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Archive for the ‘acts of rebellion’ Category

My last three posts have outlined problems and failures. I don’t know about you, but all that #fail is starting to bum me out, so I need to break the cycle right here, right now. I’m in need of a little win today, if only to finish out the week with some pep. No need for a dissertation about this or that today. Instead, just watch this video and let it do its thing. It’s short, it’s brilliant, it’s beautiful. (Just ignore the fact that it’s an HBO promo.)

Outstanding.

Whatever it is you want in life, how badly do you really want it? How hard are you really trying? The spirit of victory is alive. And if it isn’t stoking your fire, you can be sure that it is toking someone else gunning for your customers, your market, your job or your belt. If you aren’t the guy in the room who wants it the most, you’ve already lost to the guy who does. You just don’t know it yet.

Just like we manufacture our own failures (see my previous three posts) we manufacture our own wins. It’s a question of perspective. Of will. Of fire. It’s a question of choice.

Have a great weekend.

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Brandon Walters interviewed me kind of on the fly last week about the upcoming Social Story conference (Greenville, SC – September 24). The interview was obviously completely unscripted (at least for me). I haven’t watched it yet, but here it is anyway. (Click here if the video doesn’t launch for you.)

We shot a lot more, so hopefully, other little tidbits and outtakes will pop up at some point.

To sign up for the conference (seating is very limited), click here.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: Please note the absence of a moustache on my upper lip. Will this strike the final blow to #stachegate? Stay tuned.

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“I will tell His Majesty what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him.”

– Xeones, speaking about Leonidas, king of Sparta, after the battle of Thermopylae – From “Gates of Fire,” by Steven Pressfield

All of the precepts of leadership are listed above. Embrace this ethos, and your organization will be on its way to doing great things. Reject it, and the road ahead will be strewn with disappointment and strife. Before we tackle this specific point, let’s take a step back and get our bearings.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how and why organizations fail. We talked about myths of success and cultures of failure. We talked a bit about troubled leadership and “fisher kings,” who poison their organizations from the top down by infusing their culture with their own dysfunctions.

Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about what motivates people to excel, and in the absence of motivation or drive, what sets them up to fail.

I am so full of proverbs and sayings and clichés, right now, I don’t even know where to begin.

Alexander, Richard Branson and your boss: A tale of love and leadership

“There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.” – Navy SEAL saying

I just started reading the The Virtues of War, by Steven Pressfield. (Yes, the guy who wrote Gates of Fire, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.) It tells the story of Alexander the Great, from his childhood to the end of his campaigns, a man who conquered most of the known world before his thirty-third birthday. I am only forty pages into it, but already, it’s fascinating to consider that at only 16, he led 1/3 of his father’s army into battle, his squadron facing Greece’s fiercest warriors (who crushed even the Spartans), and won the day against men better equipped, better trained and just as valorous as Leonidas’ famous 300.

At 16, I couldn’t have led a street gang, much less generals and an army. So aside from being the son of a king, how did he do it? How did he get these men to trust him, to have faith in him, to surge into battle with him and fight until the day was won, instead of simply letting him ride along and take credit for his generals’ work?

One of the answers the book explores is the fact that – aside from being charismatic, clever as hell and already a master tactician before hitting puberty – his men loved him. From his generals to the rank and file, they just loved him. They respected him. Had faith in him. They followed him into battle because they trusted his genius, admired his courage, and felt elevated to be at his back.

Think about your favorite person in the world. Someone you admire above all. A politician, a military commander, an artist, a CEO, an agency principal… Whatever. Whomever. Think about the person you would kill to work for or serve under.

Apple’s Steve Jobs?

Virgin’s Richard Branson?

President Obama?

Ford’s Scott Monty?

Steven Spielberg?

Insert blank here.

Imagine your first day. How it would feel waking up that morning. How it would feel at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when things suddenly quieted down for a few minutes and you had time to reflect on where you are, living the dream, actually BEING there. How it would feel that evening, sitting at home, thinking back on your day. The smile on your face. The excitement pulling at every fiber in your body.

Now imagine your hundredth day. Your 500th. Your 1000th, still working for the one person you admire the most in the world. Someone whose trust and respect you’ve earned by now. Someone who seeks your advice and opinion, who puts your ideas and insights forward. Someone who inspires you to be the best that you can be, and makes you feel like your work is important and valuable. Every day.

Imagine waking up every morning filled with a sense of purpose as warm to the soul as a sunny spring afternoon.

An organization filled with people who feel that way cannot fail. Morale, not technology, not tools, not training, wins the day. Morale is everything.

Morale creates the difference between good boat crews and bad boat crews during BUDs (a weeks-long grueling SEAL selection process), and as we now know, “there are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.”

Now imagine working for someone you dislike. Someone who doesn’t inspire you. Someone who wouldn’t miss you if you were laid off tomorrow. I am not even talking about being forced to work for a sociopath, here. Just someone who doesn’t really care about his or her staff all that much. Someone who would be hard-pressed to inspire loyalty from anyone under their authority.

Imagine your 1000th day working for this person. Imagine the quality of work you and the rest of the staff would be in the habit of producing.

If there’s a clue in this discussion, it is this: You are the same person regardless of your boss. Same personality. Same upbringing. Same skills and wants and needs. It could even be the exact same job in the same office at the same desk. The only thing that changes is the boat leader. Your boss. Your captain. Consider the difference in both motivation and effect between the leader who inspires you, and the one who does not. The one you could be loyal to, and the other.

Consider then, the importance of love in the equation, and furthermore, the importance of certain key human qualities – of human virtues – in leadership. I’m not kidding. Pause. Sit back. Take a few minutes.

Now consider the reasons why you selected your hypothetical dream boss at the beginning of this discussion. What qualities do you admire in them? What draws you to their legend? What makes you love them enough to name them as your ideal boss?

The virtues of leadership, mind you, don’t always include kindness.

The young officer and the veterans

I “earned” my lieutenant’s bars at 21, and on the first day of my very first command, standing before an assembly of curious petty officers, I swiftly arrived at the conclusion that didn’t know shit. This was my first practical management experience: Being the new acting XO for a company of Fusiliers Marins (French Navy Marines), whose rank and file all knew their jobs much better than I did.

Which wasn’t hard, since I was fresh out of OCS.

So here I was, my bags yet unpacked and still in my dress uniform, addressing a group of grizzled, rotten bastards who were there at least as much out of sordid curiosity as professional courtesy. To them, I was new meat. Nothing more. They stood there, sizing me up, wondering who among them would do the honors of explaining how things really worked. The “No offence, Lieutenant, but…”

I knew the score.

It occurred to me, as I was about to address this assembly of cutthroats, that nothing in my training had prepared me for this. Nothing. Crawling in the mud, sure. Shooting at paper targets, definitely. Driving attack boats at high speed, boarding ships in the dark, fast-roping out of helicopters, blowing up tank carcasses and storming fake towns, absolutely. But I had no idea how to get these guys to respect me, to trust me, to work for me for any other reason than that they had to. They weren’t going to make it easy for me. These men were mostly there because they were head cases. Discipline flunkies. All decorated veterans, brave men with more guts than sense, but too clever and independent and difficult to manage even for a corps like the FUSCOS. This was the assignment I had requested, out of misplaced bravado and contempt for some of my glory-chasing classmates, and the full reality of it now stood before me, smirking like two dozen hungry hyenas in on a private joke. I was, as they say, fuckered.

So here’s what I did. I sat down and invited them to sit too. I introduced myself, and asked them to introduce themselves as well. We went around the room, and then I told them something very close to this:

“J’ai tout a apprendre…” Oh, hang on. Let’s do this in English.

“I have everything to learn, and I came here specifically to learn it from you.” I pointed to my beautiful new épaulettes adorned with my brand new gold bars. Some scoffed. I nodded. “I’ve been an officer for less than a day. The reality of the thing is that I won’t truly be an officer until you’ve made me one.  All of you.” I paused and looked around the room. “I won’t be an officer until you, to a man, have made me your Lieutenant. I came here because you’re the biggest assholes in the Navy, and if I can’t get you lot to make me into a half way decent officer, then I’m beyond help.” I looked around the room to see their reactions.  “Any questions?”

They were stunned. Many of them laughed. I even saw in the eyes of a few of them a glimmer of what might have been acknowledgment and respect. I only won over a few of them that day, but that was more than I needed. It was a start.

Without getting too far into my little war stories, here’s what I learned during my time as a young officer: The men who loved me went the extra mile. They excelled because they wanted to. Those who didn’t went nowhere. This was a lesson well learned, and one we will revisit before we’re done here today.

Beyond this, the facts of my service as an officer were this: Reenlistments doubled. Aptitude scores skyrocketed. We began to be invited to train with elements of the Foreign Legion’s 4th Regiment, which was no small feat. I was reprimanded by my superiors both within the FUSCO and the larger base itself more often than I can recall for all sorts of shenanigans. I constantly broke the rules – or at least stretched them. My direct superior’s assessment was that I was too close to my men. The base commander’s general assessment was that I was a pain his ass… but that I had the virtue of being interesting. In spite of our difference of rank, we became good friends. Even with all this turmoil, I managed to find myself decorated in the summer of 1993, less than a year into my military service for what the Navy called “exceptional service,” though to this day, I have no idea what I did to deserve that medal except cause trouble.

Case in point: I had a petty officer under my command quietly removed from my unit. A guy with twenty years of service. A veteran of Lebanon and countless campaigns in Africa. A war hero, once. But (there’s always a “but”) he had a temper and abused his men. My men. Whatever kind of man he had been in the past had been replaced by something else altogether. I suppose peace can be hard on a man who lives only for war. Good warriors don’t always make good leaders. There is more to the business of soldiering than courage under fire and a propensity for violence. For months, I tried to steer him in a different direction. I failed. We had an altercation. He moved on. There’s a lesson in this too, one of humility and resignation, and we’ll also revisit this story before the end of this post.

But the story I want to tell you now, is how on a sunny summer day, because I hadn’t yet done enough to distinguish myself as complete screw-up, I told off a full-bird colonel, because  like my troubled petty officer, he was taking a dump on my men. And that, my friends, was not okay with me. The honor of being a pain in their rumps fell to me and me alone. (Don’t worry, there’s a lesson in this too. A big one.) Here’s what happened:

The barracks incident

The colonel wanted to move his reservists into our barracks and make my men sleep in tents. We were about to begin two weeks of maneuvers with a reserve unit from the Army, guys who in time of war would be called upon to put on a uniform, gather around the base to defend it, and then surrender at the first sign of the enemy.

Let me clarify a few things before I go on, so you don’t think I was being insolent for the sake of being difficult. My men could have slept in tents for a week without trouble, (they were all used to far worse) but it was the principle of the thing: The colonel didn’t understand how territorial men in a military unit can be. He came in on their turf (our turf) and treated very well trained men like rabble. What he did showed a dangerous and insulting absence of respect for men who were not even under his command. Although his rank far exceeded mine and his operational authority overlapped my own chain of command, his “insult” couldn’t go unanswered. I set him straight. It was as simple as that. But the consequences of this act, as witnessed by my men, proved to be of some importance.

Back to our story.

The reservists – there by law, mostly against their will – were a problem. They clearly didn’t want to be there, did not enjoy military life, and had a vicious disposition towards my men, other naval personnel on base, and especially women in uniform. My men were under strict orders from me to avoid any and all confrontations. To ignore insults and taunts, to back away from challenges, and to be as cordial to each and every reservist as if they were foreign dignitaries. It was difficult given that my men were proud and intolerant of disrespect, but this, they did. For me.

The reservists, actually, were more than just “a problem”. They were hooligans of the worst sort: Weak of mind and body, petty, rude and completely undisciplined. Those among them who might have been okay fell in pace with the agitators among them: The loud-mouthed jokers who know how to seize the attention of impressionable men looking to be included in a pack. It didn’t help that the Army officers in charge of managing them were afraid of inciting a mutiny by enforcing proper discipline. We treated the reservists like brothers, in spite of everything. We trained and drilled with them all day. We took them on night patrols to teach them the ropes. We slowly but surely started to make them into soldiers again. As much as we could anyway. By the end of the two weeks, we had started to form bonds with them. The animosity, the negativity, the lack of respect… All of it had been replaced with the seeds of camaraderie, professionalism and what the Greeks called dynamis: The will to fight, or the fighting spirit. We might have made warriors out of them yet. (A few months with us, and who knows?)

(There is a story within the story about the final exercise in which a small detachment of my men and I fought against these two companies of reservists and half of my Marines, in which I got in pretty serious trouble for kidnapping the base commander in the middle of the night and scaring his wife half to death. I won the exercise and received the biggest arse chewing of my career, but that is a tale for another day.)

A week before the exercise, half way through the reservists’ training, arrived a colonel who oversaw the deployment and command of every reserve unit in the Army’s Mediterranean theater. This was the man I would offend.

Half way through the afternoon of his arrival, I noticed my men moving all of their gear from our barracks and into the reservists’ field tents. Confused, I asked one of my squad leaders to tell me what was going on. He explained that he and the other petty-officers had been ordered by the colonel himself to swap bunks with the reservists. They were to take over the tents and surrender their barracks to the colonel’s pet monkeys. No one was particularly happy about it, but orders were orders. I told him to order the men to grab their gear and put it back where it belonged: In their barracks. There would be an inspection before shift change. He stared at me in silence, not daring to say anything. I knew what he was thinking. I repeated my order. He nodded and relayed the order to the rest of the men, who stopped and stared at him, then me. I called to one of my men, a K9 specialist who was on duty that day to fetch the colonel.

Moments later, the man emerged from the officers’ mess and greeted me with all the contempt he could muster: Me, a mere lieutenant. What could I possibly want? I saluted him and nodded towards the tents of the reservists, where my men were now busy removing their belongings and his were busy moving back in. I let him take in the sight, and asked him what he saw. He answered that he could see my men disobeying his orders. He was furious. I calmly watched my men and his, busy setting things right, and told him he was wrong.

“What you are seeing is my men obeying my orders,” I explained.

He turned beet red with rage.

I calmly explained that my men, unlike his, had a mission to perform, that our unit and the base itself were operational (one of only two naval bases in France, in fact, with such a high level of security and strategic priority), and that under no circumstances would their mission be jeopardized by his reservists because they were too soft to sleep in tents. I went on to remind him that, charged as I was with this mission, that because it superseded all else and we were not under his authority, with all due respect to his rank, my men, under my orders, would not sleep in his piece of crap army tents while his miscreants slept in comfortable beds they hadn’t yet earned.

Sensing that something was happening, my men edged towards us to try and hear what we were talking about, but a stern look in their direction made them keep their distance.

The colonel started yelling. He gave me very mean looks and flailed his arms about while he went on about ending my career and having me dragged before the President himself. I crossed my arms and listened until he was done. I then told him that if he wanted to discuss it further, he could take it up with the base commander whose authority I was actually under.

He did.

Within the hour, I was summoned. Phone calls had been made to Headquarters. Someone at the Ministry of Defense had even called from Paris to find out what was going on. You think old women spread gossip fast? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve been in the Navy. Our little tent and barracks incident was the talk of the fleet.

The dressing-down that followed was epic. The base commander, shadowed by his XO – the Marine Company commander, my boss – spent a good fifteen minutes yelling at me in his office. I stood there and took it, as was expected. Fifteen minutes was somewhat of a record for him. I started rooting for him after about ten or eleven. I am sure his clerks outside were keeping track of the time as I was, only grinning ear to ear from the safety of their offices.

Finally, he couldn’t keep a straight face anymore and broke into laughter. He told me he thought the colonel was a prick too. So did half the Navy. I wasn’t in trouble at all. He just wanted to see me sweat it out.

The colonel was gone by the time I returned to my men. Back to his headquarters he returned, no doubt bent on having my head delivered to him on a platter. (It remained, to his chagrin, very much attached.) The reservists were quiet. My men, smirking, saluted me with a little more zest than usual. I told them to cut it out. It didn’t help. The damage was done. To mark the occasion and ensure there wouldn’t be too much resentment over the incident, I took them all on a night march, Marines and reservists, explaining that this whole adventure had all been for naught since no one would be sleeping in barracks or a tent that night anyway. They didn’t seem to mind.

Things changed after that day. Not because I was a great officer (I was actually a pretty lackluster officer), not because I was a badass warrior (I was a wuss) or the best shot or the fastest runner or the most charismatic guy on base. I was none of these things. All I had done was stand up for them in a way that perhaps no one ever had, and that I had done so for something as insignificant as beds and a roof over their heads didn’t hurt.

Imagine your boss standing up for you the way I stood up for them. Imagine how you would feel about him the next day, when he smiled at you and asked you how you were doing. Imagine how much you would be willing to give when he next asked something of you.

Now imagine that to top it all off, your father, assuming you had even grown up knowing him, had never stood up for you either. (Most of my men were under the age of 20, and at least half came from broken homes.)

But this isn’t the lesson yet. This story isn’t about me. I am just the one telling it. There’s more.

The wisdom of old warriors, and the secret of leadership

A month and a half later, the commander of the naval special forces (COFUSMA), during a surprise inspection of our unit, took me aside and asked me how I had managed to turn the unit around. I told him I hadn’t done anything except train the men as ordered.

He grinned and told me I was full of shit.

His right hand man, a guy who without his uniform and his rows of decorations would have looked more like a Belgian antiques dealer than the badass super soldier he was, later invited me to walk with him. For once, I didn’t disobey a direct order, he noted. I was making progress. There may be hope for me yet. All of those commando old-timers were smartasses.

We chatted for a while. He asked me where I was from, what I wanted to do with my life, the countries I wanted to visit… It went on for a while. At one point, when he was satisfied that we were well beyond the need for small talk, he stopped and turned to me, and asked me the same question COFUSMA had asked me before: How had I managed to turn the unit around? A year before, it had been a dump for discipline cases. It had the lowest morale scores in the Navy. The least amount of reenlistments. Interventions and readiness scores were mediocre. Yet on this day, before COFUSMA and his staff, the unit had been tested and retested, and our scores exceeded those of the top Marine units in the country. Morale was higher than in any other unit he had visited so far that year. More of my men were returning to commando units than from any other Marine unit unit in the Navy. How had I managed to turn things around? A rookie. A 21-year-old kid with a cracker-jack bar on his shoulder, no command experience whatsoever and a knack for getting in trouble.

What I wanted to say – and what I still firmly believe – was “luck?”

He stared at me for a long time and smiled. As it turns out, he knew the answer to the question even if I didn’t. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “Every other guy who comes here to do this job, for as long as I can remember, he goes to Lorient, he gets his bars, he comes here, he leaves, another one comes and takes his place. That’s it. You too. But the difference is this: You care about them more than you care about you. And about these.” He gestured to my bars.

I protested. I told him that wasn’t the case. He put his hand on my shoulder to quiet me and continued. “Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But when it matters. When it matters, you put yourself last. And they notice.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt like a fraud. The reason why I wasn’t afraid for my job was because I knew I wasn’t in for good. This wasn’t going to be my career. I didn’t care if I never got promoted. Besides, I still had my share of enemies on base, people rooting against me, hoping to see me fail. He told me he knew all that. That all of my predecessors had been in the same boat (forgive the pun).

“Your men aren’t indifferent to you, Olivier. They don’t mock or resent you, the way they mock and resent other officers from the EOR program. They love you. Not all of them and not all of the time, you aren’t that good, but enough of them and when it matters. That’s the bond you have with them. They’ll always be loyal to you because you’re loyal to them. And just like you only show them that loyalty when it counts, so do they only show you theirs when it counts. They know they can depend on you, and that’s rare. That’s how it works. Leadership is a handshake. It’s a quid pro quo of respect, empathy and honesty. You give and they give back in kind. That‘s the secret of leadership.”

Then he said this: “What you probably don’t see, however, and something you should be careful about, is that you crave their approval the same way they crave yours. It’s a double-edged sword.” With this, he taught me temperance. He reminded me that there is a line between leadership and friendship. That seeking the approval of your men, of your staff, can be dangerous.

I thought back to my first day with the petty officers.  The speech I gave them. He knew where my mind was at that moment. He had come up in the ranks with several of them. They stayed in touch. Some of my closest allies on base had turned out to be lifelong friends of his. He knew everything I had done since taking my command.

I asked then what I should do. He grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. And that was that.

I left military life behind at the end of my tour some months later. Part of me always regretted it, and it’s fair to say that I still miss it every day, but I don’t think I was meant for military life. Not in France, anyway. Too many generals and not enough action. Never a good combination.

At any rate, 18 years later, here I am, finding the same lessons spelled out in Steven Pressfield’s books about Leonidas and Alexander, and suddenly compelled  to write these long ass posts.

The lessons then, and what this has to do with the psychology of failure

And now, the lessons:

(I know. You could have just scrolled down to this paragraph. Sorry. I forgot to mention that.)

Leadership is love.

That’s it.

Okay, but seriously?

Yes. Seriously. And here’s what’s else:

The way you engineer a culture of failure is by doing the exact opposite of everything I wrote about in this post. Here’s how it’s done. This is how it starts (Sorry, SP, I took the liberty of turning one of your paragraphs into the opposite of what it actually states):

I will tell His Majesty what a fool is. A fool abides within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A fool dines while his men go hungry and sleeps when they stand at watch upon the wall. A fool commands his men’s loyalty through fear and purchases it with gold; he never earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a fool assigns others to lift in his stead. A fool requires service of those he leads without ever providing it to them. They serve him, not he them.

– (What Xeones might have said if asked to speak about the exact opposite of a good leader.)

Leadership is not an entitlement. Cultures of failure, the psychology of failure in organization begins with the opposite of love: It begins with fear and selfishness. It begins with the word my.

My bonus.

My promotion.

My project.

My office.

My job, and no, you can’t have it.

What is mine, I can lose. It can be taken away from me. This puts me at odds with everyone else because it puts my self interest above everyone else’s. My brothers now become a threat. I begin to regard everyone with suspicion. Silos emerge. Whips appear.  The illusion of control replaces dynamism. Before you know it, the organization begins to turn against itself from within.

I am reminded of a group VP I once worked for, who before every quarter-end would fire staff if her P&L showed she came shy of her bonus.

This is poison.

When leadership ceases to be about entitlement and perks, about bigger salaries and nicer offices, when it becomes service instead of power, it returns to its pure and effective form. Not that any of these things need to be removed from the equation, mind you. It’s just that they don’t matter. They’re the surface, not the substance.

Another thing I learned during my time in uniform, and what was later confirmed in every position I’ve held since is this: People will shine if you give them a reason to. And everyone, yes everyone can shine.

In the same way, people will fail if you give them a reason to. It goes both ways.

There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.

Two last little bits, and I’ll let you go.

1. The first is this: If I sometimes shone as an officer – and not everyone was of the opinion that I did – it wasn’t because I was wise enough to be popular with my men, whether by accident or design. The truth is that I looked up to several of the petty officers I met on that first day. How could I not? I was 21 and they were in their late thirties. They were badasses: Confident, experienced, great at their jobs, they were everything I wanted to be. After my little speech, a group of them took me under their wing. They mentored me. They blessed me with the courtesy of their respect and exemplary behavior before their men, putting aside pride and personal feelings of scorn for an officer so young, and treated me as if I were worthy of their best salutes… which I wasn’t.

There are lazy salutes and there are snappy ones. You learn to know the difference. These guys snapped to as if I had been Charles De Gaulle himself. That, more than any other thing, inspired me to be the officer they thought I could be. It set the tone for the rest of the unit to give me a chance to serve them with the gratitude and awe they deserved.

It was them. It was always them.

And it didn’t hurt that the base commander himself, by granting me his affection and protecting me as he did, gave me license to be the officer my unit needed in order to get back on its feet.

The more I gave, the more it gave back. The more it gave back, the more I found myself compelled to dig even deeper and give more.

Leadership is a trust.

2. Here’s the last one, and it speaks directly to failure. My failure. It deals with the petty officer who left my command under what could best be described as unfortunate circumstances. He had been a good man once. Probably. At least a good soldier. As a section leader in my company though, he had become poison. It had begun long before my time, but as an officer, his officer, I failed him. There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.

For months, I tried to reason with him. He scorned me. The man had no more respect for me than he did for his men. He wasn’t alone in his dislike for me, but he was the only one who expressed it openly. Nothing I tried worked. I simply couldn’t get through to him. I spoke to his peers and asked for their advice. They tried to settle things among themselves, which failed as well. He was a bully. He was angry with everything. He didn’t want to be there. As the entire unit fell into place, he made himself a wedge and pushed back. He taunted me. At every turn, he challenged me. My men didn’t have to say what they thought. I knew that I couldn’t let it go on: My authority was at stake. My very ability to command. If I allowed him to defy me any longer, I would lose their respect and loyalty, no matter how much they liked me. No matter how many colonels I stood up to. And there was the other issue: That it was my job to protect them, and if I couldn’t do that, what good was I?  At only 21, I didn’t know what to do. I eventually ran out of options and it came to a confrontation. It’s what he wanted and it’s what he got.

The outcome was this: He left. I stayed. By morning, workers had already patched up the walls of my office and repaired the broken glass of the windows. The desks and chairs were returned to their proper place. It was as if nothing had happened. No one spoke of it openly outside of the official inquiry, which was itself swift. He was transfered, then offered early retirement. I made sure his record wasn’t tarnished by his undistinguished final years in uniform. A man’s life work shouldn’t be invalidated by only a fraction of it.

The immediate problems of morale, abuse and my ability to command were solved that day, and his departure was as if a weight had been lifted from the entire unit’s shoulders. His friends did not become my enemies. I was told I had done the right thing. My mentors offered to buy me a round of drinks. But I never saw it as a win. Neither did my superiors, who expressed their disappointment in me. The culture of the Fusiliers was such, though, that in the absence of a better course of action, only this one remained: A good old duel. Two rams locking horns. The dumbest form of problem solving on the face of the earth. In the end, it came down to that, but I wish it hadn’t. This also is not a great way to resolve management problems in the civilian world, by the way (though there, transferring or firing people can be a bit easier).

Cultures of failure are resilient. They grab hold of the ground like a weed and don’t let go. If you allow them to take root inside an organization, they grow and eventually take over. In the best of worlds, you find the wisdom not to fight them, not to defeat them, not to allow them to brace themselves against you and become an enemy. In the best of worlds, you can inspire them to turn themselves around, you can win them over with reason and affection and virtue. Sometimes though, as I found out in this instance, no such luck. But you still have to do what you have to do. Leadership is also about having to make hard decisions in impossible conditions, about having to choose between two bad solutions when no good one is available. Sometimes, leadership is as much about minimizing failure as it is engineering wins. It isn’t for everybody. It’s tough on the nerves and hard on the soul, but for those who want it, it’s there, at once beautiful and terrible, elating and terrifying, infinitely rewarding yet relentlessly unforgiving. You never quite figure it all out, but as long as you press on, the wind tends to stay mostly at your back.

Thanks for sticking around to the end. I felt like telling stories today.

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"Liberty" Paris, France.

Happy 4th of July, everyone. (Or 5th. Or 6th. Or whatever day this happens to be.)

Between hot dogs, corn on the cob, Budweisers and fireworks, take a minute or two to think about the meaning not just of liberty, but freedom as well. Those of us lucky enough to live in countries in which we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the freedom to start businesses and be masters of our own destinies have it good. Don’t take it for granted. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that written laws grant you freedom. Written laws can be unwritten. Contracts can be amended. Things can change. Ask King George. Ask Louis XVI. Freedom is as fragile and precious and fleeting as life itself. Remember that freedom is not conditional. It is or isn’t. Though you may not be free 100% of the time, moments of freedom are absolute. Catching the sweet spot on a wave, the sun at your back, not a worry in your mind, that’s freedom. Racing full bore around the pyramids of Gizah, warm desert wind filling your lungs, the horse under you bucking with joy at finally being untethered and allowed to gallop, that’s freedom. Doing cartwheels in a field under endless skies, driving too fast with the top down, free-diving coral reefs, carving virgin snow at dawn with freshly sharpened skis: Freedom.

Going through passport control in the Atlanta airport, working a job you hate, letting someone bully you, coloring between the lines, checking the box, being in debt, none of these things are freedom. The land of the free isn’t if no one in it remembers what it means to truly be free.

Don’t mistake comfort and safety for freedom. Don’t let anyone convince you that freedom is something one man can grant another. It doesn’t work that way. Something granted can be just as easily taken back. Freedom, true freedom, is seized, not bought. No piece of paper, not even the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution has the power to grant a single man freedom from another. Freedom lives in our hearts and in our actions. Words mean nothing. Words lie. (Beware the man who speaks of freedoms in the plural rather than freedom in the singular. The moment that happens, watch your back.)

So on this 4th of July 2010, take a moment to think about your liberty. Your freedom. What are you really celebrating today? How free are you really? Are you working for the right company? Answering to the right boss? Doing what you know in your heart what you should be doing with your life? Are you merely celebrating the idea of Freedom on the Fourth of July because you’re kind of supposed to, or is today an extension of July 3rd and a prologue to July 5th and 6th and 7th?

The Founding Fathers knew in their time that a nation of slaves would never rise to its fullest potential, and the same is true today: Complacency, the lure of safe choices and graying compromises, settling for anything less than freedom – the kind that fills your lungs and burns through your veins and makes you feel alive, truly alive – and letting other people decide how you should live your life are a threat to us as a nation as grave as global warming, religious hatred and self-righteous intolerance.

When the French gave Liberty to the US as a symbol of lasting friendship between our two countries, their hope was that she wouldn’t be forgotten, standing alone on an island, facing out to an empty, graying sea. They hoped that she would inspire every man woman and child to seek their own freedom, to fight for it, to love it with every last gasping breath above all else.

To those who have and do shed blood for freedom, who risk life and limb for it, whether soldiers or refugees, students or journalists, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, we owe more than hot dogs, beer and fireworks. We owe them no less than to fight for our own, every single day with all our souls, as if our very lives depended on it. And they do. Be careful not to celebrate what may not be yours to celebrate yet. What you may not have truly tasted in years.

So my advice to you is this: From now on, color outside the lines. Draw your own boxes. Work for people you want to work for. Make your destiny and every moment of your life your own. Don’t ever, ever ever let anyone get in the way of that. Do this and a year from today, we’ll all have a lot more to celebrate, hot dogs, beer, fireworks and all. 😉

Happy 4th of July, everyone.

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The unfortunate yet necessary business of getting punched in the mouth

You learn a lot about yourself during your first fist fight. Especially when you know for a fact that the other guy is going to mop the deck with your face just because he can.

And that’s just the thing: It’s one thing to get into a fight you’re pretty sure you’ll win. It’s another completely to get into a fight even though you’re pretty sure you’ll lose, and still find the courage to stand your ground and see things through.

Close your eyes and hold that thought. We’ll come back to this in a sec.

Okay, so I know… this may seem like an odd topic for a blog that deals mostly with brand management, social media, business strategy, etc., but as I found with my “21 things” blog last week, there is a deeply human side to making inspired business decisions that we need to start focusing on a little more (not just here – in general). Why? Because business decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. People make these decisions. Human beings, with good days and bad days, filled with courage and plagued by cowardice, swelling with passion and weighed down by apathy. People as imperfect and flawed and riddled with self-doubt as you and I. Yes, the Steve Jobs, Jack Welches, Henry Fords, Walt Disneys, Bill Gates, Richard Bransons and Julius Caesars of the world are just as human as the rest of us, with their own problems, their own doubts, their own insecurities and their own challenges to overcome. But one of the things that separates them from the majority of people is their willingness to step forward even when the odds are squarely against them, and risk taking a very public and humiliating beating if things don’t turn out as they had hoped. But even they can come to a professional impasse if their “education” along the way skipped the essential rite of passage known as the boyhood brawl.

The first thing you probably need to get from this post is this: Because decisions cannot be divorced from the people who make them, who we are as human beings impacts those decisions at least as much as what we do professionally: A CEO is a role, not a personality trait. A general is a rank, not an emotional profile. A manager is a job description, not an indication of natural leadership. In other words, don’t let the cover story fool you: a title printed on a business card doesn’t reflect an individual’s ability to lead, inspire and show cunning any more than the size of their bank account or the make of their car.

What does a title really tell you about someone? If you live within a regimented corporate or military culture, it tells you something about where they stand in the pecking order and what power they yield over you and others, but that’s really about it. In matters of leadership, courage, integrity and mental fortitude, a job title doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about someone’s mettle. More to the point, a job title doesn’t tell someone a whole lot about themselves and what they are capable of when the chips are down.

The importance of dangerous tests and contests

Back in not-so-ancient times, boys were routinely tested as they grew up: Going into the woods alone for the first time. Climbing the tallest tree. Swimming across the river. Diving to the cold dark bottom. Catching your first fish. Killing your first fowl. Standing your ground against the older village or neighborhood kids. Tribal rights of passage. By the time a man reached adulthood, he knew exactly who he was. He knew his own strengths and weaknesses.

And the rest of the community did as well.

Via regular social tests and challenges, stars rose, stayed stagnant, or fell from grace. There was no hiding from it. The pecking order in human communities was always in flux, with the smartest and strongest leading, and others following, hoping for their chance to prove themselves someday and improve their position.

Only now, it seems that such personal tests, the ones that cemented not only reputations but confidence, self respect, courage and wisdom have fallen mostly by the wayside. Just for the record, graduating from kindergarten is not a rite of passage. Landing a 20% off coupon isn’t either. Neither is unlocking a fifth level prestige badge in COD Modern Warfare 2 on X-Box Live.

Here’s an observation. It isn’t a judgment. Just an observation: None of the people I have ever worked with or worked for while I was in the corporate world had ever been in a real fight. None had ever fought back when the bully shoved them in a locker or stole their lunch money. None had ever stepped in to help someone being mugged. None had ever finished a fight that some drunk jerk forced on them or one of their peers. And… coming from France – a country where little boys haven’t yet been taught that getting into the occasional fisticuff is a sign of deplorable behavior – I found this both surprising and unfortunate. Not because I find fights to be particularly edifying (I don’t enjoy them a whole lot, especially since I am not Chuck Norris), but because fighting – which mostly amounts to dealing with fear, confrontation, pain and the social pressures not to quit or lose – has been part of young mens’ “education” for tens of thousands of years. Like it or not, fighting each other is baked into our DNA. Men need these types of experiences in order to move from childhood to adulthood. Sport can be a decent substitute for some time, martial arts as well, but ultimately, nothing can truly take the place of actual combat. By creating an entire generation of men who have never experienced the fight or flight gauntlet of a knuckle duel, I am not certain that we are properly preparing young men for the types of mental and emotional challenges required of them in high stakes leadership positions.

Asserting yourself in a business meeting, negotiating a settlement, managing a takeover, speaking to investors, presenting to a crowd of bloggers and journalists, convincing banks to back your next venture, these things don’t go well unless you have a certain level of quiet confidence about you, the kind of confidence that frees your mind to get the job done rather than worry about whether or not you’re up for it.

Reassuring the American people that the country is safe, customers that it is still safe to bank with you, drivers that your cars won’t accelerate out of control and explode, investors and employees that your company is still a sound bet, and the public that you have the oil spill under control can’t be left to folks who haven’t tested themselves to find out what they are really made of.

Remember Michael “Brownie” Brown, the guy in charge of FEMA during the Katrina crisis? His impeccably pressed, perfectly white dress shirts? Not a hair out of place while the people of New Orleans drowned and starved to death? Nice guy, I’m sure. Smart too. Probably great with the whole IAHA Arabian horse thing, and corporate luncheons and country-club brunches, before being appointed to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Except… Wrong guy for the job. Why? Hmmm. You tell me.

Now put a military officer – especially an Iraq or Afghanistan combat veteran – in his place to do the same job and see what happens. My bet: Night and day. The difference between both men? One made a point to put himself through the gauntlet time and time again. The other, not so much.

Rites of passage matter. They matter a lot.

Fight Club is only a novel. This is real.

If I am starting to sound like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, so be it. There is a reason why Chuck Palahniuk’s novel struck a chord when it came out. As much as the novel itself may be an unapologetic exaggeration of the death of masculinity in modern times, its message is dead on target. And the impact that a generation of untested men in leadership positions has already had on the corporate world may be in great part responsible for some of the trouble we are in: Enron. Wall Street. The massive oil spill in the Gulf: All arrived at by decisions made by not by incompetent men, but rather untested, socially and emotionally incomplete men.

Think this is a stretch? Possibly. But consider that mid-life crises tend to happen to men riddled with complexes and self-doubt. Far more than an overcompensation or an indulgence brought about by professional success. Any decent Jungian psychotherapist can explain the link between mid-life crises and a common mother complex in men: Adult in form but not in heart. Boys whose bodies grew up but whose souls didn’t. The erosion of significant, terrifying, often violent rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, particularly when it comes to my gender, is a problem that doesn’t only impact divorce rates and Porsche sales in the US, but also the business world and the economy as a whole: A man who isn’t whole cannot effectively lead. He is a Fisher King, an impotent, lame-duck regent whose wound infects his entire kingdom and drags it down with him. When captains of industry are drawn drawn from among the ranks of untested men rather than those who can and should lead, the system breaks down: Exploration, experimentation and progress come to a grinding halt. Strategic planning takes a hit. Appearances begin to overtake substance. Nepotism prevails. Good old boys networks take root. Mediocrity, hypocrisy and corruption begin to poison corporate and political cultures. The safety of artificial comforts replaces strife. Warm cocoons of denial begin to form and thicken.

There is something missing in a man who hasn’t pushed himself far beyond what he thought were his own limits. Something we look for in leaders. Something without which our faith in a man cannot ever be truly realized. We all felt it in the school yard. On the playing field. In boot camp. And yes, in the board room. A phony is a phony. The real deal, however, walks wrapped in the knowledge of who he is as a man, because at least once in his life, he walked deep into the dark recesses of his cave and found what really lurked there.

Growing up in France in the 70’s and 80’s – and having been raised in a family of combat veterans and citizen soldiers – making it to adolescence without a few black eyes and busted knuckles wasn’t an option. Not that I was pushed to go looking for fights, but let’s say that certain circumstances were occasionally brought up around the dinner table as acceptable reasons to find out what I was made of. For many little French boys, playing cowboys, cops and musketeers wasn’t just play. It was preparation for an inevitable school yard confrontation that would determine much about the types of men they would later become.

A quick word about the French and silly stereotypes

Not that the French fight a lot or win a lot of wars, or anything. Aside from the Foreign Legion (mostly composed of foreigners at that) and a few key Police and military units, French culture isn’t exactly known for its warrior spirit. The Gauls were pretty solid warriors, but the Roman legions dealt with them in the end. Twice in the last century the Germans cut through our borders like a warm knife through butter. So yeah, sure, we invaded England back in the day, we’ve had bloody revolutions, and Napoleon helped us unlock our very own bloody conquests badge on Foursquare, but in general, the French are relatively well-behaved anti-violent people. Even our soccer fans are pretty tame compared to England’s. We also aren’t particularly fond of violence in sports and entertainment (Americans, in contrast, like their sports and movie heroes to be full-contact – while tennis doesn’t exactly require helmet and shoulder pads). We don’t really like guns. The French, as people of the world go, are not high up on the socially violent list.

Yet, in sharp contrast with many of my American peers who grew up on violent entertainment and a glorification of rogue warrior tales, my childhood and early adult years were not without incident. Starting with a few kids at my school trying to work the pecking order to their advantage to street thugs in downtown Brussels looking to score my wallet, from angry boyfriends looking to save face to drunk French soldiers aiming to prove themselves by knocking out a few sailors, I’ve had to deal with unfortunate contests of the knuckle-to-face variety a number of times. Before I go on with my tales of clumsy hand-to-hand combat, let me make it clear that I didn’t always prevail. I am not Jean Claude Van Damme. Quite the contrary. My roundhouse kick is weak. My karate chop is clumsy. My punch often misses the mark. So by default, the lessons in this post have nothing to do with winning or beating the odds. We’re talking about something else altogether today.

Which brings us back to that mouthful of blood thing. You learn a lot about yourself, shaking off the pain of a punch to the mouth. It’s a simple fight or flight reflex: Stunned and dazed, your blurry surroundings spinning around you, searing pain flashing across your face and a dull ache spreading deep into your skull, you are at once confronted with two conflicting emotions: The first – back off and hope the punishment is over. The second – get back on your feet and feed the other guy a Royal McKnuckle-with-Cheese sandwich out of principle, even if it earns you another trip to the cold, hard deck.

Fight or flight: DNA, tens of thousands of years of evolution, and the importance of not running away

Fight or flight. It’s a simple choice. And, as my friend Ben Schowe would say, “it’s just science.”

In terms of personal tests, this goes well beyond the simple (yet grueling) act of surviving boot camp, completing your first 5K, passing the bar, or completing an Ironman triathlon. In fact, in a very real way, getting into a fist fight teaches you as much – if not more – about yourself as summiting Everest or swimming across the English Channel.

Why? Because there is a huge difference between walking to the sidelines and running from a fight. You can quit Ranger school. You can quit an Ironman. On a mountain top, you can stop and turn back to base camp. But walking away from a fight once the first punch has connected, that’s a very different thing. It’s fight or flight in its purest form. It’s the difference between a dog baring its teeth and having another go at some melee carnage… or lying on its back with its tail coiled up between its legs.

In war, you can hold your ground and engage the enemy or you can throw down your guns and run away. Same thing. Except for most people nowadays, at least in the Western world, war is something other people get paid to deal with. It’s something that happens overseas and on TV. There’s no draft anymore. Violence is being erased from “civilized” civilian society. It has become entertainment. A stylized fantasy. You get to see the moves and hear the sounds, but you don’t get to feel the pain. And yet the pain has something to teach.

Like I said, you learn a lot about yourself during your first fight. And your second. And your third. What you learn is – what you learn first, anyway, is – whether or not you have any real fight in you. When that first punch in the face hits you and your eyes flash just as what feels like a brick flying at 500 miles per hour turns the entire front of your skull into a flaring, throbbing strobe of pain, you get your first glimpse of who you are. Before you even land on your ass, your brain is already trying to decide if you will simply lie down and hope the fight is over, or spring up and hit the guy back twice as hard and see how he likes it.

What my first fight taught me

I remember my first fight vividly: Second grade. Parc Monceau. The biggest kid in my class decided he was going to use the smallest kid in the class (me) to cement his Alpha status for the school year. Words were exchanged, shoves ensued, and next thing I know, we were rolling around in the dirt, scraping our knees and elbows, trying land a solid hit on the other. Planting a solid punch at that age would have surely ended the fight – to the delighted cheers of our classmates – and would have secured immediate popularity for whomever emerged victorious. As it turns out, neither one of us did. But the other kid, desperate to break free from the scuffle, accidentally head-butted me in the face, knocking me clear off him. I remember hearing the ugly thud sound of his skull bouncing off my cheek, my head snapping back, and my little French behind landing squarely on the hard-packed dirt. The other kids immediately fell silent and stared at us to see what would come next. I tasted blood in my mouth, from where I had bitten my tongue. I was surprised by the taste… And by the fact that I was more excited than scared.

Up until that moment, I had imagined that being on the receiving end of a head-butt would be the worst thing in the world. Yet there I was, realizing that the other guy wasn’t as strong, as mean, as dangerous or as invincible as I thought he was. And, equally important, realizing that perhaps I had more of a fight in me than I originally thought. Fighting back tears of pain and fear, I got back up, swallowed a mouthful of blood, and threw myself at him. Though he was a lot taller and bigger than me, I tackled him and knocked him to the ground. The rolling around and wild kicking and punching resumed, but before either one of us could land a solid punch, the fight was broken up by our teacher. We were both sent to the principal’s office – the dragon-like Mme Gomez – and sat there for about fifteen minutes before she finally called us in.

Those fifteen minutes were invaluable: The entire time, not once did the other kid dare return my stare. After a quick inspection of my knuckles and clothes, and after having pondered what punishments would follow both at school and at home, I looked over at him and caught him quickly blinking away. Feeling that I was still staring at him, he didn’t look up again. It was at that moment, not before, that I realized I had won the fight. Not because I had beaten him, mind you – I hadn’t. What I realized was that, for me, the real fight wasn’t against him. It was against myself: Fight vs. Flight.  Flight lost. I wanted more. Test passed.

From then on, I knew I would never again be too afraid to stand my ground. That moment of clarity is something I have taken with me into every difficult, stressful situation since.

Going through something like this, as simple as it may seem, is a defining moment in a man’s life, and one that far too many boys today never get to experience, to their own detriment, and that of society as a whole when they eventually join the workforce.

To this day, I don’t remember a thing about what the principal had to say or what my punishment was. I grinned from ear to ear the rest of the day, beaming with pride and excitement at the realization that there was more to me than just pretend courage. Later, what I remember from being walked to my mother’s car by my angry teacher wasn’t the fear of punishment or the embarrassment of the public escort, but the looks of awe I saw in the other kids’ eyes. Still grinning at my scowling mother after my teacher explained what had happened, I hopped into her Autobianchi and told her my side of the story: He started. It wasn’t my fault. I was only defending myself. He got what he deserved. I took a skull to the face and it still hurt a lot, but it was okay. She lectured me all the way home, but I know that behind the stern threats of being sent to Jesuit boarding school if I couldn’t behave, was a quiet pride that I hadn’t punked out. Later that afternoon, my father  inspected my swollen black eye, obviously amused by the entire incident, and probed me for details until my mother reminded him that the brawl wasn’t something to be proud of. Yet it was, and all three of us knew it.

The kid never bothered me or any of my classmates again. I don’t even remember his name anymore. It doesn’t matter.

Contests of this type happened again over the years, each one teaching me a little bit more about myself, until I graduated to the more subtle and underhanded type of political combat favored by many corporate types.

Leadership from the outside-in: Understanding the mechanics of the pecking order

Here’s the thing, and be sure not to underestimate the potency of the metaphor: We are all either lions or lambs. Men walk into a conference room, a basketball court, a bar, a gym, the first thing they do is size each other up. Hierarchies are established before anyone takes the initiative to speak. Body language, stress hormones, eye contact and behavior help determine the social order in a matter of minutes if not seconds. Before the lions begin to fight for the top spot, the lambs aremarked and set aside. Few of us ever talk about it, and for many men, the process is completely subconscious, but it happens everywhere men go. This has probably been going on since long before we lived in caves.

Care to see a fine example of the process? Watch the first twenty minutes of Ronin, John Frankenheimer and DavidMamet’s tale of trust and betrayal among intelligence operatives. In any group of men, a pecking order must be established before the group can function. Though the process now takes into account job titles and artificial leadership, lambs are not lions. A leader in title only is a liability to himself and the group he is responsible for.

Riddle me this: How can you earn the trust and respect of a company of professional soldiers if even one of them thinks he is more qualified than you to lead them all? If he thinks he is a better soldier, a better leader? Stronger, faster, tougher?

While you ponder the question, here’s something to think about: How is a group of men in uniform any different from a group of men in suits? Each culture may emphasize certain leadership qualities differently, but the principles are the same: If a leader is imposed on the group rather than arrived at by mutual selection, then the leader must prove his worth, or his tenure is doomed from the start. If the guy in charge, when sized up by the rest of the men in the room is found… wanting, you are looking at a dangerous level of inevitable dysfunction that will result in disaster somewhere along the road.

The weakest guy in the room can’t be the leader. Regardless of what his business card says, it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t get rid of thousands of generations of evolution just because we’ve decided to trade spears for pens and caves for cubicles. It may seem silly, but it’s also true and well worth acknowledging.

The true value of a mouthful of blood

I know this is going to sound strange, but a CEO who has put himself through the gauntlet – whether it was a fist fight, a combat tour in Iraq or a wrestling match against a great white shark knows how to be fearless in the face of uncertainty. He can look his competitor in the eye, say “bring it,” and mean it. He can look at an economic crisis as an opportunity to prevail against adversity and cement his company’s reputation by taking market share rather than merely hoping to hold on to what it has.

A man who has the confidence to stand his ground in the face of adversity, a man who has learned the value and excitement of fighting for something he believes in, a man who knows that no amount of pain or fear will weaken his resolve, this kind of man can lead any company away from defeat, towards success.

The guy who has never been punched in the face doesn’t yet know how tough he is. That man doesn’t know if he should get up or beg for mercy when his lip gets split. He doesn’t know what he is made of yet. Take him by surprise, upset his routine, put him in the hurt locker, and he sits there wondering what he should do next. He sits there stunned, gagging on a mouthful of his own blood, wishing he weren’t in so much pain. For precious seconds, he hesitates, not yet knowing what to do. Indecision: The antithesis of leadership.

The CEO, the Senior VP, the Director of this and that, untested, are all liabilities. Lamb playing at being lions.

The truth of it is this: What you learn fighting off bullies in your childhood, learning to stand your ground and take real hits comes back to either serve or haunt you later in life, when faceless enemies set their sights on your endeavors. Knowing that you can overcome physical adversity and survive your fear of the unknown arms you with the ability to make intelligent decisions in the heat of the moment. It teaches you to keep a cool head when everyone else panics. It teaches you not to retreat unless you absolutely have to, but to instead make your way through the storm and find calmer waters waiting beyond it.

The real beauty of it is that once the people who look to you for leadership realize that this is the type of leader you are, they will follow you anywhere. Their loyalty, their dedication, their support will be assured. And that, when it comes to building strong brands, isn’t something you can either buy or do without.

So parents, teachers, law enforcement personnel and passers-by, consider this: Next time two little boys decide to brawl, don’t stop them right away. Let them throw a few kicks and punches. Let them sort it out on their own, even if only for a few seconds. What they discover about themselves in those short, precious, terrifying moments could help shape them into formidable leaders someday. I know it sounds pretty weird, but trust me: They need to put themselves through it, black eye, mouthful of blood and all.

Cowards make lousy leaders. Give your kids enough space to learn not to be.

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Continuing the series started a few weeks ago with Bette Davis, here are some lessons that a bright dead personality could teach us were they alive today. This week: Gaius Julius Caesar – a guy so successful in his time that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the term “Czar” is a contraction of “Caesar.”)

Here what Julius Caesar might talk about if he could speak at #Likeminds, #Ungeeked and #SxSW today:

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

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I kind of dig Bette Davis. When you look at her body of work, you notice that she rarely took the safe roles. Her performances were more nuanced than other actresses or her time. Grittier. She went out on a limb every time she stepped in front of the camera, and I dig that about her. But what I dig most about her is that she knew enough about the reality of the world she lived in to do away with the usual sugar-coating many of us sometimes feel pressured to use as a courtesy filter. Like it or not, there’s something refreshing about being around someone who has the huevos to tell it to you like it is, and not feel that they have apologize for… basically just being honest with you.

And though yeah, it would have been a lot more glamorous to be seen having drinks with Lana Turner or Rita Hayworth, an evening of drinking martinis with Bette would have probably been a lot more fun.

Originally, I was going to quote Bette Davis in regards to something she said about choosing your enemies wisely and their importance to your career (something we don’t talk about enough in these so-called “transparent” conversations, we’re having) but in looking at the rest of the brilliant stuff she was quoted saying, I couldn’t resist taking this post in a completely different direction. So without further ado, here are 11 things Bette Davis had to say about the Social Media world, way back in the day… kinduv:

1. “Today everyone is a star. In my day, we earned that recognition.”

2. “In this business, until you’re known as a monster you’re not a star.”

3. “The weak are the most treacherous of us all. They come to the strong and drain them. They are bottomless. They are insatiable. They are always parched and always bitter. They are everyone’s concern and like vampires they suck our life’s blood.”

4. “Psychoanalysis. Almost went three times – almost. Then I decided what was peculiar about me was probably what made me successful.”

5. “There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains, the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.”

6. “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.”

7. “I am doomed to an eternity of compulsive work. No set goal achieved satisfies. Success only breeds a new goal. The golden apple devoured has seeds. It is endless.”

8. “I survived because I was tougher than anybody else.”

9. “The key to life is accepting challenges. Once someone stops doing this, he’s dead.”

10. “My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist. Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose.”

11. “In this rat-race everybody’s guilty till proved innocent!”

Let those sink in a bit. That whole enemy thing, we’ll get to it some other time. 😉

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I was inspired by my friend Chris Penn’s “11 Little Secrets” post this morning to come up with my own list here and encourage you all to do the same on your own blogs. It’s always interesting to see what makes people tick, especially if their little secrets can be helpful to someone else.

The model is simple. To quote Chris:

We strive desperately to look for the next big thing, the next big secret, the magic wand that will make everything better. What we tend to overlook – or most of us, anyway – are the little secrets, the little hacks and tweaks you can make to your day, your year, your life to help things operate better.

Bingo. So you know what? I gave it some thought, made a list of little things I do that seem to work for me, picked 11 that weren’t too business-specific, and created my very own “11 Little secrets.” Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Cut back on the meat and eat more fish. I know, I know… What the hell am I talking about? This is a Brand management blog, not a nutrition blog. But bear with me here. This actually impacts my work in a big way, and it is one of my little secrets. And as an aside, before the beef lobby jumps on my case like they did Oprah, let me just say I love steak as much as the next guy. In fact, I’m French, dammit: I love lamb chops, rotisserie chicken, smoked ham and foie gras, just for starters. But at the same time, meat has taken a serious back seat from my diet in the last few years, and I have seen some pretty amazing positive health results come out of it. Among them: lower cholesterol, a lot less body fat, less aggression, better sleep and more energy all day long. I still need animal protein to support a pretty active lifestyle, so I eat a lot of fish and seafood. Whenever I can, I go raw, but fish is fish. Cutting back on meat or cutting it out altogether might not work for everyone, but it’s worked VERY well for me. Bonus: Omega 3 fatty acids.

Why does this matter? Go back a few sentences: “less aggression, better sleep and more energy all day long.” Aside from having more energy and sleeping better, I don’t know if it’s because my system isn’t flooded with growth hormone anymore or what, but rarely being angry about anything does wonders for a guy who loves to argue as much as I do. Has being less aggressive made me less argumentative? Nope. But has it helped me keep a cool head in the middle of heated debates? You bet. And there’s a lot to be said for the advantage of a calm and controlled mind when trying to argue a point.

Negatives: No more bacon, and the prospect of dying of mercury poisoning.

2. Spend at least 30 minutes every day reading something that doesn’t touch on your line of work. It doesn’t matter if it’s the latest editorial in GQ or a work of historical fiction. Just do it. A) Your mind needs a break from Twitter, blogs and business white papers. B) Your brain needs cross-training. Me, I call it active recovery. It’s nice to completely unplug (even thematically) and I can definitely tell the difference between weeks when I read and weeks when I don’t in my ability to think critically and find quick, creative solutions to complex problems.

Personally, I’ve recently gotten into Conn Iggulden’s novels about Genghis Kahn and Julius Caesar, and that isn’t bad brain candy as far as I’m concerned. On one hand, it’s nice to unplug without necessarily surrendering your brain to American Idol or Tool Academy, but on the other, reading about military campaigns and political strife helps me visualize business problems from a completely different perspective, without even realizing that my brain is making those types of connections.

Reading engages different parts of the brain that, in turn, contribute to the processing of information. Cross training for the brain is absolutely one of the most valuable benefits of reading about things that have nothing to do with work. So read your business books, but also remember to read other things, just for fun. Bonus: It doesn’t suck to have things to talk about that don’t involve Marketing and Social Media. For extra credit: Read in more than one language.

Negative: Missing out on really great infomercials, I’m sure.

3. Be an athlete (even if you don’t necessarily think of yourself as one). The human body wasn’t meant to spend all day at a desk, in front of a computer, eating packaged food products. Spend an hour walking, running, cycling, swimming, pushing weights, throwing truck tires, punching bags, getting thrown on a tatami, riding bulls… something. Put it in the schedule. It isn’t something you do “when you find the time.” Sound body, sound mind. It relieves stress, oxygenates the brain, gives you a break from the grind, lets you work out your frustrations, makes you feel empowered, and it’s good for you. Tell your boss this is important to you, and they’ll make sure they don’t call you during that extra special hour of “active meditation.” That time belongs to you. It’s yours and yours alone. Plant your flag in your daily schedule and protect that hour with your life. (It may return the favor someday. Literally.)

I’m a triathlete with a propensity for martial arts and boxing, so you can imagine that hardly a day goes by without some kind of activity. The way it works for me is, my gym workouts help me stay strong and limber, while the racing helps keep me swift and lean. If you aren’t into intense or prolonged athletic activity, find one that requires a good deal of learning and skill that will help you keep your mind engaged without tearing you a new lung.

Some examples: Aikido and Judo are relatively “soft” but rewarding martial arts. No kicking, punching or breaking boards required, but full bodymind workouts you’ll learn to enjoy. Scuba diving is also a pretty fun activity you can tie into most vacations that doesn’t require you to run ten miles every day. There are sports out there for every personality type and budget, so do some research and try a bunch until you find something that works for you. And don’t be afraid to mix it up. variety is good for the mind and the body. Bonus: The extra confidence you will gain from your athletic practice. Extra bonus: You get to wear designer clothes right off the rack.

Negatives: Often being surrounded by old naked dudes hanging out naked in locker rooms, naked.

4. Cook. I don’t just cook because I’m French. I cook because it’s easier to play with my food in the kitchen than at the dinner table. Remember that kid who used to blow up the chemistry lab every other week because of his “experiments?” Yeah, that was me. Now, I get my kicks mixing yellow peppers with raisins with sour cream to make a sauce for my mahi-mahi.

  • A) It’s fun.
  • B) It brings you closer to your food, which is important.  When you actually touch it, prepare it, cook it, you respect it more. You understand the relationship between the food you eat and the way it affects your body a lot better.
  • C) You’ll ingest a lot less hydrogenated oils, corn starch, sodium and high fructose corn syrup, which will make your doctor very happy.
  • D) You’ll find yourself buying and eating a lot more fresh vegetables.
  • E) The amount of packaging you won’t be throwing away every year will be impressive. No need to recycle a whole lot when most of what you’re throwing away is biodegradable.

Who has time to cook, you ask? I’ve never made a meal that took more than 15 minutes from start to finish. Make time. PS: By cooking, I don’t mean boiling noodles and heating up a jar of pasta sauce. I mean wash produce, cut stuff, mix ingredients together, blow off the cookbook, and try new combinations of foods just to see what happens.

Aside from the above benefits, why is this important to you as a professional? First, if cooking become a relaxing activity (a fun one, even) it ceases to be “work.” Un-chore yourself. Second, it gives you a lab in which you can conduct experiments and be creative every day. That kind of stress-free experimentation is a healthy exercise for professionals with lots of tight deadlines and high stakes jobs.

Negatives: More dishes, and the occasional really horrible meal.

5. Write. Yes, with a writing instrument like a pen or pencil. Keep a journal, write short stories, take notes… whatever. It doesn’t matter. I dig typing up blogs as much as the next guy, but I also walk around with a Moleskine everywhere I go. When I’m on a plane, in a waiting room, on the subway or in a coffee shop, I pop that puppy open and write stuff down. If writing letters is a lost art, then journal. Put pen to paper, literally. It’s good to practice the lost art of writing (Post-it notes don’t count), and you’ll be glad you did a few years from now when your personal archive is volumes-thick. More importantly, your kids will thank you someday for having left behind so much of yourself for them to discover.

Writing is important. As old-school as it may seem, it matters. Bonus: Writing helps you think. Don’t just consume information and opinions, create your own. And man, write an actual letter to someone by hand, and see how much they’ll instantly like you more.

By the way, for some clever Moleskine hacks, check this out.

Negatives: Always losing your favorite pens in airports, cabs, restaurants, hotels and conference rooms (unless you have a clever hack).

6. Sleep. Going on 4 hours of sleep per night isn’t enough. It isn’t healthy. Sleep and rest are as important, if not more, than anything else you can do for yourself. Treat your body with respect: Sleep. Sure, sometimes I get caught grabbing the red-eye from hell after three weeks of bouncing from time zone to time zone (a GMT watch helps, by the way), but as soon as you can, get that A-type sleep deprivation thing under control and give your body (and your brain) time to adequately recover. Your body can go without food or water longer than it can go withouts sleep. That’s pretty telling.

I look at my own immune system, and I can tell almost within 48 hours whether lack of sleep is affecting my health. I know there aren’t enough hours in the day. Believe me. I’m there. Guess what: You can’t cheat biology. Get your sleep on. Consider it part of your job. (Just don’t do it… on the job.)

Negatives: Looking younger than your actual age may slow down your advancement. (The C-suite tends to take you less seriously when you look young.)

7. Eat breakfast every day. Scientists and nutritionists aren’t wrong about this. Make yourself a bowl of cereal, bite into an apple, eat a tub of yogurt… whatever. Some people dig a croissant and latte. Others prefer a fruit salad and a shot of kefir. It’s all good. Don’t skip it. My usual when I am not traveling is a 1/2 cup of dry oatmeal with a cup of milk (nuked for 2 minutes) with a small handful of raisins thrown in. I follow that with a banana, a protein shake, a few scrambled egg whites and a huge glass of water. When I travel, I go with the croissant and coffee/tea thing. It doesn’t matter what you have for breakfast as long as you eat (and drink) something.

Negatives: The food dispensing machine down the hall will sell you less potato chips and candy bars.

8. Allow yourself at least one guilty pleasure. Being 100% efficient and serious doesn’t cut it. You can’t take yourself too seriously all the time. Learn to unwind and allow yourself some guilty pleasures. How guilty the pleasure is entirely up to you, but here’s a list of mine recently:

TV: Spartacus: Blood & Sand, Real Time with Bill Maher, LOST, Bully Beatdown, Funny Or Die Presents, Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares (UK edition), Top Gear.

Reading: GQ, Esquire, Conn Iggulden novels, the B&H catalog.

Foodstuffs: Nutella, Apple slices with peanut butter, Cadbury eggs, Starbucks lattes.

Digital: Call of Duty- Modern Warfare (X-Box Live), Left 4 Dead II.

See, it isn’t all R.O.I., is it.

Negatives: Having to defend the awesomeness of shows like Spartacus: Blood & Sand.

9.  Collaborate on projects with people you admire. If you’re lucky, you get to do this all day long. If not, jump on any opportunity that affords you the privilege of working with someone whose work you really respect. Someone you’ve been dreaming of working with for weeks or months or years. When I still worked for the man, this was difficult to do. I was pulling 60 hour weeks with project teams that were more assigned than chosen, so I rarely got to enjoy the pleasure of working with a true soul-brother/soul-sister on projects I could really get excited about. Now that I have a little more power over who I get to work with, I get to be a little picky about who gets my time and who doesn’t. I can pick and choose my projects and collaborators, and let me tell you: It makes a HUGE difference on the quality of my work and the quality of my life.

A few examples, right off the bat: Keith Burtis and I collaborate on our weekly “More Ideas Than Time” podcast. It takes up about two hours of my time every week, and let me tell you: Well worth it. I also work regularly with folks like Scott Gould, Trey Pennington, Kristi Colvin, Kim Brater and Alicia Kan, and again: It’s nice to be surrounded by such talented professionals who help you raise your own bar on a regular basis.

Negatives: Often being the dumbest guy in the room.

Positives: Often being the dumbest guy in the room.

10. Take risks every day. Playing it safe doesn’t help you grow. It doesn’t teach you about yourself. And frankly, it’s boring. Look, I am not advocating that you base jump from the roof of your office building or gamble the family fortune away on internet poker sites. Not at all. But do push the envelope just a little with something every day. Be wise, be responsible, be smart about it, but don’t shy away from a little risk on a regular basis. Sometimes, I push a corner a little hard when I come down Paris Mountain on a bike ride (cycling, not vroom-vroom). Other times, I gamble on a client whose credit isn’t stellar. I occasionally take on a project that is a bit outside of my comfort zone. I try hotels and restaurants off the beaten path. I’ve gambled my bonus on double-or-nothing odds if I could hit a target my boss thought was a longshot. I’ve lost some, but I’ve won some too.

The equation is simple: It’s all about risk vs. reward. Every risk has to be worth the reward. Every risk has to be calculated. And if you lose, it has to hurt, but not necessarily too much. Another rule: Never gamble with someone else’s well-being. You can put your own neck on the line, but that’s it. (Unless you ask permission first.) Push, learn, adjust. Push, learn, adjust. Repeat. You never win without risking something. Whether it’s embarrassment, a bloody lip, your monthly bonus, it doesn’t matter. Victory and success won’t find you waiting patiently at your cubicle. If you want to win, you have to put some skin in the game.

Negatives: Frequent run-ins with either the law, pavement, ambulances, knuckles, or the boss’ office. The occasional foot-in-ass. Mouthfuls of dirt or crow.

Positives: Winning often, in spite of the occasional negative.

11. Find your own voice and let it out at least a little every day. You aren’t the next Chris Brogan, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs. You can’t be, because those jobs are already taken. And frankly, we don’t need another Chris Brogan, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs. They’re doing fine all on their own. These folks are unique because their contributions to the world are unique. President Obama, Clint Eastwood, Joan of Arc, Julius Caesar, Anne Frank, Gandhi, all  people with individual contributions to the world. Where pioneers go, no one has gone before. That’s the trick. That’s the ticket. You want to be an icon, you have to make your own way, and that starts with finding your own voice.

If what matters to you is that next promotion to VP Marketing, then don’t worry about any of this. Do your job, hit your targets, kiss the right rings, and you’ll make it. But if you truly want to be a force in the world, an influencer, a star in some way shape or form, you have to listen to Robert Frost and chose the path less taken. Heck, you have to take it a step further and take the path not taken yet: The path that still hasn’t been carved out by anyone. Go where no one has gone yet, and once you’ve made some headway, call out “hey, this way!” If people follow, you’ll know you’re on the right track. That path starts with finding your own voice.

Negatives: None. Life’s too short.

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Call me lazy, but instead of writing something insightful for you guys today, I’m going to share some of my favorite finds from my morning’s croissant-induced online browsing.

All quotations courtesy of Pulled Quotes.

On finding out what works:

“I have no earthly idea what really works. I don’t know if it’s lunch or that powerpoint or the Christmas card I sent last year. But you know what? You have no clue what works either. I’ll keep experimenting if you will.”    –  Seth Godin


On why blogs work:

“Bloggers drive blogs, share price drives traditional media. Blogging is personal, traditional media is corporate.”    – Mark Cuban


On remembering what creativity really is:

Creativity is an act of open disobedience against the norms. Creativity is an act of courage.
–     Chris Bailey


On innovation, grabbing life by the horns, and not pissing your life away:

“Do things that are gaspworthy.”

That was one of the main messages delivered by Tom Peters, the influential business thinker and management guru, in his speech yesterday at Epsilon’s Integrated Marketing Symposium 2006 at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, CA.

Do cool stuff that make people gasp,” said Peters, who looked older and angrier than in his “In Search of Excellence Days” (the book he co-authored with Richard Waterman in 1982 that was hailed by NPR as one of the Top Business Books of the Century). “Don’t piss away your life.

He changed his speech at the last moment after having learning this week that one of his best friends has a terminal illness, Peters said.

Also noted

Innovation comes “not from market research or focus groups, but from pissed off people.

DM News


On passion and work:

“Whether you are Jack Welch or the Dalai Lama, it is dangerous not to do what you love. If you don’t have a level of passion that drives your thinking about what you’re doing day in and day out, there will be others out there who are passionate who will overtake and outrun you. People who care will take the initiative away from those who are half-hearted. So loving what you do is a competitive imperative, not simply a nice thing to have.

Knowledge @ Wharton interviews Mark Thompson and Stewart Emery, co-authors along with Jerry Porras of Success Built to Last

On retaining talent:

“One of my favorite cliches is “there is no such thing as indentured servitude”. I use that line to talk about the fact that talent can’t be bought and sold. It must be retained with something more than money.”    – Fred Wilson

So there you go. Now we’re all on the same wavelength. Have a great Monday!

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Via OrangeYeti, from AdPulp, here is a little bit of an interview given by Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) to Scott Donaton (of Ad Age). If you’ve ever worked for a company that was so set in its ways that it had grown stale, you’ll understand what Levy is talking about:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.”

“Without change, there is fossilization,and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas,are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it: As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected. Recruit adventurously. Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways. Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation. Decentralize “meetings”. Deconstruct the project ideation process. Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products, business improvements, and creative work.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people. Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Ideas are fragile.

Without change, organizations die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone, or a magazine, or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Chew on that. Have a great Friday. 😉

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