Leadership Truths



As we close down 2015 and move into 2016, I sat back and reflected on some of my journey and the privilege I have to help others become stronger leaders. I’ve shared below a compilation of some of my favorite Leadership Truths. Take a look and choose your top 5 where you believe that by living that truth you can raise your own bar in the new year.  Commit to a little self-reflection and resolve to make 2016 a year to focus on cultivating your own personal leadership legacy and ensuring the influence you have on your team is always positive.

1.      Maturity is a choice not an age. 2.      As a leader, be contagious, not infectious.
3.      Leading a team is a different skill set than    accomplishing great individual feats. 4.      Create an organization that makes more leaders than it breaks.
5.      Lead where you’re strong. Team where you’re weak. 6.      Business and life are marathons. We have to strategically pace ourselves in order to finish.
7.      Great leaders are concerned about their positive influence, their legacy. 8.      Strategic placement of team members produces the best results.
9.      Self-awareness helps in building the right team for you. 10.   It’s your team.  You cannot complain about what you permit.
11.   When you need a little more pull from your team, try letting them chase a team just a little faster or better than themselves. 12.   Amateurs practice until they get it right.  Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.
13.   Great leaders take time to get to know their team, really know them. 14.   Consider the strengths of the team as a component of strategy.
15.   Communicate in their language, not yours. 16.   Unleash the power of the team.
17.   You don’t have to flood your team with words to get them to action.  Be clear.  Be concise.  Be direct. 18.   Start ugly.  If you’re not willing to start ugly, you’re never going to start.  Learn.  Grow.  Make it pretty next time.
19.   Mentors know to put us in charge of teams that match our abilities. 20.   I can’t lead the team I want.  I have to lead the team I have.
21.   Frustration is a function of expectation. 22.   Lead people; manage things.
23.   If you’re a leader and not learning every day, you’re likely not a leader for long. 24.   Don’t ask for more sweat equity than you give.
25.   People join companies; people quit people. Be someone people want to stay with. 26.   Sometimes you have to drop or reassign a team member if it’s hurting the rest of the team.
27.   Experience it; don’t just witness it. 28.   Trust is the currency of leadership.
29.   Leading a team to victory is often the result of conquering or leading one’s self first. 30.   The mirror is rarely pleasant, but it’s almost always honest.
31.   Problems rarely work themselves out. 32.   As a leader, what you allow you endorse.
33.   The trail we carve as leaders profoundly affects the next generation. 34.   Nobody wants to be managed; people want to be inspired.
35.   Every leader gets the team they deserve, eventually. The team you inherited is not your fault. The team you have a year from now is. 36.   How you treat those on the inside is an indicator of how they will treat those who come from the outside.
37.   Don’t transfer emotional baggage to your team.  If you need to unload, talk to another leader 38.   For that extra motivation, learn your team individually and incentivize accordingly.
39.   Hire for values; train for skills. 40.   Find awesome, and copy it.


Changing business climates and lack of support…

In any leadership position, newly acquired or not, there are going to be rough spots. Days when it seems like your driving a sled meant for snow over rocks and dirt. For the team, It can be like trying to run full speed over dirt and rocks in your bare feet. For the sled, it’s like being in quicksand. The protective coatings placed over the runners can get ripped to shreds and if you take a spill, it’s going to hurt.

Having those clear, insightful discussions about the terrain and how it has been affected by the recent “Business Climate” changes is urgently important. The earlier you know about the upcoming conditions, the more options you have, the more prepared you can be, and the more time you have to reduce the risk of flipping the sled.

Gathering information from multiple sources helps in these sections. For business in this area I like to involve both art and science.

Science is going to give us the raw and interpreted data. I say, “Interpreted” because for the most part when you are presented with the numbers, the person presenting them is going to give you their ‘Lens’ on those numbers. Having multiple people share their ‘Lenses’ will help round out your thinking and your options. This helps to ensure you don’t take a wrong course of action and either flip the sled or wander off course. What are the numbers? What do we believe they tell us? Why do we believe they tell us that? What make up the causes for the numbers? Is this an isolated climate change or a global crisis? Asking the questions will reveal telling answers AND can reveal more Frozen Rivers (see yesterday’s post)

Art is the ‘Gut’ side of the business for the ‘Manly’. This is where you or your team may have ‘Intuition’, insight, or you can ‘sense’ that there are changes in the trail ahead. Sensory perception, intuition, or gut feelings can be useful. Mushers who run their entire businesses on it can subject their teams to a lot of change and ‘rabbit chases’ – so use this with caution but don’t dismiss it totally.

I’ve been under leaders that could sense problems before my numbers ever showed the reality of it. In this case the numbers lagged the sensing. At other times the statistical analysis led the way. (if you want more on this click the button at the bottom and I’ll do a future blog on it)

For the 150 or so miles leading up to the Yukon river and then along the Icy coast there is very little support. Checkpoints and supply lines are further apart and the Mushers and their teams really fight the mind games that go along with isolation and dwindling support.

As a leader that is either new in position or new to leadership overall, make sure you know where your support ends and what trails you’ll need to go with little or no support at all. Try to minimize these sections of terrain until you have enough time in to develop support for those areas. Remember: your meant to lead the team from the sled – not run out front, grab a harness and pull the sled and all 16 team members! Firm up your support, get others on the same page and ready to pull – then you’ll reduce those ‘Barren’ areas. Don’t fight battles that don’t need to be fought yet – and don’t make everything a ‘Life or Death’, ‘Do or Die’ choice. There is a great quote that says, “If you make every situation a ‘Life or Death’ deal – You’ll be dead a lot!” I don’t know who said it – but it is very true.

If you find yourself in a barren stretch of terrain, keep the lines of communication open. Increase your communication to a mentor, coach, or peer. If you need to take a momentary trail break and rally the team – do it! The first goal is to finish the race – you can’t win, if you don’t finish!

Remember the learning points from the week:

1.) Take time to get to know your team

2.) Learn the terrain.

3.) Don’t be too rigid or make changes too fast.

4.) Let your team get to know you.

See you at the next ‘Leadership Checkpoint’ on Monday.

New Leadership and frozen rivers…

Running my team behind Nils, he took his sled down the embankment and onto thin ice. The dogs crossed fine, but I could see the cracks in the ice and watched as the ice flexed under the weight of the sled and the rear part of the runners broke through. It seemed like slow motion as I saw the water wrap around the runners…

With the speed of the team and the rest of the frozen river being solid, it was a momentary dip, but knowing that I had to cross that same section of ice was unsettling.

Nils knew the terrain, how deep the water was, how the sled and the dogs would react, how that same area felt the day before, etc. In fact, he had been in that area and down that path for years. I needed to rely on his knowledge of that terrain.

Yesterday, we talked about the terrain of mountains and then checkpoints and equipment – more of, what I would call, immediate Operational Terrain. Today, I’m drawn to talking about the Cultural Terrain.

An organization’s Cultural Terrain consists of what they believe and how they behave. Behave as in behavior/action not behave as in obedience. It’s more about the DNA – with a caveat or twist.

Knowing the organization’s history – their background, how they got here, the path they took – the path of the Lead Dogs and Wheelers on the team. All of the information you can learn about this will allow you insight into their pattern of thinking (as individuals and as a group). The reason this is important is that it goes back to their “lens” that we’ve talked about before. Their “lens” is their “beliefs” and “beliefs” drive “behaviors”.

Frozen Rivers.

Frozen Rivers are those things in the organization that have solidified over time and are now “frozen solid” in the minds of the people. It has been termed corporate ‘Sacred Cows’ and can include anything from products to methodology to hierarchy and communication channels.

Having an understanding of these and the willingness to allow the sled to ride on some of this for a “season” is a mark of maturity. Make your list of things that need thawing and work for that thawing to occur as natural as possible. I say, “..as natural as possible” knowing that at some point you may have to break through some ice – but that point is not early on – or you’ll get so distracted about breaking the ice – you’ll stop running the race! Key points to thawing – understand that there is an undercurrent and if you feed the undercurrent with the right beliefs and methodology, etc. – the top will thaw organically – from the bottom up!

Full day today – so we’ll need to pick up ‘Snow-Less Patches and the ‘Icy Barren Coast’ later today in a second Blog – or tomorrow.

Remember – enjoy the trail, enjoy the team – and enjoy the Adventure!

Break out the map!

Thinking about the upcoming terrain is important. Not knowing how your new team will react in those situations can scare the heck out of a new leader. Worse for the new leader would be if your team knew what was just over the horizon and failed to let you in on it.

The earliest part of the race is organized for the public fanfare of the ceremonial start, the “Big city”, the lights, the dignitaries and the send off. For the most part this area is intentionally sculpted for ease of start. Streets are covered with snow and the path is clearly marked while “Race Officials” make sure the interference is minimized.” This will, soon enough, end and taking the time to get the “lay of the land” is an important step to staying right side up.

No one would dream of being hired the day before or the day of the race, jump on the sled with 16 trained athletes capable of pulling 300 lbs each or around 5000+ lbs easily as a unit. However, in business, that’s about the size of it, right? We are promoted in a pinch and need to deliver incredible results fast, in difficult settings, with daunting obstacles.

In the Iditarod Dog Sled Race, there are a number of different terrains that teams face. Looking at just a few of those today and tomorrow can help.

Step 1 – Break out the map.

The primary method for understanding the terrain is to break out the map. A map will have all of the necessary information and with some insight will be incredible useful if you’ve never run this trail before. If you have, it will be the place where you record your refined strategy.

1a of breaking out the map is to study the key or legend. The key or legend is the filter or standard that allows the proper perspective. What may look like no big deal on the map may be, in reality, a life or death section of the trail.

With obstacles and terrain, the first question I would ask goes to timing. What is the next section of the trail and that becomes the immediate focus. From there, comes developing the game plan and all of the standard planning phases (short, medium, longer) but first, we need to know the next quarter mile – or in my case (when I flipped the sled coming out of the kennel) the next 100 feet!

Big Rocks first!

One of the major terrain areas is the Alaska Mountain Range. Since this is one of the most daunting obstacles – you’ll want to know how much time you have before starting up the range? Again, this is where you need the perspective of those that you report to and those that report to you. What looks like a hill on the map, can be a 6200 meter (20,000 ft) mountain. What is the first major hurdle? What is the major event of the year? When will these occur? What does our annual business cycle look like? Where are we in that cycle? Where are we about to drive off a cliff?

For me the largest obstacles were easy: Don’t hit the supply building and don’t hit the cabin.

Checkpoint and equipment!

The next question would be: Are we equipped for such a journey? What supplies will we need? How long do we run before the first stop? Am I properly outfitted for this? If not, where can I get the right supplies fast? Checkpoints are symbols. Stations are where you check in with race officials, find out if your timing is in line, get a fresh change of clothes, grab a little rest, but most important of all – refuel.

If you or your team runs out of gas (emotion, motivation, physical stamina, burn out) or your sled (department/division/company) runs out of gas (Capital, funding, resources, cash flow, support) – your journey is over – over before it has gotten to its’ “Burled Arch”.

Hopefully, you were able to do your homework on the sponsors of the sled (the company) before accepting the musher’s position – to make sure they could properly fund such an adventure – but even when you’ve checked it all out things can go wrong and economic “storms” can blow in and wipe it out!

Much more to cover on this – frozen rivers; rough, snow-less patches; gorges; and the icy barren coast…

For today, think about the terrain in front of you, who can help shed light on what that map looks like in reality and does anybody on the team see a mountain or cliff in the next run. Talk to you tomorrow!

Learn the team first!

More than one leader has flipped the sled and had their race derailed by failing to learn dynamics of the new team.

At first blush, everyone will have their game face on (whatever that means to them). Some will come running up eagerly waging their tales and promising that they are the best dog in the kennel. They were meant to race. They were overlooked and underutilized by the last ‘Musher’ and they were just waiting for a new musher like you. This may be the case or it may take some time to realize that they are just licking one boot while ‘watering’ the other!

Others may come charging toward you with their teeth bared and their bark as loud as they can muster it. They will make all kinds of noise and let everyone in the kennel know that, regardless of who they install as the ‘Musher’, they are the real force to be reckoned with. In a vacuum of power or transition of power, they may be trying to leverage the opportunity to increase their status in the pack. Some of these may believe that they should have been promoted to your position and may tell you that. It’s ok – if their bark is worse than their bite, they will calm down when they know that you are not insecure. If you show weakness, they will smell the blood in the water and your days will be numbered. If you, immediately, start fighting someone’s going home in a body bag! At this point, you need the rest of the pack on your side – or it could be you being air-lifted out. Stay calm, look them in the eye, affirm their belief that they are a leader in the pack and then prove them out. Over time you’ll reel them in – remember the loudest skeptics can become the greatest and most vocal champions! If they do bite – you’ll drop them at the next closest checkpoint and the rest of the team will applaud you for it.

Most will sit back, wary of the new leader, waiting to see how many changes they will have to endure before you leave (through promotion or failure) and another takes your place. They are the cautious compliants. Time will prove your commitment to them and endear their commitment to you. They commit slow but once they do, they commit deep.

In any case, you will need to know the players that you have on your team: their capabilities and capacities. You must learn their “skill and will” to make sure that the race strategy on your clip board (coming in) is realistic for right now. If you, immediately, put your race plan into action without learning your team – you could flip the sled. And if I can be so honest – it’s your fault if you do. It’s not that they sabotaged your success – they were not at the right place, time, or mindset to implement that game plan and it’s the musher’s responsibility to know the team before leaving the chute. You’ll get there – hang on! You have great plans and dreams – and you’ll get there – it just may take a little more time to get started on the front end but you won’t lose time face down in the snow.

Early on – just take time sitting in the kennel – own the kennel – it’s your kennel. Take time to learn your people and give them time to learn you. Yes we need to get started. Yes we hunger for action and adventure! Yes we want those early wins! Just trust me on this one – flipping the sled early on is not pretty and it can cost you more than you want to pay.

Thanks for hanging out around this leadership “campfire”. Let’s talk about the terrain tomorrow.