Saturday, April 30, 2011

Overcoming the Odds

I have written in the past about the plight of young black men whose lives have been cut short due to violence and a lack of hope for the future.  Today however, I want to share a success story, a story about a young man who possessed an inner fire that allowed him to overcome the many challenges of growing up in Oakland, CA.

His name is Mr. Wade.  I met Mr. Wade over two years ago at a company in Pleasanton, CA.  (I call him Mr. Wade because I have the utmost respect for him.)  Through the leadership of his teacher, Ms. Dixon, an opportunity was presented to allow students to visit this company and shadow its employees during their work day.  During this event I had the opportunity to speak with the students about their hopes and dreams.  I quickly noticed the energy emanating from one young man above all others, Mr. Wade.  He possessed a passion for life, a positive attitude and a vision of his future that set him apart.  I am not suggesting that he was better than every other student, but that his spirit was undeniable.  Believe me that‘s a quality that is rare these days.  My son Jordan and my daughter Ashtyn possess this quality, but that’s another post.

In spite of the neighborhood he grew up in, and the fact that he had to work extremely hard to resist many temptations, he has accomplished a rare feat for a young black man in today’s world.  He was accepted by, and is now attending university at Cal State Berkeley!

This accomplishment serves as a beacon of hope for others who have a dream of attending college. Recently, I found out that he is also mentoring other students.

If the black community has any hope for redirecting the negative path that it is on, it will take young men like Mr. Wade to lead the effort.  I am so proud to have met him and I know that he will make a significant contribution to his community and the world!  

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Three Sisters

Some say nothing good comes out of Oakland, CA.  With all of the news of murder and crime, the city has taken a black eye from the media.  I am here to tell you that Oakland has produced many good people who have made significant contributions.   I can name three, Denise, Dana and Leslie, my Three Sisters. 

These three strong women, raised by an equally strong mother, have worked hard to overcome many challenges in their lives.  Whether working their way through college or overcoming barriers caused by simply being women, they possess fortitude that has led to many significant accomplishments.   Denise is an budget analyst, Dana an educator and Leslie a Registered Nurse.   All of them are leaders in their professions and highly respected.
What makes them special is that they serve their community, church and family in a way that elevates the lives of the people they touch.  As their brother, I am so proud of what they have been able to accomplish personally and professionally.

It is very easy to look outside your own family for examples of leadership, I am fortunate not to have to look any further than my Three Sisters.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rock Solid Leaders vs. Wannabe Leaders

The communication style of leaders helps us distinguish rock solid leaders from the wannabe leaders.  Over the past two weeks, we have seen wannabe leaders on both sides of the political aisle.  We have been hearing a lot from leaders who care more about speaking in sound bites and spinning an argument rather than resolving issues and achieving consensus on an issue. 

Who and where are the rock solid leaders we need to extricate our country out of the morass of out-of-control spending and debt? 

When facing a problem, the great leader says, “Let's find out,” while the wannabe says “I have the answer, you just need to acknowledge it.”  We need rock solid leaders, not wannabes.  But what is the difference between a rock solid leader and a wannabe? 
  • Rock solid leaders listen more than they talk, while wannabe leaders can’t wait until you stop talking so they can say what they want to say.
  • Rock solid leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, while wannabe leaders are afraid to acknowledge their weaknesses.
  • Rock solid leaders place the needs of the organization and the people they lead first, while wannabe leaders are concerned more about what’s in it for them.
  • Rock solid leaders are accountable for their decisions, wannabe leaders look to place the blame on others.
Obviously, the above list is not comprehensive; you may have your own definition and list of distinctions between the two.  The main point here is that we need rock solid leaders who are willing to listen more than they speak and who are willing to be held accountable for their actions and the decisions they make.

How do you define a rock solid leader?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Change Leadership

Change is in the air, all over the world change is happening both good and bad.  The whole Middle East is in the process of change.  Our country is changing both culturally and economically.  Change will happen; how we deal with the change is the question.

y kids hate math.  Although they have gotten pretty good grades it has not been without considerable effort. My wife deserves big kudos for helping them through their most challenging math, Algebra and Geometry.   The other day my wife and I were having a conversation about my son when he was in Jr. High and how he had such a terrible time with math.  He would get through with all of his other homework and then approach the big angry giant called Algebra.  He was afraid to approach the giant alone, he looked at me, but I said, “Don’t look at me, he scares me too!”  But like all mothers do when their children are faced with scary things, she went into action and helped our son slay the giant.  She convinced him that he had all of the tools necessary to get the job done.  It was about facing his giant.

The key was changing his attitude.  His willingness to change how he approached math made all of the difference.

Why is it so hard for people to change?  Some do not see change as necessary. Why do I need to change?  My son would say, "Why do I need Algebra? I am never going to use it!”  Some do not want to change because all they see is hard work.  Some might say, “If it is not broken why fix it?  Why do you want to upset the apple cart?”  To be clear, change is hard and it takes commitment to see it through.

As a leader it is essential that when change is necessary, a sense of urgency is created to explain why change is needed.  Caution:  when delivering the message you will need to believe it as well.  You cannot expect for people to change just because you said so.  You will need to be all in.

Once change is in process, in order for it to last you will need to anchor the change through ongoing evaluation and re-enforcement of the change you have implemented.

Change is complicated and in some cases it takes years to be fully integrated.  As a result, strong and consistent leadership will be required if it is to be successful and sustainable.

Have you ever had to lead a change effort and if so was it lasting or did it quickly fade back into business as usual?  
If it did not last, why do you think it failed to stick?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Uninformed and Out of Touch

A corporate newsletter goes out from the CEO to the workforce, touting the greatness of the company and how it is the market leader.  It talks about revenues being up and expenses being down and the bright future of the company.  If you are working for this company what do you do with the newsletter?  If you are truly working for a great organization you probably share it with your family with a sense of pride.  However, if you are one of the 33% of employees who hate their job and are actively looking for a new one, you probably chuck it in the trash.

Many leaders are so out of touch they think everything is hunky dory.  CEOs and other top executives often do not know what is going on at the ground level of their companies.  One of my favorite television series is Undercover Boss.  The premise of the series is that a top executive goes undercover in his/her own company to see what is really going on in the organization.  Many times it is an eye opening experience.  On one episode a CEO stated in front of his employees, “I thought sitting behind a desk in Michigan I had the right to say we take care of our people, I have learned firsthand that the people take care of this company.”

Unfortunately, I believe there are too many top executives who could care less about how the people in their organization feel about their company or its leadership as long as they are meeting the company’s goals.  Little do they know, there are good employees at risk of quitting or are suffering in silence.
I recently read an article that stated:
  • 1/3 of the employees are looking for new jobs.
  • Many employees are suffering from low morale.
  • Employees are dealing with unrealistic expectations placed on them by their companies.
  • Employees are asked to do more with less and for less.
With the costs associated with the acquisition of new employees, companies need to pay more attention to the overall satisfaction of their people.  
If you are a leader in your company and you are looking for ways to improve the overall morale of your employees, consider the following:
  • Where feasible, conduct consistent one-on-one meetings with your employees at least monthly.  This check-in lets them know you care about them.  (Important note: let them set the agenda). 
  • Set realistic expectations.  Ask for their feedback on what is expected of them.  If this is not done, you will find out pretty quickly whether they are aligned on what you expect.
  • Allow them to utilize their strengths.  If not, they end up performing tasks because they must if they want to work, but they hate it.
  • Supply them with the tools they need to get their job done.
  • Work with your employees to establish goals, both personal and professional, and metrics to help them measure their progress.  Good employees want to know that what they do matters to the company.
  • Reward people for performance and hold them accountable for not meeting their commitments.  Rewards are more than just money.  Find out what motivates your employees and, as appropriate, reward accordingly.
Complacent leadership can dramatically impact the profitability and sustainability of your company because it may lead to the loss of great employees.

When you neglect your A+ employees, all you are left with is a bunch of uninspired and unhappy people; however, showing your employees how much you care about their growth and development will result with a highly charged, innovative and committed workforce.

What are you doing as a leader to maintain the morale of the people you lead?