chess not checkers

I don’t even know how to play chess, but I loved this book! chess not checkers

In typical Mark Miller style, he writes the book as a story, weaving humor, wisdom, care, and pragmatism in a quick, easy-to-read format. The main character, Blake Brown, takes a new CEO job in a struggling organization. Work is frustrating and drudgery, teamwork is non-existent, morale is weak, and customers are going elsewhere. The game has changed, old strategies aren’t working, and losing is miserable for everyone.

Blake begins to meet with a chess master mentor who teaches him four simple – yet essential – principles for playing a new game in today’s complex world:

1. BET ON LEADERSHIP – Identify and invest in emerging leaders. Mark gives excellent tips about developing yourself, your team, and the organization.

“…proactively develop your leadership.
The earlier in their career you invest in them, the better.”

“Leadership growth always
precedes organizational growth.”

2. ACT AS ONE – We know this as alignment, and it requires excellent communication. Mark describes it with a helpful illustration:

“Think of your organization as a car
driving at high speeds down a bumpy, dirt road.
The car will constantly be knocked out of alignment.
Part of your never-ending role is to keep the organization
aligned on what matters most.”

3. WIN THE HEART – Greater engagement happens when you allow people to contribute their unique gifts and work using their personal strengths.

“This is the way you need to look at your people.
When you deploy them thoughtfully,
you create greater value.”

4. EXCEL AT EXECUTION – This involves the important areas of resource allocation, measurements, and systems versus personality design.

“To help your team improve execution,
measure what matters most.”

There is much more in the book. I highly recommend that you pick up a copy today!

Any leader who implements these timeless principles will grow personally and improve the game plan for their team and their organization.

Which of these principles is most urgent for your situation? How can you apply new and improved strategy in your context?

Check out the great book trailer video HERE!

You can also find Mark Miller blogging on his website, Great Leaders Serve.

I also wrote a summary and review of some of Mark’s other books: The Secret and The Heart of Leadership. 

discomfort with diversity

diverse handsHow great is my committment to diversity? Do I give lip-service to the concept or do I live out my convictions with my attitudes and my actions?

I have been considering these challenging questions a lot in the past weeks, after reading two posts that tied diversity to discomfort. The basic premise explained that diversity will cause discomfort for me.

When I work, worship, or play with people who are different from me, they will present words, ideas and ways of doing things that are different from my personal preferences.

That might be more discussion or less than I like. More noise or less. Different music. Different flavors. Different values. More technology or less. More detail or less. Quiet work space or open collaboration. Different colors. Different styles. More emotion or less. More time together or more time alone. Spend more or spend less.

Because not everyone is like me,
if I am comfortable all the time, then others are not.

I work with diverse teams and with a great variety of people from all over the world. Each of my friends and each member of my family is different. If I truly want to invite, encourage, and empower the unique people around me, I must feel uncomfortable some of the time… and not just tolerate the discomfort, but really embrace it as a means to greater diversity.

  – gender – race – age – nationality – personality – religion – family background –
– economic class – political party – experience level – strengths and weaknesses –

All of these differences can cause discomfort and even conflict… but they are the source of rich diversity at home and at work.

diversity

Photo credit: estherase / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Instead of having a goal to make everyone happy; we could each willingly accept unhappiness some of the time, knowing that means someone different feels satisfied.

Rather than seek my own way, I am slowly learning to become more comfortable with my discomfort and celebrate – and even intentionally seek out – diversity that challenges me.

How do you react to situations that make you uncomfortable? What do you do to embrace diversity?

Catching Fire leadership

Catching FireLast night I went to see the premiere of “Catching Fire” in the IMAX theater with my niece and other family members. She was very excited. I had not read the books, and I’m not a big movie fan, but I was there to enjoy the experience with her and make a special memory! Popcorn and candy are always fun!

I admit that I liked the movie more than I expected. I thought it was better than the first film “The Hunger Games”: on-the-edge-of-your-seat action, intertwined relationships, and a battle for the underdog. Except for the futuristic, sci-fi elements (not my favorite film genre), the story grabbed my attention, and I forgot everything about real life for the entire 2 1/2 hours.

This morning when I woke up and my mind went back to my MA courses, I started thinking about some fun connections between the movie and the leadership themes I have been studying. Here are a few of them…

The main protagonist characters, Katniss and Peeta, demonstrate leadership character with courage, sacrifice, loyalty, love and care for others, and convictions that can not be bought or beaten out by corrupt powers. They win the sympathy of many with their integrity, perseverance, and compassion, and become attractive role models for the youth.

The heroes have a compelling vision – They symbolize hope for the future and the belief for many that together they can improve life for themselves and for those who come after them. Katniss and Peeta plan some tactical steps for survival and also prepare for unknown and unexpected circumstances and challenges.

Katniss and Peeta work with an amazing team – Coaches and mentors help with marketing, strategy, spokesperson roles and survival training, providing experience, knowledge, and resources. They know they could never survive the competition without the help of others.

Partners and Alliances are a key part of the survival plan – These partnerships require trust, respect, watching each other’s back, working together, each offering their unique expertise and help from their strength areas. The intense focus on an external enemy allows them to accept and appreciate others who are very different.

These are just some ideas that I thought of quickly as I enjoyed remembering the movie. I’m sure there are many more. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, what principles do you see?

And… if you are struggling with a type of “The Capital” in your own life or at work, may the odds be ever in your favor! 🙂 The application of some of these leadership principles might help!

facilitating change

IMGP0641 webChange: heart attitudes, training styles, organizational culture… and the world!

I just returned from a week in Kenya where I greatly enjoyed a transformational time with 50 of our African staff – to help them learn new training paradigms and materials to use with their new staff. Men and women, grandparents and young singles, they came from all over the continent: Ghana, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and more… They spoke English and French, in addition to many national ethnic tongues. They had up to 20 years of training experience or none. They work with students, business professionals, families, athletes and rural communities.

How to help such a diverse group desire, understand and prepare for change? Change is hard. Change is powerful.

We began with vision. Vision for them. Vision for their work. Vision for the organization. Vision for the world. We talked about the value, privilege and responsibility we experience when we invest in others’ lives.

They studied the character of those who are willing to change – humble, teachable, life-long learners, innovators, team players – and evaluated their own…

Our Design Team demonstrated the power of teamwork, adult learning, creative teaching methods, coaching processes and coaching groups, shared leadership, freedom to fail, and growth in community.

We also discussed the challenges and the barriers to change – their own personal internal struggles and the organizational struggles: traditions, aligning others, resources.

We modeled, and then they practiced with new tools… teaching new lessons, coaching each other, leading interactive groups, giving and receiving feedback.

Everyone ate well and slept little; we drank lots of tea; we shared life stories and prayed for each other. We became friends.

Together they decided on action points and next steps.

Our staff have a long road ahead of them. Change does not happen overnight. It does not happen easily. They will face opposition, and they will get tired and frustrated and discouraged in the process.

But I have hope for them. They are deeply committed to their people and their purpose. They serve a great God. They will help each other in a learning community. Change is healthy and necessary for the future.

I feel honored to have been part of the time. I look forward to what will happen in the future.

How do you respond to change? How do you help your people prepare for change?

do you work in a team or a family?

I have worked in Latin America for many years. I love the Latin culture – especially the emphasis on relationships: relaxed meal times, fiestas for any occasion, inter-generational activities, inclusion of children at events, incredible friendships and loyalty. These characteristics provide an incredible richness to my life.

However, any strength – at its extreme – can also be a weakness. I was often uncomfortable when our organizational staff claimed that we were a “family”. I knew that, although I cared deeply for many of my co-workers, they were not a real family for me. I also knew that we did not treat each other like we would members of a true family. There was something I didn’t like or agree with that statement, although I couldn’t put it into words.

Today I read a blog post by Mark Miller that clarified this exact issue for me. His post helped me to understand that when we view our team through a family perspective, we often allow performance to suffer. This is a common problem for non-profits and religious organizations. I remember many times when we erroneously did not confront poor behavior, implement consequences, or even ask someone to leave the organization… because we did not want to lose a “family” member. This distorted perspective means that we postpone and avoid crucial decisions that often cause great harm to the individual and to the organization. 

This wise comparison comes directly from Mark Miller’s post:

team or family

Mark clarifies that many of the “family” characteristics are great additions to a healthy and fruitful team environment. Applied correctly, these elements create community, which leads to greater trust, shared responsibility, and performance. A sense of community on a team is beneficial, but as Mark says, “However, unlike in a family, to be a member of the community is conditional.”

Does your team work like a team or a like a family?

*** For excellent content on leadership, follow Mark Miller’s blog, Great Leaders Serve, at: http://greatleadersserve.org/

how to form a real team

“One of the problems some teams have is the assumption
they are a team… when they aren’t.”
Mark Miller

IMG_1068I am just home from a 10 day trip to Panama City, Panama. I was part of a Latin America area-wide conference for both Leadership Development/Human Resources (LDHR) and Operations personnel in my organization. It was a historic meeting; we’ve never had that many country representatives for those positions… and we’ve never held a meeting together to emphasize how important partnership is in our work.

I loved the opportunity to mentor and coach the new LDHR leaders. It was thrilling to watch their vision and passion transform into deeper understanding and action steps. I believe there will be a lot of progress in how these important people care and develop the staff and volunteers in their respective countries.

I also enjoyed working with my Latin America Area Team to lead the event, teach the lessons, and consider future next steps. Since we are a virtual team – we all live in different countries and meet usually only by Skype – it was a treat to interact together. Before I left for the trip, I read an article about the difference between work groups and “real teams”. Some of my teammates put these principles of real teams in action while we were together.

Connect – “How are you doing?”

Some of my teammates showed true interest in me as a person. They asked questions about how was I doing, comments I made, and my personal life – not just our work. They encouraged me after I taught a session, and they gave sincere feedback about how to improve. They invited me to eat meals with them, to help with some of their tasks, and to give my opinion on projects. We were not just siloed individuals working alone on separate pieces of the job; we were interdependent, and I felt valued and cared for by my teammates who demonstrated this characteristic of “true teams”.

Deepen – “What do we need?”

In some of our conversations, we were talking about emotional, stressful, frustrating or challenging topics. Some of my teammates avoided or tabled the complex and conflicting issues, while others actually initiated the deeper conversations. I really appreciated it when my team mates challenged my attitudes or the way I was dealing with some of my feelings. “True team” members understand that differing perspectives and opinions are a benefit to teamwork, and so they face and resolve misunderstandings and conflict. My teammates built trust when they invested the time to look at the harder, deeper issues with me.

Dream – “Where are we going?”

Besides looking at personal and conflict issues, my “real team” members also took time to dream about the future together with me. Although we are aware of problems and lack of resources and man-power, we also knew that our work and our efforts meant we are making forward progress. I greatly valued the times when we talked about building a caring culture, learning from mistakes, changing old paradigms, and finding new hope. That kind of conversation makes me want to work as part of the “real team”.

Have you experienced working as a “true team”? What elements of “true team” are important to you?

what women add to a team

Business TeamDo you remember that awkward elementary school experience – two scrawny kids choosing the players for their team? There was always a tension between picking a friend because you liked them and picking a “star” because you wanted to win.

Whether it was a debate team or a football team, you needed a variety of players to cover offense and defense. Your choices didn’t always work out as planned. The thick glasses didn’t always guarantee intelligence any more than extra height ensured skill under the basket, but certain general characteristics proved to increase your chances for victory.

I firmly believe that men and women live and work best together in partnership, and I have experienced many times that the best teams are often diverse, not only in gender, but also in age, personality, strengths, and cultural background.

Earlier, I wrote about some of the challenges facing diversity, specifically gender diversity on leadership teams. I mentioned that more information can often facilitate positive change. Here are some ways that women’s participation makes teams healthier and stronger. I have also listed some articles below that support these three points. 

Men and women are like two feet—
they need each other to get ahead.
Helen E. Fisher

Women add integrity.

In my experience, the women on my teams consistently committed to maintaining a high standard of fiscal, legal, and labor integrity. When women participated on the teams, we implemented accountability systems, complied with necessary policies and laws, and quickly investigated decisions that appeared questionable. Financial partners, funding, and the organizational reputation for integrity increased as a result. When women participate on a team, there is great potential to build a strong ethical, moral, and integral foundation. 

Women strengthen collaboration.

On mixed teams, the team members rarely worked alone in siloed responsibilities. Instead, the women facilitated true teamwork by ensuring regular communication and interaction, systematic sharing of ideas, and fostering a healthy feedback culture. They promoted honest personal and productivity evaluations. The women were approachable, quick to ask clarifying questions, reciprocally helpful, and loyally supportive of team decisions. Mixed gender teams often led to better ideas, better decisions, and greater productivity and growth.

Women foster personal development.

The women I worked with prioritized personal and team development, often establishing strong mentoring relationships and coaching. They actively demonstrated concern for team member’s growth and well-being. The women readily participated in 360 evaluations, team building activities, and conflict resolution. They were good listeners, discerning, and keenly aware when alignment was missing. They were often very successful at recruiting, training and empowering their future replacements. Women leaders contribute to the effectiveness of a team’s leadership pipeline. 

I believe that great leadership ultimately depends on character, and that calling, competency and chemistry are also important for successful teamwork. Diverse teams do not ensure automatic success, but in our complex and constantly changing society, I am certain that they are one of our wisest recruiting strategies.

How have you seen women add to your teams?

McKinsey & Company. (2008). Female leadership, a competitive edge for the future. Paris, France.
Zenger, Jack and Folkman, Joseph. “Are women better leaders than men?” blogs.HBR.org. March 15 2012. Web. Jan. 26 2013.

maturitas cafe – best of 2012

I would love to enjoy a steaming cup of black coffee with you at a comfy, warm cafe. We could talk about so many things – work, family, teams, marriage, life! We might laugh or cry or philosophize, and share advice or struggles or funny stories. We might disagree about a topic or empathize completely. No matter what, I know we would end our visit grateful for the time together.

Until we have that opportunity, I am grateful for the chance to connect this way. THANK YOU for reading and leaving your “likes” and your comments. You have challenged me and encouraged me this year. You have led me to new blogs, new ideas, new friends. I appreciate you very much and look forward to learning more together in 2013!

In case you are new to this blog or might have missed a post, here are some of the top (most read) posts of 2012. Feel free to look around at the archives too. Remember every post is available in English and Spanish…

eng top 5top five English posts:

today’s modern woman – pick any two

cleaning house, cooking meals and a greater cause

are you dangerous?

communication styles

tips for long lasting friendship and marriage

sp top 5top five Spanish posts:

la motivación y el ánimo

lo que aprendo de una venta de garage 

¿hay mágia en los equipos?

¿tienes la actitud de gratitud?

limpiar la casa, cocinar y una gran causa

You might also enjoy reading a little about me and why I started this blog:

coffee as a way of life      why a blog?

 Thanks for joining this journey! 

Please let me know… what was your favorite post this past year?

working against the tide

Do you ever feel like you are “swimming up-stream”? Have you sensed that the door you hold open has a strong tension-spring that will slam it shut as soon as you let go? Have you ever felt like your hard work and passions are like a sand castle that is completely washed away when the tide comes in?

I have been struggling a lot with those kind of feelings the last few weeks. In a past leadership position, I gave my best effort to bring about a culture change that I believed in strongly. Some of what we encouraged was team leadership, women valued and developed equally with the men, integrity in character and finances, and a willingness to honestly evaluate results.

Together with my husband, I tried to lead by example; brought in resources and training; honored those co-workers who demonstrated the values we cherished, and celebrated the environment and growth that resulted from our efforts. It was hard work, there was resistance and personal attack, and we paid a price physically, emotionally, and relationally.

We were also incredibly blessed with encouragement and support from partners, mentors, and the thrill of changed lives. At the time, I thought the dream of healthy relationships and a healthy organization was worth the pain.

Sadly, today looking back on that time, I question more… so much of what we “built” is gone. Many things are different; environment, people, results… I wonder, did my hard work really accomplish anything? Was the up-hill climb good for only short-term, superficial change?

I have learned a lot about working as a leader. Now I need to learn about letting go. I need to live with the tension between desire for a legacy… and contentment with having given my best when it was my turn.

Do you have any tips for me? What do you do when your hard work is washed away?

lessons learned climbing a volcano

We had an incredible time climbing the Iztaccihuatl volcano yesterday. (Here you can read a blog my husband wrote about the volcano legend.) It was a demanding ascent through the snow to over 16,000 feet elevation. I learned some important lessons from the experience; I don’t want to forget them because I believe they are relevant to so much of life and leadership.

  • push beyond the comfort zone

This kind-of hike is not a normal everyday activity for anyone in our group. It was difficult – physically and emotionally… legs hurt; lungs ached; wet and cold harassed; nausea and headaches assailed, fear attacked; exhaustion was real. However, at the end, even those who had suffered most claimed it was a (horribly) awesome experience.

Isn’t it true that we often get to great achievement only through agonizing struggle? There is something very satisfying about pushing through the challenge to accomplish something worthwhile. Where can I push myself beyond my comfort zone to a greater challenge…physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, intellectually?

  •  prepare and take care

Without a doubt, previous exercise routine, warm wool and polyurethane clothing, and hiking quality boots made the climb easier. Extra socks, hats and gloves came in handy, as did the lemon-grass tea and the Ibuprofen and Excedrin tablets. It was also important to drink plenty of water and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. (I learned this hard lesson last year – I paid a heavy price in sore muscles due to dehydration.)

It makes no sense to take on a big challenge unprepared. Strengthening ahead of time and planning well means I am ready for the test and can even support others. How am I training today for tomorrow’s challenges? What can I do better prepare for the future?

  • go with others

During the day we talked, laughed, took pictures and praised God’s creation together. All along the climb, different people battled seriously with fatigue, cold, fear, altitude sickness, and pain while others took turns to encourage each next step, accompany those who needed rest, help and protect on the treacherous slopes, share food/medicine/clothing supplies, and celebrate and rejoice at each milestone. I was so proud of those who persevered when it was tough and of those who served when others were weak. We made an incredible memory and “bonded” because of what we went through together.

I would never consider attempting a climb like that alone, and I was so impressed by the support and camaraderie offered that enabled others to achieve more than they could by themselves.  I need that kind of team in all areas of my life. Who encourages me? And who am I helping to accomplish what they could never do alone?

What have you learned from a challenging experience? Are you ready for the next one?