Thursday, October 16, 2008

Most people aren't willing to go through the discomfort required to lead

Seth Godin has written a lot about marketing. His writing style is conversational and his books are typically short and filled with great ideas.

His newest book, "Tribes," is also about marketing, but it's more about leadership. And much of it is relevant to coaches and their players.

A couple of highlights:

-- Management is about manipulating resources to get a known job done. Leadership is about creating change that you believe in. Leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

-- Fear of failure is actually overrated as an excuse. What people are afraid of isn't failure. It's blame. Criticism. We choose not to be remarkable because we're worried about criticism. We hesitate to [think big] because we're worried, deep down, that someone will hate it and call us on it.

-- The first thing a leader can focus on is the act of tightening the tribe. A tighter tribe is more likely to hear its leader, and more likely still to coordinate action and ideas across the members of the tribe.

-- Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable. It's uncomfortable to stand up. It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It's uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It's uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader.

-- In today's supercharged political (and TV) environment, it's easy to believe that in order to lead, you need to be an egomaniac, a driven superstar intent on self-glorification and aggrandizement. In fact, the opposite is nearly always the case. Leaders who set out to give are more productive than leaders who seek to get. Looking out for number one is an attitude, and it's one that doesn't pay.

-- Leadership almost always involves thinking and acting like the underdog. That's because leaders work to change things, and the people who are winning rarely do.

-- Ordinary thinking and ordinary effort are almost never enough to generate leadership. It takes something extraordinary, a call to action that irresistible, a cause worth fighting for.

-- The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond. But the hardest thing is to initiate. Managers react. Responding is a much better alternative. Individuals respond to opportunities. But both pale in comparison to initiative. Initiating is really and truly difficult, and that's what leaders do. They see something others are ignoring and they jump on it. They cause the events that others have to react to. They make change.

-- A thermostat is far more valuable than a thermometer. The thermometer reveals that something is broken. The thermometer is an indicator, our canary in the coal mine. Organizations are filled with human thermometers. They can criticize or point out or just whine. The thermostat, on the other hand, manages to change the environment in sync with the outside world. These are leaders who can create change in response to the outside world, and do it consistently over time.

-- It's rare that it's obvious when to lead. Sure, there are times when you know you need to stand up, take a position, spread an idea, clear out an obstacle, and be brave. But more often than not, great leadership happens when the tribe least expects it. The non-obvious moments are the ones that count.

-- The largest enemy of change and leadership isn't a "no." It's a "not yet." "Not yet" is the safest, easiest way to forestall change. "Not yet" gives the status quo a chance to regroup and put off the inevitable for just a little while longer. Change almost never fails because it's too early. It almost always fails because it's too late. There's a small price for being too early, but a huge penalty for being too late.

-- The tactics of leadership are easy. The art is the difficult part. Leadership is very much an art, one that's accomplished only by people with authentic generosity and a visceral connection to their tribe.

-- Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in that culture. Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they're trying to change. Leaders communicate their vision of the future. Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.

-- Being charismatic doesn't make you a leader. Being a leader makes you charismatic. It's a choice, not a gift.

-- People don't believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: They give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.

-- What does a leader look like? I've met leaders all over the world, on several continents, and in every profession. I've met with young leaders and old ones, leaders with big tribes and tiny ones. I can tell you this: Leaders have nothing in common. They don't share gender or income level or geography. There's no gene, no schooling, no parentage, no profession. In other words, leaders aren't born. I'm sure of it. Actually, they do have one thing in common. Every leader I've ever met shares one thing: The decision to lead.