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Archives ~ September 2013 Entries

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Language Matters

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots." These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers. Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world. What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

On a recent trip abroad, I couldn't help but notice how many people were wearing clothing with English-sounding sayings. Trying to look cool and stylish, few had any idea that many sayings were misspelled or misapplied and made them look a little silly to English speakers. For example, one shirt said, "The Wind City: Chicago." I'm not sure if that implied flatulence or climate, but true Chicagoans would be aghast at the error. Another guy meant to wear a shirt that said "Cocktail shots" but instead it said, "Cocktails in shoots."

These unwitting subjects wanted to demonstrate they understood a culture, but lack of accuracy in their language made them strangers to it. This is instructive for leading and for teams. Organizations need shared language that communicates a common story, direction and community. Without a common language and shared stories, there's little common ground. Community suffers.

Wise leaders pay attention to language, both spoken and written. They find ways to steer the organizational narrative toward specific storylines and away from more general words like "excellence," so overused they've become meaningless. They remember that words have impact. Words change minds. Words change the world.

What does your employees' language say about the health and cohesiveness of your organization?

9.30.13 0
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A Hard Right

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

This summer, I was in Italy interviewing a former officer in the Special Forces for my upcoming book, The Wave. After sharing many stories, this impressive, decorated hero said something I found fascinating, "It was my job to help my men see that it's never okay to do an easy wrong instead of a hard right." That's morality in a nutshell: doing what's merely convenient is never acceptable for its own sake. When faced with the choice between expedience and moral, ethical action, the leader must choose the harder path. Leaders lead by example. Leaders go first. This is an old-fashioned notion in a world where people are often more concerned with the optics of a decision-how it plays to the media or shareholders-than with its moral and ethical implications. Leaders should know that easy, questionable choices are slippery slope. The "easy" road leads to rationalization and self-justification, and conveys a message to those observing that it's fine to play fast and loose with the facts or product quality. Hard choices announce loud and clear, "THIS is the way we do things. THIS and nothing else is acceptable." By rewarding those who choose "hard rights," the wise leader also says, "I know this isn't easy, and it was extra work, but I recognize your wisdom." What message are you sending your team about "hard rights" and "easy wrongs"?

This summer, I was in Italy interviewing a former officer in the Special Forces for my upcoming book, The Wave. After sharing many stories, this impressive, decorated hero said something I found fascinating, "It was my job to help my men see that it's never okay to do an easy wrong instead of a hard right."

That's morality in a nutshell: doing what's merely convenient is never acceptable for its own sake. When faced with the choice between expedience and moral, ethical action, the leader must choose the harder path. Leaders lead by example. Leaders go first.

This is an old-fashioned notion in a world where people are often more concerned with the optics of a decision-how it plays to the media or shareholders-than with its moral and ethical implications. Leaders should know that easy, questionable choices are slippery slope. The "easy" road leads to rationalization and self-justification, and conveys a message to those observing that it's fine to play fast and loose with the facts or product quality.

Hard choices announce loud and clear, "THIS is the way we do things. THIS and nothing else is acceptable." By rewarding those who choose "hard rights," the wise leader also says, "I know this isn't easy, and it was extra work, but I recognize your wisdom."

What message are you sending your team about "hard rights" and "easy wrongs"?

9.23.13 0
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The First Follower

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables, Wisdom Leading

There's a wonderful video on YouTube that shows a music festival somewhere in the U.S. In the video, one man is dancing to the music in the middle of a field while everyone else watches him uncomfortably. The dancer is completely uninhibited, lost in the joy of the music, like a child. But no one else moves...until one other person finally breaks free from the stasis that seems to hold everyone else still and joins the first dancer in the field. With that unspoken act of "permission," the entire crowd rushes into the field and starts dancing as one. Human beings are group-oriented. There's a reason that more people fear speaking in public than they fear death: speaking in public means being apart from the group, alone, vulnerable. The group implies safety, even if it can also restrict and stifle us. We need permission-overt or implied-to break free from the group's gravitational pull. That's why the First Follower is such a powerful concept. One person breaking from the group to take positive action often makes it "all right" for others to do the same. That's one of the ways that one person can inspire and lead an entire team. What are you doing to encourage people to be First Followers? What do you do when you're in position to be the First Follower?

There's a wonderful video on YouTube that shows a music festival somewhere in the U.S. In the video, one man is dancing to the music in the middle of a field while everyone else watches him uncomfortably. The dancer is completely uninhibited, lost in the joy of the music, like a child. But no one else moves...until one other person finally breaks free from the stasis that seems to hold everyone else still and joins the first dancer in the field. With that unspoken act of "permission," the entire crowd rushes into the field and starts dancing as one.

Human beings are group-oriented. There's a reason that more people fear speaking in public than they fear death: speaking in public means being apart from the group, alone, vulnerable. The group implies safety, even if it can also restrict and stifle us. We need permission-overt or implied-to break free from the group's gravitational pull.

That's why the First Follower is such a powerful concept. One person breaking from the group to take positive action often makes it "all right" for others to do the same. That's one of the ways that one person can inspire and lead an entire team.

What are you doing to encourage people to be First Followers? What do you do when you're in position to be the First Follower?

9.16.13 0
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Cardboard Playhouse

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Recently, a friend told me how he asked furniture delivery men to leave a large cardboard box at his home so his daughters could turn it into a playhouse. Sure enough, his girls and their cousin fell on that box with tape and markers and imagination, turning it into a whimsical cabin that they slept in for several warm summer nights. This got me to thinking about scarcity and how it can be one of the best stimulants for imagination. Think back to your own childhood. How many times did you turn a refrigerator or washing machine box into a spaceship or racecar? You didn't have controllers, screens or an Internet connection. You had scissors, paint, and your imagination. And you worked wonders! What's to stop you from doing the same thing today? I've written that winning often makes teams forgetful and complacent. Well, the availability of resources often makes teams and departments lazy. Have a problem? Throw some money at it! But money doesn't solve problems; imaginative, innovative thinking does. Ironically, we call that sort of thinking "outside the box." However, pause to consider how a little "inside the cardboard box" thinking would serve us better. Next time you're trying to pin down a hard-to-find solution, get out your cardboard box. Ask your team, "What could we do if we didn't have a budget?" You'll be startled by the creativity of the answers. How can you stimulate "inside the box" imagination on your team?

Recently, a friend told me how he asked some furniture delivery men to leave a large cardboard box at his home so his daughters could turn it into a playhouse. Sure enough, his girls and their cousin fell on that box with tape and markers and imagination, turning it into a whimsical cabin that they slept in for several warm summer nights. This got me to thinking about scarcity and how it can be one of the best stimulants for imagination.

Think back to your own childhood. How many times did you turn a refrigerator or washing machine box into a spaceship or racecar? You didn't have controllers, screens or an Internet connection. You had scissors, paint, and your imagination. And you worked wonders! What's to stop you from doing the same thing today?

I've written that winning often makes teams forgetful and complacent. Well, the availability of resources often makes teams and departments lazy. Have a problem? Throw some money at it! But money doesn't solve problems; imaginative, innovative thinking does. Ironically, we call that sort of thinking "outside the box." However, pause to consider how a little "inside the cardboard box" thinking would serve us better. Next time you're trying to pin down a hard-to-find solution, get out your cardboard box. Ask your team, "What could we do if we didn't have a budget?" You'll be startled by the creativity of the answers.

How can you stimulate "inside the box" imagination on your team?

9.9.13 0
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Taking the Red Pill

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Remember the 1999 movie The Matrix? One of the most iconic moments from the film was when the main character, Neo, had to make a choice between the red pill or the blue pill. He chose to take the red pill and to travel deeper down the rabbit hole of the computer-generated fantasy he was living in. Only by questioning every assumption was he able to distinguish reality from illusion. When it comes to our own unconscious assumptions, we are all living in the Matrix - at least some of the time. Ask yourself, how much of your own behavior is the result of "programming" by family, school, and society? Some unconscious assumption is beneficial-we can drive to work on autopilot because we don't need to reinvent our route each morning-but when we simply stop questioning our actions, motives, and attitudes toward everything, we compromise our ability to lead, innovate and problem-solve. Taking the "red pill"-breaking free of "We've always done it this way" and "that's just the way it is" thinking-unplugs us from the Matrix and frees us to see people and situations in fresh ways. We're able to "walk around the room" and view circumstances from all perspectives. We become more empathic, creative and perceptive. We begin to see things that other people can't. How can you change your perspective on what you see and do every day? What assumptions should you and your people be questioning and inverting?

Remember the 1999 movie The Matrix? One of the most iconic moments from the film was when the main character, Neo, had to make a choice between the red pill or the blue pill. He chose to take the red pill and to travel deeper down the rabbit hole of the computer-generated fantasy he was living in. Only by questioning every assumption was he able to distinguish reality from illusion.

When it comes to our own unconscious assumptions, we are all living in the Matrix - at least some of the time. Ask yourself, how much of your own behavior is the result of "programming" by family, school, and society? Some unconscious assumption is beneficial - we can drive to work on autopilot because we don't need to reinvent our route each morning - but when we simply stop questioning our actions, motives, and attitudes toward everything, we compromise our ability to lead, innovate, and problem-solve.

Taking the "red pill"-breaking free of "We've always done it this way" and "that's just the way it is" thinking-unplugs us from the Matrix and frees us to see people and situations in fresh ways. We're able to "walk around the room" and view circumstances from all perspectives. We become more empathic, creative, and perceptive. We begin to see things that other people can't.

How can you change your perspective on what you see and do every day? What assumptions should you and your people be questioning and inverting?

9.2.13 0
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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams