How to Become a High-Stakes Leader

Become a High-Stakes Leader

When the stakes are high, that’s when we need the very best in leadership. Why do some leaders succeed and others fail? Why do some not only survive a crisis, but use difficulty to produce incredible results?

These questions are tackled by Constance Dierickx, PhD in her new book, HIGH-STAKES LEADERSHIP: Leading Through Crisis with Courage, Judgment and Fortitude. She shares how to lead with the type of courage that makes you stand out.

I recently asked her to share her insights on high-stakes leadership.

 

“Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” -Aristotle

 

What do you mean by High-Stakes leadership?

A high-stakes leader is someone who is successful when risk is high and visibility is low.  New ventures are an example, whether they are for a new product, service, geography or method of production. Top leader changes, mergers and crisis are also examples of high-stakes situations.

Leaders who get good results achieve value on multiple fronts. As Jim Kennedy, Chairman of Cox Enterprises says, “It can’t be just about the money.” In a crisis, we need only compare the recent leadership failure at Equifax with the response of The Home Depot in a similar circumstance, a breach. The response of these two companies was wildly different. Frank Blake’s actions are a model of what to do.

My book talks about what leaders in high-stakes situations should do and provides examples from a wide range of organizations. I also talk about what gets in the way of leaders. Invisible traps include the human cognitive system, which is not a completely rational system. Our human limits lead us to make mistakes that may look foolish but can be the result of cognitive limits, the effect of emotion on decisions, the context or our own habits of avoiding anxiety.

There is an additional factor, which I include in my forthcoming book Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, in which I focus on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. That is when we wrongly assign value to opportunities, risk, timelines, market size, and so forth. It’s one thing to think something is low risk and be right and quite another to believe risk is low when it isn’t. Even smart people can be blind when making evaluations, a part of leading. We don’t have measures for everything, and even when we do we aren’t always measuring what matters.

Perhaps the greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone and being complacent.

 

“The greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone.” -Constance Dierickx

Why You Should Join Me for a Rollercoaster Ride

rollercoaster

The Ride of a Lifetime

Right up front, I need to disclose that this isn’t my normal type of post. It’s much more like a parent announcing the birth of a child.

Today I’m officially announcing that I have a book coming out in February. It’s called The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future.

For those of you who have thought about writing a book, but haven’t taken the plunge, let me share with you some of the emotions involved. I’m excited, sure, but that excitement is also mixed with nervousness, anxiety, stress, and, if I’m really honest, a healthy dose of undiluted, raw fear.

It’s like the first time I was on a terrifying rollercoaster in an amusement park. The ride up is like the writing and editing process, a slow ascent without fully realizing what’s about to happen. But then things change. Before your book is released, things shift, just like that feeling on the rollercoaster when you’ve crept up and up, the gears grinding, the wheels churning. You’re perched on the precipice, knowing what’s coming, knowing the drop is imminent, your stomach tightening involuntarily, your teeth gritting together.

I suppose that I should be somewhat okay with all of it. After all, each time I write an article whether here or on other sites, I’m exposing a part of me.

But a book is more permanent. It’s like putting a part of myself out into the world, wholly vulnerable and unable to get it back.

Let’s face it: I watched my wife deliver our child and did all I could to support her, but I wasn’t the one in agony.

Now I am.

It’s both an exhilarating experience and a horrifying experience. It’s like nothing I imagined.

From what I now know, and whether this book takes off or sells only two copies, I have a newfound appreciation for authors and for those who put their creative talents on display over and over again. It’s not easy.

And so, if you find yourself friends with an author, I suggest you buy that person’s book. If your friendship isn’t worth the price of the book, then back out of the friendship. If it is, read the book. You’ll get a glimpse into the mind and heart of the author. After all, a good friend is one that grabs your hand for the ride, screaming with you on the way down, not at you from below.

I hope that you join me on the ride.

 

*If you do order, keep your receipt. You’ll see why in another note soon.

 

 

“Everything worth doing starts with being scared.” –Art Garfunkel

 

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” –John Wayne

 

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” –Muhammad Ali

 

“Only the most courageous wring the most out of life.” -Zig Ziglar

 

“Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.” -Aristotle

Phrases to Defuse Difficult Workplace Situations

Defuse conflict

Are you ever at a loss for words?

Do you approach a potentially volatile situation with trepidation because you don’t know what to say?

The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book by Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem is for you.

It’s a handbook of sorts, a reference book, filled with clever phrases and questions all designed to help you in conflict situations.

After reading it, I decided to put it to use immediately. I read a few of the phrases before attending most of my meetings. What I found was that I was asking better questions and was a more focused listener.

I recently asked Barbara more about her work.

 

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as how.” –Terry Goodkind

 

Build Your Conflict Muscle

How do you best build the conflict muscle so that you don’t shy away from it?

Practice, practice, practice!  Many of us are uncomfortable with conflict to the point where we not just shy away from it—we run from it and give in rather than dealing with it. It takes courage and practice to have conflict muscle, but we also want people to know that not all conflict is “bad.”  Having differences of opinion can spur creativity and positive change in organizations and personal relationships.

 

Talk about the power of listening.

Most of us think we’re really good listeners, but what we really do is, while the other person is talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when they stop speaking.  That’s not listening.  Listening is putting your own thoughts aside to focus on the words being said but also observing body language and facial expressions to really get what the person is saying.  Our ever-increasing virtual world makes listening even more difficult, so whenever possible, have difficult conversations face to face. But if you can’t be in the same place, use Facetime or Skype so least you can see each other. A good listener uses techniques like paraphrasing back what they heard to ensure both people are on the same wave length. Listening takes practice—just like any other communication form. We spend a lot time learning how to speak to be understood or how to write well but not much time learning how to listen.

 

“If I could solve all the problems myself, I would.” –Thomas Edison

 

Ask for Clarity

Why How We Do Anything Means Everything

How

How

How we think, how we behave, how we lead, and how we govern are some of the “hows” that are the subject of Dov Seidman’s book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.

It’s a thoughtful book, not the type to read in one sitting, but one filled with experience and perspective that will change the way you think about the world and your role in it.

Dov Seidman is the founder and CEO of LRN, an organization that helps companies navigate complex legal and regulatory environments and build ethical corporate cultures. He was also named one of the “Top 60 Global Thinkers of the Last Decade” by Economic Times.

 

What inspired you to update and release this new version of How? 

When HOW first appeared, I argued that we were entering what I called the Era of Behavior. I felt compelled to update and enhance HOW because since then, it has become clear that we haven’t just entered the Era of Behavior. We’re way deep in it. Our behavior matters even more than I thought when I wrote the book, and in ways I never imagined.

Our world is not just rapidly changing, it has been dramatically reshaped. We’ve gone from being connected to interconnected to globally interdependent. Technology is bringing strangers into intimate proximity at an accelerated pace, affording us richer experiences, but also demanding new levels of empathy and understanding. These same technologies are granting us MRI vision into the innermost workings of traditionally opaque organizations and even into the mindsets and attitudes of their leaders. We’re now living in a no-distance world where our moral imagination has exploded.

To thrive in this reshaped world, how we behave, lead, govern, operate, consume, engender trust in our relationships, and relate to others matter more than ever and in ways they never have before.

 

“Leadership is about how we get people to act and join us.” -Dov Seidman

 

Leadership Lessons from the Wave

What leadership lessons can be drawn from “The Wave?”

An act like The Wave is such a perfect metaphor for the style of leadership we need today. At its core, leadership is about how we get people to act and to join us. When you think about it, there are really only three ways to do this. You can Coerce, Motivate or Inspire. Coercion and motivation, threatening with sticks or bribing with carrots, come from without and happen to you. Inspiration, however, comes from within. When people make a wave in a stadium, what makes them express themselves by standing up out there is what comes from inside. In business, what inspires others to join in waves is the sense that they are on a journey worthy of their loyalty that embodies their deeply held beliefs and ideals.

Further, if you consider the Wave as a process of human endeavor, you realize immediately that anyone can start one—an enthusiastic soccer mom, four drunken guys with jellyroll bellies, or eight adolescents who idolize the team’s star player. You don’t have to be the owner of the stadium, the richest or most powerful person there, or even a paid professional like Krazy George Henderson, the Oakland Athletics cheerleader who invented the Wave in 1981. No one takes out their business card and says, “My title is the biggest; let the Wave start with me.” Anyone can start a Wave; it is a truly democratic act.

 

“Anyone can start a wave.” -Dov Seidman

 

Alan Alda on The Art & Science of Relating and Communicating

The Art and Science of Communication

Alan Alda needs no introduction. He played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, appeared on ER, The West Wing, and he’s appeared in numerous films from Crimes and Misdemeanors to Bridge of Spies. For eleven years, he hosted the award-winning series Scientific American Frontiers, and he founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. He has also won seven Emmy Awards and received three Tony nominations, is an inductee in the Television Hall of Fame, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator.

For many years, he has been studying communication. His latest book, If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating will have you laughing and contemplating the art of communication. You’ll find his insights and tips immediately useful in both business and personal settings.

I recently spoke with him about his latest work.

 

“Real conversation can’t happen if listening is just my waiting for you to finish talking.” –Alan Alda

 

It’s a gross understatement to say that you see things differently. For instance, most people don’t go through a difficult surgery at the dentist, one messing up your smile, and end up with ideas about improving communication. I’m interested in two aspects of this experience.

 One, how did it inspire you?

The experience of a dentist’s poking in my mouth with a scalpel — without seeming to care if I understood his terse one-word description of the after-effects – was pretty much the essence of poor communication. All he said was, “Now, there will be some tethering.” What? Tethering? “Tethering. Tethering!” He just kept saying the same word over and over. Too cowed, I let him go ahead, and my smile after that was really suitable for playing villains.

He knew what he meant, but he didn’t notice that I wasn’t getting it. To the extent he did notice, it made him impatient. That story has come back to me many times, especially the more I see that it’s up to us who are trying to communicate something to be aware of what’s going on in the other person’s head.

 

“People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” –Alan Alda

 

And two, have you always had a unique way of viewing the world or was this cultivated over time?

I don’t know if this is unique, but some of my earliest memories are of trying to figure out how things got that way, or why adults were behaving the way they were. My mother was schizophrenic and paranoid, and I always had to check her reality against real reality. I think that helped me question things and always check them out from another point of view.

 

 

The Importance of Relating

Your book starts off talking about the importance of relating. I’m struck by your humility. You’re always up front with your mistakes, what you should have done, what you didn’t know at the time. For example, you say:

My first blunder was assuming that I knew more than I did.”

I was paying more attention to my own assumptions than I was to him.”

I wasn’t listening.”

And then your story teaches us about relating, but also, we immediately relate to you because of your openness. Is this a relating tactic?