And Don't Forget Your Cape! is about inspiring people to achieve greatness, and about building more successful organizations.
Hugh MacPhie combines his experience as an advisor to leaders and their teams with his experience as a dad, to make management and leadership theories simple.
As we follow the life lessons of Jackson and John MacPhie and their preschool pals, we find that a lot of what we learn around the snack room table also applies around the boardroom table.
From change leadership to risk management to building a corporate culture, many of today's most important business concepts come alive in this book through stories, case studies and examples of management theory.
But more than anything else, this is a call to excellence.
It is a reminder that at one time, each of us believed that we could be a superhero.
And we still can.
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Don't Forget Your Cape!What Preschoolers Teach Us About Leadership & Life
By Hugh D. MacPhie
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 MacPhie & Company Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBe a Superhero
First, it was toy cars. Then Mighty Machines - like bulldozers and excavators. Then dinosaurs.
And when our youngest son John was about three, he suddenly became passionately interested in something that, to him, was new and exciting: superheroes.
Soon after John's interest in superheroes began, my wife Michelle and I got him a small gift - that most de rigueur of superhero accessories: a cape.
Let me describe - in detail - the cape we got for John.
It's cheap. It probably cost about $6, taxes included. It is purple, with black trim. On the back is a gold circle, with a silver lightning bolt going through it on either side. There is Velcro around the neckpiece to hold the cape on tightly, but without risk of injury.
Truth is, it's a pretty tacky, low-cost costume accessory that you could probably find at any Walmart or Toys 'R' Us.
But to John, it was so much more than a cheap, purple piece of felt.
When he put on his cape, his back straightened. His eyes brightened. He walked with greater confidence. His language skills and pronunciation improved. And he was convinced - convinced - that there was no good deed that he could not accomplish.
Hebecame a superhero.
Think about it. These are physical, attitudinal, and even cognitive changes. The symbolic catalyst for these changes may have been the cape, but what really mattered was John's belief in himself, who he was, and what he could do.
John started wearing his cape to preschool. And sure enough, in the week that followed, we started noticing other kids showing up with capes of their own.
Then they started wearing their Halloween costumes to preschool. Spider-Man. Superman. Iron Man. All of the Incredibles (who, if you know the story, wear costumes sans capes). And this was happening in the month of May, not October.
So for a short while, there were all these three-year-olds wearing capes, dressing up as superheroes, and protecting the world from evil.
There is an important lesson in all of this. Something we can learn from John and his preschool friends.
Too many people have lost their capes. Over time, they've lost their inner belief and conviction that they, too, can be superheroes.
Remember what superheroes believe - about themselves, their abilities, and the impact they can have.
They believe in doing the right thing, even when doing the right thing might not be popular.
They believe in standing up to those who hurt others.
And superheroes have extreme confidence, and fundamentally believe that they can achieve the extraordinary.
The World Needs More Superheroes
Preschool and kindergarten were a long time ago for most of us. And as people grow older, it is remarkable how they settle into a presupposed self-image. People get labeled. The numbers girl. The creative guy. The communications expert. The tough person to work with.
Those labels become self-perpetuating and start to harden like concrete.
I've noticed that the way people project themselves to others, often doesn't reflect who they truly are. But rather, people try to reflect how they think others in society expect them to be.
If you define yourself a certain way, that's who you become. I've seen that constraint lead too many people to feel limited, confined, and stuck. They start to convince themselves that maybe they aren't that great after all. They conclude that maybe they can't be a great songwriter. Or become a doctor. Or stand up to their mean and inappropriate co-worker. Or be a terrific parent.
Preschoolers believe that they can do anything. And so should you.
The good news is this. Superheroes do exist.
There are superheroes everywhere among us.
And I don't just mean the world-renowned heart surgeon who pioneered valve repair, or the business visionary who built the world's greatest travel adventure company, or the rock star who dedicated his energy to addressing the AIDS crisis in Africa.
I mean people that we see every day.
Like the neighbor who always shovels the snow or cuts the grass for the elderly couple who live next door - without asking for anything in return.
Or the nurse who works extra time at the end of each shift, without getting any additional pay, because her replacement has to drop his children off at the child care center.
Or the administrative assistant who never expects praise, never complains, and just quietly keeps the entire organization running smoothly because of her quiet, confident brilliance.
These are superheroes. Superheroes we see on the bus, or in line at the grocery store, or in the cubicle down the hall from where we work.
One of my favorite quotes is often attributed to a speech given by Nelson Mandela. It makes sense that it would be linked to Mandela, because the quote is worthy of one who worked calmly, but diligently and relentlessly, to change the world. But the actual source is from a book called "Return to Love" by Marianne Williamson.
She wrote: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure."
Each of us - in our own unique ways - can be powerful beyond measure.
This is inspirational. It is an urgent message that needs to be shared. It is a reminder to each of us of our immense potential to achieve the extraordinary.
I see too many people holding back, for fear of offending others. Or ruffling feathers. Or being seen as a showoff. This timidness not only holds individuals back from personal success - it also holds back our society as a whole from achieving its full potential.
Don't Forget Your Cape
So this is a rejection of mediocrity, and an invitation to excellence.
Don't be afraid to be powerful beyond measure.
Make a massive difference in your own life, and in the lives of those around you.
Help others rise up to greatness by being great yourself.
Remember that preschoolers believe they can do anything. So should you.
Don't forget your cape. Be a superhero. And deliver on the promise of who you could become.
You will not only lead a happier, more productive life, but you will help create a better world.
Don't be Afraid to Fail
Think about the amount of change you went through between the time you were born and the time you started kindergarten. Think about how much you had to learn in a very short period of time.
You're born. You learn to recognize things. You learn to turn over, crawl, walk. You learn to eat solid food. You learn to recognize speech patterns and then try to replicate them. You learn to interact with others, recognize people who are nice and people who aren't. You have your first day at school, surrounded by many loud and new people in a large, foreign environment.
It is a difficult time of constant change, learning, and failure. But you did it. You not only survived, but you thrived.
Each of us failed every single day in our first five years of life. No one succeeds at eating, walking, or talking on the first try.
But a key difference between then and now, is that back in preschool, we didn't worry so much about what other people thought. We just tried new things, failed at them at first, learned from the experience, got better at them, and then eventually achieved success.
I remember when Jackson was learning to walk. He'd crawl over to a small coffee table or couch and climb up so that he could stand. Then, with a look of great determination, he'd use his hands and arms to move himself along and take small steps. Inch by inch, he'd move a bit forward.
He would smile with pride with each incremental inch that he moved ahead. He could tell he was on to something and that he was making progress. Then he'd fall. And sometimes cry.
But then he'd maneuver his way back, climb back up, and start the process over again.
Again, and again, and again.
When kids are learning to walk, there are no shortcuts. There is no easy way out. It is a tiresome, plodding, frustrating process of change and frequent failure. Just like many things that are important and worthwhile in life.
Failure is a Key to Success
I work with too many organizations where I see a tremendous fear of failure. Sometimes this is by design. But more often than not, it is an unintended consequence of management styles that don't welcome risk-taking, and of cultures that punish even the smallest misstep.
This rampant fear of failure is bad on three levels.
First, it prevents people from growing and learning by making mistakes - the way Jackson did as he was learning to walk.
Second, it holds organizations back, because new product ideas, or process innovations, or creative ways of serving customers more effectively never see the light of day. Why? Because people become too afraid to share their ideas in the first place.
And third, it holds national economies back, because with all those organizations and individuals so afraid to fail, innovation rates are reduced, and economic competitiveness suffers.
Throughout history, human progress and the growth of civilization have been a function of people and organizations trying things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don't.
If organizations don't fail every now and again, they're not trying hard enough. And if they have a culture that discourages the sharing of fresh thinking, new ideas, or creativity, then they are in trouble.
Because someone else will come along to eat their lunch.
I'm not saying that you should try to fail. But I am saying that you should try. Try process improvements, new products, new approaches, new ideas, and different ways of solving your customers' problems.
And don't be afraid to fail when you do.
Countless people who we consider visionaries, leaders, and tremendous successes didn't always start out that way. They learned through failure too.
J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book was initially rejected by a dozen publishing houses. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper for "lacking imagination".
Each of these people knew they had talent, followed their passions, took smart risks, and made a difference in the world.
Feeling Comfortable? Chances Are, You're Not Growing and Learning.
Only by getting outside of our comfort zones - as individuals and as organizations - do we grow and improve. One-year-olds aren't satisfied with crawling as their only means of getting around, so they try walking. And eventually, they learn to walk.
But keep in mind how many times you failed before mastering the art of walking. Remember this, the next time you feel anxious about taking on an exciting new role, or project, or activity that might be outside your comfort zone.
Don't be afraid of failure - even when people are looking at you. Get outside your comfort zone. Take on new and different challenges enthusiastically.
You will increase your chances of success, you will learn new skills and gain fresh perspective that only comes from experience.
And you might just have fun along the way.
Just like Jackson did when he took those first few steps.
Have a Vision and Communicate it Relentlessly
One of my favorite pieces of home video shows Jackson coming into his room and seeing his new "big bed" for the first time. He was ready to graduate from sleeping in a crib to sleeping in a bed, and we decided to capture his first reaction to his new bed on video.
Here's what happened: Jackson gets to the top of the stairs, then waddles into his bedroom, and he starts to smile. Then his eyes brighten up, and he starts to sprint (as best he can at that age) to tackle the new bed.
He just tackles it.
Then he lifts himself up on the side of the bed, climbs up onto it, and says, "WOW - big bed!" Then he goes nuts. He gives the bed a huge hug, grabs the pillows, and starts jumping around on the Winnie the Pooh bedspread. Then he sits down - looking elated, saying "Wow!" a few more times - and gives Winnie the Pooh three high-fives.
So why did Jackson react like he had just won the lottery? For him, the big bed was symbolic. It was a rite of passage. The bed wasn't just a change in where he would sleep. It was a step up to a new level. He knew that it was, because Michelle and I primed him for it. We talked to him about it in advance, and even got his help in choosing the Winnie the Pooh bedspread.
We communicated the vision, positioned it as exciting and a new level of responsibility. We said to him - over and over again - that moving to a big bed was exciting. And we involved him in the process, by getting his input on the choice of bedsheets.
Let's keep in mind: absent positioning the move to a big bed as a good thing, it could have resulted in tears.
The crib - with its nice musical mobile, comfort, familiarity, and protective bars, was gone. It was replaced by a much bigger, different sleeping place. The bigger bed was something you could fall out of very easily and hurt yourself. It was foreign, massive, and came with a potential risk of injury.
Jackson had a happy reaction to this significant change because we took the time to engage him in advance, and communicated a vision to him consistently and frequently.
Because most people really don't like change. And in today's world, organizations are going through change processes all the time.
It used to be that organizations would go through change initiatives that would be linked to a major project (like putting in a new computer system or going through a merger). There was a "change era" - and then it was all over.
Often, once the "change era" ended, those who disliked the change would breathe a huge sigh of relief and hope that things would just go back to the way they were before. Old ways of doing things - and old work patterns - die hard. Especially with people who were perfectly comfortable and okay with the way things used to be.
In today's organizations, while discrete change initiatives still exist, the "change era" is never over. Successful organizations are constantly in the process of re-inventing themselves, and structuring themselves to be successful into the future.
Major change initiatives have been the subject of much study and research. And in general, the track record of these efforts is very poor. In a study examining organizational change programs, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that nearly 75 percent of all major change programs fail.
A big reason for these expensive failures is that leaders didn't adequately tell the story of why change was happening. They didn't adequately engage their teams in planning for change, sharing and involving them in their vision of how the organization would be stronger at the end of the transformation process.
People prefer what they are used to, because what they are used to is comfortable.
Remember Frasier Crane's father Marty from the TV show Frasier? Remember Marty's living-room chair? As a well-paid psychiatrist, Frasier could have afforded to buy his father any chair he wanted. But Marty didn't want change. He wanted the old, plaid chair with the duct tape on the arms, because it was the one he was used to and it was comfortable.
People resist and dislike change for good reasons. They want predictability and a sense of control over their day-to-day lives. People become good at what they do, even if what they do (and the way they do it) is no longer useful to their organization. So for many people, the natural tendency is to dislike and work against new ideas or different ways of doing things.
One of the most important roles any leader has, helping people to understand the benefits of change and the reasons why change is happening. That doesn't mean that everyone is going to like the reasons. Or that they are going to automatically accept them. But people crave logic. A rationale. They want the knowledge that there is a plan, and that change is happening based on a good reason or justification.
Excerpted from Don't Forget Your Cape! by Hugh D. MacPhie Copyright © 2009 by MacPhie & Company Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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