Category Archives: Examples of Leadership

Chance encounters and lasting impacts

MVC-015SWe have all had them; those little chance encounters where everything seems to have aligned, and things are never quite the same.  For example, you missed your connection and you end up sitting next to a person you’ve never met, and begin a discussion about what you do for a living, and that person turns out to give you a lead on your next job.  Or, you are at the grocery store, and run into an old friend that you have been thinking about lately.  Or, you pick up a book or magazine and read an inspirational story that seems to be exactly what you needed at this particular moment.

These encounters are part of our lives, and we never know when they will occur, and you may never know if you were the source of one of these events.  Some may refer to these events as fate, or karma.  Others may see them in a different light.  But, fundamentally each and every one of us has these types of events.  And, may not recognize them at the time they occur.  And, sometimes these particular events may or may not happen to you directly, but may be transmitted via family or company lore.

Examples of dramatic impacts via company lore are prevalent.  Think about the stories surrounding the invention of the light bulb – why was it such a passion for Edison?  Or, the development of the electric grid?  There was the race to see which was best DC or AC between Tesla and Edison.  How about the development of Facebook?  Or, the naming of Phillips 66 – it was supposedly a random comment about how fast they were going or could have been a confluence of that comment or being on Route 66 at the time.  Lore has a tremendous impact on an organization’s culture, and it is a lasting one.

While it is known that company culture impacts an individual’s leadership style, family lore and chance encounters can also have a lasting impact on our personal leadership style.  In my family, there is the re-occurring theme of “got mad about something” and its ultimate consequence.  The thing that the person got mad about may be lost, but the consequence is long lasting.  Question my grandfather about why he left a particular job, he might have said “I got mad about something, so I quit and went to school.”  The stories in my family are legendary, the getting mad caused a move to California, joining the military, running for office, speaking out, and the list goes on.  The fundamental lesson from this lore is that it is OK to get mad about something, but you have to do something about it.  It wasn’t acceptable to let the situation continue in its current state. You have to act.  This lore has greatly impacted my personal leadership style and my life in general.

Additionally, I can point to chance encounters that have changed my perception or have changed how I approach a particular situation.  For example, I have met individuals that have a mystic or aura about them – famous scientists, well-known politicians, etc.  In my case, had the opportunity to meet them as individuals rather than in their well-known role, and got to know them as person rather than as an icon.  By encountering these people in this fashion, you don’t have the barrier of thinking “there is no way I could be… because they are smarter, or have a certain connection, or more resources, etc.”  Because you have seen or share something in common with them, you saw them as a real person, not as something bigger than life.

These types of encounters have an impact.  They change our point of view or provide a hidden driver for a particular course of action.  How many times have you witnessed a situation, where you have thought to yourself – I don’t want to handle a similar situation in that way?  Or, say to yourself, “I don’t want to be that kind of leader.” We all do it.  We all are the products of our particular environment.  We all need to understand that these events may have just as much of a lasting influence on us as something we have worked on for years.  These are life changing events.

We as leaders have to also understand while these events happen to us; we may be the source of the event for someone else.  We need to show ourselves as real.  We need to spread a kind word or encouragement to someone.  We may be the connection that someone else need.  We may be that spark for “getting mad about something.”  Thus, we need to ponder our actions and be good role models.


We all are Leaders and it is Past Time for Leadership

Each and everyone of us is a leader in some form or fashion.  How you lead is your choice.  This past week has seen some examples of leadership or lack thereof across the board.  Here are some of the events of the past week:

1) Ferguson, Mo.

2) Twitterverse #shirt firestorm

3) Hagel – Yes Man or obviously not a Yes Man

4) What Constitution?

Four very different events, and four varied examples of leadership.  For those of us old enough to have witnessed various aspects of the Civil Rights Movement – I lived in the deep south in the early seventies and can tell you from experience that there was a double standard – there still is – but it is more hidden.  The events this past summer were tragic – from both sides.  What is sad now is that people have become so entrenched in their view – they can’t see the other side’s point.  So, what happens?  We have leaders exploiting a situation to make a point, but is it really the point that needs to be made?

There are good and bad people.  There are good and bad situations.  Having not been there – I can’t say what exact the case was.  But, what I do know – is that destroying a city is not the correct response.  Congratulations for the community members that are helping to cleanup (which the news hasn’t shown).  Congratulations to the leaders who have spoken out against how various individuals have reacted.  But really, demonstrations across the US for this incident?  What about the tragedy that happens every day in poor neighborhoods? What about the daily violence by neighbor on neighbor?  It isn’t about race, it is about lack of opportunity.  It is about lack of understanding.  It is about how we as individuals treat each other.  We as individuals have to stand up and say – no matter what, the behavior exhibited was intolerable.  Several of the historic Civil Rights Icons would be appalled at this behavior.

This leads to the #shirt firestorm.  For those of you not familiar, the Mission Leader for the Comet landing made a poor choice in attire for an on camera interview.  It was a retro shirt, that was deemed offensive to women in the workplace.  An example of creating a hostile work environment for women in Science, and Technology.  From my perspective, over 25 years in a male dominated science environment – and in the oil patch, come-on get real.  If this is what you are holding up as evidence of a hostile environment, you really haven’t seen one.  Yes, there is a double standard.  Guess what, there is always going to be a in-crowd and an out-crowd.  It may be gender, it may be philosophical, it may be educational, it may be attitude, etc.  The gains that have been made in science are huge for some disciplines – for others not so much.  Critical mass has been reached in chemistry, chemical engineering, and other areas.  Physics, electrical engineering, and others the numbers are pretty stagnant.  As female or male leaders, it is our responsibility to ask questions.  To look for diversity, of all kinds thought, gender, backgrounds, race, etc.; as one of my students recently put it – “it wasn’t until we were placed on teams that I really learned that working as a team we were able to do something beyond what I thought could be done.”

Our responsibility as leaders is to ask why the general physics class  is 75% women and the engineering physics class is 90% men.  At least this year, it is because that is the perceived career path of medicine versus engineering.  I can remember a day when both classes would have been 90% plus male.  Next springs engineering class looks more 50-50.  It is our responsibility to have diversity in the teams, in the funding groups, etc.  OK, it was a poor choice of shirt (for a variety of reasons) – but is it really a hostile work environment?  I have seen worse on the internet media related to who do science by organizations who are pro-actively promoting women in science.

Then there are two events from the administration within the past week.  The resignation of Chuck Hagel – who was presumed to be a yes man.  Congratulations to him – as it turned out he was not.  No matter what your job is, or your politics.  Each and every one of us has to make some personal decisions. What are my beliefs, and when do I draw the line?  I don’t have any inside information, nor have I followed this series of actions with in the administration to determine which way it really went, but as an outsider looking in – it appears that line was drawn and he had the integrity to stand his ground.

The other issue was the Executive Order.  First, I need to go on record saying that yes something needed to be done.  Yes, our immigration policy needs fixing.  Yes, there are situations that no matter how you address are not ideal solutions, and we need to exercise compassion.  But, the how is important as well.  There is a question as to why – if other Presidents used the Executive Order – why is this different?  Here is the reason – the other Presidents used the Executive Order to implement the will of Congress – not defy it.  Additionally, this Executive Order was contrary to what our Leader had previously stated he could not do – you can find numerous sound bites, clips, interviews, etc. that indicate that at least up until a few weeks ago, our President did not feel that he had authority under the Constitution to do what was done.  I am not debating the underlying issue – what I am concerned with is the lesson in Leadership that was presented.

It is my belief that this was an example of poor leadership. Yes, there are times when a leader needs to take action, but was there such a crisis on this issue that as a leader, he could not take time to work through the issue given the confines of our governmental structure?  I don’t believe that there was such a crisis, at least on this particular issue.  In fact, I believe that this action, may have created a critical crisis for those individual impacted two years down the road.  I believe that this action has made a bad situation for them even worse.  Yes, there is temporary relief – but what happens in two years with the Executive Order expires?

As a leader, do you really want to create a feud with the other branches of government?  History is filled with examples of this, and none of them turn out well.  One of the beauties of our system is that we can have debate, we can reach consensus.  Yet, this action is the result of what appears to be childish behavior.  Why was this necessary?  Because of refusals to put various items up for vote – be it in Committee, the House or the Senate.  All are cases where our leaders appear to be acting as spoiled children, and not Statesman. (Please forgive the wording as there currently not a politically correct version of this word, yet.)  The words of the writers and debaters of the Constitution are coming true.

Leaders need to step forward and address these issues.  We need individuals to step-up and take stands.  For many this may mean, taking the time out to debate the issues.  But, we need to start at home, by teaching respect.  Respect for each other, respect for others property, respect for others views, and respect for the history that is shared.  We all have differing view points – we all see similar problems, just not the same solutions.  We need to respect each other to give individuals a chance to listen – you may find out you have more in common with them and their ideas than you thought.  A group with diverse viewpoints might just happen to create a better and more elegant solution than anyone ever thought possible.