6 Ways Leaders Manage Barriers

There are few figures who have addressed the topic of leadership with the zeal of Tom Peters. Years ago, I participated in an online community of folks on Tom Peters’ website. One day, Tom posted this quote.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
—John Quincy Adams

The statement is a wonderful encouragement to define leadership as an act of inspiration and transformation. But, as I thought more about it, I began to wonder if it was a bit misleading. Who am I to argue with dead presidents? Still, since I believe in the inherent potential residing in each of us, I wrote:

“I don’t think we inspire people to ‘become more,’ I think we help them discover who they really are. In a way, we help them become who they already are. Who they were created to be. We don’t take them BEYOND their being, we help remove unnatural obstacles that keep them from being.” 

To my wondrous surprise, Tom Peters took my comment and used it as a part of his presentation on “The Nub of Leadership.”
slide from Tom Peters' presentation 'The Nub of Leadership'

I am not bringing this up so I can brag about it. It’s a blog comment from over 10 years ago, and I don’t want to come across like Napoleon Dynamite’s Uncle Rico reliving his “glory days.” I mention this because have been thinking recently about why this resonated with someone as wise and prolific as Tom Peters. I’ve also been considering why I felt strongly enough to make the comment in the first place.  Here are some conclusions:

  1. I wholeheartedly believe the untapped potential of our people is the greatest resource available to improve our workplaces and organizations today.
  2. I also believe there are a myriad of obstacles that limit that potential–unnecessarily.

If both these statements bear out, then one of the most important things we can do as leaders is to manage the barriers that limit our people. It would then make sense that Tom Peters included this in his presentation The Nub of Leadership: Helping/Inviting Others to “Discover Their Greatness.”

But, how do you manage barriers so people are allowed to discover and explore their greatness? I haven’t seen much about this in business books and writing, so I decided to cover six leadership styles based on different ways to manage barriers. As you read these, think about which style you use and the kind of leaders with whom you work best.

  1. Drill Sergeant
    Overcoming these barriers will make you stronger. Yes, it would be faster if that wall wasn’t there, but you’ll develop new muscles by pulling yourself up that rope to the top and climbing over. If you complain, procrastinate or try to go around – I will push you and force you to struggle through the challenge. This may seem harsh, but–in the end–I’m making you better.
  2. Cheerleader
    You can do it! I believe in you. By reminding you of how incredible you are, I inspire you to overcome whatever is in your path. It doesn’t matter what it is, you have the ability, deep inside yourself, to rise above. If you don’t succeed, maybe you didn’t believe in yourself. In that case, I’ll give you an extra dose of confidence through my never-ending encouragement. Go for it!!
  3. The Pessimist
    Sometimes, it isn’t worth risking failure in order to overcome obstacles. There may be a good reason that road block is there. Play it safe. We don’t want anyone getting hurt or losing lots of money just because they thought they could succeed against the odds. Remember, it’s the tallest blade of grass that gets cut. So, don’t try to grow too fast. Just stick to the status quo.
  4. The Circumventer
    There’s always another way of doing things. You don’t have to go over the top, we can go around instead. Sure, it might take longer… a lot longer… but it reduces the level of effort needed in the short run. I’m not looking to invest, we need to bootstrap our operations. Learn to do more with less and look for opportunities to “zig” when others “zag.”
  5. The Micromanager
    I know how I would overcome these barriers and I will give you each step to take. I don’t just want you to succeed, I want you to do it the right way. You may have your own ideas, but set those aside for now and trust me. I feel much better when I know things are under control and proceeding as planned, so report back to me often and give me the opportunity to redirect you as needed.
  6. The Barrier Breaker
    If that barrier is unnecessary, then let’s get rid of it. I’ll run the traps for you. Let’s cut the red tape and take the weights off your legs. I want you freed up to take on the important work. Realize I can’t break all the barriers for you. There are some you do need to work through in order to learn and grow. But there are lots of obstacles that serve no purpose and I’m going to get those out of your way so you can reach your full potential.

Although it may appear being a “Barrier Breaker” is ideal, it may be best to apply situational leadership to these styles. Each may be suited for a specific situation. Yes, even “The Micromanager.” As folks are learning a new job or are early in their careers, they may need micromanagement until they gain understanding and can make greater contributions.

What do you think? Is this important to you? Do you have other thoughts or observations?

Good In A Room

Sometimes it’s harder to blog once a week than everyday. So, I’m going to start blogging as much as possible to get out of the funk I’ve been in. Should make things a bit more organic and not so planned.

Just read a Tom Peters “Cool Friends” interview from a few weeks ago with Stephanie Palmer, author of Good in a Room: How to Sell Yourself (and Your Ideas) and Win Over Any Audience.

Good In A Room book   Stephanie Palmer

Here are a few of my favorite nuggets from the interview:

tompeters.com asks …

Stephanie, what’s the big idea here?

SP: “Good in a room” describes anyone who presents themselves and their ideas effectively. The phrase originated in Hollywood and it’s used by agents and producers to describe people who pitch ideas well. I teach people to use, in their own industry, the tactics that work in Hollywood.

……….

Tom Peters has espoused the elevator pitch as one of the supporting columns of Wow Projects. The goal of the elevator pitch being, if you get into an elevator on the first floor with your boss and you’re trying to sell an idea, you want to sell it by the time you get to the 35th floor. You say the elevator pitch is a myth. Why is that?

SP: I think the term “elevator pitch” incorrectly implies that it’s appropriate to pitch in an elevator. Communicating quickly and concisely is important, but you should never pitch when you don’t have time to continue the conversation. A moment’s access with someone who doesn’t know you is not an opportunity. Your first interaction with someone sets the stage for the relationship to come. You shouldn’t start pitching your idea to someone before they know who you are enough to care about what you’re saying in the first place.

High-level buyers are pitched all the time. They know when they are hearing something that’s been repeated to dozens of other people. If you haven’t taken the time to build rapport and customize your pitch to that person’s specific needs, it’s a sign that you’re an amateur. Every buyer is unique, and your pitch should reflect that.

……….

You also say that networking is a waste of time. Why?

SP: I think most people who think they’re successful as a result of using traditional networking techniques succeed in spite of those techniques, not because of them. Traditional networking is generally a quantity-based approach. The idea is that if you meet enough people, accumulate enough names, you will eventually find people who are a good fit. On the surface this makes sense; you’d need a large pipeline of people because statistically only a few of them would be a right fit for your business. It’s a bulk mail strategy, sending out a lot of letters and seeing what comes back. But bulk mail is expandable, whereas we are not. The bulk mail approach doesn’t work so well in establishing genuine relationships because we only have so much time.

Therefore, instead of spending small amounts of time with lots of people, I suggest spending more time with fewer, carefully chosen people. Use a quality based approach. Upgrade from bulk mail to a handwritten letter with a first class stamp.

……….

But in as much as you don’t believe in the standard group theory of networking, you do still have a network. You categorize people a little differently than most people’s A, B, and C lists. Could you describe your system?

SP: I don’t like using the terminology of A, B, and C groups, simply because I know that I don’t want to be on anyone’s C list, and I don’t think that anyone else does, either. I start with Good People to Know, which is anybody who I think for any reason might be someone I would like to know in the future. It may be someone whom I’ve met at a conference or a barbecue. If I think that person is really interesting for whatever reason, business or personal, I’m going to include them in my Good People to Know.

If I meet someone, and I know that I have no interest in them, I’m not going to include them in my rolodex or keep tabs on them. Doing so is like being a relationship pack rat. I’m not looking to have the world’s largest network so that I can brag, “Oh, I have 10,000 people in my list.” I want to be more focused.

My next group I call the VIPs. Those are people whom I would like to have a business relationship with, but maybe I don’t know them. They’re my target list. Twenty people is the maximum that you should have on your VIP list.

My last group, and most important, is the Inner Circle. Those are the people that are closest to you, who support you professionally and personally. Those are the relationships that I spend the most time nurturing. Their support has been the most valuable for me, personally and professionally.

……….

It looks like a worthwhile book, so I’m buying a copy. Might write my own review when I finish it.

You can see more about “Good In A Room” on Stephanie Palmer’s website.

SnapThought 5/15/08

Just a couple of quickies today (gotta work hard to impress the new boss).

I had some Internet issues this week.  This page came up as I tried to access Yahoo!

Yahoo! Does Not Exist

Based on a search by Yahoo!, it no longer exists??  For a minute, I wondered if Microsoft had bought them out.

Tom Peters Elementary

About a 1/2 mile from my house is Tom Peters Elementary school.  Can you imagine, err… RE-imagine, the education kids get there?  They should at least learn to use bright colors, 64 point type and exclamation points!!!!

A Free Exchange of Ideas

I know two people who can’t share ideas with each other. They don’t trust one another, so every comment is met with skepticism, which breeds indignation and ultimately… anger.

I know others who have been trained, like one of Pavlov’s dogs, to not speak up when they disagree with an idea. It’s too risky because they’ve been burned too many times.

There are still others who won’t even share their own ideas… no matter how great. They’ve been told they’re not creative (or simply never told they ARE creative), so they discount any contribution they could bring to the table.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no such thing on earth as “a free exchange of ideas.” Every transaction involving an idea is weighted with some amount of risk. Risk of pain, embarrassment or validation of a perceived reality.

There’s risk attached to sharing ideas. I think we all realize that. What do we do to address it though?

We open up people for criticism all the time and paint it as an opportunity to “voice your opinion” or “be heard.” We may even try to reassure by saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad idea.” Sure there is. We need to quit lying about it.

Quit lying to our employees.
Quit lying to our audiences.
Quit lying to ourselves.

What do we do to communicate how much we value ideas? Do we reward risk-taking or simply reward results? Do we reward ideas we agree with, or ones that challenge us?

I don’t have the answers. But I am searching for ideas here.

The Hire Standard

Two posts by Big-Time Gurus recently addressed the same point.

1. Tom Peters:

Old story. But never an old story. I went to Whole Foods and Starbucks back-to-back yesterday afternoon. No holes: Every (EVERY—perhaps 6?) staff member was pleasant, chatty, informed, etc.

I remain amazed.

2. Seth Godin (read the post to get context)

Sure, she was an annoying nut. But she was passionate about containers, certainly. Smart hiring goes a long way.

Duh, you say? Yet how many businesses really hire people because they’ll be pleasant, chatty, informed, and PASSIONATE (specifically about your core offering)?

Years ago, I was interviewed for a position with a publisher. In my final interview, the VP asked me if I was passionate about books. I paused and honestly answered, “No.” That one question kept me from getting the job. Ironically, I’ve developed a passion for books since then.

No. Wait. That one ANSWER kept me from getting the job. The question really left it up to me to be honest, since I knew the answer he wanted to hear.

What if he asked me something different:

“What books are you currently reading? What are your all-time favorites?”

or

“Here’s our catalog. Circle the books you would like for free. We’ll give them to you.”

Does your interview process answer these two questions:

What passion do we need our people to possess?

How do we discover whether that passion is in a person?

The Secret, the Shell, and the Flash in a Pan

Secret, Shell, Flash Title

I submitted a proposal to write a manifesto for Changethis.com. It is a presentation I present on personal development. The premise is based on the same concept as the 3 Rs of Business. In my presentation, I encourage individuals to take stock of their personal brand, Brand You as Tom Peters says, and look at three key areas of their lives to avoid becoming a Secret, a Shell, or a Flash in a Pan.

Take a look at my proposal. If you like the idea, vote for it. If you love it, then email the link to your friends.