Tag Archives: leadership

Achilles and His Heel


You may have seen the movie, “Troy,” with Brad Pitt as Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan War.  What the movie didn’t cover was how Achilles got to be so great.  In Greek mythology, Achilles was the son of the sea nymph Thetis and Peleus, king of the Myrmidons.  The Fates prophesied that Achilles would die in the Trojan War, but Thetis sought to secure a different destiny for her son.  She took him to the River Styx (the entrance to the underworld), held him by his ankle and dipped him into the water.  As a result, Achilles became invulnerable everywhere on his body except for the heel with which his mother held him over the river.

Years later, Paris, prince of Troy, abducted the wife of King Menelaus of Sparta.  The Greeks rallied behind the offense and set off with 1,000 ships for Troy.  Despite Thetis’ attempts to prevent Achilles from going to Troy, her son was persuaded by Odysseus to join the effort.  The Greeks lay a long siege to the city.  During the tenth and final year, Achilles was mortally wounded by a well-aimed shot from Paris’ bow.  The arrow struck him in the heel, his only vulnerable spot.

The term “Achilles Heel” has come to mean a weakness that seems small but is in fact potentially fatal.  Many leaders have an Achilles Heel.  Sometimes they know that it exists, and sometimes they are blind to it.  It can go undiscovered for years until they are given a challenge that exposes their shortcoming, but once it is revealed, it is almost always fatal to their forward motion.

Some managers have an Achilles Heel in their ability to deal with people.  Like Achilles, they are tactically superb, receive accolades from high levels, move up through the organization with dexterity and speed, but they leave dead bodies everywhere they go.  As long as they move quickly enough, no one traces the destruction back to them.  But once they reach a spot on the battlefield that will not yield (i.e. get stalled out in a position), those around them begin to make the connections.  And once their Achilles Heel has been located, it’s not long before their enemies use it for advantage.

The best managers identify their Achilles Heel by seeking frequent feedback from all levels and all directions (e.g. through a 360 degree evaluation).  In this way, their enemies become their allies, helping them to identify their weaknesses.  Once they have identified their Achilles Heel, they take steps to strengthen or eliminate their weakness through training, coaching, difficult assignments and other means.  They never allow success to be an excuse for not growing.

 

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Filed under Challenges, coaching, Denial, failure, growth, leadership, management, mentoring, mistakes, overcoming obstacles, parenting, performance, temptation

Do What You Do Best


A colleague once asked Albert Einstein for his telephone number and was surprised to see Einstein reach for the phone directory.  “You don’t remember your own number?” the man asked.  To which Einstein replied, “Why should I memorize something I can so easily get from a book?”

Einstein may owe some of his genius to his ability to prioritize.  While he certainly had the capacity to memorize large amounts of trivia, he knew that this wasn’t the best use of his talents.  He reserved his brain power for solving complex problems and used other resources to help him with the less complex.

I’ve found that great managers do the same with their time.  While they are certainly capable of making copies, shuffling paper or solving routine problems, they recognize these tasks for the traps that they are.  Less-discriminating managers become entangled in a web of administrivia and find that they have no time left to work on more important priorities. Often in an attempt to appear like a “team player” to their direct reports, these managers waste their hard-earned experience, knowledge and training on tasks that could be handled more effectively (and less expensively) at a lower level.

Don’t sell what you’ve worked so hard to gain so cheaply.  The most effective are not always the most popular, but they spend their time like they spend their money – where it will bring them the greatest return on their investment.

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Filed under creativity, delegation, expertise, leadership, management, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Productivity

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks


Maybe you’ve heard the analogy about how difficult it is to teach an “old dog” new tricks.  An “old dog” is someone who is set in their ways, who’s “been there and done that” and who is not particularly impressed by our leadership credentials.  We run into “old dogs” all the time when we inherit teams, and they can make our jobs a chore.  I once had a children’s joke book that had stellar advice about how to deal with “old dogs.”  The joke went like this:

“What do you need to know to teach an old dog new tricks?”


“More than the dog.”

 

Great advice!  As leaders, we need to stay at least one step ahead of those on our teams.  You do this through continuous improvement – taking courses, being a bookworm or a tapeworm (someone who listens to tapes), reading trade publications, attending conferences….  There are a gazillion options available to us.  The hard part isn’t finding a way to learn more; it’s making it into a habit!

Think about this:

If you haven’t learned anything new lately, have you earned the credibility to lead a group of people who are experts in what they do on a daily basis?  You can’t lead any farther than you yourself have gone.

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Filed under authority, coaching, discipleship, expertise, Fathering, growth, habits, leadership, learning, mentoring, modeling, parenting, Sharpening the Saw, Spiritual Growth, Teaching, trust

Possibility Thinking


During World War I, a Colonel was notified that his troops were surrounded by the enemy, who was demanding that they surrender.  The Colonel took this message to his troops, “Gentlemen, we have a situation that armies dream of.  We are surrounded on all sides, so we can attack in any direction we want.  All we have to do is pick one and go.  Our danger is if we sit here.”

Now, that’s possibility thinking!  Leadership sometimes requires that we reframe an impossible goal so that our team’s can see their potential for success.

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Filed under Abundance, Attitude, Challenges, Change, coaching, conflict, Denial, determination, faith, Fear, Goals, Hardship, leadership, learned helplessness, management, motivation, overcoming obstacles, paradigm, paradigm shift, Persistence, Problem Solving, Scarcity, success, Suffering, Trials

Hustling Errors


In 1992, Jimmy Johnson, then coach of the Dallas Cowboys, cut running back “Swervin’” Curvin Richards after he fumbled in the last game of the regular season.  That in itself wasn’t so surprising.  Coach Johnson had a temper, and he didn’t suffer fumblers lightly.  But what was surprising was that Johnson would cut Richards but defend two other players who made similar mistakes in the same quarter of the same game.

Truth be told, all three mistakes were inconsequential.  Dallas would go on to win the game 27-14 over the Chicago Bears.  They had already secured a bye for the first weekend of the playoffs.  The game was nothing more than a notation in the record books as this particular Dallas team went on to win its third Super Bowl in dominating fashion.

The problem was not that mistakes had been made.  Richards’ fumble did result in a touchdown for the opposing team, but so did Steve Beuerlein’s interception.  Alvin Harper also turned the ball over…and all these happened in the fourth quarter.  So, why didn’t Johnson cut all three players?  Why did Richards alone incur Johnson’s wrath?

According to Johnson, it was because Beuerlein and Harper committed “hustling errors” while Richards simply showed the sloppiness that comes from a poor work ethic.  Beuerlein and Harper were forgiven because they were hustling; they were trying to make something happen.  They were taking risks and trying to get the momentum back for an offensive team that had started to focus their attention on the playoffs before the game had even ended.

Richards, on the other hand, failed to execute one of the fundamentals of his job.  Had he shown more diligence on the practice field, he might have been spared.  But Johnson was irritated with the running back for his lackluster approach to the game.  Johnson used this opportunity to teach his team an important lesson.  There are mistakes, and then there are mistakes.  Mistakes made while taking risks and trying new approaches will be forgiven.  Mistakes made because of poor preparation will not.

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The Competence Cycle


As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail.  She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.  The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage.  It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done.  Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport.  I’ll use golf as an example.  You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that!  How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?”  So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18.  (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!)  You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you.  Looks easy enough.  Your turn.  You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing!  You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one.  Wow!  Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait.  No, they’re not.  They show up nicely against the green color of the grass.  You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing.  The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain.  Now they are getting hostile.  You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers.  The high expectations they had have not materialized.  The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them.  Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable.  What they need from you is encouragement.  Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners.  Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices.  You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool.  Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is).  Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice…  With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice.  He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come.  If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged.  If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps.  When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much.  It takes too much thinking.  Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK!  You thought golf was supposed to be fun.  Be patient.  Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka!  You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen?  Who knows?  Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing.  Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens.  Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament.  Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal.  All experts were once beginners  – even the Tiger Woods of the world.  While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process.  Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers.  Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.

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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Soft Hands


During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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