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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

How to Say Thanks and Show Appreciation

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.–– William Arthur Ward

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week has me thinking about the power of expressing sincere gratitude to others in business, and in life.

Signs are all around us on the need for personal, genuine thanks to others:

  • In a digital world, where attention is a nano-second, thank you’s seem to come as after thoughts in brief texts (thx!) and hurried voice mails.

  • Employee engagement is at an all-time low.A Gallup poll found that only 13% of people worldwide are actively engaged at work. (Here in the U.S., the number was 29%, nothing to brag about.)

  • Our national dialogue, from hate-spewing politics to bleep-coated TV, has become a coarse joke.

People have become so busy paying attention to the constant noise that appreciation of personal relationships seems to have taken second place.

Harvard Research
The need is so clear that Ivy league schools are doing serious research to understand the power of thank you.

A Harvard professor’s recent book explores the science of gratitude. Her research highlights how leaders expressing gratitude motivates people.

The professor mentions that her husband is working at a startup. One day, after her husband had been up all night working on a project, the professor received a card and flowers from the company’s founder, thanking her for her patience. It was pleasant for her and a motivator for him.

I worked with a CEO who was the best I’d ever seen at saying thank you to people. There were times I would ask myself if it was too much, but I had to say no. The thanks were always delivered sincerely and with the appropriate tonality for the situation.

Sincere Appreciation
What can we do to bring sincere appreciation back to life? Think about these expressions as a starting point:

  • Sending a handwritten thank you card to a person’s home with a small, relevant gift related to one of their passions. (One leader recently confided to me that a quick, handwritten thank-you note he'd given an employee was still pinned to her cubicle wall three years later.)

  • Making a public statement, whether at a team meeting or family event, with clear, sincere thanks to one or more people. It lifts the morale of everyone.

  • A face-to-face, show up with no agenda, but to say thank you.

Of course, there’s also that opportunity around the dinner table this Thursday, or those moments this holiday season when you are one-on-one with someone you rarely see.

What better time to say, “I appreciate you?”

Also, readers, thank you for sharing your time with me this year.

Best wishes for the holidays,


P.S. –– To talk with me, please visit our contact page.

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5 Ways to Stop Talking So Much

Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others.

–– John Maxwell

Everyone knows someone who can’t shut up. They’re constantly talking, rarely listening, and don’t know when to stop. Whether during a job interview, presentation, or a conversation with the boss, they just go on and on. 
In a recent Wall Street Journal article about talkaholics, Aqua America’s chief executive Christopher Franklin described a job interview in which a woman spent twenty-five minutes answering his first question, followed by another twenty-five minutes on the second one. “I felt like I was being filibustered,” he said. “There should be no need for verbal diarrhea.” Needless to say, no job offer was extended to her. 
The problem is that people learn to tune “talkaholics” out, and after a certain point, will stop listening. In today’s information society, attention spans are shrinking. In the 1970’s, the average person saw some five hundred ads a day, and today we see at least five thousand messages a day.
Instead of a couple of channels on TV, we have access to hundreds of channels and streaming services, which puts hours of media at our fingerprints. A Microsoft study in 2015 found that people lose focus after about eight seconds, while a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds. 
There are many different types of people who fall into the talkaholic category, but here are a few I've seen in my work as a communication coach:
Ms. All About Me –– These people talk incessantly about themselves and rarely give someone else the chance to speak. It’s always about them. 
Mr. Redundant –– This man (or woman) is repeating the same lines, in the same conversation, and repeated conversations.
The Know it All –– This person has all the answers and is certain that these are the right answers. He’s going to tell you, whether you asked or not.
Captain Obvious –– He or she is saying stuff that everyone already knows. Obviously. 
If you've been accused of talking too much, or some of this profile seems to fit you, you might be limiting your effectiveness.
Too much talk can hurt your personal brand because it gives the sense that you’re not tuned in. Everything you say just becomes noise, as people tune you out.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for overcoming the tendency to speak too much:
1. Develop awareness
The first step to solving a problem is to become aware and pay attention. Self-reflection is an important part of growth. If you’re unsure as to whether you struggle with talking too much, ask trusted colleagues or friends what they think. An outside perspective can help illuminate potential weaknesses. 
2. Find your listening ratio
A listening ratio is the amount of time you spend listening versus the amount of time you spend talking. For introverts, this ratio might look like 20/80, spending 20 percent of the time talking and 80 percent of the time listening.
As I wrote about listening ratios, depending on the nature of your job and your natural inclination, you may find that you need to spend more time talking. For others, they need to concentrate on speaking less and listening more. 
3. Be prepared 
It is common to talk too much when you’re nervous or unsure of what you’re trying to say. Prepare your thoughts ahead of time so you stay on track and don’t veer off topic. It’s important to know exactly what you want to say in a presentation or an important conversation with a colleague. 
I recommend having one central message that you want people to remember and then develop three points to support that main message. This will keep your conversation clear, focused, and memorable.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
For presentations and other important talks, it’s important to rehearse what you’re going to say. Try using your phone to record yourself and play it back to see if you’re staying on topic. Try challenging yourself to make the point in one minute, then thirty seconds. 
The more you strengthen your message and cut out the unnecessary fluff, the easier it will be to convey your point. And the more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with delivering a concise message. Here are other methods to rehearse your talk.
5. Less is more 
Mark Twain once quipped, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Less is more when it comes to speech. Since people lose focus quickly, their attention is more likely to be held by a short, concise message. 
On November 19, 1863, a famous orator by the name of Edward Everett gave a 13,607-word speech that was two hours long. It was followed by a two minute, 272-word speech given by Abraham Lincoln; the now famous Gettysburg Address. Everett later told Lincoln, “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”
A main idea can be conveyed in two hours or two minutes. It takes more work to be brief, but you’ll enjoy the many benefits of being a person who is heard and understood.
What about you?
Are you, or someone you know, a talkaholic?
Have you thought about your listening ratio? If you talk 80 percent of the time, try listening 80 percent of the time and see if you get different reactions and results. 
I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories about compulsive talkers. Just hit “reply” to talk with me.
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The Secret to Getting What You Ask For 

If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.

—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 

There are times in our lives when we have to ask for something major— a “high-stakes” ask.
The request could be for a job, a donation, or even a life partner. In those moments we might become overwhelmed with anxiety, fear of rejection, and even diminished self-worth.
It’s Not About You
Why? Because we’ve made it all about us, instead of about the person we’re asking. 
If we ask the right questions and listen fully to the answers, it becomes a real, non-threatening conversation.
The secret to getting what you ask for is really listening to the person you’re asking. Everything you need to know is right in front of you.
My friend and associate Kent Stroman works tirelessly with nonprofit boards, staff, and volunteers. His Institute for Conversational Fundraising equips fundraising leaders to ask for larger, often multi-million-dollar gifts successfully. But his sage advice teaches all of us how to approach asking in every aspect of business and life.
Marriage Proposal
Kent told me the story of a very major “ask” he experienced: a young man who wanted marry Kent’s youngest daughter asked for Kent’s blessing. The young man said, “I can’t see myself going through life without being married to your daughter.”
The ask was successful: Jonathan and Monica married, established their own home, and are expecting their third child in December. Major gifts, indeed. ;-)
Stroman says the key to asking for something major is to approach it as you would any important conversation by asking the right questions and then listening.
When I say “listening,” you’re probably thinking, “listening, yeah, I do that.” But not many of us truly listen as effectively as we might.
In his book, Asking About Asking, Mastering the Art of Conversational Fundraising Stroman says listening is the most important part of asking.
“If you’re going to listen strategically, you have to ask strategic questions. After preparing and asking purposeful questions, it’s time to be quiet and listen. Indeed, if we are not deliberate about listening, there is really no purpose to be served by asking,” Stroman writes. 

Your Eyes, Ears, Mind, and Heart
Kent and I share the same approach on listening: to be effective, you should listen with your ears, your eyes, your mind, and your heart.
Stroman warns to beware of the temptation to manipulate a conversation into coming back around to your interests.
Kent offers these tips to aid in asking strategically and listening thoughtfully:

  • You need to have a sincere interest in the person. If you aren’t sincere, it shows.

  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage her to talk.

  • That person will guide you in the conversation.

  • Most people want to express themselves and have a lot to say.

  • You should be about “their needs, their vision, their timing, and their preferences.”

Finally, Kent offers this guidance, “If you want insight into someone’s head, ask data questions (facts); but if you want a glimpse into their soul, ask heart questions (feelings).”
How Well Do You Listen?
So, how well do you listen, especially when you’re asking for something important?
In his book, Kent offers a five-point scale you can use to assess how effective you are as a listener:

  1. I do not listen to the speaker; I’m absorbed in my own thoughts.

  2. I contribute to the discussion but give no indication of having heard others’ comments.  

  3. I send nonverbal messages, such as eye contact or a head nod, to show that I heard what was being said.  

  4. I accurately refer to the other speaker’s comments in making my own statements.

  5. I show by my comments that I understand the meaning and feelings behind others’ comments.  

If you want a truly valid assessment of yourself as a listener, ask a trusted colleague or someone at home to rate you on this scale.
Whether it feels like it or not, this kind of feedback is, in itself, a major gift.
When you find yourself looking in someone’s eyes while they talk this week, think about whether you’re hearing, or really listening.
As always, if you want to talk with me, visit my contact page. I’m all ears. 

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How to Coach People as a Leader

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

— John Buchan

Lots of leaders like to be critics.
Some have learned to be critical from their parents.
Some are deeply insecure. Criticizing makes them feel powerful.
Some simply may be emotionally unaware. They don’t realize the damage they are doing.
And some are just lazy.
Let’s face it; being a critic is easy. We can all find fault in people and blurt those things out. Often, we are projecting our own insecurities onto others in the form of “advice.”
Being a coach, though, takes work. It requires thought, finesse, self-awareness.
While we all need to be coachable, the best leaders are coaches, not critics.
Broken people
In my work with leaders across the country, I find that the approach of constant criticism leaves a trail of broken people, often bitter and lacking confidence.
Examples are everywhere:

-- The young woman who told me before a workshop that her trouble giving presentations stems from her first boss criticizing practically everything she did in a presentation

-- The sales leader whose boss felt compelled to give long sessions of criticism under the rubric of “coaching” without a word of positivity. This leader would constantly feel attacked and said he wondered at the time if he ever did anything right.

-- The many clients who say they receive the “but” form of “coaching” constantly. You did this little thing all right, BUT you stink at all these other things.

I’m not saying you should never give your people on your team direct feedback, but you should think strategically about your approach and whether it’s creating the results you are seeking.

To focus on your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, here are a few models for your consideration:
Be a coach
A coach is there to unlock the potential of a person, to help that person achieve what they couldn’t or wouldn’t achieve on their own. With the right feedback at the right time, you can build your team member’s confidence and produce better outcomes.
Be a servant leader
Your positioning matters. If you’re standing beside me to support me, or show me the way, it’s a lot different than standing in front of me to critique me.
It’s much easier to be receptive to feedback when you know it’s meant to make you stronger, not beat you down.
Be a trusted advisor
My clients in many industries, from financial services to consulting, are working to position their representatives as trusted advisors. As a leader of people, there is no better positioning for your guidance.
If I trust you and you give me great advice, I will grow and get better results because of your leadership.

Be a good listener
In a trusted relationship, we are much more willing to share. Asking the right questions and listening carefully can guide people to their own conclusions about their thinking and behavior. I’ve found this is much more effective than directives in producing lasting change and growth for people.
Be open to feedback
I have a client who talks about a super-angry boss from early in his career. The boss was always yelling so people were afraid to bring him bad news or open problems. He was ultimately undone because hidden issues eventually took their toll on the organization.
Be a role model
As a leader people are always watching you. So much of learning is observing role models. Some of the most powerful coaching you can do is through your own thinking and actions.
Lots of leaders participate in the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy of leadership. I like to tell clients that when your behavior is out of sync with what you’re preaching, your body language is so loud people won’t hear a word you are saying.
How about you?
Are you a coach, or a critic?
How would your team describe your style? Are you a servant leader, a trusted advisor, a good listener?
As a leader, you can have a powerful effect on the people around you. It only takes being clear about your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, yet it can make all the difference in your team’s morale, confidence, and results.
Please. Be a coach, not a critic.

Challenge Your Beliefs

Some things are true whether you believe in them or not.

–– City of Angels movie character

When I wrote about Amazon’s Leadership Principles a few months ago, I was struck by this sentence: “[Our leaders] seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.”

It’s a novel statement for a company and one that few of us practice.
Indeed, human beings, for the most part, practice the opposite: we work to reinforce and confirm our beliefs. This is known as “confirmation bias.”
We search our environment for information to confirm our beliefs, we interpret data to support our beliefs, we discount evidence that might conflict with our beliefs, and some of us even attack people who hold views contrary to our beliefs.
This is most apparent, of course, in our current political environment where we cocoon in segregated ideological communities with unlimited sources of “news” available to confirm our views.
In this world, critical thinking is more important than ever. We are inundated with more information than ever, and we are more distracted than ever, which means we are left with impressions of the truth.
We need to be able to sift through the information to find out what is actually true.

Critical thinking is the most important skill we must develop. But there is less of it on, of all places, college campuses where students too-often oppose campus speakers who hold views contrary to their own.
Many of us cling to our views, despite them being outdated and no longer valid. While these beliefs might not be as old as “the world is flat” and “the earth is at the center of the universe,” we often hold beliefs long past their expiration dates.
With this in mind, here are a few tips to help you develop your critical thinking skills as you challenge your own beliefs:

Learn to listen without judgment
When we hear others discuss ideas and beliefs, we are apt to judge them, their conclusions, and their motivations so quickly that while they’re talking, we’re already thinking of our responses.
The fact is, our minds can’t multitask, so if we’re thinking about what we’ll say next, or how we’ll fix the problem, we’re no longer listening to the person speaking.
Instead, try to be fully present and hear what the person is really saying. Ask questions to go deeper and understand why they believe those positions. We so seldom really listen to people that it can be a remarkable experience for the listener to hear, as well as for the speaker to be heard.
Seek to understand
In his seminal book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, * Stephen Covey emphasizes one of the key habits, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Covey shared an event he experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York that illustrates how we can hold mistaken beliefs:
People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people's papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn't control them a little more?’
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, 'Oh, you're right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don't know what to think, and I guess they don't know how to handle it either.'
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn't have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man's pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘Your wife just died? Oh, I'm so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.
Proactively find conflicting views
Instead of listening to news channels that confirm your views, seek out stations that promote the opposite viewpoint. If you watch Fox News, watch MSNBC. These broadcasts vividly illustrate how we can view the same information through our own colored lenses. Try to understand what information and experiences would bring people to hold those views.
Argue the other side
In college, my favorite extracurricular activity was serving on the national debate team.

In half of the debate rounds, my partner and I would argue an affirmative case for a legislative change, often a compelling issue of national controversy. In the other half of the rounds, we would argue against a proposal, often the same idea we had earlier advocated.
This gave us the ability to fully understand all of the nuances of arguments for and against positions. We developed critical thinking skills that allowed us to make better decisions and modify positions based on new and compelling arguments.
Kill your self-limiting beliefs
I believe the most destructive beliefs we hold are about ourselves and our own capabilities. We are locked into self-limiting beliefs that keep us from achieving our full potential.
We know we should try to achieve something outside of our comfort zones, which is where personal growth occurs, yet we are held back by our self-limiting beliefs. Often that is due to FEAR, which is often referred to as False Evidence Appearing Real.
What about you?
I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have beliefs, or that we should change them all on a whim. Instead, we should examine our beliefs.
Start with a single belief about an issue in your business, in politics, or about a person who annoys you. How did you come to that belief? Is it still valid?
Take the time to examine your beliefs. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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