Positive Leadership has also been recognised as a Top 50 Leadership Expert to Follow on Twitter.

Follow us on Twitter @posleadership


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Condoleezza Rice Duets With Aretha

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joined Aretha Franklin, for a rare music performance in Philadelphia earlier this week to raise money for charity:


Recovering from Adversity

When adversity strikes, whether it be loss of your job, an illness, a natural disaster or when you take a big hit that really knocks you off your feet for a while, how fast you get up again depends on a number of things such as: 

- How good your support network is.
- How solid your self-esteem is.
- The extent to which you believe that you can control your own destiny.
- Your experiences of overcoming adversity in the past.

If you want to shorten the time it takes to get back on your feet, try this:

- Ask yourself how it will look when you no longer have your
current problems.
- Spend time visualising yourself in that picture and imagining
how you'll feel.
- Do it over and over, day after day, week after week.
- List your strengths and past accomplishments and add to
that list on a daily basis.

At the same time:

- Set and prioritise some immediate, short-term goals to
improve your situation.
- Write a detailed plan of action for the top three, including
day and time.

Once you've accomplished a few short-term goals, you may feel ready to do some long-term visioning and goal-setting. 

Finally - and this is important - no matter how much you've lost, take time to help someone else who is struggling. Even the worst adversity can be used to learn and grow. 


Friday, July 30, 2010

3 Steps to Positive Leadership

In 2005, Jerry Krueger and Emily Killham shared the results of Gallup research that showed managers play a crucial role in employee well-being and engagement—but the research didn’t study what managers specifically did to elicit positive responses.

That’s why Margaret Greenberg, president of The Greenberg Group, and Dana Arakawa, a programme associate at the John Templeton Foundation, put the theory of positive leadership to the test. They wanted to know if managers who apply positive leadership practices have teams with higher project performance and employee engagement.

As it turns out, positive managers practice three leadership behaviours:

  1. Use a strengths-based approach.
  2. Provide frequent recognition and encouragement.
  3. Maintain a positive perspective when difficulties arise.
None is an innate behaviour, but all can be learned.

A Strengths-Based Approach

There’s a reason why managers’ focus on strengths and weaknesses is so important. Most organisations are obsessed with fixing weaknesses. They conduct performance reviews, 360-degree assessments and the like to evaluate how well employees and managers are measuring up to predefined goals and competencies. Managers are instructed to look at an employee’s assessed gap and coach for greater performance in areas of weakness. But such assessments usually pay only cursory attention to an employee’s strengths. Performance reviews and subsequent remedial programs focus almost exclusively on weaknesses.

Focus on What Works

Too many managers assume that employees need to be good at many things, rather than excellent in the key areas. Recent studies have firmly established that focusing on what works, followed by a programme to scale it to greater levels, is a more practical and efficient approach to developing people and their performance.

Managers who take a strengths-based approach help employees identify strengths and align their talents with their work. These managers don’t ignore employee weaknesses, but fixing them isn’t their primary focus.

Greenberg and Arakawa found that managers who focused on strengths enjoyed superior team performance, as opposed to managers who focused on weaknesses.

The Problem-Seeking Mindset

It’s not enough to wait for performance reviews and project completion to deliver feedback. Praise must be frequent, ongoing and specific to current behaviours—not vague or general.

Sadly, we’re predisposed to look for the negative: in ourselves, in others and for external events. We rarely scan our environment and ask:

  • “What’s working right now… and how can we do more of it?”
  • Instead, we look around and ask: “What’s broken—and how can we fix it?”
The problem-seeking mindset is one of the brain’s shortcomings, while also serving as a protective device to spare us from danger and making mistakes.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan and Chip Heath write about “finding the bright spots” in our work and lives. After extensive research, the two business school professors have documented how we’re wired to focus on bad over good.

It’s no wonder performance reviews and feedback are usually aimed at what’s not working. Yet, some successful individuals can override this brain tendency and focus on the positive, at least enough to create successful relationships both at work and home.

John Gottman, a psychologist who studies marital conversations, finds that couples who sustain long-term marriages use language that reflects five times more positive statements than negative ones. In fact, he calls this “the magic ratio” and claims it will accurately predict if a marriage will last. He urges managers to use a ratio of 5:1 positive statements in conversations with employees.

When Things Go Wrong

Managing long-term, multimillion-dollar projects that involve dozens of people and several workgroups is a complex challenge, and things are bound to go wrong. How managers respond to problems has a direct and measurable impact on both the employees and the project.

Researchers Greenberg and Arakawa asked employees:

  • “When a problem crops up on my project, is my project manager able to help me come up with solutions?”
  • “What steps does your project manager take when such a problem arises?”
Here’s what they found:

  • Managers who maintain a positive perspective don’t turn setbacks into catastrophes.
  • They don’t fly off the handle; they control their emotions.
  • They recognise what’s within their sphere of influence (and what’s not).
  • They see and discuss the problem as an opportunity.
  • They provide a solution-oriented perspective

Greenberg and Arakawa also discovered that managers who maintained a positive perspective when things went awry experienced greater project performance. Managers who scored in the top quartile for positive perspective (as reported by their employees, not self-report) had significantly higher project performance than those in the bottom quartile.

Reflect on how you as a manager and leader can implement positive leadership by practicing these behaviours:

1.      Focus on and work with people’s strengths.
2.      Improve the frequency with which you give praise and recognition.
3.      Respond with a positive, solutions-orientation when the going gets rough.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gary Player's 10 Commandments

Gary Player is a legend in his own time. The most successful international golfer of all time, Player has achieved the kind of worldwide acclaim reserved for only a handful of sporting greats. He is, quite simply, world class. Gary Player is renowned as much for his dedication to the principles of excellence as he is for his golfing accomplishments. He is recognised worldwide as an uncompromising perfectionist who settles for nothing but the best. His impeccable set of values, stringent regimen of health and fitness, and insistence on quality, have earned him admiration the world over.

Gary has lived his life based on the following commandments, enabling him to realise success achieved by very few:

  1. Change is the price of survival.
  2. Everything in business is negotiable, except quality.
  3. A promise made is a debt incurred.
  4. For all we take in life we must pay.
  5. Persistence and common sense are more important than intelligence.
  6. The fox fears not the man who boasts by night but the man who rises early in the morning.
  7. Accept the advice of the man who loves you, though you like it not at present.
  8. Trust instinct to the end, though you cannot render any reason.
  9. The heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but that while their companions slept were toiling upward in the night.
  10. There is no substitute for personal contact.


Are You in Denial?

Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face---and What to Do About It is the unconscious determination that a certain reality is too terrible to contemplate, so therefore it cannot be true. We see it everywhere, from the alcoholic who swears he's just a social drinker to the president who declares "mission accomplished" when it isn't. In the business world, countless companies get stuck in denial while their challenges escalate into crises.

Harvard Business School professor Richard S. Tedlow tackles two essential questions in this astute diagnosis of one of the biggest problems in business : Why do sane, smart leaders often refuse to accept the facts that threaten their companies and careers? And how do we find the courage to resist denial when facing new trends, changing markets, and tough new competitors? 

Tedlow looks at numerous examples of organisations crippled by denial, including Ford in the era of the Model T and Coca-Cola with its abortive attempt to change its formula. He also explores other companies, such as Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and DuPont, that avoided catastrophe by dealing with harsh realities head-on.

Tedlow identifies the leadership skills that are essential to spotting the early signs of denial and taking the actions required to overcome it.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Applying Leadership Lessons in a Crisis

The panellists in this Harvard Business School video reflect on important leadership lessons they have learned and how to apply these lessons in times of crisis -
Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala Chairman & CEO, Ayala Corporation;
Jamie Dimon Chairman & CEO, JPMorgan Chase & Company;
Orit Gadiesh Chairman and CEO, Bain & Company, Inc.;
G. Richard Wagoner Chairman and CEO, General Motors Corporation.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Thinking of Leading? Think About Winning First!

As a 34-year veteran of the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, Pradeep Pant, President of Kraft Foods Asia Pacific, can say quite convincingly that he knows the key to successful leadership.

The magic lies in a “winning mindset”: a trait that can make all the difference between making profits or suffering losses under trying business conditions. Pant says that it was this “winning mindset” that helped turnaround Kraft Foods' Asia Pacific business.

Kraft Foods made the news recently when it launched a US$19.5 billion takeover of Cadbury PLC, the British sweet maker famous for its iconic purple-wrapped chocolates. This was barely three years after the US$7 billion acquisition of Group Danone’s global packaged baked-goods business. Clearly, Kraft Foods is not a humble company merely selling cheese. Rather, it is one of the largest food manufacturers around.

Today, Kraft Foods' products can be found on the shelves of supermarkets and grocery shops in 160 countries. In its stable, a line up of 11 “billion-dollar brands” like Nabisco, Oreo, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Maxwell House, and of course, now Cadbury, as well as dozens other in the “hundred million brands” category.

Naturally, within such a sprawling business organisation, it would be impossible for every cylinder to be firing at the same speed all the time. While emerging markets are a critical engine of growth for Kraft Foods today, the Asia Pacific division was struggling with low to flat growth between 2001 and 2007. However, around 2007 onwards, three major "change" factors came together. First, there was a global reorganisation led by Kraft Foods' CEO, Irene Rosenfeld, to move decision-making closer to the local consumers and customers. Next, Kraft Foods acquired the Danone biscuit portfolio and finally, new leaders, like Pant, were brought in. Since 2008, operating profits have been growing at double digit rates – despite the recent economic downturn.

From a regional business unit with relatively sluggish top line growth, Kraft Foods Asia Pacific has since taken the mantle of the company's growth engine. The Asia Pacific business now boasts approximately 6,400 employees across 15 markets, 21 manufacturing plants in eight countries around the region, and eight research and development centres.

Pant, who took on the job in January 2008, said what drove the turnaround were: a clear strategic focus where they can win, consumer insights-based innovation, powerful integrated marketing initiative, aggressive in-market execution, and heavy investment in people.

But all these would not have worked without the willingness to get into the mindsets, “we will be leaders" and "we will win”.

To win, it is necessary to focus. In many organisations, the focus is on the core business. Focus means knowing what you want. But it is useless to know what you want if you cannot articulate it, for you will not be able to formulate a robust plan and steer your team or organisation towards your vision.

Focus also means concentrating on one task at a time. Gillette, where Pant worked his way up over 20 years to become President for Asia Pacific, is one good example. When the operations underperformed in 1999, the company came up with a recovery plan. While many other companies might have rushed to react to changes in the market, Gillette stayed the course, tackling the issues one by one. This approach became the foundation of the organisation’s successful turnaround.

In a highly competitive marketplace, companies may feel compelled to be ‘everything to every customer’, and ‘doing everything everywhere’, Pant said. But to do well, it is better to stick to a clear strategic focus. He suggests that organisations ask themselves two questions: "What do I want?" and "What do I not want?"

In order to win, certain attitudes have to be adopted. For example, to master the business environment, one must first be the master of oneself, Pant said. Start by being self-aware. Ask yourself: Who am I? What are my values? What are my weaknesses and how do I fix them? The art of self-control is important as well. “If you can’t control your weaknesses, you can’t control other things,” Pant noted. Old ingrained habits will require time to break, so try instilling discipline in small doses, he advised. For example, if you want to start a morning exercise regimen, start by waking up on time everyday for the first week, before easing into the exercise. The trick to lasting changes, he said, is to do it in small steps. 

Mastery over oneself also means being genuine and real. Many people often put on a front to impress others. However, the real self will show gradually. So, be yourself and let people see you genuinely for who you are. “Nobody, including me, can act well enough to fool people all the time,” he added.

Pant, whose turf includes a diverse mix of markets with different characteristics and cultural nuances, encourages adaptability – so as to draw ideas and thoughts from different cultures. This, in turn, helps him to run the multinational corporation better.

Another route to winning, for Pant, is to think of opportunities in times of adversity. Citing the two Chinese characters that make up the word 'crisis', or "wei ji" he noted that 'wei' represents danger, whilst 'ji' stands for opportunity. So these are two ways to look at a crisis.

During the global economic downturn last year, as most other companies cut back on spending and shelved expansion plans, Kraft Asia Pacific went the other way. It maintained its prices, its product quality and marketing spend. They saw results very quickly, further confirming that the decision to stay the course was the right one.

Next, leaders need to realise that a winning mindset will do no good if there is no one to put the ideas into actual use. Unlike fixed assets, human assets need not be depreciated, he said. In fact, if there is an asset that appreciates all the time, it is people.

Pant's advice for any company is to help every staff maximise his or her potential, and make winners out of every one of them. At Kraft Foods', it is the strong belief in people – the aggressive investment in people through development and training – that has played a key role in turning it around, he added.

Winners never achieve success by staying put within their self-imposed boundaries. They need to be innovative; they need to take risks.

Innovation and risk-taking starts with listening to the customers’ needs, said Pant. One example is consumer research on Tang, a drink that is usually drunk cold in the US, is consumed as a hot drink in China. Oreo, one of the company’s best-selling cookies, was not well received in China until the less-sweet version was launched. With this version, Oreo became the number one cookie in China. In contrast, Oreo sold in Indonesia, is sweeter. “Ultimately, consumers are the bedrock of understanding the product,” he said.

With insights from customers or targeted audiences, Pant suggests delivering solutions in ways that are unique and exciting. One example he shared was from his Gillette days, when he gave salespersons silver recognition medals not after they achieved their targets, but before they set out to do so. He pointed out that the last thing someone wants to do is to return a silver medal because they didn’t deliver what was committed. The task is to find out what makes people tick. If you do well, celebrate. “Reward yourself with a small celebration for small achievements, and a big celebration for big achievements,” said Pant. But more importantly, strike a happy balance between contributing, learning and having fun at work. After all, we spend the longest part of our waking life at work.


How (Not) to Lead in a Crisis

Tony Hayward, ex ceo of BP, must have studied management in a parallel universe, where a set of anti-rules for bad leadership are taught. Here are some of these anti-rules:

Deny and minimise problems. Drop any mention of the high-minded principles you announced at the beginning of your term, such as safety and a culture that puts people first. Sweep them under the rug as you play down the significance of the crisis. Or better yet, find someone else to blame — a supplier, a business partner, a lowly employee or two.

Emphasise your own power and importance. Keep yourself front and centre all the time. Rarely bring forward the rest of the team, nor even indicate that it's a team effort.

Make the story all about you. Talk about your heavy burdens and the costs to your life. When forced to acknowledge the true victims, pay lip service.

Never apologise, and don't even pretend to learn from your mistakes. Brush off public disapproval, and persist in the same mindless behaviour that provoked criticism in the first place.

Hang onto your job even when it's clear you should go, in order to negotiate the highest severance package, whether you deserve it or not. Don't even consider a deferred resignation to allow for smooth transition. Cling to power, and keep everyone guessing to the very end.


The Importance of Ethics and Values in Business Leadership

Don Soderquist is the founding executive of The Soderquist Centre for Leadership and Ethics and former chief operating officer of Wal-Mart.

Here are some of his insights on the importance of ethics and values in business leadership:

• Values are really the filters through which we process the decisions that we make — and it’s extremely important that we have good filters. Problems arise when not everyone has the same filters.

• If values are touted at your company but not put into practice, it’s even worse than if you hadn’t mentioned them in the first place. It is in the acting out of our values on a day-to-day basis that they become alive.

• Among the key business values are: trust, integrity and a focus on customer satisfaction. Integrity is at the top of the list.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Positive Leadership™ Values-Based Strategic Planning

What defines our strategic planning process is our emphasis on helping you develop a robust plan built around the values of Positive Leadership™.  

Values + Strategy = Results (Even Under Pressure)

In addition, we not only help you develop a robust strategic plan, but we advise you on how best to integrate it into your organisation’s everyday operations so that the plan is accomplished. The result of our process is that your plan will help you embed Positive Leadership™ values throughout your organisation and consistently deliver increased revenue, enhanced productivity, and greater execution company wide.

A Positive Leadership™ Values-Based Strategic Plan is a road map to lead an organisation from where it is today to where it wants to be in 3-5 years. The success of our approach is measured by the level of execution and support throughout the organisation.

For further information on our approach, please contact: graham.watson@positiveleadership.co.uk


Friday, July 23, 2010

Attributes of Great Leaders

If you were to compile a checklist of attributes for great leaders, it would certainly include the following:

Visionary? Check. JFK's powerful vision of "We will put a man on the moon by the end of a decade" is a classic example of great leadership through a compelling vision.

Great communication skills? Check. Ronald Reagan's ability to inspire others through passionate oratory earned him the moniker "The Great Communicator."

Focus? Check. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln saved a nation (and changed the world) with his relentless focus on keeping the United States whole.

Courage under fire? Check. When things looked their bleakest for Britain in the early days of WWII, Winston Churchill rallied the country with his personal courage and bulldog tenacity.

Personable? Check. Despite his other character flaws, Bill Clinton had a charm and charisma that attracted people to him in droves.

Strategic thinker? Check. The business landscape is full of great strategists who have guided their organisations to positions of market leadership. Steve Jobs of Apple. Gordon Moore of Intel, to name a few. If you asked people which of these is most important for a leader to have, many - at least those in the business world - would probably say strategic thinker. With so many competitors in every market and with change happening in the blink of an eye, it takes a great strategy to come out ahead. It takes someone who can look around, make new connections, and connect the dots faster.

But creating a winning strategy is only half the battle. In fact, it may be the easier part. Leading effectively in today's business environment requires the ability to think strategically and to implement according to that strategy. And that's where many leaders and entire organisations are falling short.

The  number 1 job of today's leaders and managers is constant focus on both strategy and implementation. This represents a huge difference from a generation ago, when it often took several years for a good strategy to unfold. These days, speed, the rate of change, and universal access to information have created a whole new set of demands that require your daily attention.

The key is to balance your energy and attention across strategy and execution. Find a tool (or tools) that will enable you to develop the same sense of urgency around strategy and focused implementation that you normally devote to putting out all the "emergencies" that occur throughout the day.

To stay focused on implementation, pause for a few minutes and plan out your time for the week ahead. Segment it into separate activity blocks, such as collecting data on strategy X, hands-on work on initiative Y, feedback sessions, customer meetings, communication events, etc. Really think about where you are spending your time and how much of it correlates to actually achieving your strategy.

Review the percentage of time you allocate to each activity block and ask: Does this align with getting us to our destination? Am I ignoring or missing critical areas? Are there areas taking up too much of my time for the anticipated return? Of what I am doing right now, what will have an impact a year from now?

Spending all your time contemplating the future might work for think tanks and ivory towers. But in the business world, it's the day-to-day actions (communicating, providing feedback, realigning behaviours, recognising others, etc.) coupled with the strategic thinking and doing that equates to success.

Many leaders can come up with a winning strategy. It's the follow-through and focus on getting the right things done that separates the great leaders from the good ones. Don't just run, run in the right direction!


Helping Individuals Succeed

The Chinese have a saying: "There's a different length for all the fingers on a hand." You really need to find out each individual's strengths, to help them compensate for their weaknesses.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Video Games Build Leaders

Stanford professor Byron Reeves on how online multiplayer games like 'World of Warcraft' are creating the next generation of leaders:


The Future of Leadership

Cross-cultural, female, visionary, and values-driven, Indra Nooyi, chairman and ceo of PepsiCo embodies characteristics that will be increasingly sought in leaders for a globalising world. In an interdependent world of border-crossing and boundary-spanning, leaders must position their organisations not only in the marketplace but also in a social nexus in which sectors overlap and societal problems belong to everyone.es-driven, he has been guest speaker at national events, such as, Scottish Mutual annual event, Countrywide Investments annual sales conference, PIMS International, Finance Directors UK 

Positive Leadership™ Coaching

Central to the creation of positive, sustainable, high performance organisations is good leadership

Positive Leadership Limited supports leaders to become the ambassadors within the organisation, coaching others and perpetuating a positive performance culture.  Positive Leadership™ coaching can take place in a number of different settings, or as is more common a combination of settings; individual coaching, in a group setting with other leaders, or with their own team as both participant and coach

Positive Leadership™ coaching enables leaders to apply the principles of Positive Leadership™ to create environments where individuals become their best, people work well together in teams and with other stakeholders, and where teams and organisations build momentum in good times and demonstrate resilience in the face of challenge.

For more information, please contact: graham.watson@positiveleadership.co.uk


Building a High Performing Organisation

Here are ten quantum leaps (specific ways of acting and behaving) that build high-performing organisations:

Align the Values of Positive Leadership with Business Strategy: Do you communicate clearly and consistently the organisation’s key leadership values (what is essential for its success)? Do you make sure there are measures of success tied to the core values?

Sharpen the Focus: Do you communicate clearly and consistently the vision for the organisation (where it is going)? Does the vision communicate a sharp sense of focus and priorities? Do you make sure there are measures of success tied to the vision?

Lead Through Others: Do you make sure that talented people are recruited, placed in the right roles, and developed? Do you build effective teams? Do you manage effective meetings? Do you delegate effectively? Do you develop “operating principles” for people that enable them to work well together?

Manage Decisions Well: Do you understand the various types of decision processes? Do you communicate the process surrounding a given decision in such a way that everyone is clear on their roles and expectations?

Accelerate the Pace of Change: Do you build processes to share performance information and improve the performance of the organisation? Do you engage people in continuous improvement and learning? Do you manage change effectively?

Stimulate the Creative Flow: Do you create an environment in which innovation flourishes? Do you drive out fear of failure? Do you reward people for creativity and innovation? Do you search out people’s particular strengths? Do you give people opportunities to display their strengths and experience creative flow?

Spread Systems Thinking: Do you encourage people to use a systems approach to solving problems? Are you data-driven in your approach to solving problems? Do you help people overcome the assumption of competence? Do you help people avoid the substitution fallacy?

Communicate in 3-D: Do you communicate well internally, up, down and across the organisation? Do you communicate well with customers, shareholders, regulators, suppliers, and other interest groups? Do you have a message box? Do you mobilise new media as well as old media effectively?

Start With Yourself: Do you set a high standard for personal and professional integrity – and hold other people accountable to a high standard? Specifically, do you display high levels of passion for the organisation, honesty and honour, humour, and humility? Can you communicate effectively, using all each power of communication?

Help People Assume Responsibility: Are you able to alter your own behaviours to achieve higher levels of performance? Are you able to ask powerful questions that enable other people to assume responsibility and perform as effective leaders in the organisation? 


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Model for Inspirational Leadership

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers -- and as a counterpoint Tivo, which (until a recent court victory that tripled its stock price) appeared to be struggling.




What is a mentor? What is that mentors do? Can having a mentor help you succeed? 

These days, there are many sophisticated tools available to help those who want to be successful. But one of the most valuable assets anyone can have is also one of the oldest - a mentor - someone who can help you learn the ropes, find your way around obstacles, and chart a course that will get you where you want to go.

Just about every successful person, whether they are in business or one of the professions, sports, the arts, or any other field of endeavour, has had the benefit of at least one mentor. Very often, they've had many more than that.

Mentors are people who have achieved success themselves and want to pass along what they've learned to others. They don't usually tell you what to do - that's not their role - but they do help you weigh your options and think through decisions. 

Who are you mentoring and who is mentoring you? 


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Adaptive Leadership

Ronald Heifetz is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership and founder of the Centre for Public Leadership at Harvard. Recognised for his seminal work on both the practice and teaching of leadership, his research focuses on building the adaptive capacity of societies and organisations. His first book, Leadership Without Easy Answers, has been reprinted and translated many times. In this video, he explains his concept of adaptive leadership:


Monday, July 19, 2010

Integrity and Character

“By themselves, integrity and character do not accomplish anything. But their absence faults everything else.”


Decision Making

‘None of us have a real understanding of where we are heading. I don't. I have senses about it. But decisions don't wait, investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritisation don't wait, for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later. I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realise that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.’ 

Andy Grove, Senior Advisor to Intel Corporation


Sunday, July 18, 2010

7 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the US Navy Seals

Entrepreneurs can learn a great deal from the Navy Seals. Here are 7 lessons:

1. Take Decisive Action: Build your company so that you can move quickly, regardless of the situation. You won’t have perfect information. You won’t make perfect decisions. But you can’t afford to delay and ponder. Being decisive and nailing the execution will make you effective in the long run.

2. Fear Nothing: Life is full of danger. You can spend your time worrying or you can build a team, plan an attack, and go to battle. Seals volunteer for missions few people would face. But that’s not because they’re reckless. It’s because they train constantly and know their team can handle it. Put together a solid team, a sensible plan, and work hard and you can beat the odds.

3. Seek Excellence, not Fame: How many athletes can you name? How many politicians? How many CEO’s? Probably quite a few. How about Navy Seals? Not so many. They devote everything to mission success, but don’t go looking for headlines. Entrepreneurs should do the same. Build a great product, a great company, and a great culture. Do these things and press will come, but headlines should be a side effect and not the goal.

4. Lock and Load: “Lock and Load” literally means preparing your weapon, but also represents a state of mind. Seals don’t know when they will be called on, but are ready to perform at a moment’s notice. As an entrepreneur, opportunities will come in unexpected situations and you won’t have advance notice. So be prepared to give your elevator pitch or launch an immediate demo. A 30 second chance encounter can change your life, but only if you’re locked and loaded.

5. Leave no Man Behind: Teamwork is everything. But that doesn’t end at holding meetings and dividing tasks. You should be maniacal about defending your team. Cohesive teams are forged over months and years of going to war together. Showing loyalty to your team is one of the most powerful messages in business. Missions can fail. Features can fail. Products can fail. But your loyalty should never fail. Ever.

6. Plan Your Mission, but Prepare to Pivot: Seals plan carefully. They prepare for dozens of scenarios and pay attention to every detail. Yet unknowns will always happen. Their teams are agile, handle surprises, and make adjustments on the fly. Entrepreneurs need to prepare diligently. But it’s the combination of preparation and agility that turns a good team into a great company.

7. Make Peace with Constant Chaos: You don’t know where the land mines are. You don’t know what announcements will be released tomorrow. Your life is full of legal issues, product issues, service issues, sales issues, financing issues, recruiting issues, travel issues, etc. There are always 1,000 things to do and only time for 100. Yet that will never change. So you need to make peace with the idea of being around constant chaos. Break down your mission into components, define them, plan them, execute on them, and train yourself to be calm under fire. The ability to sit amidst chaos yet focus on the task at hand and execute well is the key to running a high-growth venture.


Saturday, July 17, 2010


Silicon Valley futurist Paul Saffo has long argued that the best leaders and the best organisations have strong opinions that are weakly held. Strong opinions reflect and instil confidence, and also provide clear guidance about the direction that people should try to go right now. But, since those opinions are weakly held, they don't stand as barriers to change when better information comes along.


Leadership is a Transfer of Belief

As a leader you are not just managing people, you are managing their beliefs. 

Beliefs are contagious. 

As a leader if you don’t believe you can build a great team or organisation then your people won’t believe. 

To win in the marketplace you must first believe you can win in the marketplace and this belief must be transferred to the people in your organisation. 

Great coaches inspire their teams to believe they can win. Great sales managers get their sales people to believe in their product or service. Great teachers inspire their students to believe in themselves.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Sustaining Success

Sustaining success is a challenge. Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world, fully understands this. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Bolt completed three exhilarating sprint performances, not only winning gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, but also setting world records in each discipline. His feat solidified his designation as the fastest man on earth. How does Bolt maintain this level of success? What can leaders learn from him?


Military Leadership as a Role Model for Business Leadership

Military service—particularly service in the crucible of combat—is exceptionally effective at developing leaders. Why? It's nurture, not nature.

First, in all services, military leadership qualities are formed in a progressive and sequential series of carefully planned training, educational, and experiential events—far more time-consuming and expensive than similar training in industry or government. Secondly, military leaders tend to hold high levels of responsibility and authority at low levels of our organisations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, military leadership is based on a concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice; soldiers take an oath to that effect.

Soldiers view their obligations to followers as a moral responsibility, defining leadership as placing follower needs before those of the leader, and this value priority is taught to junior leaders. Military leadership extends to caring for the families of soldiers, sailors and airmen, especially when service members are deployed.

When serving in crisis conditions where leadership influences the physical well being or survival of both the leader and the led—in extremis contexts—transactional sources of motivation (e.g. pay, rewards, or threat of punishment) become insufficient. Why should a person be motivated by rewards when he might not live to enjoy them? Why would a person fear administrative punishment when compliance might lead to injury or death? Soldiers in such circumstances must be led in ways that inspire, rather than require, trust and confidence. When followers have trust and confidence in a charismatic leader, they are transformed into willing, rather than merely compliant, agents. 

In the language of leadership theorists, such influence is termed transformational leadership, and it is the dominant style of military leaders.

Contrast the military leader value set reflecting service to the one that currently exists in some businesses. Are we likely to see business leaders placing the well-being of their shareholders and employees above their own – in compensation discussions for instance? The quantity of compensation awarded to the ceo of Marks and Spencer for instance isn't as relevant as the message to followers that, when times were tough, the leader puts his personal well being ahead of theirs.

Such perceptions of a military leader in combat would render that leader mistrusted and ineffective in the eyes of soldiers forever. Why should business leaders expect anything else on the part of people desperate about the loss of their equity or employment or lifestyles? The current economic environment, partly caused by a crisis of self-service leadership, has created belt-tightening reminiscent of a world war, with budgets slashed, travel funding restricted, training programmes cut, personnel layoffs, and other draconian, cash-saving measures in place. 

CEOs have to start leading like generals—even if that means living a lifestyle in common with their troops. The best leadership—whether in peacetime or war—is borne as a conscientious obligation to serve.

In many business environs it is difficult to inculcate a value set that makes leaders servants to their followers. In contrast, leaders who have operated in the crucibles common to military and other dangerous public service occupations tend to hold such values. Tie selflessness with the adaptive capacity, innovation, and flexibility demanded by dangerous contexts, and one can see the value of military leadership as a model for leaders in the private sector.

In your own development as a leader, have you found value in putting other people first? Did it seem out of place in competitive, results-oriented businesses? Did it powerfully influence people, or did it merely suggest weakness? And have you had role models in business that you see as effective because of their servant leader orientation?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Effective Bosses

'One of the defining, and most crucial, features of effective bosses is that they shield their followers -- whether from political manoeuvring or resource grabbing or just the innumerable distractions, indignities, time suckers, lame rules, and local idiots that go with organisational life -- and create the space for them to succeed.'

Robert I. Sutton, management professor at Stanford University


Athletes in Business

'It is interesting to me that so few athletes make a successful move into business. There are so many things about being an athlete that should prepare you for this world. Discipline, practice, outworking your opponent ... all of that is just as important to me today as it was in the NBA.'

Magic Johnson


The Dutch Soccer Team and Personal Development

Many people are holding back their personal development by ignoring an important step – accepting responsibility for their actions.

A great example of this has been the reaction of the Dutch to their loss in the World Cup final last Sunday. 

As a nation, they have a legacy of playing inspirational, total football. But someone took the decision that this would not work against Spain so they took a different approach. They were brutal, frequently on the wrong side of the line that separates aggressive from illegal. Because the referee stopped them, they have turned on him as the reason for their loss. The Dutch players, management team an press all blame the referee, Howard Webb, for their loss.  Yet an objective analysis showed that far from being at fault, Webb got well over 80% of his decisions right.

The only Dutchman to openly criticise his country’s approach is Johan Cruyff who in fact blamed Webb for being too lenient, pointing out that Holland could, and perhaps should, have been down to nine players by half time. As a side issue, if Webb had done that, people would have criticised him for ruining the final!

Instead of blaming others, the Dutch players and managers should take a long hard look at themselves and accept responsibility for their decision to play as they did, and for the consequences.

It is easy when we are under pressure to perform, to change winning tactics and to blame others if we fail. For the Dutch football team, there is no greater pressure than playing in a World Cup final. They could turn themselves into admirable role models if they were to take a deep breath, admit that they were wrong and accept responsibility for the consequences of losing.

Of course, equally dangerous are those people who accept responsibility for everything, not realising when it’s just not “their stuff”.

If you look at the word “responsibility”, you can break it down into” response” and “ability”: the ability to respond. If something isn’t working, someone involved has to have the ability to respond and to try something else. If instead, you do more of what isn’t working, you get more failure.

Shame nobody from the Dutch side realised that last Sunday!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Winning Under Pressure

Give Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player 15 minutes and he'll try to save the world.

Ask him about his new book Don't Choke: A Champion's Guide to Winning Under Pressure and he'll recruit you into his army of revolutionists trying to change the way we live.

"One of the reasons that I wrote this book is I would like to try to help people," said Player, 74, a nine-time major winner from South Africa. "This is not for golfers only. How about a businessman? How about a mother who has to make a big decision? A granny speaking to her grandchildren."

Here is what he Gary Player has to say about why now is the right time for him to publish this book:

'Maturity. When you write a book like this in your 30s people say "what does he really know about life?" Now "this man has done something, nobody else in the world has done. He must have some common sense and reason for his success and worthwhile to listen to."'


What Separates Winners

"Mental fitness is much more important to my game. To be at this level, everyone has great physical tools. What separates winners is the mental game." 

Serena Williams


Are you Making Mistakes with Top Talent?

With today's difficult job market limiting employees' mobility, executives have a unique opportunity to boost the motivation and productivity of their top talent without spending lots of money. Unfortunately, many companies are missing the mark – especially when it comes to managing their emerging leaders, or "high potentials." 

Here are the five biggest mistakes companies are making with high-potential talent:

1. Ignoring the view from the pipeline.
2. Treating all high potentials the same.
3. Leaving high-potentials on their own.
4. Not using high-potentials to develop others.
5. Being unclear about high-potential status. 


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Think Different!

This Apple ad leads with a fundamental leadership premise: Be courageous enough to be yourself. Entertaining, inspiring, and educational, this clip is a must-download on any leader's iPhone. Filled with role models and ideas to emulate, this clip will get you thinking about your leadership style, philosophy and broader goals.


Control Over Your Emotions

When you hit your thumb with a hammer, you know what causes the pain. Do you know what causes the emotion?

All of us have nervous systems that cause us to feel pain. All of us have emotions, too. We feel happy, sad, angry, elated, hopeless, inspired. But where do the emotions come from? What causes them?

When you hit your thumb with a hammer, you feel pain. You may also feel some anger and maybe even some shame. We can safely say that the hammer caused the pain. But we can't say that the hammer caused the anger or the shame. If that were true, then it wouldn't matter who hit them on the thumb, every single one would feel exactly the same emotions.

So how come you get mad when the same situation doesn't bother someone else at all? They laugh it off without a hint of anger. You see, the truth is that you cause you own emotions, and you do it with your thoughts. Many centuries ago, Epictetus said, "We are disturbed not by the things that happen, but by our opinion of the things that happen." However, you don't have to let your inner feelings be dictated by the external environment.

You can, bit by bit, learn to handle any and every situation you want to. You can learn to change your opinion of the things that happen so that you control your emotions, rather than letting them control you. Can you see yourself taking charge like this?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The 5 Characteristics of a CHAMP Leader

These five characteristics of a CHAMP are to be applied inside organisations in two ways:

A standard for how organisational leaders must lead;

As a standard against which all potential team members are measured for during the hiring process and are held accountable to after becoming a part of the team.

These are same characteristics expected of all within an organisation although they are applied slightly differently. Here we outline how leaders should apply the five traits.


Leaders need to know how to gain commitment to a compelling vision and the strategy to achieve it. This also includes investing the time and energy in creating that compelling vision and strategy and having the courage to ask for help in achieving it. This comes from leaders who know how to communicate in a way that influences their team members in a positive way. It's a way of communicating that shows how each individual team member benefits when the organisation fulfils it vision and strategy, gaining buy-in from all.


Leaders must lead by example in setting the expectation of constant and never ending improvement, and they show it by being open to feedback from all sources. Being open to feedback means more than just proclaiming there is an "open door" policy. It must be shown by actually taking feedback and true appreciation for that feedback by saying "thank you' without rationalising and justifying the present situation and then communicating back to the individual who offered the feedback with what is being done with it (it doesn't have to be implemented, it just needs to be shown as being truly considered, to have been effective).


Leaders must set the tone that there is accountability to responsibilities and roles throughout the organisation. Leaders must set up systems for identifying realistic goals and outcomes with accountability to them (in all sports there is a Scoreboard in the arenas, a Scorecard for everyone involved to track progress in a game and a Final Score in the newspaper for all to see the results the next day).


Leaders must be exemplars in showing they are motivated in nuanced ways. It is usually easy for leaders to look motivated by showing up early and staying late and expecting others to do the same. But motivation is more than just "hard work" and "long hours." It means being motivated to take action on difficult decisions and in challenging situations. This means avoiding procrastination at all costs and refusing to tolerate things that do not improve the organisation and support the best efforts of team members.

Leaders must understand human motivation and apply the following assumptions in their approach:

Everyone on the team wants to d a good job.
Actions/decisions are always done with positive intent with the best resources individuals have available to them at the time.
People want to be recognised for their contributions.
People are motivated by intrinsic factors.


Leaders must also lead by example and set the tone for their organisation that preparation is vital to an organisation's success. It means that leaders should be certain any meeting they hold are designed in a way in which all those invited to a meeting  clearly communicated. Schedules should be well maintained and projected as far in to the future as possible while offering enough flexibility to allow for reasonable adjustments. The leader should be continually looking for ways to raise the bar on individual and organisational preparation. This includes punctuality, meeting deadlines, returning phone calls, and planning the year, quarter, month, weeks and days to maximise results.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


No friendship is as crucial to your self-esteem as the friendship you maintain with yourself.

There's no doubt about it, friendships are an important part of life. However, all your other friendships combined aren't as important as the one you have with yourself. Every day of your life you send yourself thousands of messages that determine how you elevate your own worth.

The evaluation you make of your worth is what determines your level of self-esteem. Of course, the messages of love and acceptance we get from our family and friends affect our self-esteem, too. But they don't send even a tiny fraction of the number of messages that we send to ourselves. They don't have the opportunity to affect you.

Besides, if you're continually sending yourself negative, devaluing appraisals, you'll drown out the other messages, even if they're as positive as they could possibly be. It's important that you, yourself, become the source of these positive messages. When this happens, the leverage you'll have from your "inside" position will make enormous change possible in an incredibly short period of time.

Unfortunately, most people spend much more time focusing on their faults and mistakes than they do on their strengths and successes. But it's a skill that can be learned and perfected, and you have a lot of options to help you learn this skill. 


Sunday, July 04, 2010

Mental Toughness

Positive Leadership will be at the US Women's Open golf championship this week. This tournament is a test of many of the values of Positive Leadership - not least, mental toughness. Good luck to all those competing!


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Playing for the Team

How many leaders understand the importance of communicating with employees about the connection between their work and their company’s mission?

As one of our client’s reminded us recently: "I always think of the old story about a man who was walking along a road and saw two men moving bricks. 'What are you doing?' he asks. One worker says 'I'm moving bricks from this side of the road to the other.' Another says, 'I'm building a cathedral.'"

As a leader, you have to find ways to make sure people in your organisation know exactly how their work connects to the broader mission of the organisation. They need to know: How is this making our organisation better? "

A lot of the time, people are not sure how their work contributes to the larger whole. Leaders can provide the context.

Keep in mind that most people have some desire to make a difference. Here are three concrete ways to make sure your company’s employees understand how their work is making an impact:

Formalise it. Don't just develop performance objectives with a list of tasks and outputs. Incorporate the mission-connection into your employees' performance plans by including a link to the results your company delivers.

Celebrate success. It's easy to become so wrapped up in the day-to-day rush of activities or the next big challenge that we forget to recognise the victories already secured and how they've contributed to the mission. Don't make that mistake. This is about more than the annual employee awards programme and spot awards. It's about personal e-mails or phone calls. It's about making an unscripted appearance at a team meeting to thank everyone for getting closer to the goal. It's about a sincere expression of gratitude.

Make it a habit. 'One and done' will not suffice. As a general rule of thumb, you'll need to communicate your message connecting employees to the mission at least seven times before it begins to stick.