A Key Leadership Question: Who’s Holding Your Ladder?

Who’s Holding Your Ladder?

Walking through a busy convention floor at Book Expo America, I nearly bumped into him as I dodged through a publisher’s stand on my way to an appointment. It was one of those chance meetings, the ones you don’t expect but you figure somehow it was arranged or planned to happen just that way.

Dr. Samuel R. Chand and I collided, and it started a conversation about leadership and what makes it possible. After our meeting, I had the opportunity to read his books and soak in his ideas. I’m delighted to introduce him to you and share some of our conversation.

 

“The best use of power is to give it away.” –Sam Chand

 

The Story Behind the Ladders

I want to know the story behind your work. How did you first develop the idea for your books?

The story behind my book Who’s Holding Your Ladder? was an epiphany and came from my experience in 1999 in Long Island, NY.

Waiting for someone to call me into the auditorium, I stared out the window. As I meditated on the points I wanted to cover as a featured speaker at this leadership conference, something in the street below caught my attention.

A man stood on a ladder painting—not that uncommon a sight. I smiled, remembering my student days in college. I had spent my summers doing that kind of work. Yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the man. For several minutes, I watched his graceful motions as he moved his brush and roller across the surface.

As I watched, I noticed that this painter was only covering a limited area. He stretched as far as he could to the left, to the right and even reached above his head. It also occurred to me that he was only going to the height that he was comfortable at, even though the extension ladder he was using could reach much higher.

From my painting experience, I remembered that once I was on the ladder and had the necessary resources, I painted a much larger area before taking the additional time needed to climb down and relocate the ladder. It was an efficient method.

 

“Those who know how will always work for those who know why.” –Sam Chand

 

“Why isn’t he going higher to paint all the way up? What would allow him to go higher?” I asked myself. Then I saw the reason—no one was holding his ladder. By himself, the painter couldn’t go any further. He had done everything he could by himself. He needed help.

samchand 2As I watched his graceful strokes, I realized the leadership parallels. Whether we’re talking about churches, businesses or non-profit organizations, the effectiveness of a leader depends on the person or persons holding the ladder—those who are in support roles.

The height that a visionary leader reaches on the ladder to their vision is not controlled by the leader’s capabilities. It’s not even controlled by how inspiring their vision might be. It’s controlled by who’s holding the ladder.

Then another thought struck me: Those who hold the ladders are as important as the leaders themselves.

The visionaries could have all the training possible, the most expensive equipment, years of experience and knowledge about painting, and a blend of expertise and passion about their craft. But that’s not the deciding factor. The ladder holder determines the height to which the ladder climber ascends. “That’s it!” I cried aloud. “Those who hold the ladder control the ascent of the visionaries.”

 

“When you’re 100 percent certain, you’re too late.” –Charles W. Robinson

 

Additionally, a ladder holder who may be very capable with a 20-foot extension ladder (or vision) may not be the person you want holding your 45-foot extension ladder (a new or enlarged vision). Old ladder holders are rarely adequate at holding new ladders.

My book Who’s Holding Your Ladder?: Selecting Your Leaders: Leaderships Most Critical Decision explains this powerful concept. It explains the need for qualified ladder holders and the necessary qualifications, differentiates between leaders and managers, and describes how you can turn your ladder holders into ladder climbers.

 

“The only time you start at the top is when you’re digging a hole.” -Sam Chand

 

Acknowledge the Ladder Holders

I love your focus on those who hold ladders. How should leaders acknowledge the ladder holders?

The greatest acknowledgement is for leaders to recognize that no one would be the leader that they are today had it not been for someone holding their ladder. There’s no such thing as a “self-made” person. Someone gave us our first break. Someone took a risk and believed in us. Someone leveraged their credibility for our sake. Someone forgave us and gave us another chance. Someone knew we had messed up yet defended us to those who wanted us vanquished. Someone funded that shaky idea. Someone gave us our first job. Someone…

Therefore a spirit of humility and dependency will be the attitude that exudes appreciation for our ladder holders.

 

“More than anything, leadership is about managing expectations.” –Sam Chand

 

Pick the Right People to Hold Your Ladder

3 Lessons from the Star Spangled Banner

The History Behind the Star Spangled Banner

 

The year was 1814. The United States and the United Kingdom were at war.

In mid-September, the British began to attack the city of Baltimore. Guarding the city, Fort McHenry came under heavy fire from warships in the harbor. Only a week prior, Francis Scott Key had learned of the impending attack while on a British ship. Because of his knowledge, the British blocked him from leaving his ship.

That’s why Francis was on his ship that night, watching the sky light up. Shells weighing up to 200 pounds fell on the fort at an alarming rate nearly every minute. The attack was so extensive and continual that the outcome of a British victory seemed certain.

But early on the morning of September 14th, Key saw the American flag signaling the American win. That flag was 42 feet across and flew proudly over the Fort.

You know what happened.

He penned the words that would become the national anthem of the United States of America, The Star Spangled Banner, though the initial title was the Defence of Fort McHenry. The song had four verses, but we only sing one.

 

The Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

 

3 Lessons for Leaders from the Star Spangled Banner

When I reflect on these events, I think of three lessons:

Preparation is the key to winning. Major General Samuel Smith showed a fierce determination to defend Baltimore. His extensive preparations were vitally important to assure the American victory.

 

“The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

What Leaders and the Declaration Signers Have in Common

July 4, 1776

If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia in the summer, you know how hot it is.

Imagine yourself there in 1776. You’re a representative of one of the colonies, wearing a dress coat, a shirt with sleeves tightly cuffed at your wrist and, of course, your silk stockings.

It’s now July 4th and the document is ready for signature. With its final approval, the colonies will declare independence from Great Britain, ending a long debate and all revisions of the document. The United States, a new nation, will be born.

You approach the table and see John Hancock’s signature in massive letters, which he says is so that “King George can see it without spectacles.”

Your turn to sign. The other delegates look at you expectantly.

You realize the weight of the moment, but you also realize that, by signing, your own life will be in danger. To many, you will be a traitor. If the revolution fails, you will hang for just a few letters on a piece of paper.

You push those thoughts aside and sign.

Your signature, along with the others, just changed the world.

A new beginning. The United States of America is now born.

The new country was far from perfect. The horrific practice of slavery wouldn’t end until the Civil War nearly ripped the country apart. Women and minorities had no vote.

Still, the United States of America would become a country that most of us are proud to call home. We value family, freedom, God and country.

Back to July 4th, 1776.

 

Your Leadership Moment

It was an incredible leadership moment.

As I reflect this week on the July 4th holiday, I think about the leadership lessons from that day:

“Leaders take risks to assure a better future.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Leaders know growth often comes from the uncomfortable.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Leaders inspire others to a better vision of themselves.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Leaders don’t wait for perfection.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Leaders know that imperfect progress is better than stagnation.” -Skip Prichard

 

“Leaders believe more in tomorrow’s promise than today’s problems.” -Skip Prichard

 

Decision Time

8 Types of Toxic Managers

Managers.

Some are extraordinary. They inspire us with their passion, their confidence in us, and their encouragement.

Others, not so much. They rack up the traits of a bad boss faster than you thought possible. They may condescend or micromanage.

You can complain. You can wallow in self-pity. You can look for a new job.

On the other hand, you could study the manager’s style. Understand the hot button issues. Learn how to navigate through it.

If you do, you may find that you not only learn to deal with difficult styles, but also maybe, maybe, you could even enjoy your job again.

Here are 8 Types of Toxic Managers and what you should do if you find yourself working for one:
getvoip-toxic-managers
This infographic created by GetVOIP.

How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking

Develop an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Why are some businesses more vulnerable to disruptive change than others?

Should big companies engage in entrepreneurship?

How do you stay ahead of the competition?

In Achieving Longevity: How Great Firms Prosper Through Entrepreneurial Thinking, Jim Dewald provides advice on how to create a culture of entrepreneurial thinking. He offers a method to combine the strength of a strong, established business with the innovation of a startup.

Jim is the Dean of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, a former CEO and entrepreneur.

 

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” –Winston Churchill

 

Prepare Yourself for Real Disruptive Change

What makes businesses vulnerable to disruptive change?

There are 2 main messages in my book.

First, that while we think the world is changing rapidly, in fact, we continue to rely on a platform that arose from the invention of 3 general purpose technologies in the 1870’s: the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the telephone. Even with the computer and the Internet, we have spent decades boxing in this amazing new technology to fit our paradigm need for a faster, smaller, cheaper phone. So, while we think we are in the midst of rapid change, the western world is in fact obsessed with ensuring we stick with the old world and reward refinements of tired mature ways of doing things. When real change comes, will business leaders be prepared? I don’t think so.Dewald_AchievingLongevity

One of the reasons why we won’t respond well when real change comes is that while ideas are abundant, small start-up ventures lack the resources – people, money, physical assets — to launch these ideas. They also lack the credibility, networks, access to customers, suppliers, government officials, etc. This limits their ability to move these ideas forward, no matter how great they may be. At the same time, existing companies are flush with people, money, networks, customers, and, most important, credibility and brand value. But what they lack is an entrepreneurial mindset. To move forward, companies need to resist the rhetoric of finding and sticking to a narrow form of sustainable competitive advantage, and instead adopt a model of strategic entrepreneurship that promotes transformational growth and longevity.

The fundamental impact of disruptive change is that our organizations are not built to manage change very well. Through principles such as sustainable competitive advantage, we tend to use fixed mindsets that build a sort of impenetrable armor around the firm’s processes and procedures, instead of being flexible and adaptable. When disruptive technologies or business models present an alternative, firms resist. Indeed, even customers often resist, as we remain stuck in our paradigms formed as noted above. However, in time, customers adapt because they do not have the level of sunk investment in the old ways that companies often do. Time and again, rigid non-entrepreneurial firms fall by the wayside.

There are many very extreme examples of this phenomenon. Think of Kodak, which is a firm that actually pioneered digital photography, but in the end was unable to adapt to this powerful disruptive technology.

 

“Progress is a nice word we like to use. But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” –Robert Kennedy

 

Embrace a Spirit of Entrepreneurship

How can large organizations embrace a spirit of entrepreneurship?

I emphasize the importance of adopting three points:

  1. Recognize that opportunities are developed at all levels of the organization.
  2. Build a culture that embraces and supports entrepreneurship.
  3. Consciously develop support for entrepreneurial initiatives through effectual processes or bricolage.

The key is leadership, not only in words, but in action. It is imperative that the CEO endorse an entrepreneurial culture by example – championing new ideas. In fact, a failure or two is good because it demonstrates that even the CEO recognizes that not every entrepreneurial idea is destined for success, and it is important to manage your investment and ensure that no one new venture will take down the ship.

 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” –Peter Drucker

 

The Key Elements of a Good Corporate Culture

What are the elements of a good corporate culture?

There are many theories on this question, and I included quite a few in my book. In the end, the key elements are:

  1. Provide open opportunities for opportunity development – these include group time (because we know that mixing people with diverse expertise and background can lead to innovative solutions), plus unstructured open thinking time (such as 3M’s famous “tinkering” time).
  2. Adopt a learning culture – growth mindsets are essential, pursuing what could be as opposed to why this won’t work.
  3. Accept failure, and the importance of learning from failure.
  4. Adopt bricolage (known outcomes, with unknown ways of getting there), or effectuation (building on invention, experiment, and science) as frameworks for pursuing each entrepreneurial initiative (purposefully).

 

“The only sustainable competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition.” –Peter Senge

 

Encourage Creativity at all Levels

How do leaders encourage creativity at all levels of the organization?

The first thing I would say is that leaders must recognize that organizations need time to change. This is not an overnight process and will require considerable and repetitive actions and wins to change. And failure is a key component – an organization can move far closer to being creative and adopting entrepreneurial thinking by showing that a person with a great idea that failed in implementation is celebrated as thinking outside the box, rather than penalized for failing.

Researchers have studied the importance of story-telling in organizations, and how a lasting culture can be built around well-known, maybe even legendary, stories that come from the history of the organization. The dimensions of story-telling I describe in my book include equality (versus inequality), security (versus insecurity), and control (versus lack of control). Through story-telling of actual events that happened in the organization’s history, employees are able to gauge whether the organization will endorse or shun creativity at all levels.

 

“Successful innovators are..not risk-focused; they are opportunity focused.” –Peter Drucker

 

Middle management is often ignored in the leadership literature. What role do they have in this type of change management?