Fourth Age Communiqué - Leadership for the rest of us

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Things we can all learn from Brian Williams

Brian Williams, longtime NBC Nightly News anchor, recently admitted to inaccurately reporting the circumstances of his visit to Iraq during the Gulf War. He was subsequently suspended from the news desk.

Few people ever rise to the role of managing editor of a nightly news broadcast. But everyone can benefit from a few helpful tips on maintaining one's integrity.
  1. Honesty in all things matters to someone

    Every good leader would acknowledge the necessity of being honest and transparent. But that doesn't mean every leader remembers the old adage "honesty is the best policy". If the ends justify the means for you, it's only a matter of time before someone challenges your motives for being deceptive.

  2. Some will only see the transgression

    ... while others will overlook it in defense of the person. Whereas one view judges a person based on a specific incident, the other does not call that person to be accountable for their actions. One view ultimately loses sight of the humanity of a person, while the other loses perspective on what matters. Both can be toxic in their own way, and neither promotes integrity.
  3. Trust takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose

    Thanks to everyone having access to everything all the time, one mistake can be amplified many times over. And multiple mistakes can amplify exponentially. Here's a good acid test: do you really want to be compared to Tiger Woods at your lowest moment?
  4. Eventually, the truth will out

    And once it comes out, there's no putting the toothpaste back in the bottle. Chances are Brian Williams had to get in front of the story before someone else broke the nature of his embellishment. In the era of social media, do you want to frame it or let someone else?

Also see: Things we can learn from Don Imus

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things we can all learn from Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin, the NBA phenom, is seemingly more popular than Tim Tebow. Turn on any sports channel, your local station, or heck - even a White House press briefing - and you'll hear "Lin-sanity" running wild.

Granted, success stories about athletes coming out of nowhere to take their sport by storm are not unprecedented (Tom Brady, Fernando Valenzuela, Mark Fidyrch), but none have been so compelling while in such a media-accessible era. So what is it about this "overnight success" that takes us from zero-to-fixated in no time? Regardless of your life circumstance, Jeremy Lin demonstrates some timeless truths applicable to any team endeavor:

  • Persistence wins out - eventually

    Or, the harder you work, the luckier you get

    Pithy aphorisms aside, there is value to hard work and sticking it out, regardless of the perceived outcome. Persisting is akin to a faith walk; while you cannot be sure how things will turn out, the discipline of developing a skill or mastering a craft is its own reward. And insightful leaders know they need to be good learners first; which leads to ...

  • Be(ing) prepared for the unexpected

    If there is a precedent to the Lin story it is Kurt Warner. His readiness to play, poise in the pocket, and mental toughness allowed him to succeed in a seemingly hopeless circumstance, with his team ultimately winning the biggest game of all. Clearly Lin has not yet turned his proverbial rags into the riches of winning a trophy or league MVP. In fact, his team's record is (only) a remarkable .500. Yet because of his sticktuitiveness, he has proven himself ready and able to step in and deliver on the big stage.

  • Humility breeds loyalty

    Can a person be competitive and selfless?

    Granted, what catapulted Lin-sanity into the media stratosphere was his game-winning three point shot against the Toronto Raptors. But his team's belief in him - and his centeredness - is equally evident after the game.

    Knowing a leader is willing to give credit to others, and show trust in his or her team members, empowers people to be their best. Although people will follow a superhero for a time, being a team-centric player makes others better.

  • Confidence compounds itself

    Taking stock of past successes inspires confidence. And for a team with confidence, challenges unite rather than divide.

  • Don't overlook a diamond in the rough

    Mike Lupica once said a large budget will buy you everything but the heart and soul of a champion. The irony for the Knicks is the best player on the team over the last two weeks is not the superstar they traded for in the offseason; it was the one who fell into their lap, and slipped through the fingers of several other teams in the process.

    Put another way, spending money on big name free agents can bring value, but the best fit for your team is often the one you develop.

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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Things we can all learn from Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers has been in the business of helping people live a healthier life for over 40 years. In that time it has produced numerous testimonials and noteworthy innovations in the field of weight loss, dieting and healthy eating.

But even if you are fit, healthy, eating well or even apathetic, several axioms hold true across any endeavor:

  • Start with a goal or target

    In Weight Watchers, you start with a target weight loss (e.g., 30 pounds). To achieve this (without specific regard to a timeline) you are given a daily "budget": x points per day that represent a target calorie intake. If you meet (but do not exceed) the intake level over the course of a week, you are poised to burn more calories than you consumed.

    In life, you need to know where you're going to be successful (you define your own success). Dreams are important, but you need a tangible result in mind to move forward. Goals are your vehicle to getting where you want to go.

    Your first goal is strategic: where do I want to be in a year? What you must do to accomplish that goal is tactical: how will I get there?

  • Write things down

    "If you don't write it down, it never happened."

    You learn about yourself when you journal. Knowing your "budget" or "plan" limits helps to hold yourself accountable to your goals.

  • If you work the system, the system works

    Success is in the details, and the details are in the plan of action. When you stick to the script, you stay on target. Diligence brings focus.
  • Learn, and share, the art of failure

    The writer of the book of James says we all stumble in many ways. In any group environment such as Weight Watchers, the safety and accountability is in knowing people have similar stories.

  • Creativity abounds in safe company

    When you have a group of people you can be open and honest with, you can explore challenges in a more meaningful way. And you open yourself to more creative thought than you might otherwise.

  • Confession is good for the soul

    Sometimes we just need to vent our spleen. To share what's on our mind and know we're safe doing it.

  • Three simple words: "So do I."

    Best of all is when we know the people we're being vulnerable with can identify with our circumstances.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Things we can all learn from Charlie Sheen

Celebrity. Icon. #winner. By turning a series of indelicate public conversations into a world record, few have stirred up the twitterverse like Charlie Sheen.

Chances are you haven't burned bridges with your employer in such a public fashion. Still, there are noteworthy takeaways from the train-wreck-cum-genius-marketing-campaign that is Tiger Blood:

  • One person's #winning is another person's unemployment check

    It is a very unique individual who can get away with trash talking their employer and not collect unemployment. Not even an affluent, caucasian, privileged son of a celebrity can pull it off. So if you're going to publicly stick it to The Man, have a good backup plan. Forewarned is forearmed.

  • Make lemonade out of lemons

    Whatever cards you were dealt, you still have some plays you can make. The question is, how will you respond to adversity? Remember your attitude determines your outcome.

  • Don't forget where the lemons came from

    Sometimes the tragic circumstances of our lives are of our own making. You can only squeeze so much juice out of a bad situation, and some kinds of lemonade are just too tart.

  • Leverage your notoriety -- to a point.

    For most people, it can be difficult to see what the revenue play is when they flame out in a very public way. Don't let that stop you from making the most of a touchy situation. Just remember there's a short half life for cashing in on your foibles; the smart money is on folding early.
  • Turn your #fail into a #win

    John Maxwell teaches: if you're going to fail, fail forward. Or, if you're flat on your face, before you get back on your feet - pick something up! Ultimately, you control your own destiny.

  • Success != a life well-lived

    Today's achievements can be tomorrow's stumbling block. Being good at what you do doesn't necessarily translate to a legacy worth remembering. Your honor and integrity will be remembered longer than your name recognition.
Few have the opportunity to influence on a platform as public as the one Sheen has enjoyed of late. When your actions command attention, are you drawing the right kind?


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Things we can all learn from Top Chef

Top Chef is a popular American television show that pits chefs against one another in a half Survivor, half American Idol model. Of course, the single biggest tease of any cooking show is that we have to trust people we don't know to tell us what food tastes like that we will, most likely, never experience for ourselves.

  • Remember your purpose

    Candidates are judged on their cooking, just like American Idol candidates are judged on their singing. So if you are not competent with the basic requirements, you will not excel.
  • You are judged on the how as much as the what

    The qualitative is at least as important as the quantitative. While Top Chef is a cooking competition, it is also, at its core, a change leadership journey. Executive chefs bear a higher burden of responsibility than the rest of the cooking team - or, leadership matters.
  • You may get the job done, but how you get there matters

    Own your missteps; throwing people under the bus for the sake of expedience will come back on you. In whatever your community of practice, you are bound to re-encounter those with whom you collaborated. If you leave a trail of bodies in your wake, you will ultimately work alone.
  • Age and experience is a great leveler

    Wisdom comes with trials and hard knocks. Competitors on Top Chef Master dramatically eclipse those on Top Chef for professionalism and maturity. There is a big difference between 10 years of experience built on learning from your mistakes and one year of experience repeated 10 times.
  • Nice guys can finish first

    Everyone loves a winner; we love a winner more when they are humble and generous. Whether you win or lose, people will remember how you played the game.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just how badly do you want my money?

Or, If you can't say anything nice ... by all means, throw a fit in front of an executive

In a recent meeting with several executives, a non-executive came looking for a handout. A Megan Joy - American Idol moment ensued.

Team A requested an investment in their product from Team B. Team A was rebuffed, and a member of the team made his disappointment known. Team A was offered alternatives, and the non-executive turned down Team B, citing schedule conflicts and displaying a general inflexibility.

What Team A did not know was, the sponsoring executives were open to the funding request ... Until Team B heard this response: "I just don't have time to try something new. But if you won't fund my project, I'll tell my team to kill it." The call ended rather quickly after that.

Nobody likes rejection. We take it personally, especially when we have invested in a particular tool or resource, only to find it coming under attack. Worst of all is when we are unprepared to face change.

Such circumstances do not relieve us from the responsibility of responding well. Being right, or being under perceived attack, is not license to respond with hostility. Burning bridges will not make things better.

But responding well, even being conciliatory, may actually build bridges.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Things we can all learn from Barack Obama

Today, Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States. There is no precedent for his election.

  • Make the most of the opportunities (and challenges) in front of you.
  • You can be an agent of change. You can be an agent of change.
  • The audacity of hope, residing in just one person, can unify many.
  • Obstacles don't stop us, they can only slow us down; it is our attitude that can stop or propel us.
  • You did not get here on your own. Carry your heritage with you.
  • Rivals can strengthen us.
  • Destiny is not written for us, it is written by us.