the second part of the phrase.

Take the initiative to review these actions with your peers, and ask them to comment on the shift you would like to enact.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 79-1, issued November 2017.


 

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<