Leadership

This note is going to be short, although I have been writing it in my head for the last two weeks.

To be blunt, I need some time off. I’ve just come out of eight months or so of incredibly intense, deadline-filled project activity. I’ve finally polished off several major research projects and other client engagements, and suddenly I can look up and see white spaces on my calendar.

At first, my sudden lack of focus scared and depressed me, but after a few days I realized what a grand opportunity I have in front of me.

My dear friend and Very Wise Person Candace Fitzpatrick reminded me last week that I used to be a full-time college teacher, when I could spend every summer slowing down, reading, thinking, and designing or conducting research projects (in my case it was often conducting management interviews and developing case studies; I became much more a journalist and much less a teacher during those times).

Candace then posed a simple question to me:

Why don’t you spend this summer like that?

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(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The subtitle of my most recent book (Making Meetings Matter) is “How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age.”

The key words in that phrase are “Leaders,” “Orchestrate,” and “Digital Age.” My premise is relatively simple: in the digital age, we all have access to tons of information; the most important work activity today is information-based; and the role of leaders is to enable – or “orchestrate” – conversations that help those knowledge workers exchange ideas, collaborate, and build new knowledge.

Simple, right? Well, it may be easy to describe but it’s highly challenging to pull off. And, as I have observed several times, the best examples of digital-age leadership that I know are the orchestra conductor and the professional sports coach. [click to continue…]

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The Future Exit SignAs I say almost every week:

Smart leaders in 2017 don’t design good conversations, they orchestrate them.

I’ve also commented often that organizational leaders spend very little time thinking or talking about the future beyond the next quarterly earnings report.

In their classic book Competing for the Future, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad reported that most senior executives spend less than 40% of their time focused on the world outside their own organization, only about 30% of that future-focused time thinking about the next three to five years, and no more than 20% of that time talking with their colleagues about the future. In other words, only about 2.4% of management time (40% x 30% x 20%) is focused on building a shared corporate view of the future (Competing for the Future, p. 4.).

I’m convinced this inability (or unwillingness) to pay attention to what’s around the corner is the major reason the future seems to surprise us so often. [click to continue…]

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Smart leaders in 2017 don’t design good conversations, they orchestrate them.

What do I mean by that? For me, Design is a creative process that begins with the end in mind and identifies the resources needed, and the activities/experiences required, to produce those outcomes. Design is an intentional, outcomes-driven process. It is a powerful way to take charge of your future.

But when you are leading a conversation you don’t have full control of all the resources the participants bring to the exchange. And you can’t put boundaries around the flow of the conversation either; conversation is, by definition, a collaborative activity that involves two or more people who bring different experiences, values, styles, and goals to the experience, and who co-create the outcomes.

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“Creating a positive future begins in human conversation. The simplest and most powerful investment any member of a community or an organization may make in renewal is to begin talking with other people as though the answers mattered.”

– William Greider

That insight has never been more important to our future than right now.

Just about everyone I know and speak with these days is appalled at the state of our “national conversation.” When we talk about policy and political issues like healthcare, immigration, tax reform, climate change, and terrorism, there no longer seems to be any middle ground – or any room for objective inquiry.

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What’s in YOUR Future?

April 24, 2017

These days it feels as if there is a story about another new technology on every other page of every other newspaper or magazine, or – more appropriately – every other website or tweet.

We all know how big an impact technology is having on our lives, and it sometimes (all the time?) feels impossible to keep up.

The future is arriving at an ever-more dizzying pace. In most ways, our collective vision of the future holds out the promise of a higher quality of life, though there are also many challenges ahead (like the prospect of widespread unemployment as automation impacts more and more jobs).

I remain an optimist. However, I do worry that we’re not very good at sorting out the consequences – both good and bad – of new technologies. [click to continue…]

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Sell Holes, Not Drills

April 17, 2017

children's fire truckThere’s an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle that made me remember a cute story about sharing – or not:

Tommy and Johnny were four-year-old twins. One day they were playing on the floor when Tommy asked Johnny, ‘Do you want the big red fire truck right now?’ To which Johnny replied, ‘Not unless you do.’

The underlying idea, of course, is that we don’t come into the world wanting to share.

Indeed, most of our economic, social, and even military history is based on a world of scarcity. In a capitalist or free market society, the economic value of goods and services is determined by the balance of supply and demand; when something desirable is scarce, we are willing to pay more for it. And when something is plentiful, or in abundance, its price typically drops.

Of course, none of us lives in a pure free-market world, though most of us pay homage to that concept all the time. It also turns out that we are using up many things we’ve always thought were just there to be shared to our hearts’ content – like clean air and water.

But this is not about to become a political rant.

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The Future Exit SignI’ve written many times about the challenges we all face trying to predict the future. Just last week I offered “Seven Principles for Taking Charge of Your Future.” None of them involves predicting anything.

I gave up making predictions many years ago.

In the immortal words at that great American philosopher, Yogi Berra,

It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

[A quick Google search suggests that Nobel-prize-winning physicist Neils Bohr may have said that first, but it’s more fun attributing it to Yogi Berra]

I prefer to approach the inherent uncertainties about the future with a radically different mindset.

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Mark LeBlanc and Henry DeVriesI’ve just returned from a life-changing workshop. It was the first annual “Indie Books International Family and Friends Forum,” organized by Henry DeVries and Mark LeBlanc (Mark’s on the left) for Indie Books authors (and future authors). Indie Books is my publisher, and I couldn’t be happier with our relationship.

Henry and Mark are two of the most remarkable people I know, and they produced an experience this weekend I’ll never forget. Not only did the various sessions inspire me (and my fellow authors) individually, but the most powerful outcome of the weekend was the creation of a community. I’m now part of a group of smart, caring writers and speakers who are committed to supporting each other in the best possible way.

There’s no way I can re-create the experience for you, or capture it in words. However, I am going to share just a few of the sound bites that stuck with me. Frankly, it’s probably going to sound trivial and obvious, but I can vouch for the power of each one of these principles.

There is deep meaning here if you take these ideas seriously. In the interest of time, I’ll just mention them briefly without unpacking them completely – but I can guarantee you’ll hear more about them over the coming weeks and months.

So – here we go.

Ken Blanchard with Jim WareFrom Ken Blanchard (of One-Minute Manager fame (newly revised, by the way), and a fellow Cornell University grad who I knew way before he published the first of his 60+ books – that’s Ken on the left):

Invest in Essence before you worry about Form or Process. In other words, get to know someone at a deep personal level before you commit to any kind of partnership or joint effort. Know who you are working with before you worry about how you will work together.

From Dean Minuto, the award-winning Vistage Keynote Speaker and author of The One-Page Sales Coach: Your Guide to Getting YES from Anyone, Anyplace, Anytime:

Make your message visual. The brain absorbs visual information up to 30 times faster than auditory information. You can say it, and they will hear it; but if they see it, they’ll understand it far better and remember it much longer.

From Dan Janal and Robin Ryan:

Become a local celebrity by reaching out to local journalists and TV/radio producers. Make it easy for them to print your ideas or to interview you. Focus your energy on becoming a “go-to” expert for local news, and eventually the national media will find you.

From Tim Gard, CSP, CPAE (NSA Speaker Hall of Fame):

Have fun, mostly for yourself, and share it when you can. Tim entertained us with travel stories, every one of which had a personal lesson. As Tim told his stories I laughed so hard it hurt. But I also learned to look at life with a sense of humor and a passion for the pleasure of a good laugh.

And, by the way, we also experienced a somewhat more serious “final rehearsal” of Karyn Buxman’s upcoming TEDx talk on the therapeutic value of humor. Humor isn’t just about a good laugh, it’s also in service of good health. And good leadership (Karen’s forthcoming book is called Leading with Levity)

My most inspirational moments, however, came from Mark LeBlanc, a former president of the National Speakers Association and the author of the classic book for entrepreneurs, Growing Your Business, as well Never Be the Same, the story of Mark’s 500-mile walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (he’s done it twice and is about to embark on his third walk).

Mark tells me I’m the first person to call him my Yoda, but even that doesn’t do him enough justice. Here are just a few of Mark’s most important messages:

If your strategy doesn’t work, it’s not the strategy’s fault.” In other words, strategic failures more often stem from a failure to execute than from a bad idea.

What you do every day is more important than what you do once in a while.” That’s why Mark advocates developing a daily routine in which you do things like make business development calls, or friendship calls, every single day, five days a week, without fail. Just like one-a-day vitamins, make the important tasks in your life into habits, not strenuous, difficult activities. Be disciplined.

Similarly, “Success is determined not by outcomes, but by momentum.” Are you moving forward? Are you paying attention, and adjusting your efforts to your current reality? What pace is right for you? Your momentum depends on how you feel, and how you feel depends on your doing your best today – every day. And if you fall down, pick yourself up and start over.

In truth, there was much, much more, and many, many powerful conversations with friends new and old. As I said at the outset, it was a game-changing weekend (at least I intend to make it into one). Stay tuned, and I’ll report on my own momentum in making these principles not just good ideas but a central part of my life.


Don’t face the future alone. Jim Ware works with organizational leaders who want to make sense of the future and transform its inherent uncertainty into opportunities for extraordinary success.

Contact Jim today to explore how his workshops, keynote presentations, and expertise in orchestrating powerful conversations can put the future to work for you.

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I am very pleased that the C-Suite Book Club is currently featuring Making Meetings Matter, my most recent book.

The link is right here:  http://www.c-suitebookclub.com/book-store/james-p-ware-phd/

Check it out!

 

 

 

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