Category Archives: Leadership Impressions

Thoughts on this original concept

Utah! Utah! Utah!

It was near the end of World War Two and my father’s cousin, Ed Pugsley, and his squadron  were being briefed about their next bombing mission in their B-29.  The co-pilot and his crew were part of a mission to bomb an oil refinery north of Osaka, a mere 8.5 hours and 1,500 miles away in what was their 16th bombing mission.

But if the surrender came while the crew was in-flight, they would receive the special radio code “Utah! Utah! Utah!” and they were to turn around and come home after dumping their bombs at sea.

“You never saw so many guys pressing their ears against their head sets,” Ed told his son.

Staying focused to the mission, the crew found their target and headed home, perhaps disappointed that the call didn’t come.  But about one hour into the return flight, the call came into the headsets–“Utah, Utah, Utah”.

I can imagine the relief that the war was finally over, but this battle wasn’t over for the crew.  As Ed later explained, the most notable accomplishment was that in terms of time and distance, this was the longest propeller driven combat strike in the history of the world.  “We were in the air 17 hours and 15 minutes.  Traveled close to three thousand miles.  When we got back to base we landed on fumes,” Ed explained.

This was officially the last mission of World War Two.

Ed was 19 at the time.

Ed died earlier this year, and his story was captured by his son Don at his eulogy.  Like so many in this “Greatest Generation“, Ed was strong and brave, but to me he was an incredible leader.

This Memorial Day, I thought about Ed and his team–what it was like, how they felt, what scared them, how they worked together, and what they talked about.  I can’t even imagine being in their shoes, at their age, and doing the things they were doing for our country.

All I can say is thank you for your service.

Time Out!

The regretful words uttered by Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz last Saturday in a game against arch rival Iowa State which will haunt him for sometime to come.

The situation was at essentially the end of a tie game. His opponent was lining up to kick a potential game winning field goal. Ferentz had one time out left. As the kicking team lined up, Ferentz gathered the sideline referee close to him. He was waiting until the last absolute moment before the snap to call time out, disrupting the kicking team and “icing the kicker”. The theory is that with more time to think about it, the kicker would miss the kick, and send the game to overtime.

The ball was snapped, the kicker connected, but missed wide left!

But wait, Ferentz had called time out before the snap so the play was voided. Time for a re-kick.

After the timeout, the kicking team lined up again, and this time Iowa State kicked the ball through the uprights and the result was an Iowa State victory!

Ferentz was guilty of what author Malcolm Goldsmith called in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There as trying to “add too much value” a nice way of telling someone else they are being a Jackass.

We all, from time to time, try to add too much value. We have opinions, thoughts, and want to take action most of the time. That part of Goldsmith’s book for me was the golden nugget. I am guilty of trying to add too much value from time to time. And this Saturday, so was Ferentz.

I think there is wisdom for letting some things play out, to observe, and to listen. Perhaps the other team will miss that field goal on their own…

(Disclaimer, this blogger is a devout Iowa State Fan–go Cyclones!)

Favorable Weather

A community leader was sent a letter after a town hall meeting where the leader indicated he was hopeful that they would get rain to help the farmers’ crops which had been experiencing a drought during the late summer months. Farmers cheered at his support.

The next week he was sent a letter from a resort owner asking why he had expressed his desire for rain? Didn’t he know that it had rained all spring, adversely impacting the overall resort business? More rain would mean one of the worst resort seasons in recent history!

It sure is hard to please everyone. How often do you have good intent, but someone in the audience assumes the opposite? I’m sure this community leader was not wishing doom on the resort business, but how telling it is that the resort owner assumed as such. We all get so entrenched in our own perspective, from our own lens. We’re all resort owners, to some extent.

As leaders, our words matter. Choosing the right words and understanding all of the perspectives can make the difference between a happy farmer and a disgruntled resort owner.

So what did the community leader do the next time he mentioned the weather? He said, “I’m hoping that in the next few weeks we all have favorable weather.”

Mic’d Up at Work?

I was watching the Little League World Series recently and for television purposes the coach of one of the teams was wearing a microphone.  Throughout the game, the coverage would capture his coaching in real time.  I found myself intrigued at what the coach was saying to his team.  In one instance, I assumed he was going to express frustration to his pitcher, whom he was taking out of the game after the opponent scored the go-ahead run.  The pitcher, tears in his eye, braced himself for the verbal thrashing.  But instead, the coach put his hand on the pitcher’s shoulder, offered support, and reminded the pitcher that his efforts had kept them in the game and he was now needed to go out there and play shortstop.

Sometimes leaders and coaches surprise us.  Normally those instances are reserved for just the audience who happens to be present, at that time, in that moment.  I’ve written before that these are very powerful connections, what I call leadership impressions, and the limited audience is blessed to be present, to glean that leadership impression from the leader. 

But why do the rest of us have to miss out?

As I reflected about the Little League example, I smiled when thinking about leaders at work being Mic’d up.  Then I realized that working out loud is the workplace equivalent, sans microphone.  A leader who shares, out in the open, his/her thoughts, insights, opinions, values and vulnerabilities is choosing to be Mic’d up at work.  Maybe you should try it!


Are You Afraid to Work Out Loud?

Many have heard the benefits of Working Out Loud as they relate to connecting with others and as I’ve written, to create more Leadership Impressions.

So why doesn’t everyone do it?

I think many are afraid.

Afraid of the perceptions it could create. Afraid of being controversial. Afraid of having your thoughts, God forbid, written down.

At some point, however, those fears that paralyze us from working out loud will actually cause us to become irrelevant.

Work will require us to be so fast that playing this game of Switzerland just won’t scale. Teams will require us to be responsive, stand for something, debate, challenge, and continuously improve. Employers will expect employees, including leaders, to create communities that foster open collaboration. Customers will want vendors to acknowledge (and more importantly) quickly fix problems. Trying to hide a defect for fear of customer backlash will result in customer backlash for hiding the defect.

I feel a shift coming. Our own future relevancy will require us to change the way we work and change the way we lead.

Picking up Where You Left Off

Recently, I had lunch with a former co-worker whom I’d consider a friend. We had not seen each other for several months. It was a nice lunch and I recall us both commenting that it was like we could just pick up where we left off (from the last time we talked). We didn’t have to start from scratch, or lay any of the ground work—that had already been done. He’s the type of person where while I’d prefer to see him face-to-face, I’d accept an email or quick phone call or IM to “talk” to him.

In the workplace, we often start up new relationships. I think of having an end goal to some day be able to “pick up where you left off” is a good way to frame up the desired outcome. Making that investment of time with each new person is something I’m committed to do. It’s only after having shared experiences and time can you get it to the point of being able to pick up where you left off. Think about your relationships that are this strong. What would you recommend to folks starting new work relationships as they begin this journey? We can’t under estimate the power of those connections and need to appreciate that there will be some sweat equity in the creation of those relationships.

Leadership Impressions–Why Stop Short?

A year ago, I was sitting in a meeting and the speaker was telling a story. She did a great job of capturing the attention of the audience, including me. The story was about her son and his baseball team. I won’t go into the details, but at the core, she was story telling about how proud she was of her son. She showed vulnerability, and to be honest with you, she connected with me.

I don’t work with this person on a day-to-day basis; I just was lucky enough to be sitting in that room, on that day, listening to that story.

She created a Leadership Impression on me.

But what if I physically had not been there? Well, there would not have been a Leadership Impression made. I envisioned applying for a job in the future where she was the hiring manager. In one story, I recalled word by word her story, immediately reciting it back to her, impressing her with my memory skills, and getting the job because of this connection. In another version–the one where I had not attended the meeting–we went through a mundane interview process and I didn’t get the job. No connection.

I bet she’s done a great job of creating Leadership Impressions this way throughout her career. These ways have been effective at establishing authentic connections with people. She’s been successful.

I demonstrated the courage to plant the seed that if she were to just write down stories like this, she could exponentially increase the number of Leadership Impressions she was creating, with a broader base of followers than she had today. While she liked the idea, she’s written nothing in about a year. The baseball story was the only one I’ve been able to hear her tell. I’m sure she’s told more stories, but only the few who were present were able to get the value.

At some point in the future, however, her ways might not scale. Her teams might not always “be in the room” to receive her messages. She’ll have team in multiple buildings–heck, countries–just waiting to follow her. But if she does not start to change the way in which she works, that is, start to lead in a scalable way through the use of enterprise collaboration tools, soon her followers won’t hear these stories, or her voice. People might start to wonder why her team is not connected to her. In short, she might not be seen as a relevant leader in the future. All because she stopped short of creating the most number of Leadership Impressions possible by not only telling her story, but writing it down as well.

Using Collaboration Tools to Create More Leadership Impressions

Marketing uses the concept of media impressions as a way for us to understand how far a particular ad campaign or message has reached its intended audience.

It dawned on me at my Company’s Spring National Meeting:  Media impressions are to Marketing what Leadership impressions are to connecting with my team.
How far have my own campaigns or messages (i.e., my Leadership impressions) reached my intended audience, and am I using all of the potential tools available to me to be effective?
I know for sure that earlier in my career, my Leadership impressions were not as far reaching as they needed to be.  I used strategies like 1:1 status meetings and spoke to groups of employees once in a while, but things needed to change as my teams got bigger and my job got more complicated.  But, as was pointed out in the Spring meeting, I needed to have “an unwavering commitment to learn new ways to lead and work.”  So basically day 1 in a new job, I just tried some new things—like blogging.  Please understand I had never blogged before—ever.  But people had always told me that I had a “different voice” when I write than what can come across in a first impression in person.  I took that as code for perhaps in person I could be a little too intense for some people in person, but when I wrote people could really get an understanding of who I really was, allowing me to establish a connection with them—a Leadership impression with my real voice that they would not have experienced otherwise.
Finally, I got it.  For me, blogging allowed me to generate more Leadership impressions with a broader group than I was reaching previously.  Now I see that as part of my role as a leader, where I am supposed to share my thoughts and opinions on things to establish authentic connections with my broader team and not be as anonymous.  Blogging now had value–value though creating more Leadership impressions.  Needing new ways to lead and work, blogging became another vehicle for me. 
Are you up for the challenge?