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How Should a Leader Dance?

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

If you haven't seen him already, Google "Matt Harding dancing." You won't be able to stop smiling. In 2008, Harding became famous for traveling around the world and doing a goofy dance in front of important landmarks in cities from Lima to Lagos. Word got out and hundreds of people started showing up when Harding arrived in their town, so later videos often show him dancing with huge, joyous crowds. It's silly and utterly wonderful. It's also a vivid commentary on leadership styles. As leaders, we're deeply conscious of how we come across to others. Often, we think that being a leader means being Very Serious. Ponderous, even. Certainly, we can't be silly, lighthearted or have fun, right? Right? Matt Harding's example proves that idea to be wrong. His dance is dorky and his grin is awkward, yet his delight is palpable, and that's what draws hundreds and thousands of strangers to dance with him on camera. He proves that being serious, severe or stoic doesn't make a leader more likely to draw followers; inspiring people does. Whether you inspire them with your passion, your sense of humor, your empathy or your ideas, it doesn't matter. The point is, one size does not fit all. As long as you're not afraid to be authentic and honest, you can be a leader. How do you dance and how do your people respond?

If you haven't seen him already, Google "Matt Harding dancing." You won't be able to stop smiling. In 2008, Harding became famous for traveling around the world and doing a goofy dance in front of important landmarks in cities from Lima to Lagos. Word got out and hundreds of people started showing up when Harding arrived in their town, so later videos often show him dancing with huge, joyous crowds. It's silly and utterly wonderful. It's also a vivid commentary on leadership styles.

As leaders, we're deeply conscious of how we come across to others. Often, we think that being a leader means being Very Serious. Ponderous, even. Certainly, we can't be silly, lighthearted or have fun, right? Right?

Matt Harding's example proves that idea to be wrong. His dance is dorky and his grin is awkward, yet his delight is palpable, and that's what draws hundreds and thousands of strangers to dance with him on camera. He proves that being serious, severe or stoic doesn't make a leader more likely to draw followers; inspiring people does. Whether you inspire them with your passion, your sense of humor, your empathy or your ideas, it doesn't matter. The point is, one size does not fit all. As long as you're not afraid to be authentic and honest, you can be a leader.

How do you dance and how do your people respond?

4.8.14 0
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Shake, Rattle and Roll

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

Recently, we had an earthquake here in Southern California. Here, that's normally not a big deal. They happen all the time and we become pretty blasé about them. In fact, it's a source of native pride that while visitors dive under tables, lifelong Angelenos take in the shaking, shrug, and start speculating as to the magnitude of the temblor. This last one was a bit different, however. A 5.1 quake based in the small town of La Habra, it lasted for 30 seconds - an eternity by earthquake standards. It did some damage. It shook people - as well as their dishes, pictures, chimneys and gas lines - up a bit. Overall, the damage was minor and there were few injuries. But it reminded me about the topic of complacency, and how easy it is to become complacent over many parts of our lives. We who live in Southern California live atop a web of seismic faults that could rupture at any time, causing a devastating quake. Somehow, most of us have let ourselves become complacent about that. Of course, it's unwise to live in terror of such an unlikely event. But when a quake happens, we often act shocked, like such a thing has no right to happen. How dare the ground do that? Complacency blunts our ability to prepare, both mentally and physically, for what could happen. Since preparation for the unlikely is a crucial aspect of leadership, so is avoiding complacent, blasé, indifferent attitudes toward possible hazards. How can we be ready and vigilant without being anxious and fearful? Where could one more conversation about, or plan to address possible scenarios, free you to be more powerfully present? How are you preparing yourself, and your team for the next "quake"?

Recently, we had an earthquake here in Southern California. Here, that's normally not a big deal. They happen all the time and we become pretty blasé about them. In fact, it's a source of native pride that while visitors dive under tables, lifelong Angelenos take in the shaking, shrug, and start speculating as to the magnitude of the temblor. This last one was a bit different, however. A 5.1 quake based in the small town of La Habra, it lasted for 30 seconds - an eternity by earthquake standards. It did some damage. It shook people - as well as their dishes, pictures, chimneys and gas lines - up a bit.

Overall, the damage was minor and there were few injuries. But it reminded me about the topic of complacency, and how easy it is to become complacent over many parts of our lives. We who live in Southern California live atop a web of seismic faults that could rupture at any time, causing a devastating quake. Somehow, most of us have let ourselves become complacent about that. Of course, it's unwise to live in terror of such an unlikely event. But when a quake happens, we often act shocked, like such a thing has no right to happen. How dare the ground do that?

Complacency blunts our ability to prepare, both mentally and physically, for what could happen. Since preparation for the unlikely is a crucial aspect of leadership, so is avoiding complacent, blasé, indifferent attitudes toward possible hazards. How can we be ready and vigilant without being anxious and fearful? Where could one more conversation about, or plan to address possible scenarios, free you to be more powerfully present?

How are you preparing yourself, and your team for the next "quake"?

3.31.14 0
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Catch Me If You Can

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Wisdom Leading

The 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can" is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars' worth of checks out of people while posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and prosecuting attorney. It's an incredibly cinematic, American cowboy story, immortalized in not just a movie, but also in a book and Broadway musical. I believe this story is alluring because it's a chance for us to observe someone clearly pretending he's something he's not. It's callous and gutsy. Who does that? Short answer - we all do. As alluring as it may be to think Frank's behavior is rare, pretense is actually a part of the daily behavior of every one of us. While seldom as overt as Frank, nonetheless we often pretend we're okay when we're not, or fake confidence through a task or situation when we're not feeling it. Pretense is exhausting and it often leaves damage in its wake. It's a house of cards built by the coward in each of us. How much braver it is to own up to our weaknesses, our fears and our shortcomings-to be as human as the people who follow and trust us? Maybe, just maybe, they'll respect us more for admitting that we're just muddling through, trying to figure things out as we go, trying hard to be the best people we can be. Where does your pretense show up? What is it costing you in your relationships?

The 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can" is based on the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who, before his 19th birthday, successfully conned millions of dollars' worth of checks out of people while posing as a Pan Am pilot, doctor, and prosecuting attorney. It's an incredibly cinematic, American cowboy story, immortalized in not just a movie, but also in a book and Broadway musical.

I believe this story is alluring because it's a chance for us to observe someone clearly pretending he's something he's not. It's callous and gutsy. Who does that?

Short answer - we all do. As alluring as it may be to think Frank's behavior is rare, pretense is actually a part of the daily behavior of every one of us. While seldom as overt as Frank, nonetheless we often pretend we're okay when we're not, or fake confidence through a task or situation when we're not feeling it.

Pretense is exhausting and it often leaves damage in its wake. It's a house of cards built by the coward in each of us. How much braver it is to own up to our weaknesses, our fears and our shortcomings-to be as human as the people who follow and trust us? Maybe, just maybe, they'll respect us more for admitting that we're just muddling through, trying to figure things out as we go, trying hard to be the best people we can be.

Where does your pretense show up? What is it costing you in your relationships?

3.17.14 0
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Without Vision, The People Perish

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

On this President's Day, I leave it to you to debate the wisdom of commemorating mediocrities like Millard Fillmore and Chester A. Arthur. While some media outlets have chosen to use this day to present their lists of the worst U.S. presidents, I'd like to spend our few minutes together discussing what made our best presidents great. I'm talking about vision. Most people use the word without a clear idea of its meaning. Vision is a concept of a future that not only does not exist but is unlikely ever to exist; it's seeing something that 99 percent of people are literally unable to imagine. Jefferson had a vision of a nation built around the consent of the people, an idea that no other nation had embraced to that point. Lincoln had a vision of a union that remained united despite the fierce desire of part of that nation to break away. Kennedy had a vision of man walking on the moon, something that even most engineers thought was impossible. The power of vision is that it stirs the heart and fires the passions; people may disagree with your vision and even think it's madness, but they won't remain neutral about it. Expressing a bold vision for the future can spark debate and argument that in turn generate new ideas -new visions- that unite teams, organizations and even countries. What's your vision for yourself, your team and your organization? What future can you see that might seem impossible today?

On this President's Day, I leave it to you to debate the wisdom of commemorating mediocrities like Millard Fillmore and Chester A. Arthur. While some media outlets have chosen to use this day to present their lists of the worst U.S. presidents, I'd like to spend our few minutes together discussing what made our best presidents great. I'm talking about vision.

 Most people use the word without a clear idea of its meaning. Vision is a concept of a future that not only does not exist but is unlikely ever to exist; it's seeing something that 99 percent of people are literally unable to imagine. Jefferson had a vision of a nation built around the consent of the people, an idea that no other nation had embraced to that point. Lincoln had a vision of a union that remained united despite the fierce desire of part of that nation to break away. Kennedy had a vision of man walking on the moon, something that even most engineers thought was impossible.

The power of vision is that it stirs the heart and fires the passions; people may disagree with your vision and even think it's madness, but they won't remain neutral about it. Expressing a bold vision for the future can spark debate and argument that in turn generate new ideas -new visions- that unite teams, organizations and even countries.

What's your vision for yourself, your team and your organization? What future can you see that might seem impossible today?

2.17.14 0
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Valentine's Day: A Manufactured Holiday With Real Meaning

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

The origins of the Feast of St. Valentine as a romantic holiday are obscure. We know that there was no romance associated with St. Valentine until Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules, and that the practice of sending paper cards to loved ones didn’t begin until the 18th century. But the billion-dollar Valentine industry? That’s a modern invention. Does it really matter? We often attach greater meaning to customs that come about organically than we do to those that are deliberately manufactured, but should we? Is an expression of love or appreciation less meaningful because someone invented and commercialized it? We deliberately create rituals for a purpose: to lend meaning to our lives and to get us—just for a moment—to step outside the rush and hustle of our lives and remember what’s most important. What rituals do you follow in your organization? What small celebrations do you have in place to remind yourself and those working with you to value and recognize one another? If you don’t have any, create some. After all, every ritual was created by someone. How are you expressing your appreciation to those who’ve made a difference for you?

The origins of the Feast of St. Valentine as a romantic holiday are obscure. We know that there was no romance associated with St. Valentine until Chaucer wrote his poem Parlement of Foules, and that the practice of sending paper cards to loved ones didn’t begin until the 18th century. But the billion-dollar Valentine industry? That’s a modern invention.

Does it really matter? We often attach greater meaning to customs that come about organically than we do to those that are deliberately manufactured, but should we? Is an expression of love or appreciation less meaningful because someone invented and commercialized it? We deliberately create rituals for a purpose: to lend meaning to our lives and to get us—just for a moment—to step outside the rush and hustle of our lives and remember what’s most important.

What rituals do you follow in your organization? What small celebrations do you have in place to remind yourself and those working with you to value and recognize one another? If you don’t have any, create some. After all, every ritual was created by someone.

How are you expressing your appreciation to those who’ve made a difference for you?

2.10.14 0
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Groundhog Day

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Yesterday was dedicated to a rodent who can supposedly see his shadow, so it's an opportune time to talk about our devotion to routine. I'm sure you know the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again until he stops being a self-absorbed, misanthropic jerk. The movie is only partially a fantasy. In many ways, each of us repeats the same day over and over. How often do you go through the same routine-get up, clean up, have breakfast, get dressed, check email, commute to work-without a thought about what you're doing or why? Are you mentally present as that routine plays out, or are you just robotically going through a series of rote tasks? Think about how often we all exhibit that same mindless, repetitive behavior in our organizations. Consider your recurring meetings. Do you ever question the need for each of them, or do you just go? What would happen if you stepped out of the routine and asked of each one, "Is this meeting really necessary?" More importantly, what would happen if you stepped back from your routine several times each day and asked hard questions: "Is this activity productive?", "How can we do this better?", "Is this really the highest and best use of my talents?" Groundhog Day was fiction. Your work isn't. If you find yourself repeating the same day again and again, maybe it's time to stop and look around. Maybe you'll see your shadow. Take a moment and step away from your routine. What opportunities do you now see?

Yesterday was dedicated to a rodent who can supposedly see his shadow, so it's an opportune time to talk about our devotion to routine. I'm sure you know the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day over and over again until he stops being a self-absorbed, misanthropic jerk.

The movie is only partially a fantasy. In many ways, each of us repeats the same day over and over. How often do you go through the same routine-get up, clean up, have breakfast, get dressed, check email, commute to work-without a thought about what you're doing or why? Are you mentally present as that routine plays out, or are you just robotically going through a series of rote tasks?

Think about how often we all exhibit that same mindless, repetitive behavior in our organizations. Consider your recurring meetings. Do you ever question the need for each of them, or do you just go? What would happen if you stepped out of the routine and asked of each one, "Is this meeting really necessary?" More importantly, what would happen if you stepped back from your routine several times each day and asked hard questions: "Is this activity productive?", "How can we do this better?", "Is this really the highest and best use of my talents?"

Groundhog Day was fiction. Your work isn't. If you find yourself repeating the same day again and again, maybe it's time to stop and look around. Maybe you'll see your shadow.

Take a moment and step away from your routine. What opportunities do you now see?

2.3.14 0
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Nelson Mandela's Mercedes

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela. One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE. Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked. It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles? What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

During a week when we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seems appropriate to talk about one of his spiritual brothers and a fellow crusader for human rights, the late Nelson Mandela.

One of my favorite stories about Mandela also relates to the wisdom of how we motivate others. Back in 1990, when Mandela was released from South Africa's Victor Verster Prison after 27 years behind bars, many in the country saw fit to give their hero a gift. The workers at Mercedes-Benz South Africa's East London plant (Daimler-Benz was a liberal corporation and the first automaker in the country to recognize the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa) thought that it would be appropriate to give Mandela a custom-built, top-of-the-line 500SE.

Up to that time, the Mercedes plant had been plagued with errors, slow production and unhappy workers. But when presented with the chance to build a car for their national freedom fighter, the workers were energized. In just four days, working mostly unpaid overtime hours, they built Mandela's red Mercedes by hand, dancing and singing in celebration as they worked.

It was an astonishing example of how giving people a purpose that touches their emotions and means something to them can move mountains-and transform organizations. On a day dedicated to change, how can we find ways to touch the hearts of the people we work with and inspire them to do miracles?

What's your "Mandela's Mercedes" moment?

1.20.14 0
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Pope Francis and the Shock of Heartfelt Change

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

You may have noticed that the new pope, Francis I, has been saying some "radical" things: the rich should help the poor, money isn't the answer to one's personal value, and so on. It's the same stuff religious leaders have been saying for thousands of years. But it's gotten some of today's world movers and shakers in a tizzy. Some of the rich and powerful, including the CEO of one of the world's largest retailers, have stated that unless Francis dials back his populist comments, they'll stop giving to charity. What is it about someone else having a genuine change of heart that throws us for such a loop? An unfortunate byproduct of today's world is our comfort with cynical, manipulative shifts in thinking and speech - think about how often we hear the "PR backpedal." Those don't seem to challenge us. But when someone we respect has a genuine change of heart that leads to a change in behavior-adopting or abandoning a religion, voting for the other party-we react with fear and anger. Genuine shifts in thinking hold up the mirror to our own beliefs and behavior, and we're afraid that we might not like what we see. Instead of lashing out or fleeing, wouldn't it be better to use those reversals as opportunities to examine our own deeply held attitudes and biases? How do you react to changes of heart in others? What do your reactions reveal about you?

You may have noticed that the new pope, Francis I, has been saying some "radical" things: the rich should help the poor, money isn't the answer to one's personal value, and so on. It's the same stuff religious leaders have been saying for thousands of years. But it's gotten some of today's world movers and shakers in a tizzy.

Some of the rich and powerful, including the CEO of one of the world's largest retailers, have stated that unless Francis dials back his populist comments, they'll stop giving to charity. What is it about someone else having a genuine change of heart that throws us for such a loop?

An unfortunate byproduct of today's world is our comfort with cynical, manipulative shifts in thinking and speech - think about how often we hear the "PR backpedal." Those don't seem to challenge us. But when someone we respect has a genuine change of heart that leads to a change in behavior-adopting or abandoning a religion, voting for the other party-we react with fear and anger.

Genuine shifts in thinking hold up the mirror to our own beliefs and behavior, and we're afraid that we might not like what we see. Instead of lashing out or fleeing, wouldn't it be better to use those reversals as opportunities to examine our own deeply held attitudes and biases?

How do you react to changes of heart in others? What do your reactions reveal about you?

1.6.14 0
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Legacy

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

A world figure passed this week, giving us a rare glance into the incredible power of a man's actions driven by the purest of his conviction. Nelson Mandela's life is a towering story of determination, compassion, and reconciliation. Far from sainthood, 91 world leaders traveled great distances to honor a man with feet of clay, saint and sinner, lover and fighter. He was a man committed to removing the shackles of bondage from his people, doing whatever that took and paying a steep price. He was also a man who's jailer was his pallbearer, whose message and life of forgiveness will be a model for generations to come. Mandela's legacy? Reconciliation. If you distilled your legacy to one word, what's the word you will be remembered for?

A world figure passed this week, giving us a rare glance into the incredible power of a man's actions driven by the purest of his conviction.

Nelson Mandela's life is a towering story of determination, compassion, and reconciliation. Far from sainthood, 91 world leaders traveled great distances to honor a man with feet of clay, saint and sinner, lover and fighter. He was a man committed to removing the shackles of bondage from his people, doing whatever that took and paying a steep price. He was also a man who's jailer was his pallbearer, whose message and life of forgiveness will be a model for generations to come.

Mandela's legacy? Reconciliation.

If you distilled your legacy to one word, what's the word you will be remembered for?

12.16.13 0
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A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Quotables, Wisdom Leading

Two days ago, millions of Americans commemorated the anniversary of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the U.S. into World War II. Millions more stop to remember the September 11 attacks, and smaller remembrances of historic events take place year-round. Why? Why do we commemorate past events so passionately? Is it artificial patriotism or wallowing in drama, or are we satisfying some fundamental need? I think we're assuaging a hunger for perspective, something that's sorely needed in many organizations. Most commemorative actions have some common elements: a reflective pause, silent gratitude, and a meditation on how far we've come. In other words, we stop for a moment and take in the big picture. We lift our eyes from the desk, computer screen, textbook or road and for a moment, see the larger narrative that's playing out around us-that we're part of. Story and narrative are integral parts of any organization, including a country. Commemorative days or celebrations remind us that we are all part of that story...and that we all play a part in shaping what happens next. For people in a busy organization, that can be a powerful reminder of the impact of their actions and the common bond they share. What are the commemorations that hold the greatest meaning for you?

Two days ago, millions of Americans commemorated the anniversary of the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that propelled the U.S. into World War II. Millions more stop to remember the September 11 attacks, and smaller remembrances of historic events take place year-round. Why? Why do we commemorate past events so passionately? Is it artificial patriotism or wallowing in drama, or are we satisfying some fundamental need?

I think we're assuaging a hunger for perspective, something that's sorely needed in many organizations. Most commemorative actions have some common elements: a reflective pause, silent gratitude, and a meditation on how far we've come. In other words, we stop for a moment and take in the big picture. We lift our eyes from the desk, computer screen, textbook or road and for a moment, see the larger narrative that's playing out around us-that we're part of.

Story and narrative are integral parts of any organization, including a country. Commemorative days or celebrations remind us that we are all part of that story...and that we all play a part in shaping what happens next. For people in a busy organization, that can be a powerful reminder of the impact of their actions and the common bond they share.

What are the commemorations that hold the greatest meaning for you?

12.9.13 0
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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams