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Leadership

Moon Shot Leadership

You’ve no doubt heard that Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of human beings landing on the moon. 
 
It’s hard to fathom today, but the whole world was one for a short time. After the astronauts returned from the moon and were quarantined for twenty-one days, they were whisked away on a worldwide tour.
 
Huge crowds around the globe gave the heroes incredible adulation. Seemingly every nation wanted to see the humans who had walked on the moon.
 
With what we now know about space travel, it’s easy to look in hindsight and assume that this moon landing was inevitable. But it wasn’t. It was a revolutionary effort that made one of human kind’s greatest achievements possible.
 
Today many organizations face challenges that might feel like “moon shots” as they seek to reshape their companies to adapt to unprecedented change: industry disruption, artificial intelligence, machine learning, globalization, work force retraining, changing consumer behavior, and expectations.
 
America’s journey to the moon provides countless lessons for leaders who need to accomplish large or small goals in a fast-changing environment. Here are two connected lessons:
 
Focus on the Vision
 
Too many leaders focus on the details, the analysis, the infrastructure. 
 
President John Kennedy, in office only 125 days when he gave his soaring speech, set a clear, strong challenge for the people of the United States: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the Earth.”
 
With this bold quest, Kennedy provided a vision that captured the imagination and energy of the entire country. “In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon…it will be an entire nation,” Kennedy said.
 
Having been assassinated in 1963, President Kennedy would not see the miraculous accomplishment of his goal. It’s important to recognize that Kennedy didn’t outline how we would reach the moon, but gave a clarion call to action.
 
In a similar way, in that era the inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t have a plan, he had a dream. Remember to focus on the vision.
 
Listen to all voices
 
As NPR reported this week, the unique approach used to land on the moon came from John Houbolt, who believed he had developed the best answer for a safe landing, and defied NASA protocol to have his idea reviewed. 
 
As in most organizations, there were leading engineers whose opinions carried sway. They were divided over two approaches, one of which was landing an entire rocket on the moon, then blasting off for return to earth.
 
Houbolt, who was not even in the landing group, devised the plan that was ultimately used, called lunar orbit rendezvous, in which a command module would circle the moon while a light-weight lunar module would land on the moon and return to the mother ship. 
 
"Houbolt was not part of the program, and that is really where a core issue comes into play," a colleague said. "He went to his boss and his boss sort of shouted him down and said, 'What are you doing?' because he wasn't working in this area at all."

Frustrated that his ideas weren’t being given a fair hearing, Houbolt jumped the NASA hierarchy and wrote strong letters to the leader of NASA, a breach of the organization’s protocol. You can read his letters from the NASA archives here.
 
I had to share these paragraphs from Houbolt’s typewriter-written 1961 letter not only for their tone and energy but because they reflect what hundreds of thousands of people in business and other organizations going through change feel as their insights are quashed by the hierarchy and bureaucracy:
 
Since we have had only occasional and limited contact, and because you therefore probably do not know me very well, it is conceivable that after reading this you may feel that you are dealing with a crank. Do not be afraid of this. 
 
The thoughts expressed here may not be stated in as diplomatic a fashion as they might be, or as I would normally try to do, but this is by choice and at the moment, is not important. The important point is that you hear the ideas directly, not after they have filtered through a score or more of other people, with the attendant risk that they may not even reach you. 
 
Elsewhere in the correspondence, Houbolt rhetorically challenges the administrator with the question, "Do we want to go to the moon or not?"
 
The answer was “yes” and Houbolt’s approach was ultimately adopted and, well, you know the rest.

There’s a through-line here for every leader: set a clear, compelling goal to focus energy and resources, then kill the hierarchy and let all voices be heard on how to accomplish your vision.

That’s how you achieve a moon shot.
 
To share your thoughts or ask me any questions, just visit my contact page.

Photo Credit: NASA

Three Super-Valuable Phrases forBusiness and Life

By John Millen

Ask for what you want, and be prepared to get it.–– Maya Angelou

Growing up with a hard-working single mother and few resources, I learned early on that it never hurts to ask. I’ve continued that policy, and it’s been helpful in every aspect of life and business.

 
On the other side of the ledger, I will go out of my way to ask other people how I can help them. I’m also a big believer in random acts of kindness. The world has never needed those more than it does today.
 
Avoiding rejection
But I know I’m not the norm. Many of us feel uncomfortable asking for help or some kind of favor. We think we’ll be rejected. We’re concerned we are imposing.  So we don’t ask. 
 
This is sad because I bet you can think back to opportunities you missed because you failed to ask: the cool assignment that went to someone else; the client you failed to win; or even the love that passed you by.
 
We shouldn’t be afraid to ask because people like to help other people. It’s a fact. It can make us feel good. Research says we get a hit of dopamine, the pleasure hormone, in our brain’s reward center by helping others.  
 
In any case, here are three phrases that will increase the likelihood you’ll get what you ask for.
 
1) “But you are free”
It would seem obvious that when you make a request of people, they have the right to decline. But something interesting happens when you say out loud that they, of course, can pass on your request. 
 
Long-term research has shown that people are almost twice as likely to do what you request if you add a phrase like, “but you are free” (BYAF) not to do that favor. The specific words are not important, it’s the acknowledgment that they have freedom of choice.
 
There are different theories about why this phrase works, but the evidence is clear. You can learn more by reading this interview with Dr. Christopher Carpenter, a researcher and professor at Western Illinois University, who reviewed forty-two studies on the BYAF effect.
 
I recommend you try using this phrase, or something similar. But feel free not to try it. 


2) “Because”
When you request a favor of someone, research shows you will be significantly more successful if you provide a reason for the request. This, again, would seem obvious, but as Dr. Robert Cialdini notes in his landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, you will be substantially more successful if you use the word “because” with your request. 
 
Citing the work of Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer, Cialdini writes of experiments where a person would ask to cut the line to use a copy machine. The simple request using the word “because” resulted in more than 90 percent acceptance, while a request without the word was granted 60 percent of the time.
 
Here are the requests:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?  (60 percent acceptance)
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?  (94 percent acceptance)
 
They added this question to make sure it was not the “rush” that caused compliance:
 
Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?  (93 percent acceptance)
 
Cialdini says the word “because” triggers our “automatic compliance response” as human beings. Hearing the word makes us automatically want to say “yes.” This, of course, does not apply to all situations, especially higher-stakes decisions.
 
I recommend against saying, “Would you promote me to vice president because I have great leadership ability?” 


3) “What questions do you have for me?”
Have you ever stood in front of a group when you finished your presentation and asked, “Do you have any questions?” Did you stand there for what seemed like an hour? Did you hear crickets? Did you say, uncomfortably, “Well, okay, I guess I covered everything.”
 
There’s something about hearing the phrase, “Do you have any questions” that seems to feel uninviting. Even people who have questions will look around at others and wonder if they’re imposing by asking a question. It’s weird.
 
Try this instead: “What questions do you have for me?” I started using this phrase about a year ago, and it works about 80 percent of the time, much more than the status quo approach. 
 
I ran across this approach in a small book titled, Exactly What to Say, The Magic Words for Influence and ImpactIt’s a simple read with twenty-three phrases focused mainly on successful sales but applicable in life since, as I always say, life is sales.
 
If you find any of those approaches interesting, I suggest you choose one and try it for thirty days because I believe you’ll see great results. But you are free to choose your own approach.
 
Now, what questions do you have for me? Just hit visit my contact page and we can talk.
 
John

P.S. –– Please do me a favor and use the buttons below to share this message with someone you think might benefit because I'm on a mission to help more people.

Alex Trebek's Inspiring Cancer Fight 

It’s about focusing on the fight, not the fright.

― Robin Roberts, Anchor,
ABC’s Good Morning America

 
As a long-term viewer of Jeopardy!, the popular television quiz show, I was saddened when I heard news that its host Alex Trebek was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer. 
 
My grief was not only centered on losing Trebek, who has hosted Jeopardy! for thirty-five years, but by the reminder that all of us have been touched in some way by the insidious disease of cancer.
 
I lost my mother, who raised me by herself, to pancreatic cancer many years ago. As I learned first-hand, this form of cancer is particularly swift and deadly.
 
These emotions were with me as I viewed Trebek’s video announcement. (You can watch at the end of this article in case you haven’t seen it.)
 
As a CEO communication coach, I watched Trebek’s announcement in amazement. His message is warm, personal, encouraging, even uplifting. I've worked with senior leaders on dealing with similar personal messages. It's not easy.
 
Trebek’s approach provides lessons for leaders and all of us on communicating difficult, especially health-related, news:
 
Get ahead of the story
The legendary game-show host said he was sharing the news himself. In line with the show’s "longtime policy of being open and transparent with our Jeopardy! fan base,” Trebek said, “I also wanted to prevent you from reading or hearing some overblown or inaccurate reports regarding my health. Therefore, I wanted to be the one to pass on this information.”
 
Trebek is right. You have the opportunity to tell your story. If you don’t, others will fill the vacuum with rumors and misinformation. Of course, you also have the right to complete privacy.
 
Be as transparent as feels comfortable
There was a time when cancer was the “C-word,” never mentioned publicly. People were loath to disclose that they had the disease for fear of being virtually shunned.
 
Thankfully, that has changed. People are more open about a diagnosis, which gives others the opportunity to give much-needed support. You should disclose as much or as little as makes you comfortable.
 

Tracy Austin John Millen.jpg


Tracy was a great speaker and leader in Toastmasters, where we met years earlier.
I visited him at a meeting shortly after his diagnosis.

 
When my friend Tracy Austin, who passed away nearly two years ago, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he decided to be completely transparent about the highs and extreme lows of his battle. As I wrote at the time:
 
When Tracy shared his diagnosis, he and his wife and soul mate Karen committed to being open and transparent through their journey. On Facebook, they’ve intimately shared their pain, their joy, their fears, and their love.
 
They challenged thousands of us to live our lives with awareness, gratitude, and love. A community of support has surrounded them, with continuous prayers, positive energy, and daily visits and support. People have worn name tags in support of Tracy. #TeamTracy
 
As he went through some fifteen rounds of wrenching chemo, Tracy maintained his positive attitude, thanking his doctors and nurses for their support, and supporting other patients. 

 
You can read more of this at Tracy Austin: a Legacy of Love.
 
Be yourself
Working with senior leaders, I focus on the elements that influence peoples’ perception of your message: your words, your tone, and your attitude.
 
A health diagnosis is the ultimate opportunity to be authentic and share yourself.
 
As you will note from his video, Trebek maintains his show demeanor, which presumably is close to who he is, and even uses humor to diffuse the tension of his message for his fans.
 
"I plan to beat the low survival-rate statistics for this disease," he said. "Truth told, I have to! Because under the terms of my contract, I have to host Jeopardy! for three more years!"
 
Let people support you
It may feel awkward asking for support, but you are doing people a favor. As human beings, it’s in our nature to offer support to others in need. 
 
Trebek asks for support and ends on a note of hope. “Normally, the prognosis for this is not very encouraging, but I’m going to fight this, and I’m going to keep working,” he says. 
 
Trebek cites the statistic that fifty thousand people in the United States are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, adding that, “with the love and support of my family and friends, and with the help of your prayers also, I plan to beat the low survival rate statistics for this disease... So help me. Keep the faith and we’ll win. We’ll get it done. Thank you.”
 
I’m keeping the faith with Alex and with everyone touched by the scourge of cancer. We are with you and look forward to the day when cancer is permanently defeated. 

Click below to watch Alex's message:
 

I'd love to hear your feedback! To share your thoughts with me you can visit my contact page.

Please do me a favor and use the buttons below to share this message with someone you think might benefit.
 

John

How Boeing Ruined its Reputation for Safety

It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.

–– Warren Buffet

 
By John Millen

During the past few weeks, the stellar reputations of two United States aviation-related organizations were badly tarnished by a series of puzzling, ill-advised decisions.

Their missteps provide leaders with important lessons on keeping faith with customers and other stakeholders, particularly when it’s inconvenient to do so.

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have been the gold standard, respectively, for the design and production of world-class aircraft and the regulation of aviation.

Their websites proclaim their unwavering commitment to the safety of airline passengers.
 
Boeing’s Website:
 
Enduring Values
At Boeing, we are committed to a set of core values that not only define who we are, but also serve as guideposts to help us become the company we would like to be. And we aspire to live these values every day.
Safety 
We value human life and well-being above all else and take action accordingly.
 
FAA’s Website:
 
Safety: The Foundation of Everything We Do
At FAA, what drives us — through everything we do — is our mission to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. We continually strive to improve the safety and efficiency of flight in this country.
 
These proclamations were put to the test when Boeing’s newest airliner, the 737 Max 8, crashed shortly after takeoff in Ethiopia killing the passengers and crew. While issuing statements of sympathy for families, Boeing insisted the plane was safe and should continue to fly.

This is curious because it was the second crash of this model. Six months earlier an Indonesian Max 8 crashed shortly after takeoff under similar circumstances, killing the crew and passengers.

Boeing all but proclaimed the Indonesian crash pilot error. And seemingly as the Ethiopian crash was still smoldering, Boeing and the FAA rushed to assure us that the Max 8 was “safe and airworthy.”

Crash in the U.S.?
One has to wonder how Boeing and the FAA would have reacted if either of the crashes was on U.S. soil by an airline, such as Southwest. This was the thought I had as I sat on a Southwest Boeing 737 (not a Max 8), as I often do on Monday mornings. 

On this morning, I was unsettled by the fact that neither Boeing nor the FAA had called for the plane to be temporarily grounded. As the plane took off, I used my phone to sell all of my Boeing stock. I told friends and associates that if Boeing wasn’t proactive, it would be forced to ground the planes soon.

My concern was more than personal. For some twenty years, I had advised senior leaders of companies in crisis on their responses. Though I no longer work on crises, I still retain a visceral reaction to companies that fail to respond appropriately to safety concerns. 

Lost their way
For Boeing and the FAA, it is abundantly clear that they had lost their way. Consider the facts for two organizations that proclaim safety:

*     Some 170 737 Max 8’s were in service. Two had crashed. In other words, more than one percent of this new model had fatal crashes. Yet, Boeing and the FAA continued to echo their message that the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     After the first crash killed 189 people, Boeing said it was working on an update to the plane’s software. But the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     After the second crash killed 157 people, while the cause was unknown, Boeing reaffirmed that it was still working on the software update. But the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     As airlines and regulators around the world grounded the planes and banned them from their airspace, Boeing and the FAA continued to echo the Max 8 plane was safe.

*     The FAA argued there was “not enough evidence to justify grounding” the Max 8. In a bizarre turn on safety regulation, the FAA was arguing that a plane that had had two fatal crashes was presumed safe until proven unsafe?

*    Finally, as an exclamation point on poor crisis response, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao hurriedly scheduled herself on a Max 8 Southwest flight from Austin to Washington, D.C.

The highest-level safety regulator in the U.S. pulled a publicity stunt to “prove” that the Max 8 was safe. In essence, she was saying, “See, my flight didn’t crash. The Max 8 plane is safe!”

More sad evidence continues to come to light, such as Boeing pitching the plane as a simple upgrade to avoid pilot retraining; the FAA allowing Boeing to self-certify its work; little to no information or training being provided to pilots; no testing of how pilots would react to Max 8 specific emergencies; and, perhaps most flagrant, basic safety warning lights and alarm systems were sold as additional add-ons.

Even aviation hero Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger criticized Boeing and the FAA. He wrote that "there is too cozy a relationship between the industry and the regulators" for proper oversight to be ensured.    

Boeing’s response
Finally succumbing to public and passenger pressure, the FAA on March 13 announced a temporary grounding of all 737 Max 8 planes. Boeing issued this statement from Dennis Muilenburg, president, CEO, and Chairman of The Boeing Company, which rang hollow:

On behalf of the entire Boeing team, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those who have lost their lives in these two tragic accidents. We are supporting this proactive step out of an abundance of caution. Safety is a core value at Boeing for as long as we have been building airplanes; and it always will be. 

There is no greater priority for our company and our industry. We are doing everything we can to understand the cause of the accidents in partnership with the investigators, deploy safety enhancements, and help ensure this does not happen again.

Too little, too late. Boeing and the FAA have lost trust and severely tarnished their reputations worldwide.

I work with clients in insurance and financial services, pharmaceuticals, technology, and other industries that make various promises of safety and security. In the end, trust is all they have.

The lesson for leaders is clear. If your organization’s core promise is to provide safety and security for people, that must be prioritized – even when it conflicts with other valuable interests. 

How about you? 
What core promise does your organization make to people who rely on you?
 
How strong is your commitment? Will it hold up under the pressure of other competing interests?
 
It’s worth considering since a reputation of trust can be destroyed in no time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please reach me directly on my contact page.

How to Communicate Change as a Leader

Adapt to Change Quickly: The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.

–– Spencer Johnson, MD, author, Who Moved My Cheese?


By John Millen

Leadership is often described as getting people to do what they wouldn’t do on their own. 
 
This is the primary charge of a leader. It’s your job as a leader to influence people to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.
 
And some experts posit that, given the advance of technology, the pace of change we see today will be the slowest of our lifetimes. This creates a greater challenge for leaders and their teams to adapt.
 
‘Don’t like change’
I’m sure you’ve heard people at work say they don’t like change. The truth is they don’t like change at work.
 
I say that because in our personal lives we accept change as inevitable: people move, people get married, people create homes, people have kids, people move to bigger homes, people buy larger cars, and on and on.
 
It’s change. The cycle continues and we accept these changes as a part of living.
 
Nonetheless, when it comes to their workplaces many people somehow expect that things will stay the same. This, despite the fact that their businesses, their industries and their own tastes in products and services change all the time.
 
This is why communication is a critical, and often undervalued, success factor for leading change. With massive disruption in once-stable industries, how effectively you communicate will determine how well you influence the attitudes and behavior of the people critical to your success.

Having worked through or advised more than thirty mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations here are some lessons I’ve learned on how to communicate to successfully lead people through change: 

Focus on why
Leaders often rush to the how and what of their changes, sending orders to the troops with task lists of what they need to accomplish and when they must be done. People will certainly comply, but not with a sense of purpose. They may be smiling, but if you look closely, those are fake smiles.
 
Creating a narrative of purpose — a clear vision — gives a sense of mission that will produce better long-term results. Take the time to convey a clear picture of the end state. 
 
Some leaders think of this as a waste of time, so called “soft skills,” but it turns out people are emotional beings who have to buy into their leaders before they buy into the vision.
 
Mental transitions
One pro tip for communicating massive change: search for appropriate analogies or examples in the marketplace that help people understand transition to the future. These help people see the relationship between the past, the present, and future states. 
 
For example, look at Apple. It transitioned successfully from computer hardware and software to smartphones and music. With the slowdown of iPhone sales, Apple is transitioning to wearable technology for healthcare (iWatch), a service business, and perhaps even autonomous vehicles. There’s even talk of Apple, with its surplus of cash, buying Netflix. Every business needs to evolve.
 
Be clear about what you want them to do
Having said that you should focus on purpose doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be clear about specifics. While you want to be visionary, it’s important to provide a clear, believable path to your end state. The best course is to engage and involve people in creating the outcomes, rather than simply directing them.
 
Address the fear with empathy
The deep-seated fear of change lives in our amygdala, the small ancient part of our brains, where we feel the “fight or flight” sensations. It feels real. People wonder whether they’ll lose their jobs — be kicked out of the tribe, as it were. Their survival is threatened.
 
Technology exacerbates the fear tenfold. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics increases the sense of dread. It all seems to have happened so quickly. 
 
It’s easy to destroy a culture of trust by being tone deaf to people’s concerns. With this in mind, your empathy can go a long way in maintaining trust with people. 
 
Overcommunicate
When telling your story of change, repetition is your friend. I tell CEOs and other senior leaders that about the time you’re sick of repeating your messages is when people will begin to hear them.
 
We obviously live in a distracted world where, unless you share a clear, consistent story with repetition at every level through every communication channel, people will not hear you.
 
In a world of constant change, your ability to communicate change is not only important, it is a skill that will, over time, make you a more valuable leader. 

All the best,

John


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Sharing Love at Work

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. 

–– Maya Angelou


Speaking at a convention of insurance agents in Las Vegas last year, I got a lot of nervous laughter from the crowd when I conveyed an offbeat idea: they should be sharing love with their agency staff members.

To be more specific, I said they should be speaking the love languages of their employees, except for physical touch, of course, which I crossed off on my slide.

This comes to mind because on February 14 here in the U.S. we will celebrate love in the annual, commercial tradition of Valentine’s Day.

As with all communication, in the language of love our actions often speak much louder than our words. We must understand our lover’s (or employee's) language in order to successfully express our love. 

So, as you read the following about expressing love in your romantic relationship, I would urge you to think about how you might apply these principles to your business relationships as well.

One example: A female leader told me she had one night quickly hand-written a card of thanks to an employee. She said today, three years later, that card is still pinned on the person's cubicle wall. 
 

Gary Chapman, marriage counselor for more than 30 years, is author of The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate.  First published in 1992, the book has been a New York Times Bestseller and published in 49 languages.

Chapman believes each of us has a primary love language, a way in which we are most emotionally satisfied to receive love from another person. Our lovers may find satisfaction from an entirely different love language.

The secret to communicating love, then, is to understand our partner’s language and act on that sincerely and consistently. “The one who chooses to love will find appropriate ways to express that decision every day,” Chapman says.

These are the five love languages identified by Chapman along with my thoughts:

1) Words of Affirmation 
Kind, loving, supportive words that express appreciation. The tone and the intent of the words, of course, carry as much weight as the words themselves.

2) Acts of Service 
The saying is “Actions speak louder than words” and for people who favor this language of love nothing could be more true. Simple acts of service will speak deeply to your love.

3) Receiving Gifts 
Throughout all cultures and civilizations, the act of giving gifts has been seen as an expression of love and appreciation. Certainly the engagement ring is one powerful symbolic example. But speaking this language is not about expense. A small gift or thoughtful note sincerely given can mean far more than an expensive gift without thought.

4) Quality Time 
In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, nothing is more valuable than our time. Giving someone undivided attention, being fully present in the moment, is one of the best ways of showing love. Sharing quality time has an impact on everyone but is enormously powerful to those who speak this love language.

5) Physical Touch
Human beings thrive on physical contact, from holding an infant, to consoling loss, to expressing appreciation. Research finds deep emotional and physical benefits of touch. If this is your partner’s primary love language, nothing will communicate more deeply than your touch.

Note: while I crossed out physical touch in the workplace, a warm handshake with sincere eye contact might be a solid substitute. ;-)

Questions for you:

What is your primary love language? Does your loved one know that?

More importantly, what is your lover’s primary love language? Are you speaking that language consistently and sincerely? 

If you don't know, there's an easy way to find out: ask, and listen carefully.


John


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