Essentials: Being the Real Deal

The Real Deal, Authenticity, setting the standard – whatever the phrase you chose to use – the team will never run beyond your example (unless they are running away!)

As leaders, if we could hear our team – they would say, “Be the real deal”. There are so many in this world that are more pretense than present tense… In other words they just aren’t real.

I believe with all that is in me that the leader should be the one that set the example – the one that pays more than others pay and gives more than others give – after all – isn’t that ‘leading the way’?

I LOVE the fact that at times the mushers in the race will jump off the sled and run beside it with the team – to me it speaks about commitment – Leaders must set the example when it comes to commitment and paying the price..

What do we do when it’s cold and rainy and we don’t want to train? We get up, get out, and train anyway! When we don’t ‘feel’ like paying the price? We pay it anyway!

I just don’t know that I could take knowing that my team had a greater commitment level to the cause and a greater work ethic than myself.

My heart is that leadership sets the standard to the point where it goes beyond the status quo – to the point of actually “inspiring” the team to deepen their commitment, deepen their resolve, and creates that incredible culture of ‘fanatics’.

‘Enthusiasm breeds Enthusiasm’ is one of my favorite ‘isms’. It breathes the ‘fire’ and then continuously ‘fans the flames’ – not in any sense of unfounded ‘hype’ – but in the uncompromising belief in the cause. A love for the race, and the commitment to pay the price – each and every day – that makes attaining the ‘Burled Arch’ a reality – and in doing so creates a tremendous sense of pride and purpose within the team. Call me an idealist if you will…. But if we are not bought in and ‘sold out’ to our cause or mission or race – how would we ever expect anything of greatness out of our team?

Seeing the commitment, tenacity, and determination of a Lance Mackey, Lance Armstrong, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Theresa –serves to inspire the rest of us – to challenge the rest of us to shake off the tendencies to accept the mediocre and to reach for greatness. People are people and if they can set the example – then we can set the example – think of the ‘tracks on the trail’ that we will leave for others to follow. This is our ‘Leadership Legacy’ – our Leadership ‘footprint’.

This week – if you feel like slacking up a bit – if it feels like things are crushing in on you – or the storms are hitting your trail – push on! In fact, pick up the pace, just a bit! Throw off the hooks that would seek to drag down or dampen your enthusiasm or resolve.

Leaders are charged with carrying the ingredients for fire on the trail. Where’s your fire, today? This morning, to set the resolve for my team to complete a project, I was up and at it before 4 am. When I consult in the hurricane operation – there are few team members that will keep up with the pace that I set for myself. And for those of you that have worked with me and think the pace runs strong – my brother puts me to shame! His work ethic is always pushing me – inspiring me – stretching me in my mind to reach for another level.

The race is worth it – pour your heart and back into it! Set the example – If we are going to be in the race – let’s always be real and let’s be in it to win it!

Essential Items: Handling Criticism

It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize. It doesn’t take much to sit in your living room or in a control booth and “Armchair Quarterback” the decisions and actions of those in the race.

If I haven’t said it out loud to someone – this is certainly how I’ve felt., ” throw on the parka, build the team, qualify for the race, start running 1100 miles in -50⁰ F and then we’ll talk.”

A leader takes many hits and some of the most difficult to take are when those you are leading start criticizing your actions, your leadership, or your personhood.

In the studies that Goleman has conducted on EQ (Emotional Intelligence) the findings revealed that a leader’s EQ is a greater predictor of their success than IQ. I believe it is a fairly easy result for us to buy into – after all, don’t most of us know people who are incredibly book smart and yet lack the ‘people skills’ necessary to be a success – and I want to unpack that as it relates to handling criticism.

Emotional strength is critical in leadership – in my mind it is one of those essential items – it supports perseverance and is foundational to pulling us through the inevitable ‘rough spots’ on our leadership trail. When it comes to handling criticism – we have two choices – shut down and build the wall or process what’s being said.

So let’s walk through a few steps that may help put criticism in perspective:

  1. It’s going to happen

    It is a fact of leadership that you are going to be criticized. It doesn’t feel fair and it doesn’t seem right – you’re the one giving your guts for the company and the team and someone has the nerve to stand there and criticize! And you want to react and say, “If you can do a better job – be my guest!” Another fact is: if you don’t want or can’t handle criticism, don’t be a leader! As the saying goes, “The only way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, attempt nothing, and ultimately, be nothing.” Leaders are targets because we’re out front and once we realize that criticism is part of being in this ‘race’ then we can learn to process it and use it for our growth or discard it.

  2. Consider the Critic

    Some people criticize out of pure motives and others have an agenda. There are a number of quotes that have served me well – “Hurting people, hurt people.”, “Crabs will pull others down that try to get out of the basket”, “You can tell a person by the words they speak”. People will criticize because they aren’t happy in life and don’t want others to be either, because of jealousy, insecurity, or the desire to keep the status quo. Knowing the source will help you to know which to really consider and use for growth and which to moderate. If they have been in the race, mushed their own team, and have your respect – it’s much easier to accept!

  3. Consider the Critique

    Consider that even though the source isn’t credible there still may be some truth in their statements. Take the time to sift through all of the extra ‘stuff’ and get down to the real meat of the criticism. One of my mentors would say, “Eat the meat, spit out the bones!” We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses – if this falls into one of the areas of your weaknesses – then so be it! We all need to learn – we all need to grow – this is just lighting up a spot on the trail that you may not have seen before – or you may be in a place that you’ve never been before and you need this knowledge to be able to qualify for the next race ahead! No one is perfect – life and leadership are growth experiences!

  4. Seek an outside, trusted perspective

    If the criticism came from a trusted advisor, coach, or friend that we knew had our best interests at heart – we would take that in and grow accordingly. Start to find or build a network around you of those that you can present the information to and that will give you appropriate feedback. If they are unwilling or unable to be open, honest, AND supportive – you need to find new counsel. Use that as a guide – find people you can trust that will give you open, honest, and supportive counsel.

  5. Grow where needed (E-valuate and E-volve)

    Some people spend years developing their technical expertise or their educational advantage and somehow they think that ‘Relational Skills’ are a take it or leave it proposal – my team just needs to ‘accept me as I am’. If the criticism centers on your relational connectivity as a leader – realize that you may need to spend as much time on your relational skill set (EQ) as you did on your IQ or TQ (Technical Competence). Where ever the area of growth – hunger for improvement and keep it in perspective – we ALL have areas where we need to grow.

  6. Keep on mushing!

    You’ve come too far to turn back now – don’t allow nay-sayers and discouragers to keep you from your destiny – you started this race and you can finish it! You are on the trail to something great and when you get there – all of the little ‘bumps and bruises’ along the way will seem insignificant.

I believe in you – you can do this – let me leave you with a great quote from Fred Smith: “No one ever erected a statue to a critic.”

Mush on!

Essential items

Competitors in the Iditarod have mandatory items that must accompany them throughout the race – they are to be in the leader’s possession – in their “sled” – for the duration of their “race”.

This led me to think about some of the mandatory competencies that business leaders should possess. As leaders lead across so many different types of businesses – are there some commonalities that we can draw to say – these are the ‘mandatory’ items that can determine or affect a leader’s success?

One of the top, in my mind, has to be perseverance.

Perseverance comes in many shapes, sizes and reasons – but however a leader gets there – it’s crucial to their success.

Dogged determination (pun intended) can come through emotional strength, vision, passion – or just a simplistic hard headed stubbornness that says, “Over my dead body!”

In the midst of a challenging project that was outside of my normal expertise – I was reminded of a quote from Winston Churchill. It came from the unlikeliest of sources – but was right on time! The quote?

Never, never, never, never give up.”

It led me to remember another one of my Churchill favorites:

“The nose of the bulldog is slanted backwards so that it can continue to breathe without letting go!”

I started thinking about perseverance in my life and “paying the price” to succeed. There are so many that I meet that seem to be unwilling to pay the price of leadership or of their dream. Many things can be achieved with the simple will to succeed and the pre-determination to “pay the price.”

So why do some make the choice and others don’t? That’s a mystery to me!

If it is your dream – your ‘Destiny” – than how could you quit?

What motivates you to persevere when you want to quit? A parent or mentor’s training? Belief in a higher purpose? Raw determination to prove nay-sayers wrong? Fear of financial lack or professional failure?

It’s a true statement that necessity is a tremendous motivator. If failure is not an option – than it’s only a matter of time until you succeed! And every setback only serves to push you to learn – to push you to change – to push you to improve.

I’ve said for years that if people think the drive in me that they see is strong or tough – they ought to be on the inside!

The work ethic that I learned from a football analogy is: Keep your head down and your feet moving…

Now – I would change that today to just say, “Keep your head up! And your feet moving…”

When it comes to paying the price, I have heard so many times from my mentor, John Maxwell, “Pay now, Play later” and “If you choose to play now and pay later – the cost will always be greater”.

I, usually, put it into financial terms – the sacrifice and investment on the front end yields much greater rewards or dividends on the back end.

Paying the price means we don’t quit after the first checkpoint, or the 5th, or the 17th – there are 20+ checkpoints – but at the end – our Burled Arch awaits and Success will come to those who simply don’t quit – those who never, never, never, NEVER give up!

The Heart of my Leadership

The reason I am drawn to use ‘Iditarod’ as a metaphor for leadership is that I love the story of what the race commemorates. It embodies a majority of how I approach life and business. It’s one of the summary points in Chapter 9 of the book: “Life is lived best when it’s lived for others.”

In Late January, 1925, Dr. Curtis Welch had come to the realization that what he was facing a deadly outbreak of Diphtheria in the village of Nome, Alaska. Particularly hit hard were the young people and survival hinged on getting the serum. We’ll pick the rest up from the introduction in the book:

Finally, – the only serum in Alaska was found.

Where? How many miles? His heart sunk. 1000 miles away? 1000 miles of frozen, Alaskan wilderness away.

The serum was in the care of Dr. J.B. Beeson at the Alaska Railroad Hospital in Anchorage!

How fast can it be transported? The usual method for transportation during the summer months was steamship, but the sea had iced in the town since October and it wouldn’t thaw until June. What about planes? Would someone be so daring as to fly during these conditions and attempt the landing? The only two available planes had been disassembled and neither had ever flown in winter. The call for help reached the Governor and the request for an alternate route was approved. The Alaskan Railroad ferried the medicine more than 250 miles north to Nenana. But from that point on, the traveling was treacherous.

Just before Midnight, January 27, with the clock ticking, the serum and the survival of the town was transferred into the hands of rugged men and their teams of sled dogs who would race across some of the most brutal terrain and the harshest conditions that mother nature has to offer.

When the first musher left Nenana, the temperature reportedly hovered at 50 below zero. The volunteer mushers transferred this “Baton of Life” 18 times – until it reached the hands of Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Togo, considered by many to be the true heroes of the run. Together they covered the most hazardous stretch of the route, and carried the serum farther than any other team.

The twentieth and final transfer was made and, according to legend, the serum was nearly lost when a huge gust of wind toppled the sled of this final musher. The musher frantically dug the serum out of the snow with his bare hands, righted his sled and continued on. February 2 at 5:30 a.m., just five days and seven hours after leaving Nenana, the Norwegian Gunnar Kaasen and his lead dog Balto arrived on Front Street in Nome.

Salvation came through Courage, Skill, Teamwork, and Perseverance!

I would add to that – that salvation came to Nome because a group of people were willing to give – to sacrifice time out of their lives – and danger to their lives – for the sake of others.

Again, it’s one of my life mottos and one of the legacy pieces that I want to leave as my mark on this earth – “He was a person that was a giver. He gave more than he received. He served others.”

Can we end one week and start the next thinking about serving? Thinking about giving? Thinking about charity? Where can we add value this week?

“Life is lived best when it’s lived for others.”

Leaders need courage

Whether you’re facing down 1100 miles of frozen tundra, a hostile business climate, or even a 360 peer review – courage is critical.

In every leader’s day to day there are times when we would prefer not to be as courageous as we need to be. We don’t always want to face the challenges in front of us, admit weaknesses (or areas needing improvement) in our leadership skill set, or stare down adversity raging like a storm off the Bering Sea – but if we are to continue to be the leader – it’s part of our job description.

Great Leaders understand that without risk there can be no reward.

There will always be risk – in business, in life, in Iditarod – Leaders know, understand and process this accordingly. It’s not that leaders lack fear – the fear is still there – it’s what you do with the fear and how you process it that makes the difference. Courage isn’t an absence of fear. It’s doing what you’re afraid to do. It’s pushing past the fear to a place of internal power – to leave the last checkpoint and ‘Mush off the Map!’ Think about it – if there were no fear – you wouldn’t need courage..

I heard of a leader that illustrated this point by handing his people 3 pieces of paper with choices on them.

  1. ‘Try and succeed’
  2. ‘Try and potentially fail’
  3. ‘Don’t try and therefore never fail’

Leaders value action – and to ‘not try’ is not an option for us if we want to succeed. Courage is looking at all the options, regardless of how unpleasant, making the best decision at the time, and starting.

Remember: just because you start down a path – doesn’t mean that you can’t change – that you must stay on that path forever. If you start down a path and it’s not working – see what needs to be changed and act on that, as well.

To increase your courage:

  • Do the homework. There is no substitute for having as much of the known knowledge as possible. Leaders need to make informed decisions and that comes from having the right information – the good and the bad.
  • Have open, honest discussions with rigorous debate about the appropriate course of action – when the mission or change is critical – this is not the time to hold back opinions – allow the debate to get spirited within the right boundaries.
  • Gain wise counsel. Counsel can come from many sources – but needs to come from the right sources. You can take information from many – but limit counsel to the right people.
  • Best Case / Worst Case. Play out both scenarios and weigh the cost of each – if you can live with the worst case – go for it!
  • Act – you have to act – you have to move and look for the very next logical step and take it! Then look for the next step and take it – before long you’ll be moving in the direction of success. Remember – it’s much easier to turn a moving sled than one that is stopped and anchored!
  • Evaluate – look back at this section in the RACE postings – evaluate at regular intervals and respond accordingly!

Fear will be present. As leaders we accept this. Criticism will always be present – we must accept this, too. If you weren’t attempting something great – people would not have cause to criticize.

If I were beside you today – I would encourage you that you can succeed – walk it out step by step – checkpoint by checkpoint – you’ll get there. And when you do – we’ll have a drink in the lodge together and celebrate!