Leadership is a competition

Competition is healthy for most. Rivalry and war often bring forth innovation, ideas and lessons-learned through unmitigated success and abstract failure. American business leaders since the turn of the century have embraced competition as a necessity for progress and profits. 

Some of these leaders, like McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, have likened business acumen to a battlefield experience. 

According to Kroc, “If I saw a competitor drowning, I’d put a live fire hose in his mouth.” 

The threat of death via a live fire hose aside, Mr. Kroc’s remarks are symbolic of the modern-day business and personal landscape facing multiple generations of Americans. 

A recent issue of The New York Times Magazine asked the question “do millennials stand a chance in the real world?” When compared to other current workforce occupants–baby boomers and generation X–millennials are viewed as audacious, lacking politeness and untrusting of those in charge. As expected, response to the article stimulated much discussion and  commentary. Over a third of the article readers stated that millennials feel entitled and have a victim mentality. Another third stated that millennials do have it hard when compared to other generations and less than a third stated that no generation has had it easy. Interestingly enough, one-half of those who responded to the article were themselves members of the millennial generation. 

The take-away? A dissection of millennial commentary is a great look into the true nature and future of dynamic and time-tested leadership. If taken for face value, millennials value competition, have an air of entitlement and are not afraid to demand things. In addition, commentary lends that millennials are not afraid to lead but are viewed as trusting few.  

True application of leadership requires confidence, a clear vision and expectation of performance standards, as well as the ability to hire, motivate and mentor people who are not just good enough for a particular job, but will raise the collective excellence and output of the entire organization. With very few exceptions, trust is earned, and the competitive nature of a technologically driven 21st century business environment demands an equally relevant appreciation for balanced, ego-driven confidence–a demand for competition. 

Competition is universally applicable. Competition brings people together for a common cause and shapes individual personalities. Leaders build, charge and massage competition to get the best possible contributions from their team. Competition can indeed bring out the best and worst in people without regard for age, gender, nationality or ethnicity. And for this, the world is indeed a better place.


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When the 4-hour workweek becomes 40

     One hundred and seven years ago, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto put forth the idea of the 80/20 principle. In his time, this principle was applied to land ownership and even pea pods. Infamous time hacker, best selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek and life guru, Tim Ferriss, has applied Pareto’s 80/20 principle to productivity, efforts and time wasters. According to Ferriss, 80 percent of your productivity comes from 20 percent of your efforts. Does this mean that one is not truly productive 80 percent of the time? Not entirely, but it does mean that a manager must survey his team to determine what part, if any, the 80/20 principle is applicable to organizational and team successes. It would be great if all organizations could achieve their vision in just 4 hours a week, but most require a traditional 40-hour workweek and the requisite environment that goes with it. 

     Highly functioning organizations can harness the best efforts and productivity of the team by stoking the embers of the already high-functioning 20 percent. This requires leadership of the transformational variety, a clear vision of the end result by all team members and the best abilities of the manager to implement it without completing ignoring the other 80 percent.  With very few exceptions, any successful 21st Century organization requires a “brain” type atmosphere and mentality. A brain type atmosphere should not be confused with groupthink. When best applied, a brain type atmosphere is the fostering, nurturing, and development of ideas among talented, dedicated employees, and is paramount to the survivability and success of any team and organization. 

     In keeping with the 80/20 principle, 20 percent of an organization must be led and the other 80 percent must be managed to ensure any kind of organizational success. Twenty percent of the team can also take up 80 percent of the manager’s time in a negative way. Properly applied leadership can negate these negative effects and enhance the productivity of the many without regard to the issues of a select few. As one of our nation’s finest leaders, Colin Powell, advised, never be afraid to fire those who are not a good organizational fit or are detrimental in nature.

     How does a modern-day manager and leader in training manage the possible benefits of 107-year-old theories and life experts like Tim Ferriss?  Regular self-assessment of your managerial and leadership styles, successes, and failures, serve as a viable means of accountability and measurement. The best that any leader can hope for is to have made a difference in the lives of those who work for them. The greatest success for any leader is to have inspired one of their subordinates to become a better leader than them and continue the mentoring relationship. As with anything in life, leadership is a work in progress with many victories and lessons-learned.

     Make everyday as a manager and leader an opportunity to add chapters to your own best-selling, life changing, 4 or 40-hour workweek. I’m sure Tim Ferriss would welcome the competition and company. 


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Leadership: Equal parts competitor and cooperator

     The U.S. Military is among the very best in the world at mobilizing, equipping, training and growing effective managers and skillful leaders. The military benefits from an active learning laboratory in many worldwide locales that enables real-life, real-time applications–a litmus test to measure personal and organizational leadership successes and failures, one action at a time. Very few worldwide organizations offer young people, ages 18 to 35, the opportunity for education on the managerial process while practicing and honing the art of leadership, daily. It is this group of individuals–what has been referred to as the next “Greatest Generation”–that has applied the successes and lessons-learned forged in the leadership laboratories of Iraq and Afghanistan to the highly technical and ever-changing global society.

      To truly understand the nature of military service and leadership, one must understand the necessary roles that each service member must embrace: competitor and cooperator. I strongly believe that for one to be successful in the military they must be equal parts competitor and cooperator. These personal orientations are torn down and rebuilt from day one of service and are fostered, mentored and grown over time. As with any large group of people, a few will develop a mastery of competitor traits and become charismatic leaders. The bulk will likely flourish as cooperators as their sense of balance and teamwork trumps personal needs or behaviors. Although equalizers do exist within the military, their role is more closely associated with the cooperators and often fills defined roles with a group.

     What is the common denominator for all? All have individualistic traits that lead them to accept, foster, deny or change their roles within the group. Without individualistic traits, competitors and cooperators would fail to embrace and see any success with their personal orientations. It is these very traits, behaviors and actions that make for successful managers and leaders. It is these individuals who will mentor and grow the people within their environment and make good ideas into great organizations.



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Attitudes and behaviors are everything

     It can be easy for a manager or leader to lose sight of the importance of individual attitudes and behaviors in the success of any organization. A diligent manager is more apt to focus on the process versus the person, while a leader will see the benefits of paying attention to the quality of the work environment and its effect on the team members.

     I have worked for a myriad of managers and leaders over the past 20 years, some good, some great, some bad, and most simply average. The common denominator for all has been their focus on making their organization better, whether for the betterment of the team, to surpass mission standards, or for just career enhancing reasons. As I’ve learned through this course, there’s a myriad of definitions, theories, and rationales for all of their collective behaviors. The true success of any organization is the ability to influence, motivate, and foster people to accomplish a task and the collective short and long term goals and objectives. A learned approach to creating, managing, and leading a team, coupled with sound decision making skills and a healthy respect for flexibility and creativity will yield all of the necessary victories for long term successes.

     The study of organizational successes and failures is a great tool and means of learning what to do and not to do with your own management and leadership opportunities. While your individual situation may vary, from small business, big corporate, military, or non-profit, the ability to take even a single idea, tool, or observation away for your professional toolbox will make you a stronger manager and leader.

     One of the great, ever expanding managerial challenges in modern America is coping and succeeding with organizational change. As the Baby Boomer generation leaves the workplace, and Generation’s X and Y assume a myriad of leadership roles, the influence and significance of motivators is evolving. A pension and gold watch for 30 years of service to company X are rare in these modern times. Individual motivators are as diverse as the available workforce and traditional norms and standards that have applied to team building for years are no longer steadfast and secure. Culture, creativity, and innovation have replaced black and white corporate standards and expectations.

     The future and true definition of leadership may very well change over the next 20 years. The traditional definition of leadership, the ability to influence, will take on new parameters closely related to the process of motivating versus influencing. The values of a generation of workers and the prominence of technology will redefine the role the team within an organizational construct. A true understanding by future leaders of how to treat each employee, their needs, their motivations, and how technology aids managerial pursuits will contribute to this new definition and its application within organizations worldwide.

     As a professional manager and leader, one must cultivate a new sense of awareness for civilian centric organizational terminology and its application. Regular self assessment of your managerial and leadership styles, successes, and failures, serves as a viable means of accountability and measurement. The best that any leader can hope for is to have made a difference in the lives of those who work for them. The greatest success for any leader is to have inspired one of their subordinates to become a better leader than them and continue the mentoring relationship. As with anything in life, leadership is a work in progress with many victories and many lessons-learned. 

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Being lonely at the top means you’re doing it wrong

Being lonely at the top means you’re doing it wrong.

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Being lonely at the top means you’re doing it wrong

Several times in my professional career I’ve heard peers state that it’s lonely being at the top of the organizational pyramid. My response is always the same: then you’re doing it wrong.

A leader (or manager) should never be lonely at the top of any organization so long as you’re NOT the only person in said organization. An effective leader should be consistently surrounded with human beings bearing ideas, suggestions, questions and opportunities to mentor. If this isn’t the case, the leader has likely created an atmosphere of indifference, apathy and stagnation. Is this scenario fixable? Absolutely. But first, a leader/manager must know what their role is within the organization and how to best utilize his or her strengths and weaknesses to get the job done.

For point of reference, let’s consider a manager as someone who oversees a process (and people) to completion and a leader as someone who utilizes the talents and motivations of a group to complete (or exceed) the requirements of a process. A manager manages the status quo as a priority and a leader uses the required standard as a starting line and learning process for the organization. For any of this to functionally happen, the organization needs the inherent buy-in from its team members (employees). How does a leader get this necessary buy-in? By creating an atmosphere where communication and trust is the priority. And by communication, I don’t mean relying solely on e-mail to convey messages and information.

A leader gets out from behind the desk and actually engages with the people or at a minimum, picks up a phone and has a conversation. Never underestimate the power and positive outcome to be had from face-to-face contact. Team members need to know to some degree that the boss is available, personable and ready to listen. All of the best ideas and vision statements that populate PowerPoint slides mean very little if the team feels as if they cannot engage the boss. A leader who spends all day talking with his boss and polishing said PowerPoint slides will surely miss the practical ideas, applications and lessons-learned garnered from being a conduit and beacon of team member communication.

Leadership is only lonely if you let the process, status quo and your own personal inhibitions, make it so.

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I know what you are thinking: another blog. Another potential time waster in a world where one too many feel the need to share their chili recipes, coupon championing and entrepreneurial passions. While I do enjoy chili, I promise that this particular blog will not waste your already too short lives with drivel. I want to make every reader a better manager, team builder, mentor and leader. I consider it a privilege to share my 20 years of lessons-learned and successes with you.

I look forward to this educational and sharing experience. Cheers and fair winds.



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