Saturday, January 29, 2011

International Leadership

As a participant in Duke University's Global Executive MBA program I have been exposed to a variety of leadership styles. Part of our program is to travel to different regions of the world and experience the business environment and culture of the locale. I can readily recognize that the practice and implementation of leadership is quite different throughout the world especially in the Middle East. Having spent 10 days in Dubai, United Arab Emirates has given me a perspective that I've never had. Dubai is anomaly of the Middle East because of its acceptance of western business, culture and people in their country. Dubai's growth in the early part of the century provided for tremendous wealth and opulence. However, the financial crisis of 2008 has had a serious effect on the economics of the Emirate and its future.

During my time there I was keen on observing the people, culture and leadership style. I have always been very curious about the Middle East and Arab-Muslims especially. My father worked as a personal bodyguard for Sheik Mohammed al Fassi of Saudi Arabia in the 1970's. Hearing his stories about how the Sheik lived and his respect for African-Americans always intrigued me and provided the desire to visit the region.,9171,953552,00.html

Dubai has a mesh of leadership styles. Its foundation is quintessentially Arab, but because there are expats from all over the world you can see innovation and individuality in the leadership style. It is far from a "western" style but it works in Dubai. Leaders are established through relationships first and work product second. As I work on developing my own leadership capacity I had to ask myself could I function in an environment like Dubai. The answer is yes. First, because I understand that there are numerous leadership styles and as long as the individual understands how to navigate through the layers of the leadership process they can find success. Second I hold the utmost respect and appreciation for cultures that are thousands of years old. I believe that they must know something in order to last as long as the have. That includes, the Chinese, Hebrews, and African tribes.

In closing, remember that as a leader you are obligated to stretch yourself and learn from other leaders and cultures. That understanding alone will help to fashion your leadership style and widen capacity.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

My Leadership Mentors

Quite often those who are leaders think themselves more than they are. In my quest to be the best leader that I can be I have found other leaders who inspire me to be a better leader. The links below will take you to leaders that I admire and bring tremendous insight to the study of leadership and continuous development.

John Maxwell
Maxwell is inspirational because his explanation of leadership and its implementation is very easy to understand. He also inspires you to be better in every phase of your life.

Allan Lind
Dr. Lind's unique understanding of leadership and its implementation is best described through his and partner, Dr. Sim Sitkin's Six Domains of Leadership. It provides a critical understanding of the phases of leadership and how to successfully approach them.

James McGregor Burns
Perhaps the founder of modern leadership discusses the study effectively and focuses on the interpersonal relationship between those who lead and those who follow.

I also have several blogs on leadership that are very interesting.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

3rd and 10 Decisions and How the Leader Approaches Them

Being a former athlete I like to use "sportisms" to make critical leadership points. I found that my athletic days taught me a lot about people, life and leadership. Everyone has situations in their lives where they are forced to make tough choices and decisions that can shape their lives going forward. I call these 3rd and 10 decisions. I chose that moniker because in football 3rd and 10 presents a difficult solution. Do you run or pass? Do you try to outsmart the defense or do you do what you do best? As a leader I attack 3rd and 10 problems with what I do best and sometimes that is not always the best solution to the problem.

In my attempt to grow as a leader I realize that I have challenges when it comes to certain things. With that said I try to recognize critical gaps in my leadership capacity so that I don't resort to my shortcomings on 3rd and 10 decisions. I have become better at recognizing these gaps as I have gotten older, but I made some crucial mistakes as a young leader that could have derailed my career. As a young salesman I did not view relationships with those that I worked for as critical to my development so I made multiple 3rd and 10 decisions that cost me promotions and other recognition that I worked hard for. Now I know where I went wrong and what the signs were to cause those bad decisions.What are some of your shortcomings that you might resort to during 3rd and 10 decisions? Do you have a plan that will help you develop to make better choices when those tough decisions are required?

Leadership capacity assessment is not as difficult as people make it seem. There is an easy way to assess your potential as a leader. Ask yourself three key questions.

  1. Do I view myself as a leader and if so what leadership competencies do I possess?
  2. Do others see me as a leader and if so what strengths do they observe?
  3. How can I mesh my self assessment and that of others to increase capacity?
When you ask these questions be honest with yourself and ask others to be as candid as possible. The response(s) that you get will be your guide to handling tough decisions and help increase your capacity.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How I Increased Leadership Value

How can I increase my leadership value is a question I have been asking myself for the last three years. One of the ways that I thought would increase my value was to get an MBA. While it has not been easy I would not change the decision for a minute. Leaders have to challenge themselves if they want to continue their development and have the credibility to lead others. 

As I developed the plan for the second half of my life (I'm 38) I knew that I wanted to position myself to be an entrepreneur. I looked at business school as the final piece to the puzzle, a critical cog in my quest to bring value as a leader. Some would say, you don't need business school to bring value or be a leader. While that is true, I felt that the obstacles I faced in my career were primarily because I didn't have the quantitative background that I needed to effectively bring value. Yes, I had the basic skills needed to be a good employee, but I lacked the understanding of the crucial pieces needed to analyze a business at the level where you can truly qualify and quantify individual contributions. 

I am currently a Global Executive MBA student at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Since starting business school, I have seen my quantitative ability to assessment skills grow exponentially. How has this increased my leadership value? It has increased it in two ways. First, my confidence is well above the level it was previously. I realized that I was a good employee but not someone that analyzed a situation any differently than other good employees which made me expendable. Second, my quest for understanding of complex work and business issues is not relegated to a ten or fifteen minute research period. Instead it involves a detailed process that which provides a solid foundation for understanding and presenting concrete solutions to complex issues. 

As I continue on my journey I am keenly focused on the continued improvement of my skills as a leader and business person.  

Monday, November 1, 2010

4 Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves

As the study and of leadership continues to grow in the 21st century, there are several simple questions leaders can ask themselves to ensure that they are on the right developmental path. As I stated in a previous post, I always thought of myself as a leader in the "picked first for the basketball team kind of way," but leading is so much more than that. You can use these questions as you assess your individual development. 

1. Are you doing your absolute all to be the best leader you can be? If this is a no, you do not need to move to the next question(s).

2. Do you inspire others to be great? Perhaps the hardest of the skills that a leader must acquire. What and how do you inspire others to be great? 

3. Are you confident or arrogant in the delivery of your leadership duties? How do you decipher the two and walk the delicate balance of not being viewed as arrogant. Many leaders have mistaken confidence and arrogance and paid the ultimate price. For leaders the ultimate price is the loss of trust of those you are partnered with in the leader-follower relationship.

4. Can you "walk with kings nor lose the common touch." Your ability to relate to all around you will win you favor with those you lead.

As a young man I didn't have a solid game plan for my career. I was selling pharmaceuticals and was a middle of the pack representative when I developed questions 1, 3 and 4.  When I did a serious self assessment I realized I wasn't doing all that was necessary to improve as an employee, and leader. I made these questions part of my routine and my sales numbers grew quickly. After a relatively short amount of time I was consistently exceeding goal and became a resource for those I worked for and with. Once I became a manager I added question 2 and am working on mastering this everyday in all of my relationships.

Use the questions as a baseline for development and growth. For those of you who have a firm understanding of leadership theory use question 2 in other parts of your life. Do you inspire your family, friends, and others to be great? 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

My Leadership Failure

As I have grown older I have had time to reflect on mistakes that I have made in my attempt to be a leader. One of the biggest was my failure to lead during my years on the baseball team at St. Mary's College of California. I originally attended Auburn University on a scholarship but had some problems adjusting (homesick) and decided to return to California and continue playing. I "signed" with St. Mary's College after being recruited a second time by major baseball schools like Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara and black college powerhouse Jackson State University.

When I arrived there were a lot of expectations on me and I was not prepared to handle them. My personal life was a mess and I did not have the ability to lead in the manner that was required and I failed miserably. I failed my coaching staff, my teammates, but worst of all, I failed myself. I spent so much time complaining about the factors of my situation that I was not able to see that everyone else was looking to me to lead. That is a lot of pressure on a 19 year old but God never gives you anything that you can't handle. As I reflect I pinpointed 3 places that I failed and where others can learn from.

1. Never let your personal problems interfere with the job. No one will ever respect you because we all have problems. Yours may be more severe and they were but strength is essential in a leader.

2. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. My second year my performance on the field was markedly better than the previous year and my teammates appreciated that.

3. A little vulnerability is a good thing. When others see that you can laugh at yourself they become more comfortable with you because they don't think you are judging them

I feel bad for my teammates that I wasn't able to be the leader that I was put in a position to be. I know that it would have created lasting relationships that I currently don't have with most of them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Signs of Leadership

I remember the first time that I was thought of as a leader. I was 8 years old. I had a lot of cousins and uncles and they would always play football at my grandmother's house. While I was not the oldest, or the biggest, I was certainly the most fearless especially when it came to sports. I wanted to play tackle football on the grass with my older cousins and uncles just to show that I could be strong. It was more than obvious that I would get crushed and I could hear my mother yelling from the porch that I can't play. Well, I played and actually scored a touchdown. Believe me when I tell you that none of these guys went easy on me it was duly earned. After the game I was immediately moved to "big cousin" status by those who were close to my age. Once you attained "big cousin" status you could pretty much boss the little ones around and they would actually listen to you. Now that I think back it is funny to have a legion of 4,5,6 and 7 year olds following you and hanging on your every word.

The take away from this for me was; always remember there is someone who admires you no matter who you admire and you must keep that in mind as an adult. Translating that to today's version of leadership is simple. The mark of a true leader is how he handles the "legion." Does he give orders for the sake of giving orders or does he lead from a place of wisdom and development.