Archive for November, 2013

Leading from the front

November 20, 2013 2 comments

So much of pop leadership writing assumes there is a follower in the equation. This is a misunderstanding about the differences between leadership and management. Management is about the effective use of resources to accomplish things. Management implies structure and process. Management often happens with minimal leadership.

Leadership is about crafting a vision of possibility. Leadership precedes structure and process; it fills the void where established structures end or fail.  Leadership often happens without any management at all.  Leadership happens at the front lines, where the action is. All leadership is from the front, never from the back.

Leadership from the front is doing something that nobody has ever done before. It’s about going first.

It’s doing something that nobody else wants to do.

It’s making a decision that nobody wants to make.

It’s figuring out something that nobody has been able to figure out.

It’s expecting the heat and taking it.

It’s taking one more step when everyone else has quit.

It’s starting up again when everyone else is stopped.

It’s about taking a stand when nobody else will.

It’s often about being alone.

It’s always about commitment.

Most lists of great leaders will include King, Gandhi, Lincoln, or Mandela. Their contributions to history are real and legitimate. But real leadership happens everywhere, all the time, and leadership is not limited to circumstances of power or influence. Consider the stories of these ordinary people who showed extraordinary leadership through their actions. I’ll let you do the homework; and perhaps you have some good examples of real leadership in action too…

Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates

Tom Hornbein & Willi Unsoeld

Paul Anderson

Satyendra Nath Bose

Joe Kittinger

Roger Bannister

If you’re hungry for more good material on real leadership, see also:

This great post by Andreas von der Heydt about the 17 qualities and views of great leaders

Or Jim Kouzes’ discussion on unknown leaders

Maybe read Hermann Simons book “Hidden Champions of the 21st century


The Portable Career

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

In 1994 I was a front-line supervisor for an up and coming biotech firm. I led a crew of 14 people on a rotating 12 hour shift. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever worked. When our flagship product failed to hit clinical endpoints the stock tanked and we were swallowed in an acquisition. We learned that only a handful of the team would be offered positions in the new company. For the next month I spent most of my days counseling the team about their future. I told my team that the new owners could take their job away, but nobody could take their experience or their knowledge. I encouraged the team to leverage these assets into their next career opportunity. That counsel was the genesis of what I call “The Portable Career”.



The things that matter most in your career are portable. Portable assets carry forward to your next job; they’re not lost in a job transition. Knowledge and experience are good examples of portable career assets. Other career assets are portable too: your professional network, your salary history, your work ethic, your creativity, your reputation. These don’t get left behind in a job transition, and because they don’t get left behind they have a remarkable intrinsic value to you and to your next company.  Your job is to understand portability and leverage all your portable assets throughout your career.

The original “portable careerists” from the class of ’94 were all working again within 6 weeks. Some are retired, and some I lost touch with. But from that original cohort we now have two MDs, three PhDs, one corporate vice president, two business owners, and one wildly successful venture capitalist.

Do you have portable career story? I’d love to hear it!

I can’t give you the money, but…

November 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Aside from the obvious financial incentives, how can we reward our high performing team members and motivate out teams? Here is the answer: I can’t give you the money, but here’s what I can give you:

  • Experience (what you know) – As a leader in the organization, you’re in a unique position to give experiences to your team that they normally would not come across in their day to day routine. And everything they learn working with you becomes part of their own knowledge base. It becomes a skill they can market later on in their career.
  • Exposure (who you know) – You can put a teammate in a position to show their knowledge, expertise, and potential to a wide range of influencers and decision makers: senior management, customers, industry peers. You can introduce them to people that will make a difference in their career path. Left to their own devices they would probably find these people eventually; but you can accelerate the process.

Giving experience and giving exposure are two important ways to reward high-performing team members. Experience and exposure are marketable, salary history is not. Almost everything that matters in work is marketable (and also portable). And because they are marketable, they have greater value to the employee and the Manager than salary. Salary buys stuff, experience (what you know) and exposure (who you know) move careers.

Real Authority

November 6, 2013 Leave a comment

Many organizations and teams do not easily accept the structure and accountability that comes with a formal project management approach, e.g. responsibility without authority. The problem of leading without authority comes up all the time, and is a major concern of line staff tasked with making things happen.

How do you work with a team that has this mindset? The answer is to get that authority. We don’t mean bucking for a promotion and using your position as the façade of authority. Instead, we mean you must create that authority, that you must position yourself as the authoritative figure on a subject. When you have created the genuine authority, the authority of an acknowledged expert, of a proven team mate, of a consistent contributor; then your team will follow you anywhere.

Here’s the three-step process we teach our front line staff:

  • Establish credibility – Know the subject matter inside and out. Have the historical records that support your position. Deal in facts that can be documented and defended. Get to know the historical stakeholders, and what exactly their stake is. When asked, have the answer. Rush to the defense, with data in hand, of any teammate being put on the spot. Consistently.
  • Show up ready to work – Come in early. Stay late. Help a colleague that’s behind. Know when others are engaged in a tough, tedious task, and help them get it done. Consistently. Be seen. Demonstrate your investment in the project outcomes.
  • Add value – This is the most important: you have to be seen as consistently adding value to your teammates. Know where and when trouble will arrive. Be there waiting for it with the plan already in action. When you are seen as adding value, your credibility and worth to the team are acknowledged.

When the team looks to you for knowledge, output, for results, and trusts that you can deliver results and advocate for the team, then the formal authority that comes with title isn’t needed. By the time you actually get that authority, you’ll already have everything you need: a network of loyal supporters.

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