Tag Archives: john baldoni

Leadership Lesson: Respect The Bull, Not His Reputation

John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of many books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership. This blog appeared first at Forbes.

“Some guys made heroes out of [bulls].,.. In their mind they become impossible to ride.”

That is Gary Leffew, owner of a bull riding school that bears his name. As he explains in a New York Times documentary by Joris Debeij that kind of talk is self-defeating. “I tell my students not to hang around with people who make a bull sound impossible… tell you all the reasons why you can’t ride him.”

Rather Leffew advises, “Walk over to a winner and you ask him about the same bull and he goes, ‘Oh man you got him, that’s one I wanted.’” According to Leffew, 95% of people who opt to ride bulls fail at it chiefly because they cannot handle the mental aspect of bull riding.

Leffew knows of what he speaks; he won a world championship in 1970 at the age of 26 and is now in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. As a California kid his first love was motorcycles, but after seeing a rodeo he switched to riding bulls, something his father thought was safer.

A secret to Leffew’s approach is meditation, a practice he has being doing since his early twenties. “The goal is to dance with [the bull]. When you are dancing, you become one with the person you are with.” Same with bull riding. As Leffew told Caitlin Ryan for the blog The Last Word, “You’re so mentally in tune with [the bull] you go there together… The rankest bulls I ever rode… were always the easiest rides.”

Meditation is core to Leffew’s teaching. Students learn to meditate so they can prepare themselves mentally along with preparing themselves physically through their technique. His school has groomed more than a dozen World Champions. “If you’re willing to suffer through the temporary setbacks, there’s nothing you can’t achieve,” says Leffew.

While few of us will every climb on the back of a two thousand pound animal that has been bred for generations to buck and pitch whatever or whoever is on its back to the ground, Leffew’s lessons have meaning for anyone facing long odds… or any odds at all.

Mental preparation is critical to success. Too often the temptation is to prepare externally for a challenge while ignoring internal preparation. That is, executives go to great lengths in doing the work – doing research and marshaling resources – that they ignore their own mental state. Sometimes it does not matter; you are on the winning team. But when adversity strikes you are at a disadvantage because you have not strengthened your inner self. You may buckle at the first sign of resistance and like some bull riders overestimate the challenge.

One way to prepare is through the practice of mindfulness, which is the state of being fully present in the moment. You are aware of self and situation as well as what you can do or not do. As a leader mindfulness focuses also on situational awareness, being focused on the environment you are in and preparing yourself to deal with it.

Meditation is one method for learning to become more mindful but not the only way. What is required for mindfulness is learning to take stock of yourself regularly as a means of gaining perspective on your performance and your interaction with others. It is a form of self-discipline that requires commitment, the willingness to reflect and rigor to do it regularly.

Such mental prep may not ready you for the rodeo circuit but it will enable you to ride the bulls you face in your business.

Learn more about leadership from John Baldoni in his SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

Coaching Us To Do The Right Thing

John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of many books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership. This blog appeared first at Forbes.

When you do something right, do not seek recognition for it.

That was the essence of a comment that Dean Smith made to John Feinstein about not wanting to be remembered for helping to desegregate restaurants in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1958. Feinstein, an author and sportswriter for the Washington Post, had covered Smith for years and got to know the man personally.

Remembering Smith for NPR on the occasion of his death, Feinstein noted how Smith entered a lunchroom with a black man who was a member of Smith’s church. This was a risky move for a young coach to do in the segregated South, and years later Smith’s pastor related the incident to Feinstein. When Feinstein recalled the story to Smith, the coach was disappointed that his pastor had noted it. When Feinstein pressed Smith as to why he would not be proud of his actions as a young man, Smith replied, “John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing, you should just do the right thing!”

Far be it from me to disagree with Coach Smith but I believe it is important to recognize people for doing the right thing. A self-effacing character such as Smith who won two NCAA titles and made 11 trips to the Final Four never wanted a fuss made about him, even asking the University of North Carolina not to name the arena in his honor but rather for the players. In this instance UNC did override Smith’s request.

Smith was a righteous man who stood up for causes larger than himself politically and as a coach for his players. He radiated integrity and so remembering him now for the good things he did is a way to honor his memory. Reporters around the nation hailed Smith as a good coach but an even better man. President Obama, who awarded Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, noted Smith’s triumphs on the court but also cited his involvement in Civil Rights, his recruitment of UNC’s first black players and his 96% graduation rate.

Now is also a time to remind us that we do live in a world that is shaped by good men who do good things. Too often if we focus on the news we learn more bad than good in terms of conflict between people, nations and religions. Digesting such evil day after day it is easy to fall into the trap that evildoers outduel the righteous.

Very often I am asked in interviews about the sad state of the world, specifically the fact that there seem to be too few role models or good leaders. I always disagree. Certainly those who make headlines are executives who make mistakes that end up costing their companies millions. Daily we witness the gridlock that paralyzes national and state politics because elected officials favor partisanship over governance. It is easy to turn cynical.

That said I try always to mention the good example of leadership we have all around us. Everyday we see men and women of good intention struggle against the odds to do what is right for their businesses or their organizations. These are people who teach by their example. Like Dean Smith they don’t seek recognition; they seek to make a positive difference.

For that reason remembering a man such as Smith who did the right thing is to hold a light up against the darkness. In doing so we illuminate a path forward where good deeds are noted, not to the benefit of patting people on the back but for the reason of reminding the rest of us that we can do better because good men and women show us the way.

Learn more about leadership from John Baldoni in his SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

Imagination: Use It Or Lose It

John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, is an executive coach and the author of many books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership. This blog first appeared at www.forbes.com.

How can a one-footed worm kick a soccer ball?

You cannot “put too much thought into such things… [Y]ou have to allow room for imagination and just let things be as they are,” replied Richard Scary, Jr., son of the famous children’s author speaking about one of his father’s greatest creations, Lowly Worm.

The above question was posed tongue in cheek by Scott Simon of NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday. The interview was conducted in connection to the publication of The Best Lowly Book Ever, which was initiated by his father (who died in 1994) but finished by the son, known as Huck Scary. Judging from the interview, Huck has the same kind of wit and humor that his father depicted in his books, which are treasured by parents for their wit and children for their imaginative turns and both for their style and beauty.

Most important, as is evident from Scary senior’s work is a respect for his audience. Richard Scary “loved to put a lot of things on the pages so the children would have a lot to look at, and he also wanted the parents to have a good time.” Scary wanted to entertain children by catering to their own vivid and fanciful imaginations. A child won’t question how a worm can kick a ball. That’s a question for grown ups.

It has become an axiom that as children mature they lose their sense of imagination. Certainly the structures of formal education — coupled at times with a need for conformity — does not encourage imagination and in some areas it is devalued. That said, the world has been shaped by the creative energies of people who refused to stop imagining, whether they were at drawing table or a research bench, or work on CAD screen or managing a new business. Creativity abounds.

Part of the imaginative process is as Huck Scary, pointed out is to stop thinking literally. There is a need for literalism in learning the basics of one’s discipline, or disciplines like science, engineering and medicine, but once we have the rules down we can innovate to our hearts content.

A perfect metaphor for such thinking is jazz, an oft-cited example of free flowing creativity. Jazz musicians will often begin with a standard tune – be it by Harold Arlen or Dave Brubeck – and after playing the melody, the basic thirty-two bars will let it rip into an improvisational tour de force that accents the musicianship of the combo. Think Charlie Parker with his dazzling riffs, Miles Davis with his soaring trumpet solos, or Oscar Peterson with his classically inspired piano maneuverings. It sounds incredible in the hands of such masters. What we forget however is the hours of practice that talented musicians pour into their crafts in order to create sounds that sound spontaneous and unencumbered.

Creativity then is based on substance which in turn becomes transformed by the energy that an artist, scientist or entrepreneur expends in producing something new and something different. Most importantly, as we see in the work of Richard Scary as well as in jazz, there is always purpose. The phrase creativity for its own sake gives short shrift to the intention that creator gives to the work.

Management by nature is administrative. It is designed to make things work operationally. At the same time management without innovation becomes stale and stolid; it degenerates into bureaucracy where policy dictates behavior to denigration of the individual.

Managers then need to fight back against burdensome bureaucracy in order to enable individuals and teams to think clearly and freshly. Why? So they can contribute purposefully. Creativity nurtures the organization and for that reason it must be fostered and stimulated.

Time spent reading Richard Scary – or other great children’s authors – might be a good place to learn how to turn off our literal mindedness in favor of imagining as a child might just how a one-footed worm could kick a ball.

As Huck explained, “Kids understand that Lowly can kick a ball. They don’t care that he can’t back up and then run forward and kick it, but he kicks it.”

Simple when you imagine it!

You can learn more about leadership from John Baldoni at his SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

Herbie Hancock: Get Out Of The Way When Your People Are Learning

Today’s guest blog is from John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, first published at Forbes.

If you want your people to grow and develop sometimes the best thing to do is to back off.

Herbie Hancock, the legendary jazz keyboardist, tells two stories about trumpet virtuoso and bandleader Miles Davis that illustrate this point. Hancock was an up and coming player and got an invitation to audition with Davis and his band. Davis was already a legend but Hancock was still cutting his chops.

Told to report to Miles’ house, Hancock met the band and Miles played with the group for a few minutes then as Hancock told an audience on Sirius XM Radio, he threw down his trumpet on the couch and went upstairs. The band kept playing. Miles did the same thing a day later. And after a few days he invited Hancock to cut a record with his band. Hancock says that he learned twenty five years later that Miles’s disappearing act was purposeful. He went upstairs to listen to the group via his intercom. He knew that young musicians could be intimidated by his presence so he removed that distraction.

Another lesson Hancock shared with his audience (in conjunction with his new memoir Possibilities about Miles was his gift of teaching. Miles would seldom give musicians a complete answer when they questioned him about something musical. His strategy was to let the musicians learn by themselves or with the band. Hancock now a veteran performer and teacher himself says that when you learn something on your own you remember it better. The lesson becomes lasting.

What managers can learn from these stories is that young performers, or those new to a team, need to be given a certain amount of leeway to show what they can do. This of course is after you have recruited and trained them. Some may be more independent than others but all benefit when the boss steps away.

Furthermore if the boss is always hanging around, looking over their shoulder, he or she may undermine the employee’s confidence. Or because the boss is present may set himself up as the hands-on tutor ready, willing and able to answer all questions. Support is good; “hovering” is limiting.

There is something else unsaid in the stories about Miles Davis. He had his pick of the best musicians. Managers do not always have that luxury; they often must work with the talent and skills HR provides them. Some of those folks, unlike a Herbie Hancock type, do need more hands-on development. But there comes a time when that initial development period ends. The employee must think and do for him or herself based upon what he or she has learned. If they are unable to do so then they are not a good fit for the team.

“Every artist was first an amateur,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is up to the manager to provide that amateur with what he or she will need to become a true professional. Hard work and diligence – coupled with talent – will power the transformation.

Learn more about leadership at John Baldoni’s SoundviewPro course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.

Put ‘Moxie’ Into Your Leadership


Today’s guest blog is from John Baldoni, leadership development chair at N2Growth, first published at Forbes.

Once upon a time when we admired someone for their grit and determination we said they had moxie. It’s an old-fashioned word popularized in movies of the Thirties and Forties about those who battled the odds. It’s a word that has always stuck with me, and for that reason I decided to focus my newest book on what it means to have guts, gumption and perseverance – moxie!

Leaders operate in challenging circumstances. They need to advocate for their ideas as well as for the people in the teams they lead. It takes an individual with the courage of convictions to push forward, sometimes against big obstacles, in order to achieve success.

Leaders operate in challenging circumstances. They need to advocate for their ideas as well as for the people in the teams they lead. It takes an individual with the courage of convictions to push forward, sometimes against big obstacles, in order to achieve success.

Leaders must also persevere. There is no shame in being knocked down; it is what happens next that defines your character as well as how others perceive you. Roll over in defeat and no one will want to follow your lead. Get back up again and continue the struggle and people will pay attention to you.

At the same time, savvy leaders learn from experience. They may have been flattened for good reason. Their ideas may not have been well developed, or their perceptions of themselves was overblown. Too much ego and not enough awareness!

MOXIE spelled out

And so in exploring the concept of moxie I realized that if I turned it into an acronym it would illuminate what I believe how leaders should behave. Specifically, leaders must demonstrate five key attributes:

Mindfulness – being self-aware as well as situationally aware.

Opportunity – seeing possibilities where others see obstacles.

X-Factor – demonstrating character in all they do.

Innovation – applying creativity to risk and reward.

Engagement – working with others to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

Put these attributes together and you have an approach to leadership that will provide a way forward for leaders. In my experience in working with executives at every level, those who have succeeded demonstrate attributes of moxie in various ways.

First they are mindful they know themselves and they are willing to listen to others. They seldom accept the status quo. When it comes to opportunities they investigate. They also look at problems as opportunities. That is, if we can solve the problem we can solve bigger issues. They are individuals of character; they possess the right stuff of leadership. They innovate by pushing themselves, and especially their colleagues, to think about thinking differently and doing differently.

Most important perhaps they realize that as individuals they can achieve very little. They must mobilize others to action. Not with their words but through their actions. That starts by creating conditions for people to succeed.

Those with moxie are those who do not accept defeat easily. Rather they view it as a learning experience. For that reason they are people of determination. They also have grit, a willingness to buckle down when times are tough. And they are resilient types. And so while moxie might be word more popular in previous generations, it is as timely today as ever.

To learn more about being a top leader, try John Baldoni’s course, Do-It-Yourself Leadership, at SoundviewPro.

Trust Matters Even To The NFL

A guest blog with John Baldoni, chair of the leadership development practice of N2growth. Originally published at Forbes.com.

The NFL is sitting pretty.

You bet! After a series of widely publicized domestic assault cases, repeatedly botched attempts to impose discipline, and the performance of a commissioner who has been AWOL for most of the recent crisis, the fans keep flocking to the gates and even more fans are watching on Sunday (as well as Thursday and Monday).

The NFL is a business but it is a business like few others. First off, it is exempt from anti-trust code and its individual franchises play in taxpayer-supported stadiums. It is also very lucrative. The NFL itself rakes in $10 billion a year, over a billion coming from sponsorship dollars. It is a pseudo public institution that as an institution is tax-exempt. The teams pay taxes on their revenues, not the league itself.

While a few high profile sponsors – Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s and Visa – expressed concern about the way the NFL has managed the abuse cases, no company has disassociated itself with the league.

Trust in the NFL has eroded, says Barbara Kimmel, executive director of Trust Across America-Trust Across the World, “primarily because many view the players as role models. In other words, they set an example for lots of people, including young fans.  The NFL is caught up in a crisis based on a small number of bad apples.”

While fans do of course express outrage at players who transgress by beating up women and children, their discontent is merely vocal. Their feet stay firmly planted in the stands or propped up on footstools as they watch the game at home on TV. And maybe that’s okay. Say you needed a prescription medicine and the company producing that drug had broken laws (as have some major pharmaceutical companies) you would still take the drug if ordered to by your doctor.

Fans do want sponsors to do what they are not willing to do themselves: give up the NFL.  Over half of those surveyed by Reuters/Ipsos said sponsors should drop their support of the league. Not surprisingly more women (58%) than men (49%) believe that sponsors need “in some way” to stop supporting the NFL. At the same time nearly 80% said they would continue watching the games. Jason Maloni, an executive with the strategic communications firm Levick, told Reuters,” It should not be lost on anybody that America is of two minds when it comes to football in the last month. They are voting with their hearts.”

We humans are good at compartmentalizing issues. We can choose to look at issues the way we want to. For example, I can root for my team because I always have. And if one or two miscreants misbehave, well, most of the players are okay guys. And they are. Professional athletes are not exempt from breaking the law though it can seem they receive preferential treatment. [Case in point. Ray Rice who was allowed due to his celebrity to avoid jail time and consequently avoided jail time even after cold-cocking his significant other.]

This does not mean that fans have any trust in the league. As Kimmel writes in a recent blog, “trust is taken for granted. It is assumed that it just ‘exists’ when, in reality, it rarely does. Some leaders might argue, ‘Why bother? Maybe we’ll get lucky and never face a crisis.’ [Yet] it’s much less expensive to build a foundation of trust, than it is to ‘manage’ a crisis and attempt to build trust after the crisis. Building a foundation of trust also brings tangible and intangible benefits.”

Trust is the currency organizations need to survive not simply for its public image but for its own health. As Kimmel points out there are real-world advantages to trust. These include “greater personal effectiveness, increased employee responsibility, improved collaboration (and) decision-making speed, and improved morale.”

As for the NFL we have seen what happens when a lack of trust prevails. Perhaps now is the league’s opportunity to show us what good can occur when trust returns.

To learn more about leadership from John Baldoni, enroll in his course Do-It-Yourself Leadership.