Straight Talk on Leadership: Ender’s Game

A few nights ago, my daughter talked us into going to the theatre to see the movie Ender’s Game. “A guaranteed hit she told us. Dad you are going to love it.” Well, I don’t normally take my movie recommendations from a 15 year old; nevertheless, I agreed to go, figuring the time with my family would be worth much more than the price of admission.

Family time was great as always, however, to be perfectly honest, I loved the movie…excellent plot, excellent effects, well executed. Keep in mind I’m not a movie critic so my endorsement may not be reason enough to go see the movie. What if, however, I told you that everything you need to know about leadership you could learn from Ender’s Game?

Ok, everything is a bit of an exaggeration; nevertheless there are some great lessons to be taken away from the movie. Here are two of my favorites- minus any actual movie references of course as I would hate to spoil it for you.

Give up Power to Gain Power

The fall of great empires can be traced to many things not the least of which is the abuse of power. Understanding its inherent, intoxicating potential, Thomas Jefferson wrote “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be.”

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it is your willingness to give up power (also known as control) that exponentially increases your power. Below are three ways to start sharing control.

1. Solicit their feedback: Don’t make the mistake of believing you need to have all of the answers. By asking for and responding  to their feedback, you create an environment where it is safe for them to tell you exactly what they think. You need accurate information in order to make the best decisions; the safer the environment, the more accurate the feedback.

 2. Empower them to make decisions: Ensure everyone is clear on which decisions absolutely require your approval and then allow your team to make the rest on their own. Be present to provide guidance, but avoid setting yourself up as the resident expert. This empowerment will allow them to sharpen their problem-solving skills and you will gain understanding of the way they think and process information when making decisions.

3. Once you have agreed upon the outcome, let them create the execution path: Learn to manage outcomes not process. Even the best laid plans often change once execution gets underway as it is impossible to predict the obstacles they will face. Clarity about the outcome is the key to success. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to this as Commander’s Intent; the idea of creating crystal like clarity about the destination, while allowing your team to use their creativity to reach it.

  How you win is far more important than simply winning

Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” As a former athlete, I understand what he meant; nevertheless true leaders know winning is not the only thing. Sure, your drive for results and desire to be the very best are great assets. Displaying a never ending belief in your team’s collective ability to deliver can serve as a point of great inspiration- a rallying cry if you will.

But here’s the straight talk, winning without the grounding of true leadership character will damage your team and render all of your wins into hollow victories. As noted by Mark Miller in his book, The Heart of Leadership, “If your heart is not right, nobody cares about your leadership.”

Winning may in fact be your goal, but my advice, let winning be the icing on the cake, while you dedicate your time to the more important work of cultivating an environment where the good of the team outweighs the needs of the individual, where you think of others before you think of yourself, and where you “block and tackle” in order to remove the obstacles from their pathway to success. Do this and the winning will take care of itself.


Straight Talk on Leadership: Communication

Clearly, one of the more difficult conversations in which we engage as leaders is classified as a Crucial Conversation.  Anecdotally I know this is a topic of great interest to leaders as “Engaging in Difficult Dialogue” was my most requested workshop for years… my apology for the shameless self-promotion.

Before I share with you a tip that has benefitted me over the years, let’s start by defining a “Crucial Conversation.” In their book “Crucial Conversations,” the authors identify four factors that elevate a regular conversation to a “Crucial Conversation.”

  1. It’s emotionally charged
  2. There are high stakes
  3. The topic is sensitive in nature
  4. There is more than one opinion present

Even for the skilled communicator, a conversation with all four of those factors present is a conversation that will be challenging to navigate. However, I am convinced that with the right tools (the book is full of them) you can certainly increase your effectiveness during these conversations.

So how about that tip…if you are engaging in a conversation and you find yourself ready to immediately disagree with something that has been said…you know that point where your forehead tightens, your palms get sweaty, and your heart starts racing…take these two preemptive steps.

Step One: Clarify

As simple as this may seem, oftentimes disagreements and debates are directly linked to the fact that we did not hear exactly what was said. At some point while the person was still speaking, our brains started processing information and formulating a response. As a result, we unknowingly missed part of the conversation.

Clarifying is simply taking a step to make sure the words we believe we heard are the words that were actually spoken. It goes something like this, “Just to clarify, did I hear you say that I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt?”

The beauty in clarifying is two-fold. If we missed part of the conversation, the speaker will be given an opportunity to repeat herself. If we heard the words correctly, then we are free to move on to step two.

Step Two: Confirm

The purpose of confirming is to ensure the meaning we have ascribed to the words is the meaning the speaker has in mind. Words often serve as triggers; eliciting a deep emotional response that may or may not be appropriate to the situation.

Confirming goes something like this, “So when you say that I don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, are you saying that I simply jump to conclusions and act without thinking?” Much like clarifying above, if we have misunderstood what was meant the speaker now has an opportunity to clarify himself. If however, the speaker confirms our understanding, we can proceed with discussing my tendency to jump to conclusions…something I rarely do by the way…just ask my family…Well…maybe you shouldn’t ask them.

Do you have any communication tips to share, anything that seems to work well for you? I would love to hear from you.


Interested in purchasing a copy Crucial Conversations, follow this link to do so.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

So, I always thought my first blog post would be something incredibly profound. Something that you would read and think, “I have to follow this guy…OMG did you read what he wrote!” So I started then deleted…started then deleted…started then deleted…then it dawned on me…if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then perhaps profound writing is in the mind of the reader.

So I abandoned any hope of being profound and replaced it with a much more attainable goal. I am just going to be me; writing and sharing leadership information that is important to me, with a hope that you will join in the conversation and add to my learning. Sometimes the ideas will be mine; other times they will belong to someone else. It will, however, at all times be straight from the heart, practical, hands on, and implementable.

Someone once wrote, “Leaders don’t force people to follow them, they invite people on a journey.” So this post is my invitation to you. Join me at Leadership Four One One:  Straight Talk from Leaders, to Leaders, about Leading.