2008 - Third Quarter

Featured Articles

Are You Fired Up?

Choice, Change, Candidates, and CEO's. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, you have to admit this political race has been pure theatre — from Obama and Hillary to the nomination of Governor Sarah Palin. It is extraordinary how drawn we are to it all. So drawn to it that over 80,000 people came to see Obama deliver his nomination speech. So drawn to it that reporters and pundits alike have fled to Alaska to learn all they can about Ms. Palin and her family. Both parties are preaching change — both are sharing visions — both are talking about values — both have conflicts and scandals to overcome. The messages for each party are very different — both powerful, but clearly different. It got us here at Ignite thinking about how similar these messages are to those that good leaders need to deliver. They may not have the press and the platforms that our future President and VP do, but their messages have to have the same components to engage their constituencies to gain their "votes" and get them on board, to work for their organizations with fervor and passion.

It is no secret that the most successful companies have clear visions that people can see and feel and want to grab on to.

These same organizations also have values that employees can rally around and they also need to know how to handle the conflicts and scandals every company will face at one time or another. The biggest factor here is recognizing that people, employees, possess the power of choice. They will base their decision on joining your organization or not, based on your messages, practices, and values. They will determine how to work for you based on your consistency. You will draw others into your company based on how you act and what others say about how you operate. Just like in this election, the messages are very different and with that, it gives us choice. Which vision draws us in and says, "Yeah, I'm getting on that train."?

We have dedicated this issue to these very components that every great leader needs to have and do well. How is your vision for the future of your people? Is it clear and compelling? Do people know it? Does it resonate throughout your culture? Are your values real and consistent? Do you use them to make decisions and hold yourselves to those values? When conflict strikes, do you know how to handle it? Manage it? Get to the other side of it? Read on and see if we don't fire you up to look at your own compelling leadership. Rate yourself — hold the mirror up — and create your own message for change where needed.

In just a few more weeks, we will have a new Commander-in-Chief. What leader will you pick? What choices did you make to get to that decision? It is something to think about, as you look to your own leadership message and what will compel employees to "pick you" as their leader. Just remember that once your message is out there, keep your campaign promises — I mean, corporate promises — because if you don't, the theatre follows you forever, and boy, do we love theatre!

Founder and Chief Sparkplug

Whose Vision Will You Follow?

Fundamental to any leader is his/her vision. If we accept the premise that the definition of a leader is someone who has followers, than we see that the primary reason we would follow someone is because we understand where he/she is planning to lead us and it is somewhere we want to go. We as corporate and organizational leaders can learn a great deal about our own abilities and style of leadership by watching and learning from world leaders. This theater of leadership is amplified every four years in the country during the final stages of the presidential campaign. This year we are facing a choice unlike any other year. The American people and the two major parties have decided that two white males should not hold the top two leadership roles of this country. When the players of the theater are so interestingly different, it easy to get caught up in this aspect of the theater and descriptions about lipstick and pigs.

But as a follower, don't I really want to choose the leader who will lead me to the future that I want to be part of?

This is why it is crucial to pay more attention to their visions. And both John McCain and Barack Obama have given speeches which outline this, and each had a very different style of doing it.

Barack Obama set the stage masterfully, with the setting in a stadium holding 80,000 people, in the midst of our majestic mountain range, on the anniversary of one of the most famous speeches of the last 50 years. He appealed to people's emotional side, talking not only about change but also about possibilities and the way "America should be". He put forth that he plans to put Americas economy back on track, restore it's moral standing in the world, withdraw from Iraq and establish energy independence. He strove to strike a balance between inspiration and specifics, such as "building new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century" alongside "giving tax cuts for 95% of all working families" and "to spend $150 billion in ten years on creating renewable sources of energy." If you happen to agree with his platform, then the speech was certainly inspiring, and even if you don't want him to be your leader, you would admit that you had a clear idea of what the future of the America he would lead us to would feel and look like.

John McCain has been equally clear about the vision he has for America. He did not set the stage as dramatically, and his style tends to be more pragmatic than inspirationally focused. His vision is clear and he uses a technique that can be quite compelling. He picks a point in time in the future, he has chosen the year 2013, and has described what America is like in that year after four years with him at the helm. He declares that in January 2013 that the Iraq war has been won and most of America's servicemen and women have returned home.

He describes the Taliban as still a threat in Afghanistan but a substantially lesser one and due to the increase in "actionable intelligence", Osama Bin Laden has been captured and killed. He describes increased cooperation with our allies and progress made in nuclear security. He describes an American military that has significantly increased in size and is better-equipped and better-trained, along with better benefits for military veterans. His economic vision is one where the alternative minimum tax is eliminated, corporate income tax rates are slashed, and working class Americans will get a tax relief by a suspension of the federal gas tax during the summer months. Once again, if you agree with his platform, then you would be inspired by his message, and even if this presents a picture of a future America that you do not want, his description of what America would be like with him as our leader is clear.

Which leader is more inspiring? This is often the question we ask. How important is it to be charismatic? While we may prefer one style to another, I suggest that having a vision with a clear picture of what the future will be like is most important. I might think one style is more fun to watch than another, but at the end of the day, what is most inspiring to me is living in the world which matches my vision and values for my life. The leader whose clear vision matches that is the one I will follow. So as leaders, we should spend more time on making sure our vision and message about where we are headed is clear to everyone. While an inspirational delivery is always a plus, people will follow us if they understand and believe in our vision.

Vision and Values Go Hand and Hand

Vision and values must tie together and great leaders understand the power of these two key components to rally, guide, inspire and move their organizations forward. The same is true for our Presidential candidates. As the previous article described, both Obama and McCain have set forth clear — yet different — visions for America's future. The other component to closely examine is each candidate's core values. Core values are a simple set of timeless guidelines; they are what you stand for and believe in and will not compromise. Simply put, the vision is where you are heading and the values are what guide, focus and inspire a leader, as well as his/her followers, along the journey.

The vision may change slightly over time, but values do not change — they are the one constant in a leader's ever evolving world.

The Republican Party is built on the ideals of centrism, conservatism and the idea that health of our nation is rooted in personal responsibility and actions. Republicans also typically show concern about having big government in charge of such vital issues as health care and education, as they believe the private sector and/or the individual are better suited to control their own lives.¹ If you listened to McCain's speech at the RNC you heard similar themes and values emerge. He spoke in these terms — "we believe in low taxes; spending discipline, and open markets." "We believe in strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility...." "We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you, but works to make sure you have more choices to make yourself."

On the other side of the spectrum is the Democratic Party, which is built on the ideals of social liberalism, progressivism and the idea that the health of our nation is rooted in individual responsibility and mutual responsibility. Most Democrats believe in individual freedom as a central concept. They expect government to provide a basic level of health, education and welfare or workfare. These services are generally supported by taxation and intended to secure economic opportunities for all.² Once again, if you listened to Obama's speech at the DNC you heard similar themes and values emerge. He said "I will cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95% of all working families." "Now it is time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education." "Now is the time to keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American." "And now is the time to keep our promise of equal pay for an equal day's work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons."

If you look at some of the major issues in this campaign — healthcare, education, the economy, the war in Iraq, immigration — each candidate takes a stand that reflects the core values that he has set forth. So, as voters, we can compare the issues that are most important to us with the candidates' position on those issues and make our choice accordingly.

Core values are not, and should not, be campaign promises or party rhetoric that we hear so much about — they are the truest test of a candidates' integrity and what will guide you as a leader in both good times and bad. The same is true for business leaders. People follow leaders who they believe have values that are in line with their own. Core values are then tested in the day-to-day actions that a leader takes, especially when faced with a difficult situation or decision. As a leader, are you laying out a clear and compelling vision and also articulating the values that will guide you, and those who follow you along the journey? Remember, the vision may change slightly but your values remain core and unflappable — this is the ultimate test of great leadership.

¹ Excerpts taken from with website Conservapedia.com
² Excerpts taken from the website Wikipedia.org

EI and Presidential Leadership...Which Candidate Effects the Emotional Response in You?

One of the most effective assessment tools that we use at Ignite to evaluate a leader's strengths is the Emotional Intelligence (EI) inventory. We subscribe to the views of Daniel Goleman, demonstrated in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Although Goleman does not discount the idea that IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is a critical aspect of a leader's make up, in evaluating the most successful leaders, Goleman determined that the leader's EI was the more crucial measure of success.

So what is EI anyway, and do our current presidential candidates demonstrate EI competencies?

EI measures how we manage ourselves and how we handle relationships. These involve five different elements. Competency in managing ourselves involves self-awareness, self-regulation and personal motivation. Competence in relationships involves empathy and a broad range of social skills. EI determines our potential for learning practical skills that are based on these five elements. Our competence levels stem from our ability to translate this potential into reality — thus creating an emotional impact on others.

So let's discuss self-awareness. Self confidence, having a strong sense of one's self-worth and capabilities as a leader, is a major component of self-awareness. Knowing one's own strengths and weaknesses is also a major aspect of being self-aware. I believe that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is lacking in this area, hence their ability to achieve their party's nomination. In each case, there is an almost inherent sense of optimistic self confidence, as John McCain demonstrated as a POW and how Barack Obama continues to demonstrate, as others discount his lack of experience. Each candidate seems to have an innate sense of self worth, certainly demonstrated differently, and it will be your determination who speaks to you more compellingly. Which candidate floats your boat?

As for self-regulation, this relates to the leader's ability to manage internal states, resources and impulses and take responsibility for these behaviors. Self-regulation measures one's ability to maintain standards of honesty and integrity, to take responsibility for personal performance, to exhibit flexibility in handling change, to keep disruptive emotions in check, and to be willing to embrace novel ideas and approaches. Although in the past, John McCain's level of self-control has been questioned, he seems to be personally less disruptive of late. Some would suggest that Barack Obama was too self-effacing in his lack of response to political ads that targeted him as an elitist and celebrity du jour. You will determine how each candidate's level of trustworthiness and conscientiousness speaks to you. As for adaptability and innovation, each candidate is offering his brand of "change" in America. Which bus will you get on?

Finally, self-motivation measures one's ability to meet goals, to act on opportunities and to pursue goals despite obstacles and setbacks. Both candidates faced setbacks in their pursuit of their party's nomination, and both were basically written off at some point. Frankly, each has optimistically demonstrated the drive to achieve and the initiative to conquer their setbacks. They are both in it for the long run. Who are you jogging with?

For me personally, it will be the candidates' ability to demonstrate social competence that will win the day. Empathy is a major component of social competence. Who is showing more awareness of others' feelings, needs and concerns? Who is reading the emotional currents among Americans and taking an active interest in their concerns? And here is where the complexity and diversity of our nation comes into play. If I have a family member in the active military, do I agree with McCain and stay the course or with Obama, who is seeking to send troops home? Do I raise taxes to effect the changes in a healthcare system that would provide for all? There are no easy answers. Who is speaking to your agenda?

Finally, adeptness at effecting change through active listening, open communication and nurturing relationships — social skills — is a key component by which most Americans will make their choice. Who wields the tactical ability to persuade others? Who is sending the most convincing messages? Who is the most effective change catalyst and is capturing your attention by the ability to inspire you? Who will pursue the country's collective goals? Who will build bonds with the leaders of other nations to ensure peace and stability? Some suggest that Obama's oratorical elegance does have that ability to inspire us, while McCain makes his connections through conversational messaging. Each would like to pursue a certain destiny for our citizenry. Whose wagon will you hitch your star to?

Whichever vote you cast on November 4, I believe that the candidate's EI competencies will be instrumental in your choice, because that candidate evoked an emotional response in you.

A Leader's Approach to Conflict Management

When faced with conflict many people start to think, how I can avoid this, how can I move past and not get involved. Conflict makes some people nervous and unsure. Others think "how can I win?" In the past several months, we have all been watching the political campaigns run by John McCain and Barak Obama and as we have seen there has been much conflict. From Hillary and Reverend Wright to Sarah and her family, we have seen several different scandals and conflicts emerge during this presidential election. But when it all comes down to it, how these leaders are handling their conflicts and scandals, how they keep it together in the public eye, poses an important question.

Are they prepared to handle world issues and can they stay strong and be positive leaders to promote the change they all have been speaking about?

When Sarah Palin was chosen to be John McCain's running mate many people started to wonder what he was thinking. Was he undermining Barak for not picking Hillary as his running mate? Was he searching for a different demographic of voters? Or was he just being the aggressive player in the campaign? This choice was not about the American people, it was about what he thinks will get him the Presidency. He has chosen a woman who refers to herself as a "Pit bull that wears lipstick". We have seen how assertive and aggressive Sarah Palin can be. She can stand up for her family and face the press and Alaska when it comes to the "surprise" pregnancy of her daughter Bristol. She was strong about her pro-life stance when she kept her own pregnancy a secret from the public and family eye for seven months. This is a woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. She picks and chooses the conflicts and scandals that she wants to handle, does this make a good leader?

What about Reverend Wright and the scandals that Barak Obama has been involved it? He dropped the Reverend like hot cakes and said that he was never really involved with what the Reverend was teaching. How can a great leader be someone that just drops a relationship to gain political balance? Was this a passive-aggressive way of handling this issue? Was Obama right to agree with the public and separate his religious life from his political life? Will he face issues head on? When comments were made about Sarah Palin's family he said to leave children alone, they should not be part of the media. That was an assertive stance.

Should there be a general rule on how politicians are supposed to handle conflict? Should they all know how to handle minor conflicts with an assertive style rather than a passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive style? Should they all know the six steps to resolving major conflict?

  1. Plan your meetings ahead of time if you can, and learn how to respond to media.
  2. Tell the other person/persons you want to hear his/her side of the situation. Listen--resist arguing.
  3. Acknowledge the other person's point of view. Try to silence your own "noise".
  4. Ask for your turn to tell your side of the situation. Get his/her word that they will listen; just as you did for him/her.
  5. Look for a compromise; get to the real issue (s). Focus on the solutions and not the problems!
  6. Reach an agreement and follow-up, if necessary.

Whoever the next president will be, they will have a challenge ahead to help heal this country, and knowing how to deal with many different conflicts that need positive resolutions will be essential.

In conclusion, we should all look at how we handle conflict and how we could be applying these lessons into our organizations. Can we handle things assertively, standing up for our rights without stepping on the rights of others. Can we make day to day decisions without struggling in conflicts and when they happen, can we resolve conflicts in a positive manner? By learning assertiveness and these six steps, you and your organization are headed in the right direction. And when it comes to resolving conflicts effectively, we are always here to help.

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