Recently, my wife and I were on a social visit with a friend I’ll call Vick. We were enjoying beverages and light chatter when suddenly the topic changed to world events. It was like a light switch turned on, with Vick becoming very animated about the topic, spewing data point after data point, and aggressively quizzing me on whether I had heard about some of the points he was raising.
When I replied “no,” his response was incredulous. “You mean you haven’t heard of _____?” he asked, as if I were the only person on Earth who didn’t know what he was talking about. This went on for about an hour before we resumed talking about lighter topics.
I thought about the interaction that evening, and the next day texted him a follow-up question. The onslaught resumed, and after a while I decided to disengage because I saw that no good would come of the exchange.
I later thought about both the face-to-face and the text interactions, and came up with some important elements that were there—and some that were missing:
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Early in my career as a leader, I adopted the popular phrase, “My door is always open.” These magic words were intended to be a sign of support that, as a leader, I would be available for my team. It just felt so good to say that—to know that if a team member wanted to come in to talk about something important or just shoot the breeze, I would be there for them whenever they wanted.
Then reality struck.
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While searching for a job online, Manesh found a listing that caught his eye. “Wow, this looks perfect!” he thought as he read through the position requirements. Then those three dreaded words reared their ugly head:
“Leadership experience required.”
“Dang,” Manesh thought as he closed his laptop. “This is so frustrating. How do I get experience when everyone is expecting me to already have the experience?”
You’ve likely experienced this earlier in your career, or may be going through it now: Potential employers want leadership experience that you don’t have, and you don’t have a clear path on how to get that experience.
When looking to grow leadership skills, this can be a frustrating dilemma. How do you get the experience you need and build great leadership skills when your paths are limited? Here's a potential path...
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Here Comes the Spiderman!
My wife, son and I went to New York City some time back to celebrate my son's graduation from high school. We stayed in a great hotel that my wife scored right in Times Square. While in NYC we took the opportunity to take in a couple of Broadway shows. One that we were all very excited about seeing was Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark. The music, acting, and effects were all terrific and were executed flawlessly....with one exception.
George Bailey and Leadership
In the movie It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey contemplates suicide after his uncle misplaces a deposit which threatens the closure of his bank. Just as George is about to jump off a bridge, his guardian angel Clarence jumps in the water prompting George to jump into the water to rescue him. After the rescue, Clarence takes George on a journey to show him what life would have been like had George never been born. George got to see first-hand how person after person was worse off because each of them didn't have the opportunity to be touched by George in some way. Even George's wife Mary met the politically incorrect fate of being an old maid working in the city library. After George's alternate reality journey, he emerged with a wonderful appreciation for all of the good he did in his life and how he impacted so many people with his kindness, generosity, and empathy.
I used this story to open up my sister Lori's eulogy.
When I was a kid one Christmas I got a Lionel train set from my parents. It was really cool. The locomotive had a smoke stack that actually "smoked" when you put a drop of oil into it. I can still remember the burning oil smell the locomotive would emit as it raced around the tracks. The transformer which governed the speed of the train went all the way up to "90" (I still believe it was in "miles per hour!") and had three rail cars that were all different colors and a caboose. The train set also came with enough track to form a figure-8 that I would push the tracks together using special pins that fit into the ends of the tracks.
When I was a kid in Connecticut I went with my Father to take my sister and her infant son to the train station. My sister had a lot of bags so my Father helped her carry her things on to the train. I was standing on the platform waiting for my Father to get off the train so we could go home. Then all of a sudden the train started moving with my Father still on the train! Here I am, an 8-year-old boy standing on the train platform all by myself while my Father is on the train heading to Washington DC. I remember seeing the train start to pull away, and my Father waving at me through the window to go to the ticketing office so I can tell them what happened. This was in the days where there were no cell phones, so my Father couldn't communicate with me to let me know what was happening. I went into the ticketing office and through sobs told the ticket agent that my Father got stuck on the train and I got left on the platform all by myself. The ticket agent was very reassuring and told me that everything was going to be OK. Fortunately the next stop was only about 30 minutes away so I was reunited with my Father in an couple of hours. It was one of the scariest times of my entire childhood, being left on the train platform all by myself.
So everything isn't always peachy keen when it comes to working together. At times co-workers are going to get in each others' face and have some conflict. As a bystander, there's some things you can do and not do to help put out the co-worker fire:
Some time back I spent about three hours writing and doing emails at one of our local malls. I love this place because there are lots of tables to sit at and the mall has free wireless access so I can be online all the time. As I was exiting the mall I noticed a woman about 20 feet away from the entrance heading into the mall. As I walked out the door I held the door open for this woman for a few seconds. As she walked by me into the mall she said "WOW!" She was surprised that I actually took three seconds out of my life to hold a door open for a complete stranger. Imagine what I could have done with those three seconds that I wasted :-).
Data! I Need More Data!
In a prior life I was having a discussion with two of our managers on deciding between which of two food shows we should have a booth. As the discussion went on, one of our managers said, "well, we just need to do more research on what the best food show is for us to attend." While it is true we didn't have enough information to make a good decision, what we were missing was the decision criteria in which to make the right decision. Once we focused the discussion on what our decision criteria was (buyer attendance, breadth of product line which we can show, and cost), our data gathering became much more purposeful and focused and yielded a better-informed decision.
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