Leadership Lessons: Hope Springs Eternal … but it’s not enough!

Nothing but LEADERSHIPFor most of us, this is the time of the year when hope springs eternal.

We’re revved up for an exciting new year, determined to change all of the things that didn’t work last year so we can pound the ball out of the park in 2012.

Nothing wrong with any of that. Commitment, momentum, focus … these are the energies that will fuel our engine and help us jumpstart 2012 with the vigor and rigor that we need to make this year the most successful ever.

Does your gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

Yet, like most New Year’s resolutions we’ve made, the “gum loses its flavor on the bedpost overnight”.

We soon discover that it’s much easier to start than to finish.

We struggle to keep the engine stoked with the same energy that propelled us into the New Year.

We begin to feel some of the air already coming out of the tires, and begin to wonder … “where did that new-found energy go”?

What’s that whimpering sound?

It comes back to that whimpering sound of “hope springs eternal.” Hope is a powerful emotion and inspires great things.

It can give us the strength to launch new initiatives, and with renewed conviction, but it doesn’t include the tools we need to sustain those initiatives.

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If we only needed one big burst of energy, say to set the world’s pole vault record on that one single jump, maybe it would be enough … but only if was built in all the preceding years on a foundation of relentless preparation and training that we could sustain until that one big moment.

Build the tools. Blow up stuff that isn’t working

So, instead of just revving the engine, focus on building the tools, the infrastructure, the support systems that enable you and everyone on your team to excel in their roles and exceed expectations.

To do that, you need to objectively assess the systems and procedures available to execute on the strategy you’ve established. (You have one, right?)

Don’t be timid about it.

Don’t be afraid to blow up the things that aren’t working, slay the dragons, kill off the tired assumptions that have hampered your success in the past.

The tools today are exceptional … affordable … accessible

Only care about what works today.

You know, as well as I, that we live in a world of technology prowess, with powerful tools of global communication, integrated processing, collaborative work processes and a boatload of productivity tools at our command.

They’re getting cheaper every day, and younger people entering the workforce are wed to them like sunshine to daylight.

Invest in them … use them … and make sure they’re implemented to help you reach the leading edge of exceptional customer experience and an exciting workplace that promotes growth and success for all of your colleagues.

Remember the mantra: “Ready. Fire! Aim.

Empower your people.

Set the direction but let them help you figure out “how” to get things done.

Let them experiment, let them fail … let them know that “ready, fire, aim” is okay and that you’d much prefer action that occasionally misfires than no action at all.

Make them believers in your cause, let them become evangelists for the freedom you give them … to dream with you, to be innovative and enthusiastic about helping you build a successful business that will sustain everyone.

Prove to your colleagues that you will “walk the walk”

Above all, invest in the tools.

Empowering people means enabling them, and that means providing the resources that “walk the walk”. It puts teeth into your strategy execution so that the sweat and tears to develop that strategy weren’t in vain.

Of course, if you don’t have a strategy, you’ll probably wish you did as you try to prioritize and sequence the tools that need to be implemented.

Yes, the best time to have a map is when you enter the forest … but it’s never too late to develop a strategy that provides the centerpiece around which you can evaluate the tools that are most important to accomplish your mission.

Hope is a soothing balm. Don’t let it became an embalming ingredient

Step one, then, is to recognize that while hope is a soothing balm that inspires us, it quickly dissipates if it’s built on words rather than deeds.

What are you waiting for?

Get moving.

Gather the troops.

Ask them what they need to carry out your strategy.

Marshall your limited resources, certainly, but also invest them to create sustainable momentum that will move the needle and help you build a successful business.

Hope is not a strategy – action is.


This article was published in the January 16, 2012 edition of the North Bay Business Journal, a publication of the New York Times, and a weekly business newspaper which I have served as a regular columnist for over three years. The Business Journal covers the North Bay area of San Francisco – from the Golden Gate bridge north, including the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa counties. The electronic version of this article, as published by the North Bay Business Journal, may be found here.


Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses in the wine and other industries, and hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit Exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or connect on Twitter, LinkedIN or the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.

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