MLK Day – it is a peoples’ holiday.

I made my cake different colors because as people we’re each made up of different layers. ~Annika Coffman, 12-year-old contestant on Kids Baking Championship

During the very frigid last week of the year, I watched baking shows on the Food Network. I don’t bake a lot, mostly because if I did I would eat a lot. I especially enjoyed the Kids Baking Championship because I’m in awe of the talent, discipline, and maturity of these young bakers. I was recently watching the 2015 finale and Annika Coffman was one of the finalists. Their task was to bake a celebratory layered cake. When 12-year-old Annika was asked to describe her cake to the judges, she said, “I made my cake different colors because as people we’re each made up of different layers.” It was a cake to celebrate our differences and each person’s uniqueness. The judges—Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli—who are never short on words, were speechless. They were taken aback by Annika’s depth and mature perspective.

Annika was modeling what is described on as part of the meaning of Martin Luther King Day—it is a peoples’ holiday.

“It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many people from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood…This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.”

This is quite the call to leaders, and I’m grateful that 12-year-old Annika is a young leader who is stepping up to that call.

Differences can be quickly judged, categorized, sorted, and stacked in a hierarchy. Or, differences can be celebrated.

Our culture expects us to evaluate how we “stack-up” against others and then find ways to claw our way to the top (sound like any “leaders” you know). Case and point. I do a lot of training on personality assessments. All of the assessments I’ve used state that your personality type “just is” and there is no good or bad, right or wrong. Even so, I am still asked and probed to identify “the best” personality type. We just can’t let go of comparing, so we judge and categorize instead of celebrate.

I believe that the most effective leaders authentically celebrate people.

Example. Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO of Barry-Weihmiller Companies, a $1.7 billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting company that “prefers to measure its success by the way they touch the lives of people.” Chapman has built a culture dedicated to “bringing out the best in its people through communication, trust, celebration, respect, continuous improvement and responsible freedom.” He frequently speaks on the topic of “Truly Human Leadership.”

Learning from Annika Coffman to Bob Chapman, let’s celebrate MLK Day—a peoples’ holiday!

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It’s 2018, how will you lean into the future?

Writing a plan is 10% of strategic planning. It’s about getting people to “lean into the future.” ~Kathryn Scanland & Doug McMillon (CEO of Walmart)

Several years ago I came across a quote about publishing a book: “Writing a book is 10% of publishing a book.” I can’t recall who said it, but I’ve thought of it often. While it applies to publishing a book in the 21st century, I think it also applies to strategic planning. Especially in today’s constantly changing environment that requires entire organizations (and that means everyone) to change and adapt more quickly than ever before.

Coming off of the holiday shopping rush, we’ve seen several retailers pivot and attempt to keep Amazon from dominating the holiday shopping season. One of those retailers being Walmart.

Doug McMillon Walmart CEO said, “Given the effects of inertia, we need people to lean into the future even more than other companies might. We’re trying to move large numbers of people to change their established habits. We do that by being in a constant educational process. We set goals, we meet face-to-face in groups and individually. We give people things to read. People learn in different ways. Some say they really get it when you show them a case study. For others, it’s more conceptual.” (HBR, March-April 2017)

In a few sentences we learned a snippet of what Walmart is doing (the other 90% of planning) to ensure their strategy isn’t gathering dust on a shelf or not making it out of the C-Suite offices.

  • We need people to lean into the future
  • Change established habits
  • Be in a constant educational process
  • Set goals
  • Meet face-to-face
  • Give people things to read
  • Learn in different ways

Maybe your organization has a strategic plan. If so, how are you helping people to lean into the future? It doesn’t really matter if you’re a large for-profit, like Walmart, or a small non-profit, we live in a day and age when we all must lean into the future and focus our attention on the other 90% of strategic planning – bringing people with us on the journey – helping everyone to lean into the future.

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Are your 2018 goals artificial?

Don’t set artificial goals for yourself. ~Jim Parker (former CEO of Southwest Airlines) via Dan Rockwell

I follow other bloggers and this week I really resonated with Dan Rockwell’s ( thoughts about goals. So much so, I thought it was worth repeating.

Dan said that back in 2012, Jim Parker the then CEO of Southwest Airlines told him not to set artificial goals for yourself. We’re all familiar with artificial goals – increase revenues by X% over last year, etc. Many times these artificial goals get translated into KPIs (key performance indicators) that trickle down the organization.

The argument here is not to eliminate the artificial goals. But don’t stop with artificial goals.

Maybe you’re like me; I needed to pause and really think about the word artificial in this context. Some synonyms for artificial include: synthetic, simulated, imitation. If something is synthetic, it’s manmade. That means it’s the result of some kind of human manipulation or intervention. Isn’t that what artificial goals really are? As an example, revenues will increase by X% if the people in the organization do something differently; maybe even behave differently.

As Dan Rockwell said, “Goals need behaviors, not comfortable intentions.”

So let’s flip that goal. What if we asked, “How might you bring value to others in 2018?” If you change behaviors in order to bring value to others, won’t you be far more likely to reach the artificial goal of increased revenues?

When we personally, or as an organization, make goals for the coming year, they tend to be a list of things to do, make, provide, or a result (i.e., revenues). The goals rarely focus on value.

Here are some of Dan’s suggested behavior-based questions to focus on goals of value:

  • What can you do to make the future bright?
  • How will you bolster self-confidence in others?
  • How will you let others know they matter?
  • How will you make others feel they belong?
  • How will you help others work with others?

“Goals need behaviors, not comfortable intentions.”

Intentions are great, and necessary. But don’t stop there! What goals of value will you and/or your organization focus on in 2018?

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Visions of “more” danced in their leaders’ heads.

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the office
Executives were counting their profits and losses.
The finances were posted on the intranet with care,
In hopes that bonuses soon would be there.

The bosses were nestled all snug in their high-priced threads,
While visions of more danced in their heads.

This has become my annual Christmas blog; you may recall it from previous years. It still feels like a good way to think about the holidays, ending one year, and beginning another.

The spirit of the holidays and year-end seems to always remind me of how much we focus on, or obsess over, more. We expect our corporate goals to express how we want to achieve more, we write New Year’s resolutions that describe how we will do more, and as we balance our bank accounts we long for just 10% more so that we can be really happy.

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie co-authored Strengths Based Leadership. Their research uncovered what employees are really looking for in their leaders, and you guessed it, it’s not the pursuit of more. What employees want and need from the most influential leaders in their lives is: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. Seems much more aligned with the holiday season, doesn’t it? Maybe my rendition of Twas the Week Before Christmas should sound more like this:

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the office
Executives were envisioning their dreams and their promise.
To model trust, compassion, hope, and stability
By not withholding their own vulnerability.

Employees are trusting their compassionate leaders
While visions of hope and stability make them believers.  

Merry Christmas to all!

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Leaders guard against the enemy of experience.

In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy.  ~Jean Paul Getty

Another year will soon be added to your years of experience on your resume. As we embark on 2018, it might be helpful to consider how you’ll use that experience to benefit your future.

More than 20 years ago I worked for an organization that was thriving, a leader in the industry. But times have changed; the industry this organization is in has changed dramatically over the past decade. Add to that a completely different economy, all their years of experience truly might be disabling them from adapting to rapid change. They are half the size they were a decade ago and struggling to stay alive. Nearly all of the current leaders have been there for more than 20 years. Have all their years of experience become their worst enemy?

Does the law of diminishing returns apply to experience? Is there a point when not just an organization’s, but a leader’s experience become more of a hindrance than an asset? Can we identify when experience slows the ability to change and adapt to a dynamic environment?

Experience can lead to a treasure trove of wisdom and insight, but it can also lead to unforeseen quicksand that stops us in our tracks and hinders our ability to see more than a few feet in front of us. Is our experience broadening our vision as if we’re looking at the world through both a telescope and a microscope or has it gradually become blinders that narrowed our vision?

How might you know the difference? You could ask a few questions.

  • When was the last time you tried a new approach to a common problem or challenge, instead of what you’ve always done?
  • When was the last time you learned to do something new?
  • When was the last time you really listened to someone just entering your field?
  • When was the last time you really listened to your customers?
  • When was the last time you really studied your competition?
  • When was the last time you asked what your business (or department) would look like if you were starting your business today?

Experience is one of those things that happens over time, gradually, and when things happen gradually we don’t always recognize the affect it has on us. We become the proverbial frog in the kettle. Is your experience creating a normalized response, or is it creating a sense of curiosity to continue to explore, ask questions, and remain nimble for whatever change comes your way?

Experience is not inherently bad! Like with many things, it depends upon how you use your experience—as a lens of curiosity or as blinders that have narrowed your perspective.

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