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

How Leaders Create A Compelling Vision to Engage & Inspire

company vision

Lead With Vision

Leaders create a vision and engage a community to achieve it.

What does it mean to lead with vision?

It’s a question that authors Bonnie Hagemann, Simon Vetter, and John Maketa researched extensively, surveying over 400 companies in search of the answer.

I recently spoke with the authors about their new book, LEADING WITH VISION: The Leader’s Blueprint for Creating a Compelling Vision and Engaging the Workforce.

 

Would you share the story about “going up the stairs two steps at a time” and how it impacted your view of leadership and culture?

Yes, of course.  Back in 2006 I had a meeting with Jim Bolt, the founder of Executive Development Associates (EDA), to discuss how I would run the company. Jim had been developing senior leaders since the early 1980s and was a renowned expert in the field. I knew I had much to learn from Jim and hoped we could work together. I didn’t know at the time that the very first piece of advice he would give me would shape and inform every leadership decision I have made since. Before I left that meeting, Jim handed me a book from his shelf called Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard, founder and CEO of Patagonia, a sports clothing company.

The book is the story of Patagonia with an emphasis, almost a plea, for sustainability.  Jim wanted me to start thinking about how we could help with this effort, I read the book but it was something else within that captured my attention. The CEO of Patagonia wanted to build an organization where employees were compelled to come to work. Yvon Chouinard wanted a company where employees were a part of their environmental mission.  He wanted employees to be wholly engaged and committed.  He said, “Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet and go up the stairs two steps at a time” (Chouinard 2005, 45).

That statement struck me as extremely important.  Imagine the creativity and courage and productivity that would come from a workforce like that.  The power of it is immeasurable.  That is what visionary leadership can do.  It can unleash the power of the workforce.

 

Visionary leaders create a clear picture of a positive future state.

 

The 4 C’s of a Visionary Leader

What’s your definition of a visionary leader?

A visionary leader is a person who steps out and creates a clear picture of a positive future state.  It takes a lot of courage because creating a vision for the future is basically imagining what could be and what should be.  That feels very risky for leaders.  It is stepping out of the norm.  There are certain things they will need to do.  In the book we explain further by putting it into 4 Cs.  They must:

  1. Embody courage,
  2. Forge clarity,
  3. Build connectedness, and
  4. Shape the culture.

 

What advice do you have for a leader struggling with creating a compelling vision? 

Compete and Keep Your Soul

values based leadership
This is a guest post by Jeff Thompson, MD. Jeff is the author ofLead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community and he is CEO Emeritus and Executive Advisor at Gundersen Health System.

 

Compete and Keep Your Soul

The bookstores have volumes and the media is full of examples of people who believe the way to success is to crush the competition—out-strategizing people and pressing your advantage till they are crushed by the wayside. Young leaders are told to step on faces to get ahead or aim for short term goals of size and profit.

But there is another way. There is a clear path to have stunning success and still be able to sleep at night and be proud to tell your grandchildren how the world is a better place because you were in it.

Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.  It is not complicated. It is just difficult.

 

“Values-based, not ego-based, leadership focuses on serving the greater good and accomplishing a higher purpose.” -Jeff Thompson

 

Let’s take for example the last broad economic downturn.

How are the priorities in your department or company organized to deal with this problem? Who were the first to be affected? The most vulnerable? The last people who were brought in the organization (your future)? The people with the least power and the least influence? Who took the biggest beating? What won the day? The long-term good of the organization or the short-term financial performance report for the board? Shareholders may clamor for short-term wins, but there is no law that says you have to sacrifice the long-term health of the organization or its people to satisfying this immediate clamor. Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.

 

“Decision making guided by values takes courage, discipline and durability.” -Jeff Thompson

Lead True by Putting People First

Leadership Compass

Put People, Organization and Community First

No matter the industry, leaders face the same types of challenges. It’s a leader’s personal compass that makes all the difference.

Jeff Thompson, MD is chief executive officer emeritus at Gundersen Health System. He’s a pediatrician, an author, and a speaker on building a mission-driven culture. During his tenure, Gundersen Health was recognized for its quality care. Dr. Thompson was awarded the White House Champions of Change award in 2013.

I recently spoke to him about his new book on leadership, Lead True: Live Your Values, Build Your People, Inspire Your Community.

 

Leadership Tip: Show people you are there to build them, not rule them.

 

Give Others Courage

You share the dramatic story of you intubating a baby, risking your own career to save a life. There are so many leadership lessons in this story. But I want to ask this: how do you teach others to make these decisions?

No leader can always be everywhere. No rule book can cover every situation. To prepare the staff first you need to believe you are there to build them, not rule them. Holding people accountable is looking backwards…being responsible for their success is looking forward. Give them the tools to make these decisions without you. You need to set a pattern of clarity of the values of the organization, the priority of service above hierarchy, service above self, long-term good over short-term self-protection. When they see you live this, when they see you recognize this in others and support this level of behavior, they will have the courage to do the same.

 

“You want to invite new ideas, not new rules.” –Dan Heath

 

Courage and discipline. You linked these together. Tell us why and how they relate.

Aristotle is attributed to have said, “Courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”  Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it just means fear doesn’t get to make the choice. Having courage is a great start….without courage so little will move forward. But discipline gives courage legs. It focuses and moves the work forward. It keeps you from letting your courage make a stand but accomplish little.

For example…those protesting pipelines and coal burning are very courageous…but if they also have the discipline to lead the conservation effort…they will force the market pressures to limit new pipelines and coal burning. Courage plus discipline will have a much greater effect.

Or you may have bold clear no compromise rules in your organization about how all staff will be treated or how gender and diversity will be respected. Clear, courageous but not effective unless you have the discipline to live by it when one of your high performing stars behaves badly. You need the discipline to follow up on your bold stance. No one’s ego can be more important than the well-being of the staff or organization.

 

“Good leaders don’t tell people what to do, they give teams capability and inspiration.” –Jeffrey Immelt

 

Be a Humble Leader