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Size really doesn’t matter

Just look at any hummingbird

This article is based on the author's recent book, "Natural Leadership."

Size doesn’t matter as far as hummingbirds are concerned. They are capable of out-flying and out-smarting birds a hundred times bigger than they are. How small are they? Take the beak and tail away from Cuba’s bee hummingbird and you have a bird only one inch in length, weighing less than one-fjfteenth of an ounce. By contrast, the “Giant” Hummingbird that calls South America home can grow to eight times that length.

Their size sometimes causes them to become ensnared in spider webs or eaten by praying mantises. They have even been known to wither and die when caught in a thistle.

However, for the most part, hummingbirds use intelligence to survive and thrive. Their brains, comparatively speaking, are larger than any other bird’s when body size is taken into account. Not surprisingly, they make full use of their memories to find the feeders they have visited in the past.

Leadership Lessons

Mother Nature, if we are willing to listen to her, provides insights from the humblest of

creatures. Insights that can serve all of us, no matter our leadership inclinations. Here are

a few derived by observing the tiny hummingbird.

Optimize your brain power.

Most of us are using less of our brain power than we could. There is much you can do to effect optimization of your mind but it will require commitment. Just as some people with a weak vocabulary commit to learning and using one new word a day, and some with a weak physique commit to a gym membership, you will have to decide why and how, when and where you will improve your mind.

Improve your memory.

Good memories are often equated with good minds. (Even Albert Einstein estimated he was using less than half his mental capacity. And, since most of us like to be judged positively on our mental “appearance,” it will behoove you (and save you time) if you can memorize things you are now looking up or asking to be repeated.

Overcome the negatives, take full advantage of positives.

You have age and experience on yourself so you can put negatives in their proper prospective. You know that if you wish to minimize their place in your life, you can make some changes. You can expand your world-view….and your view of yourself.

The Unexamined Life

You’ve no doubt heard it said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Self-introspection yields all kinds of benefits. Considering these questions and discussing answers with those whose intellect you respect will yield further benefits to your self-development.

What circumstances may have “ensnared” you in the past?

What have you recently learned?

How can you improve concentration?
How can you stop procrastination?

What are some patterns of behavior you can employ when you feel stressed?

How can you increase your self-confidence?

What role does an individual’s own self-expectation play in achieving goals?

In his Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, Leadership, James MacGregor Burns identifies a critical quality of leaders as “their capacity to learn from others and the environment–the capacity to be taught.” Relate what you’ve learned from others regarding leadership.

In their book, Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge, authors Warren Bennis and Burt Nanis specify three important aspects of positive self-regard: knowledge of one’s strengths, the capacity to nurture and develop those strengths, and the ability to discern the fit between one’s strengths and weaknesses and the organization’s needs. Relate these elements of self-regard to your own leadership role.

What specific leadership behaviors are likely to foster a positive attitude and peak performance in your team?

Which are likely to do just the opposite?

From the General to the Specific

Just as questions expand our self-knowledge base, so, too, can quotations from widely

admired individuals help shape and shift views we may have held for too long a time.

Remember that “a foolish consistency,” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is the

hobgoblin of little minds.” Think about the conclusions greatest heroes and thinkers have

reached. Then, make efforts to calibrate your own thoughts and actions based on the

observations from leading figures like the following.

General Colin Powell:

“Optimism is a force-multiplier.”

Paul Scheele:

“The phrase ‘I can’t’ is the most powerful force of negation in the human psyche.

John F. Kennedy:
“There is no leadership without learning.”

Harold Geneen:

“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.”

Arthur Williams:

“The number one problem that keeps people from winning in the United States today is lack of belief in themselves.”

Natural Applications

1) It seems, if you watch the news on a daily basis, there is a crisis happening in America on a regular basis. Study the communication and behaviors of those responsible for handling those crises. Note both what they do well and what goes wrong.

2) Note, too, the lack of clarity and how it can impact important undertakings. Find examples like the following to remind you that the best leaders give clear instructions.

An urban legend that may in fact contain a kernel of truth concerns the newly coined term “catapoultry.” The Internet story claims NASA scientists experimented with a device to test the breakability of windshields on planes. The device would launch a dead chicken

at the wind shield to see how well it would withstand an actual collision with birds in space. The British military tried to replicate the experiment with disastrous results: the

catapoultry discharge broke the windshield as well as the pilot’s chairs. The British engineers immediately contacted NASA and asked for help. There was no doubt about the meaning of NASA’s three-word response: “Defrost the chicken!”

3) Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them rule your memories. An example of how negatively this “memory-ruling” can be is chronicled by the October, 1986, American League Championship Series. The California Angels were just about ready to declare themselves winner of the game against the Boston Red Sox. It was, after all, the ninth inning of the fifth game, and the Angels were ahead by three. One more win would clinch the Series for them.

But..the Red Sox managed to come within one point. With two outs, they were poised with a runner on first base. Angels’ manager Gene Mauch, the manager of the Angels, signaled ace reliever Donnie Moore onto the field to face off against outfielder Dave Henderson. In no time at all, Moore threw two strikes. Of course, the Angels fans went wild—victory was just moments away. Moore quickly threw two strikes. Henderson seemed to be overmatched but then, he slammed the next pitch, resulting in a home run.

The Red Sox headed off to the World Series. Not only did Moore blame himself, the media kept a losing moment alive in the minds of sports fans all over the country. The memory haunted Moore, who became severely depressed. That home run led to a tragedy: Moore shot his wife in front of their children and then committed suicide.

If you don’t have a set of coping mechanisms for the down times in your life, start acquiring them, with professional help or simply by doing your own research to prevent you and members of your leadership team from obsessing on mistakes.

4) One way to remember more easily (and to make your own words more memorable) is to condense concepts into easily manageable bits of information.

To illustrate, think for a moment of all the books that exist about teams. Or, do a Google search on “books about teams.” You’ll find almost a half-billion hits. People have read these books. Ask them what they remember and they’ll probably have trouble telling you. By contrast, ask anyone who has studied Bruce Tuckman’s stages of team formation how a team functions. You’ll quickly get a Zipfean (#11, AAA) response: “Form, Storm, Norm, Perform.”

Optimizing your mind as well as your working hours usually involves finding ways to expedite the processing of information or the processes of work. Total Quality Management taught us to streamline processes. As its chief proponent, Dr. W. Edwards Deming asserted that all work is process. And processes can be identified, measured, and improved. Leaders follow these steps to “get rid of excess baggage” and make the work more efficient.

1. Select a process.

2. Break it into steps via a flow chart or the collection of papers related to the

process.

3. Analyze each step with questions regarding its value.

4. Flowchart the ideal process and compare the actual to the ideal.

5. Use the revised process and record results.

5) Brobdingnag is the land of giants, imagined by Jonathan Swift. The word could easily apply to the amount of information in the world today. There are more than 300 billion billion bits of information and that amount increases daily. Meanwhile, our minds can only process about 7200 bits a minute. Because of overwhelming statistics like these, leaders have a responsibility for ingesting, digesting, and then communicating that information as clearly and succinctly as possible.

6) There is no playbook for handling crises, which, by their very nature, come upon us because we have not considered the possibility of their arrival and so, are frequently woefully underprepared. The tragedy of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, was inconceivable. The extent of Hurricane Katrina’s and Hurricane Sandy’s devastation, similarly, was not expected. Our brief history as a nation has any number of other crises, including droughts in Western states and stock market crashes. In such times, we have to respond quickly, assessing the best course of actin, even though there may be no exemplar to guide us. Change is simply thrust upon us.

In less critical time, we can employ Kurt Lewin’s change model–Thaw, Change, Re-freeze. It requires leaders to spend time preparing others for the change they have probably had thrust upon them (as opposed to a change they’ve selected for themselves). The process of converting resistance to receptivity, of defrosting or melting down the old to make room for the new, begins with understanding.

Understanding–the thawed state–is achieved through discussion of comments such as those by Karl von Clauswitz, Prussian military strategist: “Beware the brilliance of transient events.”; by Napoleon Hill: “Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.”; by author Wess Roberts: “Destiny is as destiny does. If you believe you have no control, you have no control.”; and by J. C. Penney: “I am grateful for all my problems. After each one was overcome, I became stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come. I grew in all my difficulties.”

Additional considerations on which discussion should be focused include:

What lies behind the change?

Is there any way you can make it “not happen”?

Given its seeming inevitability, what can you do about the change?

Of your choices, which is the most beneficial?

What possible benefits might evolve from the change?

Is the rate of change likely to increase, decrease, or remain the same in the

future?

How have we as a nation demonstrated an ability to change?

What role does technology have in facilitating or impeding change?

If more information was produced between 1965 and 1995 than was

produced between 3000 BC and 1965, what information-adaptations do we need to make?

What can you do to lead the change rather than try to stop it?

What mistakes do people/organizations make when it comes to change?

What are possible linkages between stress and change?

What new priorities have emerged/will emerge with the (proposed) change?

What changes do you need to make in order to accommodate the internal

changes?

What aspects of the change can you control?

What can’t you control?

If you were leading the change in this organization, how would you do so?

Why do you think people cling so desperately to the past, to the familiar?

The second step in this change model involves introducing the actual change. This step depends on good communications skills. Among the elements that constitute “good communications” are:

√ Providing a comfortable forum in which concerns can be aired.

√ Anticipating objections and having convincing responses ready

√ Citing benefits

√ Including and addressing all the people and things that will be impacted by the change

√ Demonstrating empathy

√ Offering hope for the future

√ Repeating the message in both a repetitive and non-repetitive fashion.

The third step, making the change an organizational reality, requires superb planning: what sequence of steps, under what conditions, involving which people will facilitate changing to the new reality? To quote Danny Ozark, Philadelphia Phillies manager: “Half this game is 90% mental.” Supervising change successfully is often a question of changing mental attitudes. And such changes take both time and careful planning.

Supervisors who serve as a substantial bridge between the old and the new during the time of change make change easier to accept. You can bridge the chasm of chaos by taking the old and familiar and placing them in new and exciting circumstances. You may, for example, ask staff members these questions:

As far as work is concerned, what “lights your fire”?

As far as work is concerned, what burns you up?

and then align their answers with projected differences created by the upcoming change.

Finally, now that you’ve read the three-word strategy Lewin employs for change that can be introduced slowly—Thaw, Change, Refreeze—come up with a three- word phrase that succinctly captures an approach for dealing with change that must be dealt with quickly.

Words matter, after all. So do size and simplicity. Your three-word phrase can guide you to act admirably in difficult situations in the future.  Just use the tiny hummingbird as your inspiration.

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