Four Characteristics of Great Leaders

by Joe on July 30, 2010

Road to leadership

Over the past three months I have been non-stop learning!  From reading books and I’ve taken much of my readings from the past three months and compiled what I have found to be the four characteristics great leaders demonstrate daily:

1. Leaders have strong opinions but weak defenses

Bob Sutton author of No Assholes Rule, gives a great example of how leaders opinions can set organizational culture.  In a post he describes how Andy Grove’s approach to leadership pushes three points that can be summed up with the following phrase, “Leaders have strong opinions but weak defenses.”  He says leaders explore and doubt in private, espouse self-fulfilling confidence in public and always seek to understand and adapt.

2. Leaders seek understanding

Are we able to express our ideas clearly and most importantly can we actively listen? Leaders seek understanding through civil dialogue. In Donald Miller’s post on civil dialogue, he lists his five principles of civil dialogue that take leaders conversations to the next level:

  1. Truth is not My Truth, it’s Just Truth
  2. Methodology is Part of the Message
  3. Without a Loving Heart, I am Like a Clanging Cymbal
  4. The Other Person has Sovereignty
  5. I Could be Wrong

3. Leaders consider business in their current state, not in its ideal state.

Seth Levine calls it “Your reality filter,” but it is just calling a spade a spade.  Ambitions, passion and excitement tend to cloud sound judgments on today’s decisions.  Put those feelings aside to make decisions based on data.  This practice of relying on data that describes the current state evidence based management.  Its the theory where we commit , “to finding and using the best theory and data available at the time to make decisions.”  Note it does not say feelings, or goal state.  When my feelings over run my logical ability to make a decision, I run into issues.  True leaders focus on the current reality and not the idealistic view of their business.

4. Leaders understand enough of each part of the whole so their ideas can have sex.

British author, Matt Ridley calls this “the mating of ideas.”  Ridley’s recent TED talk explained how ideas over the centuries have built upon traded with to enable an explosion over the past 100 years of standard of living.  He explains that people take their ideas or products and combine with or trade for other products creating new ideas or products.  His point is that not a single human knows how to make a mouse – drilling for oil to make the plastic, growing coffee for the rigger making the oil.  What is valuable here is that leaders can dive into details in a cross-functional way yet zoom out to make those details have sex and create value.

Leadership is an infinite resource, but finite in execution.  There are plenty of folks who know about these leadership characteristics, but very few who are able to implement them.  At the end of the day, we all ask ourselves the same question, am I implementing leadership characteristics in my life?

Business Dress 101: How to Shine Shoes and Iron Shirts

by Joe on May 7, 2010

We all clamor for professional development at some point in our careers, asking for trips, conferences, extra projects, but here are six of the most valuable minutes we will ever spend on our professional careers.  The video’s below teach us how to iron a shirt and shine shoes in less than three minutes each!

How to Iron a Shirt

How to Shine Shoes

Via the always stylish and entertaining men’s fashion writer Kenyatte.

Netflix Continues a Culture of Values Congruence

by Joe on February 3, 2010

Netflix spends considerable effort to maintain a culture of values congruence.  By aligning employees actions with their values, Netflix can build what I think is the most effective competitive advantage, a culture of trust.   Its values are action oriented and drive performance management and talent management across the company.

This Netflix slide deck explains how they maintain their culture.  After reading it several months ago, I have recommended it to several friends and colleagues. I didn’t want my faithful readers to miss the benefits, so I have embedded the slides below.

How different would the world be if all employers/managers were this focused on driving results from its teams?

Yet Another Futile Attempt to Explain Social Media for Non Profits

by Joe on December 28, 2009

I love where I work.  Daily, the conversations are challenging, broadening and focused on achieving impressive goals.  As a non-profit, my organization is always looking to take its operations to the next level, especially in terms of engagement with our constituents.  The mission and vision are what drive the passion for so many of my colleagues and volunteers.  Difficult part about it is driving engagement via conversation.  Just yesterday my co-worker sent an email to a few of us at the office helping us tilt our mission and vision toward the conversation and our collective ability to drive it. Check out his amazing thoughts:

Guest Post adapted from an email by Kye Hittle


You might remember that we threw out the idea of having the entire staff and talented volunteers become “compelling content producers” by way of blog, wiki, etc. That sounds very pie-in-the-sky, but it isn’t and it could offer a part of the solution to one of the immediate problems that we face in the comm arena (content creation). So, I thought maybe a tangible example that hits close to home for you might help.

Imagine you read this article (that came to me via twitter btw) which was just published today. You don’t have to actually read it, the exec summary is that charities often inflate their gifts-in-kind number to get a better rating on charity watchdog websites because it pushes down their cost of fundraising percentage.

The first thing you think is “wow, this reminds me why we are so conservative in our policies and, ya know, there really are some shadeballs out there.” And then “gosh, I hope our donors don’t think WE are like that.”

But, WAIT, how DO they know that we are any different? None of those policies are posted online. We don’t publish them in the annual report. (And even if we did who would ever read boring crap like that anyway?) We kill ourselves adhering to these policies and I betcha that, if surveyed, a bunch of our constituents just assume we are like the rest!  Ugh, we might as well play the game and get the better rating – sure would make our job a lot easier!

That’s not how our organization does things, however. So, you write a blog entry on the website blog linking to the article and going down how our policy handles each point Kathy Kristof levels against us nonprofits. Then you click Post and its done – 15 minutes. Now there’s no magic here – that doesn’t mean every potential donor automatically knows that we are above such shenanigans, but it does IMMEDIATELY put our position out there for the entire world (not just people we have contact info for, mind you, but anyone searching or stumbling across this topic). On top of that, the blog model invites a conversation, so people can say how much they appreciate our approach (sing our praises to the rest of the world for us) or ask further questions (allowing additional education we didn’t even anticipate was needed) or throw out a stupid and incorrect statement (that we can then correct in a public forum cuz you know if one thinks it, there’s a ton more that do too).

Try doing that with a magazine article, annual report or letter – or even a one-on-one phone call with someone that does care enough to call in and get the skinny. The reach would be far less and its a lot harder to refer to in the future when the question comes up again. Plus, when you need content for Foundation Flash or the Foundation e-newsletter, just throw in a blurb and link to your blog post for those that have interest (or didn’t but do now that you’ve brought it up for them). I could go on-and-on about the potential impact of that one simple post, but hopefully that begins to paint a picture.

That’s how it should work. You can probably imagine how this would play out for pretty much any staffer or key volunteer (there would be a ton of different scenarios). I really like thinking of the online content of an organization as its “resume.” Right now ours looks pretty thin and short of hiring someone(s) to beef it up, we’ll remain that way, unless we consider what new media offers.

This is one of the only tech-powered strategies that I would even consider at this early stage if I was in your shoes. Of course start small. What’s the cost? Staff/volunteer training, blog software (free, but there’s some setup), a shared strategy for what messages need to be advanced, strategy on one blog vs multiple. Are we ready for all that now? Probably not, but I’d say it should be in the consideration hopper. It just occurred that we can talk tools or theory, but a story would most likely be the best educator – hope it helped. Come hang out with Joe and I for an hour in that world and we’ll really blow your mind!



Now, the theme of this post is the response from YOU and the ensuing conversation, so both Kye and I would love to see your thoughts on this.  Please leave a comment and let us know what you think of this example and the start of a new more conversational and listening focused strategy.

Strategy to Engage a Community

by Joe on November 30, 2009

via dklimke on flickr

via dklimke on flickr

Whether your community is your co-workers, employees, or the group of people you interact with online, success is directly correlated to the strategy in place to achieve engagement.

At school teachers give you a syllabus.  They provide the “what to do” to learn what you need to.  In the real world, we must create our own syllabuses to drive results.  Here is the syllabus I follow to get results with my communities:


  1. Have a Plan – Put the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How on paper.  Make the Why answer drive the other answers.  The Why is the keystone for the entire plan.  Crafting a great How based on a community focused why is what makes marketing authentic.
  2. Execute/Engage – Don’t just talk about it!  Go do it!
  3. Listen – Put your ear to the router.  Put yourself in the feedback loop so you can actually hear the positive and negative conversations about your engagement. And don’t forget to ask for feedback as well!  People want you to improve!
  4. Adjust – Take the feedback seriously.  Go back to your plan and make changes to ensure your plan aligns to your goals and the feedback you received.  Communicate this feedback loop to the community.  Create a conversation about the feedback and start the changes to the plan, accept your shortcomings publicly: truth and understanding is the foundation of healthy relationships.
  5. Execute/Engage – When we adjust our actions, it is easy to feel like efforts to engage the community have failed.  Feelings of failure often lead to quitting.  DON’T DO IT! If we listen and care about our new relationships, we can care enough to improve.