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What are you Seeing?

lensPerhaps the most powerful sense we have in business is our ability to see.  By observing our products in action, our customer’s habits, and our supply chain and vender’s facilities we get a huge breadth and depth of information.  Arguably, seeing how your business works provides you with the most control over how you interpret the information you are presented with.

Yet how many of us spend the majority of our days holed up in our offices, sitting in meetings, and waiting around in conference rooms? Even when were active we’re probably running to catch the right train or hurrying to get home by a certain time.

You can always monitor interactions and relationships from your office in part, but how can you expand your view of business opportunities?  Can you really make good decisions when you rarely see your customers shop for and experience your product or service?  Can you generate “out-of-the-box” growth opportunities when most of your time is spent “inside your box?”

Is your world view unnecessarily limited because you are not seeing the world?  It is so easy for us — from entrepreneurs to corporate executives to professional service people — to fall into this routine. And it can be stifling your organization.

Designers and other creatives understand this more than anyone. Indeed, the very best creative people “see everything” and are constantly looking at everything. They know that through their eyes will come their next big idea or inspiration.   They have a sense that the more they see and the broader they see, the more they can inspiration they can tap into for future projects.

Managers, executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals need to adopt this mindset to be effective and innovative in today’s environment. You need to see more. You need to look wider.  And you need to look deeper. Your sense of sight will transform you, your organization, and, perhaps, your industry. If you remain planted in your Aeron chair (itself a product created by several very talented leaders who used their observations to create an innovative seat for the modern worker) you will never be able to grow, learn, or change.

This week do yourself and your organization a favor. Step out of the office.  Go someplace you haven’t been. Go see your customers or products in action. Go observe something new and really consider it. Keep those observations in the front or back of your mind. Do it the following week and see how it changes the way you lead.

Picture cred: Andrestand

BLG Leadership Insights Features

From Inc.: Leadership Lessons from Moby Dick

Captain Ahab, from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, wasn’t the only one with a singular obsession that hounded his thoughts and kept him up at night. Entrepreneurs often have their own white whales, causing them to pace their offices thinking of only that one thing.

Your concern may lack the drama of whale hunting, but whether you’re worried about keeping up with the competition, building your business, implementing a new idea, or making sure your vision is realized, you must avoid falling into the Ahab syndrome. There is a thin line between dedication and unhealthy obsession.

Whatever your goal, don’t let it turn you into an Ahab. His obsession lost him his ship, most of his crew, and ultimately his life. And the whale got away.

Here’s how you can avoid the Ahab syndrome:

1. Don’t be obsessed by vision. I’ve always argued that visions don’t make great leaders. Great historical leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, FDR, and Mandela all had strong visions, but what set them apart was their ability to make adjustments, fine-tune their tactics, and adjust their direction. They weren’t fixated on their vision to the point of inaction. They were negotiating, creating coalitions, and moving forward.

2. Avoid the cult of personality. Personality isn’t your most reliable leadership tool. Ahab was able to establish a strong psychological bond between himself and his crew. They believed in him. The problem was that they so believed in him, and were so energized by him, that they never really questioned his ideas and became yes-men. Enamored with his personality, they were incapable of seeing his weakness.

3. Beware of groupthink. Organizations want to have a culture that embodies their values and mirrors their norms. They want likeminded people working together to produce efficiently. But if you have too many people on the same page, you’ll have too many with the same ideas. Outliers and people who see things differently can help you get a better perspective on your goals and ideas.

4. Listen to your team. Captain Ahab was deaf to his crew. He didn’t hear what they wanted. He only promised them gold if they found his white whale. It was incentive enough, but as the journey grew perilous, Captain Ahab wasn’t able to heed the warnings from his crew. He stayed focused on his goal and met his maker.

5. Take note of the failures of others. Ahab was fully aware of the harm that Moby Dick could cause. Two sister whaling ships had fatal encounters with the whale, but this did not stop Ahab from carrying on with his dangerous quest. Ahab could not view his goal and weigh the risks with clarity. He wanted to harpoon Moby Dick, but never considered that the whale would drag him down. Not learning from the experience of others is a common trap of the Ahab syndrome.

6.      Remember there’s always another white whale. There will always be another opportunity, another goal or target to shoot for, and always something to work toward. In the final analysis there is always another whale, so don’t waste all your resources and deplete your political and pyschological capital on an obsessive dream or goal.

Read more of my pieces from Inc. here.

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Upcoming Inc. Magazine Talk

Sam Bacharach will be talking at Inc. magazine’s Leadership Forum on June 8th. He’ll be giving two talks on the following subjects:

1. When Charisma and Vision Are Not Enough: Moving From Potential to Execution

Charisma may get you in the front door, but unless you have the ability to actually deliver on your promise, you will be remembered more for your personality than your leadership. Do you know how to rally people to your side and build focus and consensus? How to keep them there and nurture their entrepreneurial instincts? How to build a strong, dynamic, loyal team of dedicated, innovative managers and implementers? How to create a “pool” of talented people who will be your company’s leaders of tomorrow? In this groundbreaking session, you’ll learn how to master the skills of political and managerial competence. Recognize the benefits of developing these capabilities in yourself. Foster the leadership potential of others. And create a more dynamic, proactive and energetic organization.

2. Leading Your Team: The Skills of Engagement and Enhancement

In a world of Generation Y, in a world where companies are moving from products to solutions, and in a world where agility is critical, you need to engage your team members and enhance their capacity. Your team will deliver and commit only if you know how to lead it. What are the key things you need to keep in mind in leading a creative, dynamic, aspiring group of people? How do you coach and develop others to meet their potential while executing the business strategy? How do you challenge them so that they are fully engaged and committed? Dynamic organizations and creative agendas succeed because leaders know how to invest in others. In this session, you will learn the critical leadership skills to make sure your team will stay with you and go the distance.

The Inc. Leadership Forum will feature:

The Inc. Leadership Forum brings together the knowledge and experience of industry experts, academics, seasoned entrepreneurs and fellow company leaders to share their methods on how to implement leadership strategies that help businesses flourish.

What’s Included:

– A cocktail reception

– 2 power-networking breakfasts and lunches

– High-profile speakers

– More than 15 hours of education

– Informative break-outs and panel discussions

– Book signings

– A working night out! Join us for a baseball game at the brand-new, state-of-the-art Marlins Park (ticket, transportation and $20 refreshment voucher included with registration

BLG Leadership Insights Features Managerial Competence Political Competence Proactive Stories

Occupy Wall Street & Vision

Occupy Wall Street is a “leaderless” movement that has spread across America. It’s a mixed group with legitimate grievances (why so many bail outs?) and nonsensical ones (“why aren’t we protecting Gia as a metaphor?”).

Yesterday, I wandered down to Liberty Park in New York City to talk to some of the protesters and see the movement first hand.

The first thing I noticed was the smell. The sectioned off protest area ringed with barricades and cops is home to a mass of people, their sleeping gear, and a make-shift kitchen. It wasn’t the Mandarin Oriental.

Protesters who weren’t resting on their sleeping bags were proudly standing around the park with signs decrying corporate greed. They posed for cameras that belonged to journalists and interested tourists.

But some of the signs didn’t fit in with the rest. One man held up a sign that congratulated President Obama and his accomplishments.

A younger protester approached him and asked: “Why did you come here with that sign?”

They started arguing, but it was a public, political, and civil debate between two generations, two races, and two different sexes.

This was an episode I witnessed repeatedly in Liberty Square Park. Protesters were spending most of their time talking amongst themselves trying to decide what they could agree on and what made them all mad.

I listened in on a few TV interviews. Reporters were asking the protesters questions about what they were fighting for. Some of the protesters were well spoken, asked for moderate reforms, and wanted to find ways to promote dialogue.

Other protesters, when asked the same set of questions, chose to rant and arm wave. One young man asked, “Can I give a shout out to my band?”

The reporter said no.

The movement is held together by General Assemblies or, in layman’s terms, meetings. Everyday two meetings are held on the east end of the park. They are informal affairs and anyone can speak. However, the problem is amplification since the protesters aren’t allowed microphones. A speaker is forced to say a sentence and the audience has to scream it back in unison. It’s a call and response system that helps everyone in the crowd here what’s being said.

It’s sloppy, but it works.

I was there for the first meeting of the day. Different people took center stage and aired their political beliefs and everyone echoed them. It was a good way of digesting different opinions, but when someone said something that wasn’t appreciated it wasn’t echoed.

No unified message emerged from the meeting I attended. No direction was proposed. There was no real vision. Just a bunch of fragmented ideas and a lot of complaints.

Currently, Occupy Wall Street has over 500,000 online supporters. They’ve raised over 40,000 dollars and the movement has even spread across the Atlantic into Ireland.

It’s amazing that it has done so well without a consistent narrative, without a leader, and without a clear set of demands.

Movements, leaders, and companies don’t have to rely on clear visions. They don’t always need goals. They don’t even need targets. But after a while they become crucial. How can Occupy Wall Street begin to get things done when they don’t know what it is they want done?

The lack of a vision hasn’t hurt Occupy Wall Street yet, but eventually it will create problems. It’s hard to imagine the group of protesters that I saw the other day unified under one message.

Pic credit: BlaiseOne

BLG Leadership Insights

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy & Leadership

Douglas Adams, British author and musician, is best known for his series of books and plays revolving around The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s also well known for concluding that the meaning of life is exactly “42.”

Adams wrote over 10 books, worked on a number of radio plays, and was a loud voice in wildlife preservation circles. Yet, none of it came easy for Adams. He wasn’t exactly a master of getting work done.

As he once said, “I love deadline. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.” Getting things done was clearly a problem for Douglas Adams. Still, he managed to struggle out of the idle grip of procrastination for brief moments of productivity.

In Adams’ early days he was living at his parents’ house writing a radio teleplay that would eventually turn into the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy story. He writes in his notes that it was “six months of baths and peanut butter sandwiches.” He eventually managed to produce a final product, but after long bouts of inactivity and part-time jobs.

Adams’ work woes didn’t end there. After the success of his teleplays and his first novels, Adams had to be locked in hotel rooms by publishers in order to meet deadlines and produce fresh work. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the 4th book in the Hitchhiker “trilogy” was written in three weeks under the roof of a hotel in England.

While Adams struggled to write, his passion to shape his stories into lucrative opportunities never dried up. Adams successfully spun the Hitchhiker story into a bestselling video game, comic book, towel line, television series, and movie. Not only that, but he helped design the video game and adapt his stories into scripts for the small and big screens. He worked hard to preserve the quality of his work and ideas, even though he wasn’t good at consistently producing new material.

Adams’ biography can teach us a few things about implanting ideas and visions. While Adams wasn’t adept at churning out new material, he was certainly dedicated to making sure his work was always presented and executed with the highest standards. Adams ensured that his stories would flourish in new mediums by using new technologies that would grab new audiences.

Adams’ quality control, dedication, and follow through illustrate that ideas don’t need to come in by the dozen. Sometimes they just need to be molded and presented with consistent strength in order to succeed.

Picture Credit: Patrick Hoesly