BLG Leadership Insights Features

Leadership: Limos, Taxis & Subways

Recently, I was sitting around having a discussion with three friends of mine: a young entrepreneur who’s just trying to figure out how to make it, a small business owner who tries to keep it going, and a CEO who is trying to master the universe.

We were just meeting for a cup of coffee on 7th avenue, but the conversation quickly spilled into leadership. It usually does when business people meet academics.

“You guys don’t understand–we run a monster.  Everyday I worry about thousands of people,” said the CEO. “Try to do what I do and you’ll have a different concept of leadership!”

The debate began. The CEO declared that as a master of the universe he had unfathomable skills.

Does the size of the organization and the complexity of the organization necessitate a completely unique type of leadership? To put it differently, if you are the limo-driven CEO instead of the taxi-riding small-business guy or the subway-hitching first-level start-up entrepreneur, do you really have a different model of leadership in your head?

That was the gist of the discussion.

The young entrepreneur was talking about getting venture capital, trying to sell his ideas and get his foot in the door. The taxi-riding small-business guy talked about keeping his group together and getting their products to market without being overwhelmed by excess demand or limited resources. The CEO spent a disproportionate amount of time talking about keeping his VP’s moving along, his organization upbeat, and the board of directors off his neck.

Sounds like different types of leadership right?

No. Not at all.

It became clear that all of them were simply concerned with their capacity to move their ideas, keep people in their corners, and make sure they didn’t drop the ball. They were all concerned about the micro-skills of persuasion and  mobilizing.

In a taxi, in a limo, or in the subway, these leaders are thinking about the same type of leadership–it’s leadership with a small ‘l’ and it’s leadership as a specific set of tools.

Clearly each leader has a different agenda. The CEO has to balance multiple agendas of many stakeholders. The young entrepreneur has to push one or two agendas up the hill. And the small-business guy has to juggle his unique set of priorities to keep the ship moving. But in each case they need leadership that gives them the capacity to build and move things alone.

So, the important lesson: it’s about the nuts and bolts, about your micro skills of leadership no matter how big your organization is and no matter how small your responsibilities are. Whether you are limo-driven CEO, cab-hopping leader of a small business, or a start-up entrepreneur riding the subway, you essentially have to develop and maintain the same leadership skills.

BLG Leadership Insights Proactive Leaders

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It’s never easy to say goodbye. The graceful and perfectly timed exit is an act mostly reserved for movie screens and potboiler novels. In the real world, most of us are pushed out the door many hours, days and years after we should have left by our own accord. Leaders can be especially susceptible to this most awkward of foibles.

Even if you’ve done a perfectly fine job, there comes a time when you have to cede your position to someone younger and more energetic. It’s not so much that you have failed, but that you risk tarnishing your many successful years of service with a few less than stellar years of mediocrity or worse: out and out failure.

The list of business and political leaders who have overstayed their welcome goes on for miles (Tony Blair, Fidel Castro, Hosni Mubarak, AIG’s Maurice Greenberg, Bear Stearn’s James Cayne, etc.) Yet there is one industry where we get to see leaders go from heroes to goats quicker than any other: Professional Athletics. A political or business leader might make a bad decision which leads to a problem or disaster a few months down the road, but when a 42 year old Willie Mays stumbles trying to catch routine fly balls during a nationally televised World Series game that a 23 year old Mays used to chase down effortlessly, the world gets to see his fall from grace in real time.

Recently most sports fans had the misfortune of watching Brett Favre stay a few years too long at the party. In Favre’s case his denouement came as a result of a devastating, concussion-inducing and most likely life-shortening sack. This brutal exit is an over-the-top example of why all leaders must know when to say when. Yet it’s important to understand that very few careers end with such violent exclamation points.

In the past few days the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada has been facing this very conundrum. After 16 amazing seasons (including 5 All-Star Game appearances, 5 Silver Slugger Awards and 4 World Championships) Jorge has nothing left to prove, he is a champion and according to most reports a gentleman’s gentleman. Unfortunatly his 17th season has started horribly. His .165 batting average is the lowest in the league and this past weekend he actually removed himself from the starting line-up because he was slotted to hit 9th, which in baseball circles is a slap in the face to anyone of Posada’s pedigree.

As I write, Posada is still soldering on but I can only imagine what is going through his mind. It’s moments like these where a leader is forced to make a decision that can affect not only how they are seen for years to come, but also the future success and/or failure of their organization. I do not envy Jorge Posada’s fast approaching choice. Despite all the difficulties and embarrassment of the past weekend, Jorge Posada still has the chance to walk away near the top and not only sustain his legacy but also give the current Yankee team a chance to succeed in the present and the future.

The bottom line is that proactive leadership is not only about getting things done; it’s also about sustainable and lasting success. And not just your own success but also about the success of those you lead. A true proactive leader is in many ways self-less. They know it’s not all about them. They want the best for those they lead and will do what it takes to guarantee a high level of future achievement.

BLG Leadership Insights Ideas Proactive Leaders

100 Best Companies to Work For in 2011

Things are tough all over. Jobs are scarce and the ones you can find offer low pay and few if any benefits.  What are the Average Joe and Josephine to do? Well, you could throw your hands in the air, sell all your worldly possessions on craigslist, move to the wilderness and live off the fat of the land or you could take a deep breath, shine up your resume and check out latest list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Most lists just give you a company’s ranking and a quick paragraph or two about who they are. But the nice thing about Fortune’s Top 100 list is that it includes job listings (provided by for each company. As well there are subsections that cover the companies that offer the best benefits and the companies that offer the biggest pay.

But this list isn’t just for job hunters, it’s also quite helpful for all you leaders out there. Motivating, engaging and retaining those you lead is a top concern these days. So it couldn’t hurt to get a small peek behind the curtain in order to find out what makes employees happy and content.

Whether you are a direct report or a leader, Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For is a list you need to check out.

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Proactive Leaders

Leaders & Managers: Shared Skills

Leaders and managers have a lot more in common with each other than they know. When we think of leadership we often envision a knight in shining armor galloping across a field of battle on a strong white steed, vanquishing all those who dare oppose him. On the flipside when management comes to mind we are more likely to picture a balding, pudgy 50 year old man in an ill fitting suit, sitting in a dimly lit office combing joylessly through a mountain of quarterly reports. But in reality managers have to know how to ride a horse and leaders have to learn how to hunker down in a small dark room every now and again. So I think it’s time to bridge this semantically chasm. Leaders aren’t gods and managers aren’t drones.

When we think of leaders we think of people who can rally people around them and lead them onto great heights. Leadership is about rallying those around you and getting things done. When we think of managers we think of people who can handle the day to day tasks that allow an organization to move forward. Proper logistics aren’t heroic, but without them no amount of inspired leadership will save your company from the ash-heap of history. Despite the fact there aren’t many “Great Managers of All Time” books floating around out there, their logistical skills are a must for all leaders to learn and if they can, master.

We tend to lionize our leaders and marginalize our managers but the skills of both occur at every level of an organization and neither one can live without the other. There are times when you need a leader and their particular skills. If you know exactly what needs to be done but can’t figure out how to get people to go along with you, then you need a leader not a manager. One of the major challenges of leadership is finding a way to effectively persuading skeptics and potential allies to join your coalition. Managers can get the initial support of people, they can get others to listen and reflect. But only someone with strong leadership skills can get the buy-in necessary to bring people to their side.  This is one of those moments where everyone needs leadership skills to move forward. Managers will never go beyond a certain level without getting a certain level of buy-in from those around them.

On the other hand if you have a core group of adherents who have bought into your agenda it really won’t do much good unless you have the skills to take them across the finish line. Think of your agenda as a plant. In the early stages a plant’s root system is weak and easy to uproot. As its roots take hold they provide the foundation for future growth and stability. You can get build an agenda and get people on your side, but if you don’t have the skills of a manager, the skills of execution and logistics, then you face an uncertain future. Getting people on your side is a big challenge but if you can’t execute, implement and manage change you will come up short.

In the final analysis, we need to remove the imagined boundary between leadership and management. Both leaders and managers need the others particular skill set to get beyond inertia, because in the end no one wants a manager who can’t lead or a leader who can’t manage.

BLG Leadership Insights Leadership On the Edge Proactive Stories Social Media

10 Tech and Social Media Stories 4.11.11

Ten Tech and Social Media stories you need to read:

1. Paypal’s Peter Thiel Claims We’re in a Bubble and it’s not the internet

2. Waiting for a Kidney? Try Facebook

3. Zappo CEO Tony Hsieh on Empowerment

4. 3 Ways to Use Twitter Favorites

5. Google Translate: How to sell in Mexico when you don’t speak Spanish

6. Does “The Man” have too much power?

7. Winklevoss Twins can’t un-friend Facebook agreement

8. Can’t Afford It? Rent Photoshop

9. Facebook reaches deal with Baidu

10. Highest Paying CEO’s still not hiring (video)