Pettiness Doesn’t Become You

I read an article just the other day by a well-known Christian artist who I highly respect.  I have benefited from his work, and have really been inspired by his willingness to be a renegade for God. But – and isn’t there always a “but” – this blog post I read was of him diminishing the ministry of another group that he had a bone to pick with.

And I thought, this pettiness doesn’t become you.  When we stop to publicly attack our critics or our competition, or almost anyone else for that matter, we’re the one who ends up looking small. Taking the high road isn’t just a good thing; it’s a God thing.  It’s how Jesus taught us to respond in the marketplace of ideas.  Actually, if you take the teachings of Jesus seriously (and we Christians do) we don’t have the right to attack each other publicly.  There’s a process for confrontation privately that leads to redemption and reconciliation.

When I read the pettiness of the people I admire, I don’t get mad; I just become afraid that I too could stumble into this pattern. Yes, we all have enough people who have come against us, opposed us, or (worse than both of those) ignored us, that we’d love to take a slice out of in public.  I do.  But I realize, each and every time, the commitments I have in the art that I create: is it helpful, is it hopeful, does it heal, and – oh yeah – is it true?

Don’t Make Samsung’s Mistake

If you’re involved in Twitter or online searching the internet, you’ve probably come across the YouTube version of Samsung’s new commercial bashing iPhone. It’s incredibly well done if the aim is to make fun of people.  And I’m not sure that should be the aim of any business, product or marketing.

Look at it for yourself and see if you don’t come away with that conclusion; that if you use an iPhone, you’re stupid.  You’re an idiot.   Well, studies have shown that people who use Mac products are highly educated.  And that’s not really even the point, is it?  You don’t sell your product by making your competitor’s buyers look stupid.  Apple has never done that.  No one has ever done it and won long-term, and I predict Samsung won’t either.

But you might say, “What about the ‘switcher’ ads that Apple ran against PC?”  Yes, and the very point of those ads is to compare the products.  John Hodgeman was the PC, not the PC user.  Remember that.  You can make fun of a product.  You can tell how yours is far superior.  But when you start making fun of people, even your competitor’s customers, to make your customers feel ok about buying your product, one day it’s going to come around and bite you hard.  You don’t sell and succeed by shaming, ridiculing, or making fun of people, period.

Two Kinds of People Who Could’ve Saved Joe Paterno

Like you, I’ve “OD’d ” over the news of the fall of Joe Paterno and the scandal of Penn State. I’ve been thinking of how this can happen in a place celebrated for its commitment to character, honor, and pride.

So I wondered if there are two kinds of people missing among the leadership; not only in the athletic department (football), but the University itself.  These people I call the dissenters and the disrupters.

Anyone in leadership knows that the longer you lead at one place, the more success you have, the more your organization and movement drifts into group-think which is basically the phenomenon where the leader is protected from all dissension or those who won’t get in lock-step.

Where are the dissenters and the disrupters at Penn State?  Where are those who have the courage to stand up and say “No, we can’t hide the truth to protect the greater good of the football program.”?  Or the disrupters who say, “While what we’ve done in the past has worked, maybe we need an overhaul for the future.”?

I do know this.  Group-think and the “good ol’ boy” system, protect-your-back-at-all-costs, doesn’t serve anyone in the long run.  The truth is, what we need is transparency.  And the only way to have that in every movement is to have those who have the courage to speak up and tell the truth, and are willing to interject new ideas that can replace the old ones.

As you think about the tragedy of sexual child abuse at such a highly-esteemed university as Penn State, ask yourself this question:  “Do I have people around me who can tell me the truth, who can say ‘no’ and make it stick?” If not, all of us could end up falling big-time.

All Successful People Are Jerks

I just finished reading Steve Jobs’ biography, and I’ve been listening to the different reviews and responses that people have to its content.  One thing I’ve heard more than any other is that Jobs was not a very nice person.  He treated people really badly over the course of his life.  So the conclusion by many people is that to be a creative genius and to do really important stuff you have to be a little bit of a jerk.

It is true that creative-focused people have a challenge when it comes to relationships.  There’s no question that driven men and women can very easily drive over other people on the way to their goals.  But just because it does happen does it mean it has to happen?

As a follower of Jesus and a guy who’s driven, do I have to trade one for the other? Does following Christ mean that I have no ambition, no drive, no dream, no desire to make a difference and do really great work?  And even if it doesn’t, if it’s ok to be a Christian and really driven to excellence, it doesn’t give me a license to mistreat, abuse, and use people for my own  purposes.

If you study the entire Scripture, what you’ll find is a lot of wealthy men and women who had great influence and who used it sometimes badly, and sometimes well.  And the truth is, living the life for which God made us can be done with harmonic tension.  No one said it would be easy, just worth it.

As a follower of Christ, allow the spirit of Christ and the teachings of Christ be the guiding principles along which you move into the future.  Processes change.  Styles change.  Methods change.  But principles abide forever.  When you know what is ever-changing and never changing, then you have the best chance to love people and do great things.

What Nashville Owes Steve Jobs

Even though I never met Steve Jobs and there’s a lot about his life I’m not attracted to, I do share with hundreds of millions of other people around the globe, a sadness in his passing.

I became an Apple convert right after Steve returned to the company and released OS X, and I’ve never looked back.  Some people called me an Apple fan-boy.  And if being satisfied with products that work beautifully, look great, and last it seems forever, then I am – without apology.

I’ve been thinking what we really owe Steve Jobs, is that his relentless commitment to change the world through technology is in his recognition of a fledgling company called Pixar which brings us brilliant and inspiring movies.  Maybe so, but I think there is something greater, particularly to those of us who are creators and live in creative centers like Nashville, LA, New York, and the rest.

Above all things, at least to me, Steve Jobs took the keys away from the gatekeepers and gave them to those of us who feel called to create art and great, inspiring content.  When I moved to Nashville, the keys to the kingdom were held by the few label executives based in Nashville, yet owned by companies all over the world.  Just to get a song demo-ed would cost what seemed like an arm and a leg.  And as everyone in Nashville knows, a demo is a dime a dozen.

What Steve Jobs did is give technology to the average guy.  He gave us the power to take our ideas and put them down in video, audio, and on paper, and share them with the world.  Now anyone in a garage or a back room can record audio that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and many weeks of time.

So thank you, Steve, for giving ordinary, average guys like me and other creatives around the world who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth, a chance to be heard.

It’s Not What You Sell, but How You Sell It That’s Your Problem

Without exception, the world is changing.  And I’m talking about not just the world out there, I’m talking about the world that we all live in every day. Technology has allowed some pretty amazing things to be possible: eBooks, print on demand, to name just a few.  These changes can also be very destructive and very disconcerting.  They can cause us to question what we’re doing.  But before you question your product and whether or not it’s relevant any longer, maybe you should question your organization.

Oftentimes we change our whats (what we offer, our product, our service) because we see the world changing, right?  And we’ve got to change with it.  The problem is, most of our products, if they are good ones, need tweaking, need stylizing and updating, but they probably don’t need changing if they have any value.  And if you’ve been able to live off of it so far, it’s a good sign that it does.  Of course there are some exceptions like buggy whips and sunshades on railroad cars.

What becomes obsolete more than our what is our how.  How we function as a group or organization becomes institutionalized very quickly.  The creep toward the hardening of institutional arteries goes on day-by-day.  It’s brought on by age, growth, and sometimes even success. So it may not be your products and services that are the problem, but the fact that you can’t just simply deliver the product to people when they need it, where they need it and how they can consume it.  Your customer service may suck.  You may have a great product but people don’t feel valued and wanted when they engage you and your teams.

When deciding to fix what’s wrong, the leader always understands there’s a human element first, then the product second.

Leaders Don’t Run, They Walk

Back in Graduate school, I was part of a doctoral seminar on conflict and conflict resolution.  There was a lot said about how to find agreement and negotiate to peace.  But one of the most indelible things that our professor said during the seminar was, “Never let them see you running, or in a hurry.”

I’ve heard the old saying, “Never let them see you sweat.”  But not, “Never let them see you running or in a hurry.”  He went on to say that leaders walk steadily, methodically, and paced toward the goal.  The point being, a leader can’t communicate to his team that he is in the panic mode, or that he doesn’t understand what is going on.  He can’t become too emotional and distraught.

One of the greatest challenges to leaders is to manage their passion in such a way that their passion doesn’t get mistaken as anger or vindictiveness.  How people interpret you is one thing.  How you behave is always under your control.

So remember this: leaders don’t run, they walk.  They don’t panic, they prepare.  They don’t react, they respond 100% of the time.  And if you can do that, you can navigate and negotiate any crisis.

Why Your Leadership is At Risk

It seems more than ever we are enamored with the idea, or should I say, ideal of leadership.  More books, podcasts, and conversations are held about leadership than ever.  And yet leadership is far less complicated than we might think.  And for that very reason, multiple leaders and maybe even you, are at risk.

Leadership is about the leader.  I know that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.  But here’s what I mean.  Leaders lead from within, eventually.  Yes, we may adopt tactics, styles, and strategies of leaders we admire, but leadership is dome in the trenches every day, over time, where the routine grinds us down to our real essence.

That’s why leaders who hide behind the latest fad are always at risk.  Why?  It’s because leadership is about projecting and extending into a movement or organization, what you are.  If you are empty, mad, and burnt-out on the inside, more than you know, that’s exactly what you are reflecting on the outside.

So more than ever, we must give attention not to leadership, but to the leader.  As leaders, we have a long journey ahead of us.  Our well-being, our health is key to the health and success of our movements.

Leaders are notorious for going so fast, and doing so much that they ultimately self-destruct.  You’re at risk of that too.  And if you think you’re not, you’re even more at risk than you know.

So here is the greatest risk you face today as a leader.  It’s not your organization.  It’s not market forces. It’s not even the deadbeat employees that you’re trying to get rid of.  It’s you.  As long as you are healthy, vital, vibrant, and growing; as long as you’re passionate to the core about what it is you’re doing, you and your movement can face any storm, and can navigate any sea change.  Short of that, before long, you’re going to be dead.

Why We Resist Bullies

There’s one thing I have all most no toleration for; and that’s bullies. You know, they’re everywhere.  They’re in the church, at work, and even at home:  people who yell and tell and sell their way through life, ignoring the fact that relationships are really important, particularly if you’re trying to influence another person.

Bullies don’t want to take the time to help me process the new information and make the changes it might require.  They don’t look for ways to make a hard change easier.  They are impatient, they push, they use authority, position, and power to make me give them what they want.

Here is another idea.  Instead of telling people what they ought to do, maybe you should show them what they ought to do by example.  And here is another thing.  We are attracted to people with the heart of a teacher; people who have our best in mind; people who are not so much interested in their power and authority over us as they are in helping us set free and live the life of our dreams by empowering us to ask ourselves the right questions and to make the changes that make sense to us.

Remember, we resist bullies.  So if you try to use command and control to get people to do what you want, you’re going to constantly be weary, worn-out, and confused as to why your way is not working


How Do You Gain Influence?

As I’ve said before on this blog, not only has the economy changed, the psyche of the average worker has also changed.  We no longer respond to command and control.  And yet that’s the basic model that most business schools teach and even MBA programs promote:  Command and control, the guy with the most information, intelligence, along with experience and a job title becomes the leader.

The truth is, we’re living in the day that leading with influence gains not only the best results, but the biggest win.  I call it WWONDA: win-win, or no deal always.

Because the earth is now flat because of technology, internet and other innovations, organizations and institutions are also flat.  The problem is, most of the people who lead them and occupy their systemic positions don’t understand it, and quite honestly, are afraid of it.  They don’t understand what could be better than the threat and intimidation that comes along with command and control.

The new paradigm is inspire and influence.  And that’s intimidating for people who don’t understand that the old axiom, “it’s not personal, it’s business,” has made the transition to “business is personal” not only in the non-profit but in the for-profit sectors. The question is, how do we gain influence?  Answer: by inspiring people to willingly follow your lead.

So how do you inspire influence?  Two words: competency and caring.  We are open to the influence of those who are competent, those who serve with excellence, those who lead with compassion and caring.  Think about these two concepts.  Are they at work today in your life, in your church, even in your home?  Marriages no longer exist and survive long by command and control.  In every human relationship, network and organization, this new way of living and doing has made itself felt.

Ask yourself how much you do out of the threat of command and control as opposed to how much you’re willing to sacrifice for someone who inspires you and you’re open to their influence.

You Have Authority, But Do You Have Influence?

Our day-to-day lives, institutions, and business establishments are filled with job titles and positions. He’s a VP.  She’s the head of. He’s the Marketing Director over.  And so on.

All of these titles are meant to extend authority so that the person who has it can carry out successfully, their given responsibilities.  And I admit, in my father’s world, authority could be given by titles assigned, and sometimes even assumed.  And people would comply, obey and get in line.  But this is no longer my father’s world.  It’s a brand new, wall-less, wireless, worn-out world.

The question today is not, do you have a title, authority, position, a degree, or a certificate? The question is, do you have influence? Influence is that intangible quality that leaders at all levels acquire over time as a result of performance and caring.

It used to be enough to perform at a certain level.  Caring was not considered to be business and in some cases, even bad business.  But that is not the world in which we live.  We live in a world where authority is scorned, where rules are ignored, and influence is a compelling power that moves us forward to the goal.

If you’re in a job or a position, or have a company, and you have titles to go along with it, and yet it seems as though you’re trying to herd cats, instead of leading people to a certain destination, maybe the problem is not your product, service, or industry.  Maybe it’s that those who have authority haven’t earned influence by adding the second component.  And that’s caring.

I heard someone say years ago that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. That may be a cliche, easily dismissed ten or even fifteen years ago, but not now.  We want to know if you care.  We want to see if you have heart, not only for the task at hand, but for those who are assigned a task, or responsibility to complete those tasks with excellence.

Remember.  Just because you have authority doesn’t mean you have influence.

Number One Reason Why Great Leaders Go Bad

As predictable as hot weather in July, and snow in Alaska, is the fall of great leaders.

It seems every other week we’re reading about the demise of some leader, either in politics, business, or the church world who have done something stupid to sabotage their influence.

Think about this.  If great leaders are blind to this, I guarantee you that the rest of us are in danger. It’s the number one reason why good, great leaders always fail.  The problem is, the most influential among us are those that we read about and hear about.

What is this disease, this virus, this toxic quality once harbored in the heart that signals the end of a leader’s reign? It’s a little thing called “hubris.”

In his latest book, “How the Mighty Fall,” Jim Collins lists the traits that accompany the demise of great companies.  Hubris made that list.

What is hubris?  We think it’s pride.  We think it’s arrogance.  And it is those things.  But it’s something much deeper, far more subtle, and stealth.  Let me illustrate.

I received an email from a good friend (I’d say a close friend. I’d say not just a close friend, but someone I admire; not just a close, good friend that I admire, but someone who has gone out of his way to help me at his own expense) that had both encouragement and some correction.

When I read the email, both the encouragement and the correction, I became livid immediately.  It was as though a switch was thrown on in my psyche.  It wasn’t a volitional, conscious response.  It was a primal, unconscious anger that made me tremble.  I wanted to lash out.

Because I have a trusted confidant in my wife, I was able to sit down calmly and talk to her about this email.  Not the content of it, truthfully the content of it was true.  Maybe that’s why it made me angry.  It was not even the person who sent it.  But it was my response.  It scared me.

I found myself being angry because someone dared correct me. And that is hubris. Pride, ego, self-centered-ness that takes control and causes you to overreact and do things that can destroy your leadership influence forever at worst, and set it back for years at best.

What’s the bottom line of all this?  That the number one task of a leader is to lead himself or herself.  You must – I repeat – must lead yourself. You must take charge of your life as you would take charge of a vision, or a mission, or corporation.   You must understand that you are the most dangerous person in the leadership equation.  If you can remain humble, teachable, mold-able, and adaptable, there’s almost no limit to what you can achieve.  If you don’t, you will sabotage yourself and become a cautionary tale.

Why Carrot-And-Stick Leadership is Dead

Are you like millions of others in America and around the world who dread Mondays and you think it’s because work is a necessary evil?  Well, I’ve got good news for you.  Work isn’t evil.  Work is good.  Work is virtuous.  Work is what you were created for. It’s meaningless work and working around a bunch of jerks that destroys the scared space we call “work.”

If you’re still working under the old-world paradigm of the carrot-and-stick boss – you know what I’m talking about – “if you’ll do this, then this will be the reward.” And every time you perform, somehow the stick and the carrot are extended just a little further out.  It’s leadership by manipulation.  Yeah, that day is gone.  And if you’re a manipulating leader, you’re going to be gone too, very, very soon.

What has taken its place?  Well, I think you’ll be glad to know that you’re now treated like a human being, an intelligent, thinking individual; someone with not only gifts and talents but intellect and feelings and worth.   You’re now being challenged to seek out and embrace work that matters, work that makes a difference in the world; work that heals a hurt or lifts a load or rights a wrong; work that is about being obsessively, compulsively preoccupied with the needs of others.  And oh, by the way, an economic system that can be put in place to make sure you get handsomely rewarded.

I could point out a lot of different companies that I know personally who operate this way.  They challenge their employees – they usually call them team-members – with ways in which they can change the world, make peoples’ lives better, and even save people from misery, pain, destitution, and even suicide.  Yeah, that’s how far it’s gone.  We are values-based, virtue-driven companies these days. And I, for one, thank God for the change.

If you’re using the carrot-and-stick, throw it away while you can.  If the carrot-and-stick is being used on you, begin right now and set your own liberation date to be free from that bondage.

Leading in the New, Wild, Wild West

To say the least, things have changed. The economy’s changed, the government’s changed, there is upheaval, transition, and revolution all over the place.  Leadership is also changing.  It’s what the pundits call a “seachange.”

Leadership has to change because leadership is always about the context in which you lead.  It’s not just how you lead, it’s who you lead and how these people experience the real world.  And the brave new world doesn’t look anything like the world of even ten years ago. Here’s how it’s changed.

We live in a brand new wireless world.  We have wireless devices.  I’ve had my iPhone since 2007.  I can’t imagine the world without it.  Not only can I email, but I can buy movies, songs, surf, do almost anything from that small screen.  My iPad is wireless.  My computer is wireless.  There are wireless devices everywhere. What does that mean?  It means that we’re cut loose from locations.  Work can be everywhere. Leadership is done in this world where people do not have to come to a certain place.

It’s also a wall-less world, a world in which people can work from their home and not be forced to face traffic.  I feel sorry for people whose careers are wrapped up in big office buildings.  This new way of working means that every place is a work place. Every space is an environment in which our creativity can flourish.  If your home office isn’t conducive to creativity, you can go to Starbucks or Panera Bread, or a thousand other locations for free wireless (get it?) wireless connection.  So basically we’re no longer compartmentalized.  And that’s the key to the “seachange.”

It’s also a worn-out world in which we lead.  Which means that with all the wireless and wall-less benefits, the downside is that people are bombarded with messages and choices.  The clutter quotient for most people these days is off the charts.

So the question is, “How do you lead in this new world without the centralized benefit of command and control?”  The key to it is inspire and influence. Which means if people are doing what they love for a cause they deeply believe in, and for rewards that they emotionally want, they will work harder and do more without the watching eye of the boss.

The time-clock is dead.  Limitations are gone.  The gatekeeper can no longer lock us out.  It’s a new wireless, wall-less worn-out world.  It’s kind of like the Old West.  It’s a new territory.  It’s a territory for pioneers and brave souls; not those who, with old school MBA’s, try and perpetuate the old world just a little while longer.

Leading Without Power

I love being alive in this brave, new, wall-less, wireless world.   It is so different, and yet so much better different than the world we’ve come from.

There is no place this difference is felt more than in the area of leadership.  Let me give you an example.

I live in Nashville where we cheer on the Tennessee Titans.  This is an NFL team owned by a guy by the name of Bud Adams.  Last year during one of the games, out of frustration (and some people chalked up to arrogance), Bud Adams gave the entire Nashville home base “the finger.”  And not just one, but multiple “fingers,” a luxury for which he was (and rightfully so) handsomely fined by the NFL.

It’s not what he did that illustrates the new world, it’s that he did it and couldn’t get away with it.  See, even ownership is different.  The NFL owners are learning, and they are going to learn even more as their strike year goes on, that though they may own the team and have their name on the corporate documents, the people who determine their future are not owned by them.  They are the fans of the NFL, the consumers of their products and services.  And they will not be treated poorly, badly, or shabbily.  They don’t always do what they’ve always done because they always did it.

This illustrates the shift in leadership too.  We talk about tops-down leadership and bottom-up leadership, and flat leadership.  Call it whatever you will, but never more in the history of the United States has leadership been more like influence.

How many leaders still operate under the command and control?  Since I’m the leader, I’m the boss, I’m the foreman, or the vice president, or the major stock-owner, I have not only control, but I have command. The truth of the matter is, that’s a short stick and a hollow way to approach any endeavor.

What’s the new art of leadership? It’s the art of inspire and influence. There you go. You can’t command and control and expect high levels of performance, excellence, and off the charts innovation. Yes, it is true that there are still places where command and control can get you compliance.  People will comply.  They will do, under threat of punishment, what you want them to do.  And they won’t do it unless you’re there looking and holding the stick.

The carrot stick days are over.  It is now, lead the way, inspire me to a higher place for a higher purpose. And when you inspire me by the way you live and by the way you lead, then I give you influence. That’s it.  Like it or not, you are now leading without power.  For me, I like it.  Because when I “moo” out loud, my voice carries the message of profound things that matter.  If what you do really doesn’t matter that much anymore, I suggest you change careers and find something you can inspire people with by your words and deeds.  And then once again, you’ll be a leader in the brave, new, wall-less, wireless, worn-out world.