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Friday, October 23, 2009


Here is the background to this billboard which appears on roadsides across the USA:

The American Revolutionary War hung in the balance. Fort Lee was abandoned and George Washington moved his troops to safety behind the Delaware River. Defeat hung in the air like thick smog as the demoralised troops began to fall apart in retreat. Sickness and desertion rates increased. Washington, Commander-in-Chief anguished; it was a very low point in the American Revolution. Washington needed to do something. Thomas Paine wrote of this defining period; 'These are times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.'

Within a day of its publication in Philadelphia, General Washington ordered it be read to the troops encamped at Washington Crossing.

On December 26, 1776 at about three o’clock in the morning Washington marched approximately 2,700 soldiers off of the Jersey Bank of the Delaware River resolved to take victory. It was a pivotal point in the American Revolution, the Battle of Trenton. Although not much territory was gained, it was crucial to prove to a bunch of unrefined soldiers and anxious countrymen that a quest for independence could succeed! That is indeed what happened.

“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example everlasting…” Congressman Henry Lee spoke of Washington shortly after his death in 1799.

Washington was a man of virtue, character and peace. He offered a firm warning against partisanship in domestic politics and called for Americans to work for the common good. He was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where he was unanimously elected President of the Convention. It was at this Convention that the office of the Presidency was designed.

On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States in New York City. He is the only president to receive 100% of the electoral votes. Congress voted to pay the President a salary of $25,000, a large sum of money at the time. Already wealthy and viewing himself as a public servant Washington turned the salary down but later accepted so that the office of the president would not be limited to only the wealthy.

George Washington remains an iconic figure for leadership in the face of adversity the world over. He built character, expected greatness, and inspired loyalty in a new nation.

The Importance of Positive Values

The Foundation for a Better Life is a US charity that creates public service campaigns to communicate the values that make a difference in US communities – values such as honesty, caring, optimism, hard work, and helping others.

These messages, communicated utilising television, theatres, billboards, radio, internet, etc., model the benefits of a life lived by positive values. The Foundation encourages others to step up to a higher level and then to pass on those positive values they have learned. These seemingly small examples of individuals living values-based lives may not change the world, but collectively they will make a difference. And in the process help make the world a better place for everyone. After all, developing values and then passing them on to others is The Foundation for a Better Life.


What Conducting and Leading have in common

Here are some more thoughts on what conducting and leading have in common:

1.The conductor starts with a great score. Conductors have a plan. They start with a musical score and a clear idea of how it should sound. Only then do they attempt to recreate in real time their musical “vision.”

2.The conductor recruits the very best players. Great conductors attract great players. Mediocre conductors attract mediocre players. The very best players want to work for the very best conductors. Like attracts like.

3.The conductor is visible, so that everyone can see him. The conductor stands on a platform, so that every single member of the orchestra can see him. This is the only way the orchestra can stay in alignment, with each player starting and stopping at the appropriate time.

4.The conductor leads with his heart. Great conductors are swept up in the music. They are passionate. They don’t just play with their head; they also play with their heart. You can read it on their face. You can sense it in their movement. They are fully present and “playing full out.”

5.The conductor delegates and focuses on what only he can do. The conductor doesn’t do everything. He doesn’t sell the tickets. He doesn’t participate (usually) in the preliminaries. He doesn’t even make sure that the orchestra is in tune. He stays off stage until it is time for him to do what only he can do—lead.

6.The conductor is aware of his gestures and their impact. A conductor can’t afford to make an unintentional gesture. Everything means something. The flick of the wrist, the raising of an eyebrow, and the closing of the eyes all have meaning. A good conductor can’t afford to be careless with his public demeanor.

7.The conductor keeps his back to the audience. Conductors are aware of the audience but their focus is on the the players and their performance. The only time the conductor stops to acknowledge the audience is before the playing begins and after it is finished. Other than that, he is focused on delivering an outstanding performance.

8.The conductor shares the spotlight. When the concert is over, and the audience is clapping, the conductor turns to the audience and takes a bow. A good conductor immediately turns to the orchestra and invites them to stand and bow as well. He shares the glory with his colleagues, realizing that without them, the music would not be possible.

Learning from the Arts

An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating perfect harmony without saying a word. In this talk, Itay Talgam demonstrates the unique styles of six great 20th-century conductors, illustrating crucial lessons for all leaders.


Leading out of Recession

Tough times like these demand leadership that take us toward a solution. Of course there's a balance between being conservative in case the environment worsens and making bold decisions and taking on their associated risks. However, there is a danger that we're doing all of the former and very little of the latter.

The fix to all of this begins with you, the leader. Everyone (your team, your peers, your boss, your business partners, your competitors) is looking at you to see what you're doing and how you're acting in this environment. It's the business equivalent of monkey see, monkey do. If the monkey sees you hiding under the banana tree, they're going to hide too.

Why is this so important? Because courageous organisations who are aggressive when others are scared are the ones that will prosper when things get better. As a leader you have to make decisions and doing nothing is not an option.

So how do you achieve this? Three steps.

The Only FUD You Should Tolerate is Elmer

FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) can wreak havoc on an organisation. It's paralysing. It's like being afraid of the dark, when of course there is nothing to fear once you turn on the lights.

Your organisation is looking at the market as a big dark scary room. Your job is to switch on the lights. How, you ask? Do a fact-based and practical risk assessment. Get everyone in a room and get all their fears and nightmare scenarios listed on the whiteboard. From there, systematically analyse each risk in terms of both impact and probability. This exercise will help switch on the lights and show the team around you that there aren't as many realistic bogeymen hiding in the closet. Once you reduce the real fear, it becomes easier to act (and focus on Elmer Fudd who is the coolest hunter ever!).

Get Fired Up and Make a Bet

Being pragmatically aggressive pays off. It's a mindset. Determine where to summon that energy from and then drive forward. Regardless of whether it's music, working out, or a shot of Red Bull, whatever you do to get fired up, do it. Inspire yourself to act. Look at all the initiatives and projects you're waiting to do. Pick one. Do it.  Don't necessarily pick the biggest, riskiest one on the list. But do be brave enough to pick one that's not a total slam dunk. As you look objectively at your list of things you can do, which one do you know is a good bet? Make it. You're a leader. A big part of a leader's job is managing risk. It's also generating upside. You can't win if you don't play. Get aggressive and take action.

Realise That Acting Now Means Winning Later

Why are leading companies leaders? Because they make sensible strategic investments and take measured risks even during tough times. Yes, taking those risks requires intestinal fortitude. On the back end, however, those bets pay off for these leaders. While everyone else is emerging from lying down and beginning to think about which initiatives to pursue, these leaders have been acting for months. They're way ahead in the race. They make it hard to catch up to them. Act. This applies whether you're a FTSE 100 company or an entrepreneur. Leaders in the race never slow down. Certainly they can be cautious as they navigate tricky patches but they never stop running. They make it hard for the competition to catch them and they look to extend their lead when their competitors slow down. In short - get up and lead. Eliminate fear and uncertainty. Make a bet. Build and extend your lead by focusing on the long term.

As Tanya Clemons from IBM says; 'During the tough economic conditions during the mid to late 1980's we abandoned our commitment to leadership development and paid a dear price for that in loss of market leadership later on. We had to re-learn the hard way the critical importance of grooming leaders at every level of this company and in every location that we do business around the world.'