Do You Need Some Old-Style Tech?

compaq

The old laptop gets to work

I opened up a 1990s laptop of ours the other day – a Compaq Presario (1672 for you geeks). The screen had cracked (after several moves in boxes) and the power lead had to be held down a certain way for it to connect to the power board and run the laptop. But once the green light went on and I clicked the power button, up she span, running Windows 98. It was difficult to see the desktop with the screen cracked, but we were able to navigate to the various windows. The computer has a ‘massive’ 3.02 GB of hard drive memory. It’s so ‘old’ that it has a dial-up internet modem. But we used the old USB port and an old, compatible memory stick, to carefully transfer a wide variety of documents that had been previously backed up but corrupted by a virus some time ago.

The amazing thing is, when reviewing the documents I noticed how many activities and endeavours we had run, on multiple continents, using the old memory limitations of that machine. For all of the last decades’ vaunted advances in processor speed, hard drive capacity, connectivity and more, this 15-16 year old laptop still started up the desktop relatively quickly, ready to go to work. The old, animated cursor set was at work, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man was on the screen and the rotating 3D text screensaver popped up within a few minutes.

No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no LinkedIn, no mindless ‘news’ updates with endless gossip, no touch screens, etc. etc. etc. And yet, we managed to run great organisations, travel the world and innovate great ideas and engage in meaningful and impactful work. Do you remember doing that?

It’s true in this day and age of 24-month time limited mobile tech that “they don’t build them like they used to.” I bet my Dad probably still has a mobile phone from the early 1980s around somewhere (the ones that looked like WWII walkie-talkies) that would start up fine if you had a decent battery. Try doing that with your iPhone in a few years’ time (assuming it hasn’t already bent into the shape of a paper clip).

Too often, people and organisations employ the latest tech and the latest fads in an effort to be productive and ‘cutting edge’. Unfortunately, they spend so much time on the cutting edge that the main blade rusts, pits and falls apart. Or, they’re so busy fiddling with the latest tech on their GPS/mobile that they don’t see that they’re driving down the same track they’ve driven down a thousand times and should instead be admiring the scenery and anticipating better ways to enjoy their destination.

Now, I wouldn’t go back to the old ZX81 we had as kids – 1 KB memory really did hamper things. And it took half an hour for the tape drive to load a program that made a square brick move around the screen. It was exciting back then, but now…? Nor would I use that Compaq for my current computing needs – the bloatware we all use today wouldn’t fit at all! But remembering how we used some old-fashioned technologies to create great results is a prompt to being lean and creative.

Think about it: What could you achieve if you employed some old-style tech – maybe brainstorming via paper and pen, perhaps giving a client a phone call to see how you can assist them, perhaps sharing a coffee with an old mentor, or employing some of those common-sense ways you used to reward prudent risk-takers – in the face of your current challenges? What would you use and how?

Sometimes, old tech is still good tech.

If you have any stories about your old technology, feel free to share here …

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

Blog Reader Survey Results

imagesAnd the results of my September blog survey are …

I ran a reader survey during the month of September to find out more about you and how I can serve better.

The results have been very easy to analyse, as I only received one complete response! Thank you to that lone reader.

Here’s the summary of my audience response(s), therefore:

  • 100% male audience
  • Between 55-64 years of age
  • Has read at least 10 of my articles and viewed some videos
  • Resides in Australia
  • Is a church/non-profit leader
  • Loves reading articles in order to learn
  • Most interested in:
    • Leadership
    • Family leadership
    • Personal Development
    • Team development
    • Communication
    • Public Speaking
    • Succession Planning
  • Would happily recommend my blog to others
  • Top 2 Professional challenges are:
    • Moving beyond personal barriers
    • Succession planning
  • Top 2 Personal challenges
    • Ageing
    • Keeping up momentum
  • Top Leadership Challenge
    • Building bridges between others of faith
  • Enjoyed the frankness of my blogs and writing from experience
  • Viewed my experience, my faith orientation and ‘general good common sense’ as valuable
  • Also enjoyed the personal insight into thoughts and aspirations. Recommended some shorter blog entries in the mix.
  • A future feature requested was a possible online interactive feature (I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I am considering webinars/teleseminars/podcasts for a future date.)

Now, I know that this does not fully represent my audience, as even my wife says she reads all of the posts, but she didn’t complete the survey :)

However, this tells me:

  1. I need to serve the needs of those who ask, so will endeavour to do so. Congratulations to that one respondent, whoever you are!
  2. That I need to engage you, my readers, even more – your continued suggestions and responses would be most welcome!
  3. I probably need an incentive for completing the survey next time. So I will offer one in the new year.
  4. Sometimes people are just plain hesitant to express their opinion through a survey. (Goodness knows we are barraged with enough of them on the internet.)
  5. That there are a lot of shy readers out there! (You know who you are.)
  6. Lack of response indicates lack of interest. Hence, I have to believe that the blog is not generating much interest in a variety of people.
  7. I may need to refine the target audience of this blog
  8. I need offer more value in whatever fashion
  9. I have many business/management oriented posts here, that readers are not necessarily coming back for those.
  10. Lastly, that as I started the blog for my own personal benefit and enjoyment, that appears to still be its main function :)

Thank you again, lone respondent.

If you would like to add a response now, feel free to leave a comment.

And to the rest of you reading: I hope you will add your voice with my next survey in 2015 and help me to serve you even more.

Cheers!

Peter J. McLean

Why You Can’t Be Precious

Don't become a prisoner of 'the precious'

Don’t become a prisoner of ‘the precious’

You’ve seen it before: the boss invites feedback and an ‘open dialogue’ and as soon as someone shows individuality or is overly assertive or says they don’t like an idea, then that person is labelled ‘not a team player’, or a ‘problem’, and the boss retreats to her/his predetermined position on just about everything that she or he regards as important. ‘The Precious’ idea, feeling or attitude has taken over!

You can’t afford to be precious about your ideas, your leadership and your organisation or life. I’ve had the privilege of working with clients who have literally stood in the middle of the office and announced to their staff, “Peter is going to help me to be a better leader and person”. This courageous and open approach to their development has meant that those around them were willing to appreciate and support changes and to bear with mistakes and failures – a courtesy that the leaders extended to their own people. These individuals were also far more likely to make dramatic changes in their leadership and personhood and obtained phenomenally better results from their people and divisions – in comparison either to other leaders, or to their own histories.

I’ve recently had a client who instantly instituted a communication intervention that I had suggested, which had tremendous results in the most important area of his life – his home. It was his immediate willingness to try the idea that bore him and his family fruit.

In contrast, I have encountered many who will be precious about their performance, their professional level of expertise (and supposed superiority), and/or their leadership. One recent example I witnessed from afar was a leader complaining that someone coming to them was ‘too aggressive’, because she had the gall to enter the boss’s office and request that there be some confirmation regarding her position, which has been in the balance for months. It took another subordinate explaining the situation for the boss to get over being so precious about being questioned in the office. (Personally, I’d be thrilled with my people being direct enough to come talk with me.)

On a higher level of complexity, I have witnessed Managing Directors react preciously to feedback and strategic directives from others, believing that they had the upper hand on the direction of their company, dismissing the suggestions and concerns of others. Their lack of responsiveness – a lack of appropriate humility and wisdom in considering others’ insights – directly contributed to the decline of those companies, sometimes falling down within mere months.

You can almost hear them on that subliminal level: “It’s mine! My precious! Give it to me!” Overcoming that voice, however, is essential to high performance in any arena.

On a Personal Level…

Here’s a very personal way that this principle has worked out in my life: When my wife and I confirmed that our daughter Alyssa had cerebral palsy it was not time to be precious. She was just seven months old. We couldn’t stand on our hands and declare that we had all wisdom, insight and ability to deal with her disability and help her to grow. We couldn’t wait for the perfect plan. We couldn’t wait for the right resources. We couldn’t wait for the perfect financial position to begin working with her. We had to act immediately.

Now, you cannot get more personal than family. But my wife and I were smart enough to know that we didn’t know enough, nor did we have the capacity to ‘do this alone’. And so we sought out help and assistance from every avenue we could. We gratefully accepted insights and suggestions from every quarter. Even if some of it was plain wrong, it was our responsibility to take ideas, information and resources and fit them into the overall picture and plan with Alyssa.

Over the years, we’ve incorporated the concerned and professional input of hundreds of individuals into Alyssa’s life. Throughout, we have had the core support of The Centre for Cerebral Palsy in WA. We have worked with medical personnel and therapists. We have had carers come into our home and take over the chores and other duties for us, in order to give us a break and help lead us lead our family. We have worked with technicians and support personnel. We accepted the help of family and friends. We have taken on thousands of suggestions, worked with too many organisations to mention here and incorporated the work and efforts of so many into Alyssa’s care and development. It has borne fruit. If you’ve read through my blog before, you know something of Alyssa’s achievements just this year. But it wouldn’t have happened if we’d been precious about how we take care of our daughter.

Our priority has always been what is in her best interests, no matter how hard it has been. Unfortunately, the examples are overwhelming of how people let their own personal ego get in the way of what is in the best interests of the goals for their business, organisation, cause or family.

Where You Are Now…

Translate that approach to what concerns you now. You have to learn to not be precious about your ideas, initiatives and innovations. You have to be mature about your achievements, your management and your leadership. You need to keep asking yourself how you can do better.

Here are 10 Questions to which you can respond, in order to lower your ‘Precious Quotient':

  • Are you seeking the assistance you can?
  • Are you checking your ego at the door?
  • Are you being defensive or considered about your choices?
  • Are you deflecting responsibility?
  • Are you being open to a new strategy or direction?
  • Are you allowing your beliefs to be tested and proven?
  • Are you prudently investing your endeavour’s finances in new ventures and directions, or are you either hoarding or being profligate?
  • Are you using your resources (time, energy, skills, intellect, equipment, finances) to assist or work with others, or are you preciously keeping it all to yourself?
  • Are you focusing on achieving the greater goal, or on placating your own feelings?
  • Are you being principled, or being precious?

Let people influence you. Be open on processes, even while you’re firm on principles. Don’t think of yourself as the fount of all wisdom and jealously guard your position. Don’t Be Precious!

Like this post? Then ‘like’ it and share it with others with some of the tools below. Leave your comments about ‘being precious’ in the comments area.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean. Visit http://theleadershiplamplight.com for more blog posts, or visit www.lamplighter.com.au for more about our Consulting, Coaching, Speaking and Developmental Experiences. Or Contact Me to discuss your needs!

Don’t Lead Like It’s An AFL Wipeout

Sometimes putting someone in a position of leadership can be as disappointing as watching an AFL wipeout. They start with promise, as people sit on the sidelines cheering them on, and before you know it they’ve joined the people on the benches, wondering what’s going on out on the field, as they sip a beer or a latté. The score rapidly blows out from level pegging to something like, oh I don’t know, 137 to 74 points. (Pity the audience who pay for their flights, accommodation and seats to watch a no-contest.)

I know next to nothing about football (some of my clients can attest to that), but I do know about leadership and performance. One of the key factors in ensuring success in any endeavour is the maintenance of resilience and endurance, while making sure strategic choices.

If you don’t endure, persist and perseverate on succeeding with your people and your end goals, you will be bound to fail. And you need to learn to bounce back – to be resilient – in the face of challenge and setbacks. On an individual level, this requires personal characteristics that have been developed, tried and tested. On an organisational and strategic level, it requires adaptability and resources.

BlackBerry (formerly RIM) is still making a fight of their business, although one has to wonder about their ultimate chance of success, because they have resources that they can continue to apply in order to win their game. And, despite the obvious questionable products like a return to big square smartphones, their other software, corporate telecommunications security and other endeavours will likely see them win in ancillary niche markets, as they adapt their goals and aspirations given new technological realities. Other adjustments that they have made at the executive level should see a return, including the change of CEO and additions to their board, are a sure commitment that they aren’t going to simply sell their assets away, but reforge a viable tech company in a constantly changing market.

Even if you encounter setbacks, don’t give up and let your team suffer a wipeout.

3 Ways You Can Lead Like a Pro

ACTION ITEMPlease take my 2014 Reader Survey. Just a few minutes of your time will help me to create content that will serve you more and help you to achieve your dreams and aspirations. The survey is only up until September 17, so now’s the time! http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1610266/2014-Reader-Survey.

??????????There are many ways to improve your leadership. When working with my clients, I immediately find substantial improvements that they can make to be more effective and to perform at higher levels.

When I started out in my own leadership as a young lad, I made many mistakes that were centred on me. I remember one (very embarrassing to recollect) time at the end of my teen years when I browbeat a subordinate (in a volunteer capacity, no less) for not adhering strictly to my instructions. She was actually going above and beyond, but I was more concerned with whether someone was following my orders. I realised my error shortly thereafter and resolved never to commit that error ever again.

Unfortunately, it’s still embarrassing to see others commit this same error of ego day in and day out, even after they’ve been in ‘leadership’ for decades. The pros realise they need to move beyond that tropism.

So here are 3 ways you can immediately lead more like a pro. These don’t always require huge changes in routine, but they may require a huge change of mindset and manner. Who said leadership was for the faint of heart?

1. Realise It’s Not About You

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is to think that leadership is primarily about them.

I was discussing this recently with a leader in public education who has served with distinction for decades. He has a history and reputation as a school planter and builder – developing schools from initial conception through to their successful running and operations over some years and then handing over to the leaders he’s developed to run the schools after his departure.

“I realised some time ago that leadership was about helping my people to shine, not me. That’s how you get the best results.”

If you thought it was hard to build your business, try doing it on the shoestring budget that he has had to develop worthy public facilities, personnel, community, reputation and results for his schools. This leader recognised that it was helping his people to use their gifts and talents to achieve greater success that was his most important activity.

Political leaders of all stripes often make this rookie mistake of believing their leadership is about what they do. Even the ‘leader of the free world’ appears to make this mistake. Abraham Lincoln, apparently, did not make this mistake, as he surrounded himself with people who were better at what they did than he was, and relied on them. But you must realise …

Leadership is not about you. It’s about the people you lead and serve.

After many years of successful leadership, the school leader above is still looking for ways to improve how he leads and develops his people. Which leads to the next point…

2. Get To Know Your People

If you need to rely on your people, then you need to know them inside and out.

I was discussing workplace management with the top manager of a high performing executive recruitment firm. He was frustrated that he wanted to lead one way, while the “old guard” had a very impersonal method of leading. He actually expresses aspects of his personal life at work, tells others about his children’s accomplishments and what’s happening with his home life, while the almost retired owners keep saying,

“We don’t want any of that personal stuff. Leave it out of the workplace!”

But this executive had a reasoned take on his approach:

“I learned in the army that I had to know the histories, the background, the events and character of everyone in my unit. Because you had to know whether you could trust that person with your life. You had to know whether they were up to the battle on any given day. You had to know how to support, encourage and help them at any given moment. And that meant knowing intimately what was going on with them.”

You have to be able to trust those around you like your life depends on it. Because it may well do! And by knowing them, you will know how to get the best out of them every day!

I know ‘leaders’ who wonder why everyone is not absolutely at their best, just following their orders and ‘doing what they’ve been told’. They think, when people are underperforming, that the solution is to clean the slate and just hire a fresh batch of people to do the job. But I’ve got news for you: performance is dependent on leadership. The new recruits will start off fresh, but will quickly wither and wilt without the leader getting to know, encourage and work with their individual strengths and weaknesses.

And that’s how a leader creates an atmosphere of true teamwork, support and united action. Because people will emulate with others the kind of leadership they experience and value. Which leads us to your legacy …

3. Work On Your Legacy Now

Your legacy is being created every day.

I work with senior executives and CEOs who, sometimes at the latter stages of their careers, just begin to consider, “What legacy shall I plan to leave?” But the reality is that your daily choices; the routines of attitude, behaviour and norms (the culture) that you establish; the goals, aspirations and determinations that you drive through the organisation by both your words and deeds will be your true legacy. For example: You may try to, in your last days, manufacture a magnanimous reputation after a life of scroogery, but people recognise that the last-minute gesture is empty. It only reinforces the harsh reality of the past.

Long-term planning for the continuance of your legacy can be important. I was discussing with one Managing Director/CEO how he would leave a legacy after his retirement. He’s got quite some time to go and has built a successful business that employs a large number of staff and services a wide range of clients. Their success as a business has rested with the success of his clients. But there’s more to do and he needs to ensure that the next phases are undertaken as the market and forces around his company change substantially. He has the capacity to lead their own strategic change, but RIGHT NOW he needs to work through the strategies, approaches and development that will create the legacy that he can be proud of.

More mundanely: your legacy will be characterised by your approach and attitude to your business, your leadership, your people and your family and friends. Some leaders think their legacy will be their name on the front of the building. It’s not. Sometimes part of our legacy may be the products we create: iPhones, software, vehicles, processes, books, foundations, and otherwise.

But people carry your legacy with you wherever they go, despite whatever happens to your organisation, through the memories and artifacts in their lives that you create.

That’s something to work on now.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

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From http://theleadershiplamplight.com. Visit our official website at http://www.lamplighter.com.au and http://www.authenticspeaking.com.au for more resources and information about our services, or contact us here.

2014 Reader Survey

imagesThe Survey is still open. Take my blog reader survey here! My thanks to those who have already completed the survey. I would love to see more responses from my readers.

I have many exciting and useful articles and resources planned for The Leadership Lamplight Blog, but before I do, I wanted to check that I am serving the needs of those who read my blog posts.

I’ve been writing this blog in something of a vacuum for quite a while. I enjoy writing it and reading comments and seeing likes. I know many have found the articles helpful and interesting.

I want to take this to another level, however, and use the blog to continue to better serve those who come to me for help, encouragement and inspiration and to develop greater responsiveness, engagement and a sense of online community for my readers.

So, please take my 2014 Reader Survey here at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1610266/2014-Reader-Survey

The survey will only stay up until September 17. I’ll be posting a summary of the results next month for your interest.

I appreciate your help!

Peter J. McLean

5 Leadership Tips You Can Learn From ‘Draft Day’

Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Used without permission, but they should thank me for the promotion!

Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Used without permission, but given the lack of sales, they should thank me for the promotion!

So he had the worst English accent for a Robin Hood of all time, but Kevin Costner is back in the Ivan Reitman film, ‘Draft Day’. (Seriously, Kevin Costner has said he was trying for an English accent back in Prince of Thieves.)

‘Draft Day’ is an enjoyable film about the General Manager of a US Football Team (the Cleveland Browns) on the day when the teams take their pick of the new talent coming out of College into the NFL. It’s a tense situation as the film follows just a few hours of one day, and you watch Costner’s character negotiate for the best talent for a team that’s average in the rankings. It’s fiction, of course, but it’s worth noting a few real-life leadership lessons that we can draw from the film.

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5 Leadership Lessons from ‘Draft Day’

1. You Can Be Over 50 and Still Just Starting to Spread Your Wings. Costner’s character is only now starting to come out from under the shadow of his famous and revered father, long-time coach of the team. Costner is now calling the shots for the first time, and even then he has pressure from all around him to cave in to their demands. Costner portrays this weary expectation and burden well.

I remember former Australian Deputy PM (and current Ambassador to the US), Kim Beazley saying after he retired from politics that he didn’t think anyone should enter politics until they were in their 50s, because they needed that long – no matter how smart they are (and Kim Beazley can never be accused of being unintelligent) – to develop the wisdom, experience and perspective that really means they can add meaningfully to a nation.

If you’re over 50, you may only be just starting to enter your truly productive stage of life and leadership. Embrace it!

2. Communication is a Vital Ingredient to Success. The Cleveland Browns need a GM and a Coach who are in sync, but they aren’t throughout most of the film. And it requires some heartfelt, honest, straightforward communication to get them there.

I often find that at the heart of my clients’ leadership needs is communication. They have great ideas, great processes, great resources and great skills, but they don’t communicate clearly and in a way that taps into the motivations and needs of the people around them. They also don’t use communication to uncover what they don’t know. Instead, they assume they have the relevant facts without sufficient evidence. Ask honest questions! It’s amazing what you’ll uncover.

Communication also lies at the heart of great negotiation. You need to be prepared to take positions and move with the arguments and counter-offers – not just be silent and staunch.

3. Success Breeds Success. The good players in the film are attracted to teams that perform highly. They highly regard the reputation of both the team and the people running it. The ability of the teams to make the kind of money necessary to pay these high salaries is vital to their ability to continue to play with the best. On the other hand, if the money’s on offer, but the team and the coach and management have bad reps, the players will want to leave them in droves.

If you’re out to recruit top talent, have you bothered to ask yourself if you’re the kind of leader they’d like to work for? Are you the kind of organisation that they’ll love and where they’ll be able to fly high?

Sometimes someone’s just glad for a job, but sometimes they want a lot more. Google pays top data mining scientists/analysts $5 million per year to join their team. Not everyone can afford that, of course, as it’s an insane amount of money for nerds. But Google has the global reputation for innovation, technology and opportunities to match the $$ on offer. Why wouldn’t top talent say ‘Yes, please’ to that, even if only for a year?

4. Character Trumps ‘Talent’. Costner’s GM finds out something about one of the top potential picks that makes him uneasy about the choice. It starts out as a niggling question and continues to develop throughout the film (I won’t give details away). As he says at one point, “It’s a character thing for me.”

It turns out that the character question ends up revealing a lot about the players and how well they’ll perform.

Sometimes talent can appear so overwhelming that we think we’re onto a winner. But really, character ends up trumping talent. You can see it even in the eyes of those who chase after the $$, but don’t have the integrity.

I’ve had clients who’ve hired people who were looking for the $$ and claimed to be high flyers. I was uneasy about the people and expressed my concerns, but was not directly involved and didn’t have a say. As it turned out, the character of the individuals concerned was lousy. A few more questions in the beginning would have alerted the relevant execs and saved hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars – not to mention all the headaches, wasted time, hurt relationships, client and staff bad will and so on.

Character counts.

5. Family Matters. The GM is under constant pressure regarding his past family and a newly developing one – including his girlfriend played by Jennifer Garner (Costner’s 59, Garner is 42 – this is Hollywood fiction!). His family’s legacy, as well as his own future legacy are at stake. But he takes the time to realise how important family is, even at this critical juncture of his career.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: What’s the point of all the success and approbation in the world, if you can’t enjoy your own family? Family contributes to our self-identity, to our place in the world, to our enjoyment of life, to our meaning in life. And your leadership of your family is the supreme test of true leadership, of your character and of who you really are. So take care of them, listen to them, learn from them and celebrate life with them.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

If you haven’t already, please take my 2014 Reader Survey here if you haven’t already. It’ll only take a few minutes, but will help me to serve all of you, my readers and clients, better through this blog. Read more about the Survey in this post.

Leave a comment. If you liked this post, share it with others! It’ll only take a moment with one of the links below.

Take My 2014 Blog Post Reader Survey

imagesTake my blog reader survey! I have many exciting and useful articles and resources planned for The Leadership Lamplight Blog, but before I do, I wanted to check that I am serving the needs of those who read my blog posts.

I’ve been writing this blog in something of a vacuum for quite a while. I enjoy writing it and reading comments and seeing likes. I know many have found the articles helpful and interesting.

I want to take this to another level, however, and use the blog to continue to better serve those who come to me for help, encouragement and inspiration and to develop greater responsiveness, engagement and a sense of online community for my readers.

So, please take my 2014 Reader Survey here at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/1610266/2014-Reader-Survey

The survey will only stay up for a week. I’ll be posting a summary of the results next month for your interest.

I appreciate your help!

Peter J. McLean

Backstage At The Emmys Is Far More Interesting

I’ve worked a lot of back stages in conferences, theatre productions, concerts and a myriad of stage performances. Backstage has its own special ambience and set of experiences. That’s why watching the live streaming of the backstage at the Emmys was probably far more interesting than watching what was happening in front of the camera. And the producers of the Emmys catered to that view with a 3-Camera view and ‘Director’s Cut’ of the backstage events specially streamed live on the Emmys website this year.The Emmys Green Room

So instead of seeing Julia Roberts stepping out for a couple of minutes to award the best actor Emmy, you got to see her greet others, pat their arms, grab a drink and watch different portions of the show on the green room big screen TV. You saw Jay Leno walk through making a phone call and then turn and smile and chat with someone who grabbed his attention. You watched the announcer and her assistant do the voiceovers as the stars in front of them gather in the wings and peek through the curtains. You got to see what happened backstage and out in the auditorium during the live commercial breaks. You saw the scores of presenters, award-winners and performers preparing and debriefing after their performances, while other scores of producers, stage hands, lighting people, make-up artists, announcers and more organised the hundreds of thousands of details required to run such an enormous undertaking.Announcers in the wings at the Emmys

And you heard and saw that particular backstage effect: a mix of quiet talk, gestures, laughter and happiness at a job going well or at little gaffes, watching the other performers while you prep, while focusing on getting a great performance out there. The high 5s, the handing off between people, the ‘stars’ being directed by the juniors who know what they’re doing. Cooperation. Ebullience. Successful partnering.

Too often our organisations, and leaders, think it’s all about what happens out front. But what happens ‘out there’ is only a product of what happens ‘back there’. All the preparation, planning, highs and lows that lead to a successful performance.

The ‘magic’ only happens when you put in the effort. And I always found that whether in front or out back, it was always a blast. I also made sure it was the case whenever I was in charge – and that required planning, preparation and spot on performance.

Make sure it’s a blast when you’re in charge too.

© 2014 Peter J. McLean

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A Tragic Comic – Robin Williams R.I.P.

robin williams fly be freeI still remember the first night I saw Robin Williams’ magic at work in Mork and Mindy. I must have been just 10 years old, and my brothers and I had come home from our weekly evening out at Ukrainian folk dancing and activities. My Mum had recorded the première of a new TV show – Mork and Mindy. We’d seen his guest spot in Happy Days and knew there was more to come. “You have to watch this!” she told us. My brothers and I watched the oddball performance of the multicoloured alien, Mork, and then spent half an hour afterwards running around twitching our ears and saying, “Nanu Nanu!” We gleefully mimicked throwing eggs into the air, with a courageous shout of “Fly! Be Free!”. “I knew you’d love it!” exclaimed my delighted Mum.

Robin Williams was a one of a kind talent – part comic, part tragic player, or perhaps I should say all of both. Known the world over, he made hundreds of millions of people laugh and cry, with his mad-cap stream-of-consciousness improvisations and imitations, along with his earnest and deep portrayals in a number of meaningful film roles. And then there were the interviews where he openly shared his engulfment within depression and addiction.

But unlike other ‘whirling dervish’, ‘genius’ players, you never heard about Robin Williams being mean-spirited towards others, throwing excruciating tantrums on set or demanding that people fill his bathtub with Perrier so that he could be ‘in the flow’. Instead, you heard about his generosity in an industry not known for its generosity of spirit. And you laughed when he went on a riff.

It’s sad that, in the midst of being one of the most recognised individuals on the planet, adored from afar by millions and acclaimed for his gifts and talents, that he never could completely shake off the doldrums of depression and the addictions that ruined some of his relationships and his sense of self in the world.

One has to believe that he often thought that he was only as good as his last manic impersonations and jokes, that the laughter, although earned, was still in response to something he did and not in camaraderie with who he was, deep down; that sense that operates in so many people that despite the fact that they’ve ‘made it’, that they’re still not connected to others in a genuine way – without ego, without semblance, without seeking a reward – simply to be.

People can feel separated from others in many ways. Leaders can say that they are ‘alone with the burden of leadership’. Carers can feel that they are ‘alone in their sacrifice’. Pioneers can believe that they are ‘out there alone, forging the way’. And people can try to supplant their dismal feelings with artificial rewards and stimulants – fame, money, power, success, adulation, praise and prominence, drugs, alcohol and self-inflicted pain. But in the end, we all need to simply ‘be’ in deep connection with those around us. Fame, wealth and approbation won’t bring satisfaction and deep-seated contentment any more than it did Robin Williams.

So be open and real with those around you and if you feel alone or depressed or anxious, don’t try to ride it out alone. Seek and accept the help of others. Dark times come to all, but then so does the light. Stopping while you are in the depths of blackness means that you will miss out on the brightness to come. That was part of the genius of this tragic comic – both the dark and the light expressed so forcefully through one person.

Sadly, obviously, Williams was alone at the end when he acted to end his time in this life. It is a sadness for his family, almost too terrible to contemplate. And that, for those of us who have been close to others who suffer or are suffering, is a lesson: they need us to be with them, to accept them for who they are and what they feel, to be with them through trials, and to simply lend them courage by being with them and showing them that we need them, want them and value them and their struggles. We must simply ‘be’ together.

Suicide inflicts terrible pain on those around the person who takes his or her life. It’s not something you do just to yourself, but to those close to you as well. His family will be devastated and possibly guilt-ridden, despite the fact that they did not do the act. So if we ever have the chance, let’s encourage others to turn away from despair and into safety with others, sparing all the pain.

In the meantime, for all of those who ever had a laugh or a compassionate tear prompted by him, let’s spare a thought or a prayer for the loved ones he has left behind, and remember Robin Williams for the good that he did. May he rest, finally, in peace and may his family know some too.

- Peter J. McLean