Archives for July 2010

The Story Behind The Story

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The Back-Story
In movies and books, the back-story is a story behind the story that tells us what led up to the main story or plot. In the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the movie begins with a scene set during Indiana’s childhood, explaining where he acquired his hat, his whip, the scar on his chin, and his fear of snakes.

Leadership is storytelling in its purest form. Stories are a powerful form of communication that uplift, inspire, and create energy to accomplish the extraordinary. Leaders have stories too. There are stories they tell themselves about their leadership, stories they tell their teams about what’s important, and stories that inadvertently sabotage their influence and credibility. That’s where the leadership back-story comes in.

A leaders back-story is that part of their history that speaks so loudly people can’t hear the current story. The back-story overrides the current story of growth, innovation and transformation and scripts the performance of a leaders organization in subtle yet profound ways. Integrating all aspects of a leaders story is essential to having people willingly follow them.

What’s your story?
Leaders have an easy time telling the story about who and what they want to become. What they find difficult is telling the story of who they have been, and what part of their life experience is getting in their way of being the leader they aspire to. One of the ways I coach executives to understand their story and to build their leadership brand is with the following questions:

1. Who are you?
2. What’s your purpose for being on this plant?
3. What are you doing on a daily basis to achieve number two?

These three questions require time and commitment and form the basis of writing a personalized leadership script. The questions are designed to cultivate a purpose driven leadership – one that compliments corporate America’s focus on profit driven leadership.

In the movie Jaws, Richard Dreyfus played a marine biologist committed to and fascinated by sharks. But his fascination turned to terror the closer he got to the shark in the movie. The closer he got the more he said, “We need a bigger boat”. Leaders do the same. The closer they get to that part of their leadership that has for years remained hidden to them they can be heard repeating “I’m too busy and I’m slammed at work”.

If you think that by answering these three questions that it’s safe to go outside and start leading again, then you need a bigger boat. There is a fourth and fifth question; questions that require a marine biologists curiosity and Richard Dreyfus’s enthusiasm for sharks.

• What part of my back-story is getting in the way of me being the leader I aspire to become?
• What needs to be jettisoned, eschewed, or thrown from the train to more effectively be who I am and lead my organization effectively?

Repeating “we need a bigger boat” will not help here. What will help is repeating, “I need a bigger yes”.

A bigger yes, that part of us that aspires to living a life of meaning, requires turning back the pages of time and rewriting your leadership story. It is a courageous act, and one that pays huge dividends both personally and professionally.

So, what’s your story?

Showing Up: Steve Jobs and the Apple Press Conference

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I watched the Steve Jobs / Apple press conference and I have three thoughts; two of which are positive and affirming of my experience with Apple, and one that takes a divergent path.

1. This is an amazing phone. There is clear data that says the IPhone 4 is a significant improvement over the previous version. Selling 3,000,000 units in three weeks, having fewer returns, and low Apple Care calls is impressive. This version of the phone is a huge success and the customer is not being negatively affected. Come on, put a case on it and get over it!

2. The sale is made after the customer walks out the door. Apple cares about their customers and is going above and beyond what is necessary to please as many customers as possible. I recently purchased software from Nuance and have experienced nothing but indifference, incompetence, and complacency regarding their shipping me the wrong product. The level of caring exhibited by Nuance is 180 degrees opposite from what Apple has exhibited.

3. Adversity doesn’t build character it revels it. Steve Jobs reaction to the antenna issue seemed defensive and exasperated – neither of which are positive in a press conference. He spent five minutes showing film footage of three other Smartphones Apple tested and how all of them exhibited the same antenna issue. This information, while accurate, should have been used later in the press conference (not after a brief introduction) or not at all. Had he said “this is an industry issue and we’re doing our part to address the issue not only for our customers, but for customers with other Smartphones” he would have been seen as insightful and magnanimous. Showing film footage of three other phones left me thinking that Steve Jobs wants me to know “we’re just like the other guys – so don’t hold us to a higher standard”. If Steve Jobs believes the IPhone is the gold standard (he said that in the press conference), why did he spend so much time comparing the IPhone 4 to what he considers the silver standard?

The next time you are going before what might be a cynical and or prejudiced audience to address where you or your company goofed up, think about the following questions before stepping before the microphone:

What is it you want your audience to think, know, feel or believe after having listened to you?
What is it that you’ve done and or said that will hinder your audience from seeing you as credible?
How specifically will you craft your message to address both of the above?

Thanks for the memories…

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On Saturday, June 19, 2010, I made some wonderful memories. Unbeknownst to me, for four months my wife had creatively, stealthily, and lovingly planned to surprise her 51-year-old, child at heart, husband with a birthday party. And the memories I have from that evening are remarkable.

If you’re like me, memories can be both positive and negative – and in most cases, my most vivid memories are of pivotal and life transforming events. I remember emigrating from Scotland to Canada, and then to Birmingham, Alabama in 1968. I arrived in Birmingham in June and experienced for the first time temperatures of 95° with 90% humidity. This kid from Scotland never experienced this type of heat before!

Memories represent milestones: our first date, our high school prom, graduating from college, our first job, our marriage, our first child. In the world of work, leaders are creating memories also, memories that either positively or negatively influence those you work with.

I’ve found that employees carry with them a mental photo album with memories that represent their collective experience and impressions of working with you and your organization. The question is whether employee memories are uplifting and inspiring, or are they the opposite?

If you want to positively influence your team, consider these two points:

• You’re being watched: Each employee has a photographic memory of each interaction with you, and in turn you’re being watched, photographed, and remembered.
• You are a memory maker! Your behavior and words create memories, and you can intentionally create a compelling and remarkable memory for your employees.

Over the course of the next week, picture one meeting you plan on attending and develop one idea for positively influencing those in attendance. By setting a clear intention of authentically and positively creating positive memories you’ll be considerably more effective and influential at your meeting.