Tired of Chasing Dollars? There’s a Better Way

Happy Test Week* everyone!

Leadership Principle
Have you ever thought, “I like business but I hate how everything revolves around money?” That’s exactly what I thought when I started my college education as a business major. That was even the line of thinking I used when I switched majors from business to biology (pre-med actually). I had only taken two business courses (accounting and economics) and I came to the conclusion that all of business revolved around money, money, money! I was wrong of course. I would learn later that business involves strategy, creativity, inspiration, caring, values, and many other topics that peak my interest.

The following link is a “Ted Talk” by one of my favorite guys, Simon Sinek. He is the author of Start with Why which is currently my favorite book. Listen to this talk (click on the link below) and you will gain profound insights into the passion and inspiration side of business and leadership. Learn how you can finally stop “chasing dollars” and focus on what you really care about. (Spoil Alert: Count how many times he says “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.)

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Scriptural Support
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

*Test week is a popular phrase in med school that roughly translates into “a very stressful and important exam is coming up, the preparation for which will require 150% of my time (yes, that’s right, there is absolutely no way possible to ever be fully prepared)”

Anyway, during test weeks I will probably keep my posts brief and to the point. They may, in fact, prove to be more interesting and effective that way 🙂

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Martin Luther King, Jr: The Great Communicator

Leadership Principle
He’s known throughout the world as THE great civil rights leader. He influenced presidents, politics, media, education, and the entire way we think about freedom and equality. As a result we have a holiday and about 10,000 roads (ok maybe that’s an exaggeration) named after him. No matter how you slice it, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an incredible leader. But why was he such an effective leader? He wasn’t the only educated leader of the day, and he certainly wasn’t the only one who suffered in a pre-civil rights America. The answer is, in part at least, his ability to communicate. He caught our imagination and painted a picture of how things COULD be. He inspired us when he spoke and made us want to take action. We can learn a lot from Dr. King and how he communicated.

Communication is a vital (and often overlooked) ingredient for success. Dr. James Wetherbe of Texas Tech University asserts that eighty percent of our problems (individually and collectively) are not problems at all, they’re just MISUNDERSTANDINGS! Think of it, if you could communicate perfectly you would eliminate EIGHTY PERCENT of your problems. The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) asked the most successful graduates from the top ten schools of business what the single most important leadership skill that lead to their success was. Their answer: interpersonal communication skills.

Scriptural Support
If something is important for leadership then you’ve got to assume that Jesus was amazingly good at it. And that is exactly the case with His communication skills. His teachings, stories and parables were timely, illustrative and inspiring. So much so, that we still quote them two thousand years after His life. And they are as relevant now as they were back then. I’d say that He definitely passed the communication test.

So What?
If you want to be an effective leader, you HAVE to be a great communicator. A fantastic resource for this topic (and my favorite book ever) is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Comments: What do you think? Is communication really that important?

Who’s on Board? Part II: Keep the Good Ones and Lose the Pinheads

Leadership Principle
Getting the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus (the topic of the last post) is clearly very important. But what do we do once all the right people are on? The answer is: KEEP THEM ON THE BUS!

I used to work for a healthcare company that wasn’t known for the way they treated their employees (they focused on other things). In the emergency department where I worked there was a wide variety of people. Some were really effective and great to work with, and some were…….. not (to put it mildly). Everyone agreed that the best employee we had on the team was a nurse named Ana. She was great with the patients, fun to work with, and amazingly efficient. She could do the work of two people in half the time. I loved when I got assigned to work with Ana because it meant everything would go very smoothly and everyone would have an enjoyable experience.

Unfortunately the leadership and culture of the organization did not give proper value Ana’s hard work. I remember her telling me once not to overachieve because it would put me at a disadvantage. Crazy right?? Basically she felt overworked and underappreciated. After a while it appeared that she’d had enough because she transferred to a different division of the hospital. What a shame. The emergency department lost its best employee. They failed to keep the right people on the bus.

Scriptural Support
Jesus was in incredible leader. He was very patient with His disciples and trained them very well. He gave them positive feedback and showed that He valued their efforts. He created a culture that kept the right people on the bus for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the wrong people did not feel comfortable on the bus and they self-ejected. So, instead of keeping the wrong people and losing the right people, he kept the right people and lost the wrong people.

So What? How can we avoid losing our best people?
It all comes back to culture. How does our culture motivate and inspire our best people? Are they compensated fairly for their above-average efforts? Who do we cater to in our communications and policies? The highest achievers or lowest common denominator? The emergency department that I worked for the latter; they catered to the pinheads and lost their best people. After a while, these kinds organizations become full of pinheads.

Comments: What do you think the emergency department should have done to keep Ana?

Who’s on Board? Part I

Leadership Principle

I was once working for a very successful organization and had just been made a leader. I oversaw only a small group of people so I thought, “How hard can this be?” It turned out to be much harder than I ever could have imagined. I was younger and less experienced than everyone in the zone that I was leading, and they were all bitter because of that. I tried everything I could possibly think of to boost morale and improve results, but to no avail. The zone members were unproductive, uncoachable and even rude at times. I was incredibly frustrated (especially because I was working harder than I ever had up to that point). Then something happened that changed everything, new assignments were made by the administration and almost everyone in my zone was replaced. These new “teammates” all had about the same credentials as the previous group but there was something different, they were AWESOME! They were hardworking, respectful and coachable. It was amazing to see how all my problems disappeared overnight. Results and moral saw significant improvements and I was happier than I had been in a long time.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great addresses this issue and calls it “getting the right people on the bus.” He argues that this is the most important thing an organization can do. In fact, the WHO is more important than WHAT the organization actually does. Some companies (like SONY for example) didn’t even know what their core business was going to be at first, they just knew who they wanted to have on the bus with them. Just as important as getting the right people on the bus, is getting the wrong people off the bus. Nothing harms an organization more than the wrong person/people on board.

Scriptural Support
We see this concept very clearly in the New Testament. When Jesus put together His “team” of disciples some of them contributed more than others. Peter, James and John were a solid force for good their entire lives. They worked hard, performed miracles and built Christianity into an incredible movement. And no one can dispute the effectiveness that Paul eventually had when he was made part of the team. Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, was less than effective. He was constantly arguing and criticizing, and eventually betrayed the whole team.

So What?
No matter where you’re working or what you’re doing it’s imperative to have the right people on your team and the wrong people off your team. Nothing will have a greater impact on the organization than the people who are a part of it.

Comments: Is this really the MOST important thing an organization can do???? Do you have any other examples of getting the right people on and the wrong people off the bus?

How to Become Corrupt: The Corruption Cycle

Leadership Principle

How many children, when thinking about the future say, “When I grow up I want to be a crooked politician?” How many of us wake up each morning and think, “I’m going to do something dishonest and corrupt today?” The truth is that none of us think this way, we all start out with big dreams and good intentions. Even Bernie Madoff, Richard Nixon, the Lehman Brothers executives and Bill Clinton didn’t think these thoughts …… initially. So how, then, do so many people get tangled up in extramarital affairs, dishonesty, theft, embezzlement and so on? The answer is simple: one small step at a time.

Scriptural Support

The bible has a popular story that illustrates this stepwise process very well; the story of David. 2 Samuel chapter 11 shows each of David’s bad decisions that led to his great fall from grace.

Step 1 (verse 1): He was not where he was supposed to be, as king he should have been at war with his army.

Step 2 (verse 2): When he saw something inappropriate (Bath-sheba) he didn’t turn away from it, he lusted after it.

Step 3 (verses 3-4): Instead of forgetting the incident and moving on, he further compounded the problem by sending for Bath-sheba and committing adultery with her.

Step 4 (verses 6-17): As if things weren’t bad enough already, David sent Bath-sheba’s husband to the front lines of the war with the intention that he should be killed in action (which he was).

This is a very sad story because David had such great potential. He went from being a great spiritual leader and even a prophet to a corrupt and greedy king. He could have stopped the corruption cycle at any one of these steps, but he didn’t.

So What?

Any leader in any organization is vulnerable to the corruption cycle. It’s very easy to take the first one or two steps in the wrong direction. However, it’s vital to understand that no matter where you are on the corruption cycle YOU CAN STOP IT. There is no need to compound the problem by taking the next step. Bernie, Richard, and Bill all could have stopped the process at any one of the steps, but they continued on and ruined their careers/marriages/lives. This is kindof a downer of a topic but one that needs to be addressed if we are going to continue to fight corporate corruption and greed. It’s important that we all recognize the corruption cycle and stay far, far away from it in our careers, families and lives.

Comments: What do you think of the corruption cycle? Have you ever seen it before? What are some good ways to fight against it?

Why are we so QWERTY?

Business Principle

Are you familiar with QWERTY? No, I’m not talking about the inanimate character in the Veggie Tales movies (yes, I have small children); I’m talking about the standard letter distribution for 99.9% of computer keyboards. QWERTY was developed in the late 1800’s for primitive typewriters. These typewriters commonly got jammed if the typing was too fast. To remedy this problem the letter distribution was modified TO SLOW TYPISTS DOWN. This design was soon accepted into mainstream culture, even though typewriters and computers are no longer plagued by this jamming problem. Today we all use QWERTY without even thinking twice about it (look at the top left-hand corner of your keyboard and notice the Q-W-E-R-T-Y.) Did you know that there is alternative model that is faster and more productive? It’s called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard and it was developed in 1936. In this model the most commonly used letters are more conveniently distributed. This allows for greater typing speeds and fewer repetitive strain issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, the world record holder for speed-typing clocked in at 212 words per minute using the Dvorak model. Sounds like we really missed the boat on that on right? What? You’ve never heard of any of this? That’s okay it’s not your fault. This is just an example of what happens when we blindly follow the status quo and assume that what has been done for years is the best, most effective method.

This is a common problem for businesses and leadership. We get in a routine where we do what has always been done because …… That’s the way it’s always been done. It’s important to think critically (not cynically, there’s a big difference) about everything we do. Assumptions are everywhere and they hold us back from our true potential.

Scriptural Support

These kinds of assumptions are common throughout history and have always kept us from realizing our potential. Such was the case with the “flat world” hypothesis which discouraged growth and exploration because no one wanted to fall off the edge of the Earth. The scriptures are also filled with examples of these kinds of assumptions. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament contain stories and teachings warning us against the false “traditions of men” (see Lev. 18:30, Jer. 10:3, 2Chr. 30:7, Matt. 15:3, Mark 7:8). Sometimes these assumptions led to really tragic events, like the crucifixion of a completely perfect person.

So, as an enlightened leader be on the lookout for the false assumptions of the status quo within your organization. A “QWERTY” could be anywhere and chances are it is significantly slowing you down.

Comments: Do you think this is an important concept? Have you seen any examples of a real world “QWERTY?” What kinds of things do you think fit into this category?

Swallow Your Pride

Business Principle

the famous poet Will Smith once said (that was a joke) in his infamous song entitled Wild Wild West, “Swallow your pride, don’t let your lip react, you don’t wanna see my hand where my hip be at.” William captures an important leadership principle in this poorly worded and inappropriate (yet catchy) lyric. Great leaders know that pride and selfishness need to be avoided like a plague. Pride is like an infection or a cancer (whichever medical analogy you prefer to use) because it is incredibly contagious and difficult to get rid of. Fueled by gossip and criticism it DESTROYS productivity and effectiveness. This is a tremendous area of opportunity for an enlightened leader. People take their behavioral cues from leadership when it comes to pride vs. humility. If a leader is arrogant and full of himself, so too will the employees be.

John G. Miller addresses this pride vs. humility debate in his new book entitled Outstanding!: 47 Ways to Make Your Organization Exceptional. He says that one way for leaders to avoid the cantankerous effects of pride is to regularly ask people for their sincere input. This is relatively easy to do and often done by companies. But the hard part (and the most important part) is following through. If an employee gives you a suggestion – LISTEN! Sometimes we forget that our employees have brains too.

Scriptural Support

One of my favorite stories of the Old Testament is the story about Naaman, a prestigious captain of the Syrian army. 2 Kings chapter 5 talks about how he contracted leprosy and went to the prophet Elisha to be healed. Instead of meeting him face to face Elisha sent out a servant to meet him and deliver the message for him to wash seven times in the River Jordan. Naaman didn’t like that. He threw a fit because the prophet treated him so simply and didn’t perform an ostentatious miracle. It was at this point where Naaman’s servants approached him and said in verse 13:

13 …. if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?

Luckily Naaman was humble enough to listen to his trusted servants and wash in the River Jordan and be healed. When we listen to our employees and follow through with their suggestions we show them that we trust them. Trust is essential for an organization’s success. Plus, more than likely they will give some great suggestions. So let’s follow the wise words of Mr. William Smith and “swallow your pride,” and our organizations will be much better off.

Comments: Have you ever seen an organization full of pride and arrogance? How about an organization that showed humility and really listened to people? Is there a difference?