Days Like This

CalenderThere will be days like this.

Your schedule was booked to the brim with meetings . . . on top of the project that had to be completed by the end of the day . . . and that was before three other things popped up that required your attention. It feels like distractions are undermining your ability to do your job. Except, if you’re a leader, the distractions are your job. What is being undermined is your well- laid plan that tied all of your leadership goals into a nice neat package.

More often than not, leadership doesn’t happen in a predictable, orderly fashion. It happens in the mess of drive-by comments, unexpected challenges and surprising opportunities. Sure, the planned things still have to happen, but if your goal is to eliminate distractions from your schedule you are going to be one frustrated leader. Embrace the unpredictability. Allow yourself to find the joy and potential in the unexpected. If you are too busy stressing over the fact that your plans have been derailed, you might totally miss the chance to have a significant impact on an individual or situation.

On days like this, your attitude can make all the difference. Will you focus on what didn’t get done or the people you were able to help? Will you let the interruptions ruin your day or find a way for them to add to it? You have the choice. You’re the leader. What kind of example will you set for those who look to you for how to handle life’s unexpected twists and turns?

What if, on days like this, you made a conscious decision to look on each distraction as an opportunity . . . to view the unexpected occurrence through the lens of possibility? At the very least, it will make the day less frustrating, and at best it can lead to a path far beyond what you might have achieved had you stuck with your original plan.

You may not always get to choose how your day unfolds, but do you do get to choose your perspective. Sometimes the greatest leadership opportunities start out as days like this.

The Culture of Innovation

bigstock-142999232Innovation has become the business buzzword du jour of late. The business press is filled with articles and guides on how to be more innovative. And while there are nuggets of insight and helpful information scattered among the books and articles, I think those well-meaning authors who try to boil innovation down into a 5-step plan short-change their readers.

Innovation is not a 5-step plan. It is a messy paradox of contradictions, and there is not one “right” way to do it. Innovation can be about tweaking something to make it more effective or developing a totally new concept. It requires structure and flexibility. Urgency and patience. It requires one to chart a clear path, and have a willingness to press ahead without knowing the final destination. It is energizing and exasperating. Perhaps most importantly, it is not a set of tasks, it is a culture that develops over time.

I’m not suggesting that every organization has to be innovative. Much of the world is designed to reward coloring inside the lines. In many ways, that is a safer, easier approach and individuals can build successful, rewarding careers by leading within established guidelines. And even within organizations noted for being innovative, significant portions of their operations may follow a more traditional approach. So what is different about innovative organizations? Their culture.

Culture is “how we do things around here” — what we believe and how we think, feel and behave. Is it okay to challenge someone up the organizational hierarchy? What does the organization lead with . . . people or profits, mission or metrics? Now please hear me . . . all four are important components of success . . . an innovative company still has to be able to keep the doors open. A culture of innovation, however, has to have a higher tolerance for the messiness of trial and error and the fluidity required to maximize the unique gifts and graces of people scattered throughout your organization.

John Kotter’s concept of a dual operating system visually captures what this type of culture may look like, with part of an organization functioning in a more traditionally hierarchical way, and other parts much more fluid, drawing from all areas of the organization. In such a culture, it is okay — it feels safe — for someone with more front line experience to tell someone from an administrative function that their idea simply won’t work (respectfully, of course) and then offer their suggestions for a better approach. Good ideas are the great equalizers, and there is a spirit of productive experimentation as opposed to “this better work or else . . .”

Building a culture of innovation doesn’t happen with a pep talk or a plan. It happens based on your approach, your attitude, and your willingness to act . . . one step at a time. Maybe you’d better get started!

You’re Right

Retro Car Ford T Model 1908

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right. — Henry Ford

Ole’ Henry, and many other successful entrepreneurs, ultimately “made it” because they truly believed, deep down in their bones, that they could do it. Their conviction, their strength of will, propelled them forward when conventional wisdom would have told them to throw in the towel.

The lens you use makes all the difference. Two people can look at the exact same variables and one can come up with a laundry list of why it won’t work, another can focus on the things they are going to do so it will work. It is all about attitude.

I recently wrote about the power to choose. I’m talking about something slightly different, and more elusive here. Even when you face the brutal facts of your situation, and chart a course forward, you still have to deal with the day in, day out chatter going on in your head. You know what I’m talking about . . . the alternating whispers of “you got this!” and “who are you kidding?” One energizes you, and the other sucks the life out of you. Nope, it’s not just you hearing those voices. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. The one you feed in to the most gets louder.

How do you feed into the competing tensions that make up your attitude? “Who are you kidding” gets stronger when you are tired, or stressed out, or scared. It pulls the plug on your energy at the same time it pushes you down the slippery slope of “you can’t slow down or it will all fall apart.” The antidote? Stop, breathe, and get out of your own head. Spend time with can-do people, or get outside. Step away from the desk and move. It is surprising how little it takes to quiet that annoying buzz. The trick is to recognize how loud it has gotten.

The good news . . . not only is it fairly easy to quiet your inner cynic, it also doesn’t take much to give a power surge to “you got this.” An encouraging comment, a sunny day, a few minutes of grateful reflection can all unleash your inner cheerleader. The trick is, you have to be aware of your inner soundtrack and make a decision. Even if you choose to fake it until you make it (which really works, by the way!), you have the ability to determine your attitude. And it’s not a one-time decision. Those whispers will be hanging out in your head every day. Every day you have to decide if you think you can, or you think you can’t . . . because the bottom line is, you’re right.