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September 2013

Don't Run Your Business Like They Run Washington

If your business was struggling with a budget issue, would it make sense for your president, executive officers and management team to appear on the morning news shows and travel to distant branches for news conferences in order to tell your employees and investors that things are bad?  Or would it make more sense if they actually did the work they get paid for and found ways to make the company more competitive, efficient and profitable?

A Government shut down is not needed. Wise leaders are needed. Cut from the budget unnecessary costs. For example, the $179,750 per hour for Airforce One (not counting the security detail costs) every time the President travels to a P.R. event to promote another initiative or a fund raiser. Another example, the costs associated with keeping the Capitol open for 21 hours while a senator quotes Dr. Seuss and Darth Vader. It's time for leaders to lead and to stop campaigning.

Now take careful note, I am providing an "equal opportunity" poke at both parties.  I've been in DC plenty of times to observe party leaders on both sides of the aisle staging press conferences to campaign their views and not working at the same table to discuss solutions. The strong debate of issues has always been a part of our history. But at least our forefathers took their responsibilities to heart and didn't leave the chamber until they reached an agreement (i.e. a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution.)

Business leaders know that hammering out solutions is hard work, and that is exactly what others expect of them.  The process isn't always glamorous or pleasant.  It takes courage, collaboration and compromise to move things forward.  I think it's about time for a return to the work ethic of our founding fathers.

What do you think?

-  Steven Iwersen

Self-Leadership (Revisited)

(This post is back by popular demand.  Thanks to all you who have shared that it was meaningful in your personal journey.  ENJOY!)

Leadership is not simply the task and responsibility of leading other people or setting the course for a groups success.  It must also include the determination and responsibility of self leadership.  A leader that expends all their time in the pursuit of leading others, building a company or creating a vision for a better future; and yet, spends no time in examining their own personal well being, will discover too late how off course they truly have become.  Great leadership must start with personal decisions and disciplines that keep the leader authentic, approachable and adventurous.

Step for a few moments into the musty cabin of your thoughts.  There on the desk is a brown leather book, IMG_2401 the corners crumpled and smudged with the frequent thumbing of the pages.  Open it respectfully and read the hand scribbled notes on the first page.  The thoughts of self leadership...

"I am the captain of my own ship.  No one else can command her.  I am the only one responsible for this vessel.  I am the one who determines her ports of call, when she sails, and where.

Destinations vary.  Some are familiar.  Some are uncharted waters.  And a few are beyond the horizon. I choose the direction.  And once a destination or direction is chosen, I am the one who chooses to stay the course or divert.

No one is allowed on board without my permission.  No cargo may be stored without my clearance.

The condition of my ship -- it's cleanliness, repair, appearance and readiness is a direct result of my attention.

Morale on board my ship is directly related to my disposition and choices.  My "inner" crew, (the officers: mind, attitude and heart) take their lead from me.  If I am of a foul mood and run aground in poor attitude, they begin to reflect that spirit.  However, if I am of good spirit (full sail and flags flying), they rally together for the greatest adventure - in spite of the odds or conditions.

I am the captain of my own ship.  I am in command or I am not.  And if I am not, than my ship is subject to all kinds of influences: impostors, scoundrels, negative men, winds of pessimism, torrents of undisciplined thoughts, breakers of unproven and impatient people, and unfit cargo pirated aboard.  All that which weighs a ship down.  A ship like that eventually sinks or is left tattered and weathered beyond recognition.

I am the captain of my own ship.  I set the course.  Today, I choose to set sail for new lands.  Welcome aboard!

Transitional Leadership: Helping Others Gain Confidence and Competence

It was an incredible day - sunny, just enough wind, and a 40' sail boat.  This was the first time my wife had been sailing.  And it was a big deal.  We were not sailing in a little lake in Kansas, this was San Diego and off the coast of Mexico. Why was this such a big deal?  She's not comfortable with deep water.  But this was her idea. I watched with delight throughout the day as she challenged her fear, transitioning from a tentative seated place in the stern to literally walking to the front of the boat and napping on the bow while we returned to Shelter Island in San Diego Bay.  Her comfort and confidence grew as the captain explained the features of the boat and proved his competence. 

This got me thinking about our role as leaders.  What can we do to help others gain self confidence in the deep waters of change and transition?  What do we need to understand about ourselves during times of transition?

Transitions.  An intriguing word.  The root is "transit."  It implies moving from one place to another.  Transition is the act of going from one point and arriving at a new point.

Sometimes transitions are the dramatic ending of an experience and the beginning of a new one.  At other times the transition is smooth and not at all a conclusion of something, but a quiet shifting of direction.

Whatever the means of your transitions, you are still the same person - same strengths, talents, hopes and fears.  Yes, there are times that the condition of the transition affects our lives and we are influenced by the cause of the change.  For example: a death, a move, a layoff, a divorce or a birth.  These do shape our perspective.  And yet, we are still the same.

If you step from a dock onto a boat, are you suddenly a different person?  No.  You can "transit" your life from a stationary, solid foundation to a new foundation that lifts and pitches according to the waves below.  You have not changed, but your physical experience has.  Your inner person, the core of who you are, did not stay on the dock.  You became fully engaged on the boat.  The transition does not change you.  However, the new experience brings a new point of reference and an opportunity to learn and grow.  That becomes the basis for a transition of mindset, beliefs and behaviors.

What happens on the boat?  Your behaviors change. You intuitively begin to adjust your balance according to the shifting of the physical environment.  On the dock, your body had no need to focus on keeping balance.  But on the boat, the circumstances are in constant change and your actions adjust to those changes.  If you remain rigid and make no adjustments to your personal position in relation to the on going changes, you will probably be tossed overboard.

Now, let's "transit" this understanding to our real world of leadership.  If we become rigid during times of transition, we're going to get tossed around.  However, if we begin to see change as an opportunity to learn new behaviors, the end result will be a greater comfort with new environments and the confidence to stretch a little more beyond our past "dock" experience.  The comfort and confidence we model during times of transition will become inspiration for those we lead - encouraging them to "transit" from the dock into new directions and understanding.  You and I will not be able to model that if we don't step off our own dock once in a while.

"I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it." - Picasso

Leaders ViewPointe:

  1. Challenge my own apprehensions.
  2. Help others overcome their apprehensions by informing them of the features and proving my own competence.
  3. See change as a transition, not a conclusion.
  4. Be willing to adjust to the circumstances and learn new behaviors.

Now it is your turn to step aboard.  What challenges are you seeing in your leadership environment?  What changes are you having to lead others through? 

Click on the "comments" link below, share with me and other leaders what is working as you lead others in times of transit.

(My wife can't wait to go sailing again!)


The Balancing Act of Leadership: Commitments vs Compromise

The pressure is on!  Leaders are expected to get stellar results with fewer staff members, smaller budgets, and longer hours.  If the results fall short of the expectations, customers are unhappy and employers begin to question the leaders abilities or loyalty.  The tension increases and the fine line of compromise begins to encroach upon the finer quality of thoughtful leadership.

Thoughtful leadership is like walking on a tight rope.  Every step you take must be calculated and intentional; all while you balance a long pole in your hands - at one end your people and the other end your profitability.  That pole is always in motion.  At one moment you can feel the pull toward the actions that create profit.  The next moment the balance tips toward the needs of your team.  You cannot allow one end to have more influence over the other.  You need both ends to create a lower center of gravity that allows you to focus on the next goal.  Your success is the result of keeping the pole balanced and moving forward one step at a time.  

Leaders lose their balance and influence when they compromise.  I wrote years ago from my own experience:

“My greatest success is the result of keeping my commitments.  My greatest failures are the result of compromise.”

So how can a leader get the right results while walking that tightrope?  I read a blog this morning by friend Mark Sanborn that sparked my thinking on this issue.  I want you to consider a couple of ideas that he wrote: 

The ongoing question for any leader is “How can we obtain superior results the right way?” Short cuts can derail a leader’s career; they can also bring down entire organizations. Doing the expedient instead of the prudent can put both the leader and the organization at risk.

Best practices are good, but the better strategy is when you pioneer next practices: the kind of strategies and tactics that change the game.


Mark presents 5 outstanding questions that will help you be a thoughtful leader in his blog titled: For Leaders, Result Rule but Methods Matter.  

How are you doing at keeping this balance?  Where do you see compromise jeopardizing the forward motion of your company?  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

-Steven Iwersen


In my blog: Ingredients You Need for Personal Innovation (Part 2), I suggested that in order to enhance your potential for personal growth it is important to surround yourself with the right people.  But what then?

Here are some quick tips on how to spark the creative process by including others.

  1. Meet once a month for two hours with a group of 5 people (preferably of differing backgrounds/expertise) and discuss the most current innovations that are in the news.
  2. Share a relevant article with a few peers and ask for their thoughts about the subject.
  3. Interview a person from a different generation and ask them to describe what excites them and what causes them concern about the future.  (Interview someone older and someone younger and compare the perspectives.)
  4. Use a marker board and identify in one sentence a challenge that you are stuck on.  Post the challenge for one week. Invite people to write out in “key words” ideas that might help.
  5. Join a LinkedIn group within your industry and start a discussion.  No gimmicks.  Give a scenario and ask people how they would handle a situation.


I'd be interested in some of the ideas that you have found helpful for including others in the creative process!  Let me know what works for you.

- Steven Iwersen

Ingredients You Need for Personal Innovation (Part 2)

I mentioned in Part 1 of this article that a key ingredient for personal growth is having the right attitude within you.  Let’s look now at the second most important ingredient:

The Right People Around You

I know, this seems obvious!  Let me ask you, though - who comes to your mind when you think about the “right” people?  Would your list include people who are:

  • Positive
  • Open-minded
  • Smart
  • Thoughtful
  • Creative
  • Artistic

Of course, I’d want to have people like that on my team.  However, we have a tendency to surround ourselves with people that we like and agree with our ideas.  It could be beneficial to have others on your team that don’t always agree or see things your way.  The differing perspective may help to identify a blind spot or divert us from a potential crisis.  We may not like it, but we could learn to appreciate the insights.  (Note:  They may not be someone you would usually like, but they should be likable in their approach.)

The Right People could include:

  • Younger Generation
  • Older Generation
  • Experts in subjects/professions outside of your expertise.
  • Business leaders in different industries.
  • Mentors / Leaders in your industry.
  • A friend or family member who is not afraid to point out that you have something hanging from your nose.  Honest because they care.

Your potential for developing personal innovation is stymied by solitude.  Surround your self with people who have a passion to discuss ideas and avoid those who only want to gossip.  Learn from other learners.