Tag Archives: leadership

Why Fat, Foolish, Nervous People Make Better Leaders

Fat Foolish PeopleIt only took me a few decades but I’ve learned the only way to get somewhere new is to ask for directions. If I’m never the new guy at the office I’ll never be the VP of the division. If I’m never the fat guy at the gym I’ll never be the fit guy at the beach. My nervous first date was a requirement for my eventual 30th wedding anniversary. Every MVP was a rookie and every star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was once a “nobody.”

The real lesson is that success is easier to envy than emulate. Acting like you have the answers is much harder in the long run than simply asking for help. I believe being unfamiliar and uncomfortable is the only path to being strong and certain.

In the short-term, it’s simpler to insulate yourself in a cocoon of comfort, convenience and predictability. But that same cocoon becomes a coffin when you starve off the very thing you need to ensure healthy growth – change. So I’m learning to embrace errors and seek surprises. For better or worse, problems pave the way to solutions. Permission to fail is the tool to succeed.

After all, smart  men were once fools who asked for help. Wise men never stop asking.

So be the fat, foolish, new, nervous guy – just don’t stay that way. Watch out for the know-it-alls, they secretly want to be just like you.

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The Top 7 Distinctions Between Weak and Strong Leaders

top 7 distinctions weak strong - adrian parker

Leading people is one of the most critical and challenging skills on this planet.  Aside from parenthood – which has many similarities – there aren’t many competencies that universally possess equal amounts of hope and horror depending on how you wield their power.

Leadership isn’t new.  Each year we spend more than $60 billion on leadership development programs, books, articles and classes to crack the code on how to successfully guide human organizations to a desired goal.  More often than not, they fail.  Why?  Because people don’t like change.  Both managers and direct reports are naturally resistant to change and leadership training is 3 times more effective at teaching knowledge than it is in changing behavior.  Simply put, knowing how to effectively lead and being an effective leader are two very different things.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about learning to lead, I’ve been leading teams for the past several years and I also invest a meaningful amount of resources into honing my own abilities.  Through direct and indirect experiences I’ve compiled this list of the top 7 distinctions between weak and strong leaders.

1. Weak leaders outsource their decisions. Strong leaders outsource their thinking.  Good leaders are like General Managers of sports teams: they put the right guys in the right roles but take ownership of the outcome.  Ineffective leaders, instead, will push partners, agencies and peers to make the tough decisions in an effort to diffuse potential failure or downgrade their accountability.

2. Weak leaders avoid confrontation. Strong leaders are comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.  All results-driven leaders relentlessly guard their time, their focus and their vision.  Just like the uncomfortable “no” is the only way to protect your time, the uncomfortable performance evaluation is the only way to protect your team.  Strong managers aren’t heartless ogres but they are OK with facing issues head on.  As GE business titan Jack Welch said, “The biggest cowards are managers who don’t let people know where they stand.”

3. Weak leaders manage by consensus. Strong leaders aren’t afraid to walk alone.  Lead long enough and you’ll inevitably come across a turn in the road where you find yourself walking alone.  The times when the vision is the fuzziest are the times when a leader longs for support the most.  It’s easy to succumb to the desire to be popular and change course for safer seas.  The only problem is, consensus is like the wind – it won’t tell you which way is True North.  Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, recently shared his experience during Amazon’s early days.  “One thing that I have learned within the first couple of years of starting the company is that inventing and pioneering requires a willingness to be misunderstood for long periods of time.”  Strong leaders are sometimes lone nuts.

 4. Weak leaders seek approval. Strong leaders earn respect.  In the wake of the 9/11 tragedies, Former President George W. Bush achieved a 90% approval rating in 2001, the highest in the history of the poll.  By 2008 it had plummeted to just 25%, one of the lowest ever recorded.  Approval is a great force to have in your sails but a leader’s journey can not depend on approval alone.  Respect, however, is much harder to earn, making it that much more difficult to erode away in the face of misunderstanding.

 5. Weak leaders see feedback as a pain. Strong leaders see feedback as a gift.  A few years ago I had lunch with a senior VP at the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group and he shared a phrase I’ve been using ever since – “feedback is a gift.”  He discouraged me from becoming a “yes but.”  These are the leaders who politely dismiss your perspective with the simple introductory phrase “Yes… but (insert excuse here).” “Yes… but I don’t have time to explain to you why we’re changing strategies.”  Yes… but you don’t understand the big picture.”  Weak leaders avoid feedback because it requires true humility to accept criticism in a helpful manner.  Pride hates feedback.

 6. Weak leaders focus on events and emotions. Strong leaders focus on results and relationships.  The urgent will always be the enemy of the important.  The valuable work that propels your team into tomorrow and truly makes an impact is always postponable because today has more than enough distractions.  Weak leaders stay so mired in the day-to-day maintenance of egos, emotions and entitlement that real results become a distant mirage.  Effective executives drive for results by putting relationships and resources into proper perspective and concentrate on the critical few areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.  As Peter Drucker admonished, “Do first things first and second things not at all.”

 7. Weak leaders assume they’re strong and don’t ever change. Strong leaders acknowledge they’re weak and embrace change.  Growth comes through resistance.  Like a runner training to conquer a steep incline, as we overcome various degrees of difficulty it increases our ability to take on even greater loads in the future.  The truth is this: being weak is a prerequisite for being strong.  Yet the only way to stay strong is to intentionally put yourself in situations where you are required to grow.  It sounds counter-intuitive but it’s the secret to how the good get better, the rich get richer and the strong get stronger.  When you invest in yourself the interest always compounds in your favor.

We’re all weak in some areas but strong leaders know it’s not OK to simply dismiss your shortcomings and it’s never OK to give up.  Strong leaders find a way and weak leaders find an excuse.  The leadership journey is just that, a series of opportunities to better yourself by giving yourself away to people and causes bigger than yourself.

What do you think?  Would love to hear your opinions on the key characteristics that you believe separate weak and strong leaders. 

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4 Things I Learned From A 26-Year-Old Marketing Director

4 Things I Learned from 26 yr Old Marketing Director -Adrian Parker

Several years ago in New York City I met a young guy doing fairly big things. Only 5 years out of college, he had been handpicked to lead marketing, public relations and advertising for the retail division of Liz Claiborne, what was then a $4.8 billion Fortune 500 fashion manufacturer. He named his own salary and secured a semi-corner office in the Empire State Building.

As Director of Marketing, his leadership peers were at least 10 years his senior and had spent several years in the fashion industry, a new vertical for the young up-and-comer.  When we first met, what struck me about him was his apparent confidence – some would say arrogance – and professional demeanor that seemed well beyond his years.  As we got to know one another, inevitably the subject of his age and “success” came up. He shared a few things that I’ve taken to heart throughout my career.

1) Don’t let people despise your age or use it against you. Misperceptions about demographics are part of life.  Age, race, gender and other characteristics are words that describe you, not define you.  Only you can do that.

2) Learn quickly but be honest about what you don’t know.  Great leaders are good learners.  Every new role comes with a knowledge gap that you must quickly close in order to add value to the organization.  It also helps immensely to do a personal audit of your professional assets and liabilities so you can improve in critical areas.

3) Recognize your opponents and allies before they pick a side.  Usually it takes about 100 days to accurately size up the architecture of an enterprise: skills, staff, systems, strategy, etc.  Early buddies may be getting close to figure you out.  Those co-workers that at first seemed stand-offish may just be more guarded than others. Be careful about who you align with and attempt to stay above any existing tensions until you can diagnose why they exist.

4) Lean in to your strengths.  He was a creator, an innovator and a change maker. The iconic Liz Claiborne was in desperate need of his skills and he knew how to quickly move the brand needle.  A key success element to any position is knowing the specific job you were hired to do and the role you fill.  In his case, the fashion house had plenty of style gurus but not many brand drivers.  He knew his role and where he could be accretive to the vision.

As you may have guessed, that 26-year-old corporate stud muffin was me.  I learned all these things because I really didn’t do any of them with the level of diligence that I would have liked to.  In hindsight I can glean powerful pearls of insight so I’m grateful for the lessons learned.

It’s funny how life is lived moving forward but understood looking backward. Happy learning.

The good ol' NYC days when I had a little hair, lots of clothes and a 1.5 hour commute.

The good ol’ NYC days when I had a little hair, lots of clothes and a 1.5 hour commute.

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What To Do While You’re Waiting To Be Discovered

Waiting to be discovered - Adrian Parker

Most of us are waiting, wanting or wishing for something.  I am.  I’m waiting to meet my firstborn son in a few months.  I’m waiting for what lies ahead in my career.  I’m wishing for a better me.

I’m not alone. Recent research suggests that we’re all wired to wait longer for bigger rewards.  When given a choice between small rewards that are immediate and large rewards that are delayed, we instinctively choose long term success.  It seems waiting is natural but it’s how we wait that makes all the difference.

The 30-something hopeless romantic, the table-waiting pop singer and the self-published blogger are all waiting for a moment when dreams and opportunity intersect.  They’re waiting for a chance to be someone else’s solution.  Waiting for that defining moment when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill and changes life as we know it.  They’re waiting to be discovered.

waldo image

There’s only one problem.  No one’s waiting for you.  The few people doing the discovering aren’t waiting for you to show up.  In fact, they don’t even know you exist.  There is no American Idol for your dream or X-Factor for your future. No one holds open auditions for roles, assignments or challenges that really matter.  Instead they look for people who are already doing what you’re waiting to do.

Why wait for lightning to strike when you can make your own storm?  Your next big break, soul mate or dream job will find you when you start working.  Simply put, there’s a right and a wrong way to wait.  A wait that produces results is productive.  A wait that prolongs worry is unproductive.  As someone who has been on both sides of the coin and learned a little about being the waiter and the waitee, I’ll offer a few tips for things to do while waiting to be discovered.

Work More

Why wait when you can work? Work produces energy and results that just beg for attention.  Get busy in a small way each day.  When I started my own marketing company in 2007 I had big ideas and zero customers.  Once I began to actually plan the work and work the plan, clients rolled in.

Talk Less

I’ve never hired the candidate who wants the job the most.  I hire the one who produces results.  Talk less about how bad you want an opportunity and showcase how good you already are.  When your work speaks for you, people notice.  Increased competition means everyone is looking for the best and they have easy access to technology and information to help them decide if you are or aren’t.  Your reputation should create breadcrumbs that lead opportunities to you.

Refocus

Eliminate this phrase from your human hard drive: “This job is perfect for my career because…” Same goes for relationships, movie roles or whatever else you’re cooking up.  Focus on how you solve their problem rather than how they can be your solution.  What pisses you off?  What gets you super excited?  What pains you constantly? Focus on the problems you intend to solve and the skills you need to prepare for them.

Be Patient

When you can’t be useful, be patient.  During the course of most major endeavors you will inevitably reach your end – the point where you’re not in control.  When the money, time, contacts or desire are running on “E” it’s a great time to park and be still.  This one’s tough.  When my business hit a wall it felt like being stuck in quicksand.  Taking time to quiet my thoughts and engage my creativity was much more productive than flailing around for a quick-fix. (Note: Here’s what to do if you ever get stuck in quicksand)

Seek Help

It’s easier to help someone who is already helping themselves.  Once you’ve invested in pursuing your path don’t be afraid to ask someone for counsel, support or even a helping hand.  Oftentimes you have an arsenal of people ready, willing and able to pitch in if you’ve won their hearts.

The greatest strength is gained by waits.  Though it can be hard, resist the urge to seek short-term solutions for endeavors that are worth the effort.  There’s no shame in waiting for what you truly want as long as you’re doing it in a focused, productive and positive manner.

What are you waiting on? Any tips you would add for your patiently impatient peers?

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Why The World Deserves A Better You

The world needs a better you.

Why? Because I need you and you need me.

My goals and my gifts are the very answer to the question you didn’t know you had. I need your art, your beauty, your voice and your view to bring my dream to fulfillment.

Today’s you isn’t good enough. I need the best you. The you that is long-suffering and patient. The you that’s powered by purpose and a genuine desire to give. The you who has experienced regret and redemption. The you who has loved, loss and led a life worth sharing. Most of all, I need the you who knows it’s not about you at all.

The world needs a better you. It’s not about how much you make, it’s about the difference you make. It’s less about what you want to be called and more about your calling. Your actions outweigh your beliefs. It’s less about you and more about what you do.

Today is a door. Take one step towards being the you the world deserves. If I take that same step we’re already headed in the right direction.

You deserve a better you.

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Photo: Brevityness / Creative Commons

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Why Blue People Are Better Leaders

Just read an interesting interview with Avatar writer/director/producer James Cameron on leadership, innovation & passion. I’m often intrigued by individuals who achieve monumental success, not necessarily for what they did, but for how they did it. Here are 4 interesting tidbits I took away from the brief article:

1) Adapt
To push teams to greater levels of achievement he had to adapt his leadership style from dictator to a respectful source of empowerment.

2) Create
An environment of fun, authorship and ownership gives people permission to make mistakes but also makes them less likely to do so.

3) Wait
Perseverance and patience pay off. From concept to screen took 15 years for Avatar.

4) Challenge
The biggest risk is not to be bold.

 

 

P.S.> Yes, more Avatar is on the way. 2 more films… can’t wait!

Source: Leadership Excellence Winter 2011 courtesy of SMU Cox School of Business

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