Monday, December 24, 2012

Leadership at Christmas Time

Our children need our leadership through their growing years. My children are now all in their 20’s and still yearn for leadership in the form of guidance and consistency. I remember when they were little, they would look with adoring eyes at the things Mum and Dad did for them, and said to them.
Our work environments are no different to our home environments – we have people looking up to us, and watching every move we make. Our leadership obligation is not optional. We are “on show” wherever we go and whatever we do.
As we come to the end of another year of business we start to think about unwinding and enjoying a break with friends and family, but still people are watching.
There is a difference between “unwinding” and “unravelling”. There have been some spectacular “falls from grace” when people have unravelled in the public eye.
Stephanie Rice had established a great persona as an Olympic Swimmer and was setting herself up for a career in the media spotlight. A little too much to drink brought it all undone. A controversial rant on Twitter led to most of her major sponsors dumping her overnight.
It’s not up to the “minders” to get us through these situations, it’s up to our own leadership to recognise the perils, and take appropriate action.
Just like our businesses have a brand (which we are careful not to damage the brand) we each have a personal brand that needs to be protected.
Grant Hackett damaged his brand when the police were called to his luxury apartment after a big day at the Melbourne Cup recently. Kyle Sandilands lost more than $1 million in Sponsorship when he damaged his personal brand after having a rant on the radio this week. Both the French and Italian Prime Ministers have damaged their personal brands in recent times.
Imagine if you saw any of our last five Prime Ministers at the local shopping mall dressed in a blue singlet with footy shorts and a pair of flip flop thongs on their feet. That would be incongruent with their brand or image. It would also destroy all the efforts they had made in providing leadership to their followers, regardless of your political beliefs.
Religious leaders and corporate leaders have the same responsibilities. Their leadership is always on show and in uncertain times people look for consistency and leadership.
The late Steve Jobs built the Apple brand to what it is today. He didn’t do it singlehandedly, he did it by having a great leadership model with an impeccable image. Do you think that if he regularly “let his hair down” with Friday night drinks that went too far, or showed his team any other shortcomings, that his leadership would have been so compelling?
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Thursday, December 13, 2012

5 Biggest Leadership Lessons From 2012

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at

It’s been quite a year for leadership lessons. Any one of a multitude of events in 2012 (Hurricane Sandy, The London Olympics, Benghazi and its fallout) would provide a case study in how to lead–and sometimes, sadly, how not to.

Here are my personal top five leadership lessons from 2012:

1. Institutionalize your Vision (with a capital V).

It’s over a year since he died, but Steve Jobs was still handing out leadership lessons in 2012.

The question everyone began asking almost immediately his sad, early death was announced was: “Will Apple survive the loss of its Visionary founder?”

This year showed that, while the jury is still out as to whether it will be exactly the same company or not, Apple isn’t going to disappear any time soon–far from it.

Unlike CEOs at companies such as Starbucks, Gateway, and Dell, Steve Jobs clearly succeeded in institutionalizing his vision by driving it deep into the very warp and woof of the company and instilling it into Apple’s management DNA.

Howard Schultz, for example, hasn’t yet achieved this at Starbucks. He’s still the personification of “his” company’s vision.

Are you the personification of your company’s vision? If you left, would it leave too? Or have you hired, mentored and coached your vision into the company, so that it would stand without you?

2. Remember that big does not necessarily mean important.

It’s hard to remember the degree of hoop-la that surrounded the Facebook IPO back in May. I mean Mayan-calendar-the-world-is-ending hoop-la.

And that very fact–that something so highly anticipated could turn out to be such a fizzle–is a lesson in itself. Big does not necessarily equal important.

Take a look at the big things that have your attention. Are any of them merely big, but are actually unimportant? If so, chances are you could save a lot of leadership resource by dumping that project.

3. Plans mean nothing, but planning is everything. That the Mars Rover landing of ‘Curiosity’ in August was an incredible feat of technical skill is undoubted (if you haven’t watched the NASA video, I urge you to do so).

But hidden in the story, lurking behind the technical pyrotechnics, is a story of leadership in the face of almost-unbelievable uncertainty.

Often missed in the retelling of Curiosity’s landing is the fact that no-one at NASA could do a single thing about the outcome. Once the landing module had begun its descent, everything–every tiny movement, every one of the millions of microscopic adjustments–was being made by pre-programmed software.

No-one back at NASA HQ had their hands on a joystick, no-one could change even a millimeter of the module’s direction. Either everything worked out okay, or it didn’t. There was no way to adjust on the fly. In the end, all those plans were essentially meaningless.

As Mike Tyson has said: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched on the nose.”

In leadership, often our plans turn out to be close to useless. But planning? Planning is what put Curiosity on Mars. It can get you anywhere you want to go.

4. Don’t do deals you don’t understand.The ongoing, four-year HP debacle turned almost cartoonish with November’s announcement that HP is to write off $9 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) of its investment in Autonomy–a company for which it paid $12 billion in October 2011.

There’s still a lot to be written about this fiasco, but one thing is immediately obvious: no-one on the HP side, from then-CEO Leo Apotheker to the three firms of auditors involved (and including the entire board) knew what the heck they were buying.

It looked good. It filled a strategic vacuum. And it was available. So they did the deal.

You’d think only very large companies with access to gobs of cash fall for this type of stupid transaction, but sadly I’ve seen founder/owners and small business owners bet the ranch – and fail – many times.

As my grandmother would say, “If you don’t understand it, don’t do it.”

5. Leaders need to, well, actually lead. Finally, as the year closes out, we’re watching perhaps the biggest failure of leadership of our time play out. As the United states hurtles closer to fiscal impact (we fell off the fiscal cliff quite some time ago), political leaders of all stripes have abdicated the only thing we ask of them–leadership.

The #1 leadership lesson of 2012? Lead, for goodness sake. It’s your job.


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