Authentic Leadership

March 3, 2009

Leadership has never been more important than it is today. Whether you are a political, business, non-profit or faith-based leader the pressure is on and failure is not an option. You’ve heard it said that it is lonely at the top…well for many it is even lonelier now.

Leaders are always confronted with challenges and must often make difficult decisions, however; during times of strong economic growth, leaders can make many mistakes and still get bailed out by the market. In difficult times, as we are now experiencing, each mistake becomes magnified and leaders get scrutinized under white-hot lights. Unfortunately, some in leadership positions who happily took credit for successes in good times are playing the blame game now that fortunes have turned. In some cases, managers (those who manage process) have been given lofty titles that indicate leadership, but have never been properly prepared to lead. When the process no longer works as designed, failure lurks.

We cannot merely assume that one with the appropriate title is the most effective leader. As John C. Maxwell so eloquently stated in his The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, “the true measure of leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” Real influence can be best achieved by practicing authentic leadership. Authentic leaders impact and influence others by casting a bold vision, by surrounding themselves with capable independent thinkers, by preparing future leaders and by living a life of sacrifice. Authentic leaders are not preoccupied with perks, status and golden parachutes. Sure, pretenders come and go…and make headlines in the process, but they do go.

There has never been a more appropriate time to exercise authentic leadership. People want to be a part of a movement greater than themselves. Every organization needs a strong leader…one leading a movement to achieve greatness. What is your bold vision? Who do you need on your team? Who are your mentors? Are you grooming the next generation of leaders? Will your followers follow you in times of sacrifice and want? It will take authentic leadership to move our economy and nation forward. I’m placing my bet that authentic leadership will show up.

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Your Community: Survive or Thrive? There is a Choice.

February 3, 2009

The news is bleak: state and local budget cuts, increased unemployment, decreasing property values and tax receipts. The overall mood in your community has changed. Perhaps your community was booming; the local college or university was growing, business activity was up and real estate development was hot. Or, perhaps your community was just about to join in on the economic boom; infrastructure plans were ready, developers were scouting, and community optimism was at a high…just before the collapse.

Now what? Retrench? Wait this thing out? Sure, you can simply wait to deploy your plan. The economy will turn around sooner or later, won’t it? One thing though, it won’t be the same economy so your existing plan will probably not produce desired results. Everything has changed.

Some argue that the US (and indeed, world) economy is experiencing “destruction” versus “contraction” as defined by a recession. Consider the recent changes in banking, which is the circulatory system of our economy. The entire financial landscape is in transition from destruction to re-design, re-build and re-emerge (We are in the latter stages of the destruction phase). This is significant for anyone interested in retaining or creating jobs. Large projects with significant capital investment and appetite for labor are off the table, at least for now.

“Okay”, you say… “We get it.” “How can we adjust our plans and be proactive in this new environment?”

Please take a moment to examine the following:

1. How is your economic development staff being deployed? How much time is devoted to assisting and nurturing existing businesses and local start-ups vs. recruiting? Most new job creation opportunities and ALL existing job retention opportunities are located in your community today. I’m not suggesting that you abandon recruiting, only that you review your resource allocation.

2. How are you marketing? You probably have a website that focuses on your wonderful quality of life. Why wouldn’t everyone want to live here, right? It’s probably true, but unfortunately, it is irrelevant if companies are in no mood to move and your existing business owners already “get it”. Try offering information that will be of value to your existing businesses such as: an online business forum, guest blogs, how to negotiate local beaurocrocies, a talent/job board, local executive biographies and profiles, service provider network, etc. You may discover that prospects will be even more impressed by your vibrant and engaged business community than your new streetscape project.

3. Who is engaged? Your economic development and/or chamber of commerce professionals are paid to be engaged in community and economic development. Many do an outstanding job; however, real success can only be achieved by engaging “champions” to develop, lead or support critical programs or initiatives that make your community more competitive. Do you have support committees leading the charge for improvements in education, talent development and recruitment, public infrastructure, technology, start-up support/angel investing? (Note: I do not recommend meetings for meeting’s sake, aimless brainstorming, or trying to figure out the next big thing. If you want capable individuals to participate, please understand that, by nature, they lead busy lives. They are interested in execution and results.)

4. What are your existing assets? Even though I have seen the film, “Field of Dreams”, many times, I am not a big believer in the If You Build It, They Will Come model of economic development. Sure, you’ll want a minimum inventory of available sites and buildings in order to get prospect visits, but I challenge you to look around your community. You may find: businesses with growth potential, entrepreneurs with great ideas, retirees with knowledge, experience and wisdom, trained workers and available capital. It will take less time and resources to grow your base than to recruit a new one.

In short; involve champions and create an economic movement within your community. Seize control of your common destiny and capitalize on your existing assets. Before long, prospects will want to be a part of your movement.


Laid Off? Me? Now What?

January 12, 2009

My plan was to have this post be about starting a new business. That plan changed due to events that have occurred over the past week. As I charged out of the gate last Monday, I was certain that we were in store for a better year. I still feel that way; however, each and every day last week, I was contacted by friends and close acquaintances that had just lost jobs. While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I feel compelled to share what I know about the experience and offer some tactics for dealing with the situation.

First, breathe. Find a solitary place, close your eyes, clear your mind, tighten all your muscles, then release and take a deep breath. Now, keep your eyes closed and listen to yourself breathe… This is you. You have dealt with bigger problems. You have overcome greater odds. You are talented, hard-working, dedicated, experienced, and exude integrity. You will attack this challenge head-on, and as you do, you will take advantage of what you’ve learned about yourself, the gifts you have to offer and what the world desires.

Now, before you jump into the job search, take a little time for some self analysis:

1.       How is your faith? This is not a sermon and I am most assuredly not a pastor, but the question is important. What do you believe…and why do you believe? Is your faith stronger or weaker as a result of these circumstances? Take some time to reflect and, if need be, re-engage.

2.       How is your health? Had a physical lately? Exercise and eat right? Take this time to take better care of you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “The first wealth is health”.

3.       How is your mind? Read some great books lately? What are you hungry to know more about? This is your journey, your adventure, your rebirth.

4.       How is your family? Are you connected? Are you willing to make the first move?

5.       How are your friends? Are you willing to ask for their help? And offer help in return?

6.       Finally, who do you need to forgive? Your ex-boss? Family? Friends? Yourself? It is difficult to move forward in a positive way when you harbor anger or guilt. Deal with this now, make a clean break, and focus on your future.

If you pay careful attention to the six factors listed above, you will be in a better position, spiritually, physically, mentally and emotionally to face the challenge ahead of you.

To development employment leads via networking:

·         Reconnect with colleagues, friends, family and others. Most of the people you know will genuinely want to help you succeed.

·         Take advantage of social media tools, such as LinkedIn, facebook, Twitter and others. The basic services are free and it’s easy to learn how to engage. Your results may surprise you.

·         Touch base with your local chamber of commerce, economic development office, college or university.

·         Join a service organization and/or volunteer with non-profit organizations. You can make a real difference in people’s lives. In addition, it will keep you grounded and will help you build your network.

DO NOT:

·         Insulate yourself from others

·         Live in the past (learn from it and MOVE ON)

·         Watch TV News (narrow focus on negative events…the world is not that bad)

·         Eat, drink, or smoke too much (you’ll only add to the guilt)

Most of us want a new beginning, and now you have one. This is your challenge and your opportunity. I, along with many of your family members, friends and colleagues are rooting for you. You have what it takes. The world is a better place because of you. Thank you for all you have accomplished and for all you are about to accomplish.


Health Care Overhaul?

January 2, 2009

This post is the result of a comment I made in response to an article published by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.

The health care system, as we know it, will cease to exist in coming years. The forces of destruction, innovation and recreation have been mobilized and cannot be turned back. Our opportunity during this time of uncertainty is to redesign health-care completely from the inside-out. The first priority should be to provide quality and access to all Americans. As a nation, we can choose to pay for citizens to be healthy or we can pay for citizens to be sick. This is not a matter of free enterprise vs. socialized medicine; it is a matter of our international competitiveness. Healthy citizens contribute to wealth creation and enhance social capital.


Currently corporations, saddled with an ever increasing health care burden, experience a significant competitive disadvantage; and aspiring entrepreneurs, when faced with the health-care issue, become reluctant to start new firms. Our economic future depends on our ability to deal with this problem.


The primary obstacles to reform will be entrenched institutions that profit from inefficiency and lack of competition, as well as those individuals satisfied with paying a premium for substandard outcomes. In reality, the current system is unsustainable…the question is: “who will give up a piece of their empire to make it better”?


Your thoughts?


So long 2008! Thank you for a great gift.

December 29, 2008

What? Can I be serious… a great gift? In 2008 many of us experienced a profound loss in wealth. The value of our homes and stock portfolios plummeted, and worse, many lost jobs and homes. How can this possibly be a gift? At best, this seems to be an idiotic statement and at worst, it rings as completely insensitive.

But wait, before we get carried away, let’s examine what really happened. True, some hard-earned wealth was negatively affected by the downturn and many hard-working individuals were caught up in a firestorm that was not of their making. I argue, however, that the vast majority of losses were due to an over-inflated housing and stock market; inflated by cheap credit, greed, speculation, over consumption and ignorance. We wanted to live the good life and bought into false notions that the gravy train would never end. Every time someone flipped a property or created a new financial instrument without adding real value to the underlying asset, the result was the creation of a layer of inflation; a tax on economic sustainability.  The bubble continued to grow until it could no longer be sustained.

Okay, the bubble burst, now what? Where is the gift?

The gift is we get to come back to reality. And the reality is: we need to produce if we want to consume. I know this seems simplistic, but hey, I ‘m a simple guy. And what are we to produce? If we want to thrive once again, we will produce products and services that add “real value” for businesses and consumers and that create “real wealth” for our overall economy. Firms built on that premise are still with us and prospering, even if they were built during a bubble. Just look at those firms that were created during the dot-com boom and have thrived since the dot-com bust. Another reality is Americans are very good at making things. I believe we are about to see a resurgence of high value manufacturing in this country. Quality assurance and intellectual property issues are forcing companies in some industries to rethink out-sourcing and off-shoring.

We live in challenging, but very interesting…and even exciting times, don’t you think?  We are about to experience real innovation in almost every facet of our lives: in politics, economics, education, health care, and energy, just to name a few! We are entering a massive reorganization of historic proportions. It will be “all hands on deck” as we retool our economy and retrain our workers. If we work together to carefully rebuild our foundation, the structure we build can be far stronger than we ever imagined.

One major risk to regaining our prosperity is the huge debt our nation is piling up. It is my hope that as we rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, we will concentrate on those projects (and people) that make us more competitive. As we rebuild infrastructure, we will also need to emphasize human capital by addressing education, training and retraining needs. If we are diligent in this massive effort, we stand a much better chance of paying off our debt by generating enormous growth.

There are many risks to overcome. We cannot tolerate waste, regional politics or earmarks for pet projects at this fragile moment in time. We cannot tolerate losing our international reputation in the financial markets. We cannot tolerate graft or corruption, at any level, in business or government.

The stakes are high, but the rewards can be significant. Or maybe the reward is “significance”. Deep down we know we have let our national reputation for excellence, work ethic, innovation and leadership slip a little…okay a lot. Now we have this grand opportunity to remount, reload and exceed all expectations. Like you, I am excited by this opportunity and look forward to a productive 2009!