Bill Murray and  Stephen Tobolowsky

Bill Murray and Stephen Tobolowsky

Groundhog Day” is the greatest movie about leadership ever made. Its lesson? We build mastery in our lives one moment at a time.

A great life, and great leadership, is really just a collection of smaller, individual moments of mastery. Bill Murray’s character unlocks this secret about three-quarters of the way through the film, and no longer sees the day he’s condemned to repeat as an endless hell, but as an opportunity to master his life — to build one small victory at a time, one encounter at a time.

It is a wonderful metaphor for our daily lives. We are condemned to repeat everything, every day unless we change. Unless we change, or achieve mastery, we are each living the same hellish day over and over again, with the same results, the same undesirable outcomes. Yet, each day, in as many conscious moments as possible, we’re given opportunities to rise above and set aside our ineffective beliefs and behaviors, and strive to live and lead against a standard — not perfection, but an ideal — of what it means to be as effective a person as humanly possible.

Every action, every thought, every decision -- even every little word that escapes our lips -- is an opportunity to exist in a single moment of mastery, to elevate ourselves and others.

Then, one day, with hard work and perseverance, we find that we’re able to string these moments together — like one bead after another — in a work of leadership and behavioral art. And we become free.

This is the journey of a leader, regardless of our definition of leadership, or the set of leadership principles you and I have chosen to follow.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

It’s so much more comfortable, most of the time, to live in the fantasy of who we think we are, how we see ourselves and how we think others see us. “My people love me. My people think I’m a great leader.”

The higher up the leadership pyramid you go, you create a fantasy for everybody else. “The boss said we should do this, the boss says it’s a great idea.” The boss’s fantasies become everyone else’s fantasies. The boss says, “we’re a great customer service organization.” And no one challenges the boss’s fantasy because, well, he’s the boss.

All organizations think they’re great at customer service. They got the posters and the talk down pat.

What is the point of these motivational posters? “Commitment. All it takes is all you’ve got.” Nice sentiment. Take it down. No one believes it anyway. The posters are instead like good luck charms; if we hang them there long enough, maybe they’ll become true!

You have to embrace the truth no matter what, no matter how painful, no matter how uncomfortable it is to assault your own biases, your own fantasies, your own ego.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

Great problem solvers are among the scarcest things in the world. There simply aren’t enough of them, and there never will be.

What do the laws of economics teach us about scarcity? That the things of which there are very little or never enough, but which are in great demand, are the most valuable things in the world.

If there’s anything the world needs desperately right now, it’s people who are great at solving problems. In fact, if there’s anything the world always needs, in good times and bad, it’s people who are great at solving problems — in short, who are great at what they do.

No matter what you do, you have an opportunity to be great at it — to solve the problems and challenges you encounter on a daily basis with a high level of skill, and with passion and enthusiasm as well.

Almost without exception, the people in organizational life that I encounter are feeling exceptionally insecure — worried, understandably, about their jobs. A great deal of their energy is spent fretting about their short-term professional safety and security.

I tell them that the only thing they can control — in a time when it seems so much is beyond our control — is their ability to solve problems. It’s also the only genuine source of personal security and safety.

So, put your energy into:

One. Building your problem solving skills. Learn, grow, practice, experiment. It’s the best investment you can make, in good times and in bad.

Two. Embracing the opportunities created by today’s problems. The whole world is being reinvented. It’s painful, of course, but the more innovative and clever you can be, the more adaptive you prove yourself, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

Three. Understanding that the better you and your colleagues are at solving today’s problems right now, the safer and more secure you’ll all be — personally and organizationally.

Four. Being great at helping others be great problem solvers. This is the essence of leadership. 

Of course, being a great problem solver is no guarantee of personal economic security in today’s environment. Many people are suffering what is, we hope, short-term pain.

You simply have to have faith that, over the long-term, there is always a place in the world for a great problem solver.

AuthorJoseph Fusco

Hmmm. I’m not so sure I like this trend.

I seem to be stuck lately on numbered lists — low-calorie observations on personal and leadership effectiveness. And, now, this pithy title, pathetically begging for your attention like the cover of a self-help magazine.

Gosh, I hope it works.

To be honest, though, I don’t know any other way to put it. From my observations, the best leaders and the most effective people in the world all seem to share a passion for some very important ideals.

These four deep attachments — love affairs, really — are powerful advantages not only in the pursuit of success and accomplishment, but in the pursuit of happiness and quiet fulfillment as well, no matter what your mission in life.

One. A Love Affair With the Truth. Great leaders love the truth. And not just any truth — the truth. In other words, reality. They’re focused on uncovering as much objective truth as possible about their customers, their markets and their environment, of course. But the one truth they love the most is understanding and acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses as people, and the impact of their behavior on others. And when they speak the truth, they do it with love, intent on building other people.

Two. A Love Affair With Learning. Most, if not all, of the highly effective, happy and successful people I’ve come across share a love of learning. Not an earth shattering observation, I know, but I think what distinguishes them in this passion is their approach to learning beyond the anticipation of discovery or the acquisition of knowledge or information.

What is unique about them, I’ve found, is their comfort with the inevitability of mistakes and errors. These mistakes are not seen as disasters, but as the elimination of one wrong answer — or, conversely, moving one step closer to the right answer. They recognize, on some level, that the sin isn’t the misstep, it’s failing to learn from it that’s unforgivable.

Similarly, they love to test their ideas and solutions, to patiently and constantly refine them when presented with new information or environmental changes. More importantly, this love affair with learning gives them the confidence to “open source” their ideas — inviting the contribution and knowledge of others. It’s the result of an easy embrace of the truth — hello — of how much they don’t know.

Three. A Love Affair With Mastery. Related to, but distinct from, the love of learning, mastery is the focused, passionate pursuit of  performing as well as humanly possible. It’s not an obsession with perfection. It’s a love of, and commitment to, the joyful, never-ending process of growing, improving, practicing and pushing your abilities to their highest and best use. Mastery is never saying, “good enough.”

Four. A Love Affair With Other People. At its most basic, I believe the measure of leadership is how great you make other people at what they do. Our cultural concept of leadership is too often upside down — “how influential/powerful/secure/successful can I be,” instead of “how great do I make others?”

Great leadership takes a selflessness and focus on others most of us don’t spend enough time developing in ourselves.

The world’s best leaders and the most effective people have a deep, genuine desire to see other people achieve, learn, grow and succeed. They believe success and effectiveness are abundant, and not scarce resources to be hoarded for themselves. They devote their lives to building other people. That’s why we’re attracted to them. That’s why we follow them — they make us better at what we do.

To live like that, you have to love other people. And not just the good parts, or the people who are easy to love. You have to love the time they demand, and the frustrations they cause. You have to love them despite their imperfections (and because of them). Building people is hard work. The first step is to care about them — genuinely. That’s what great leaders spend most of their time doing.

Each of these four love affairs, like any deeply meaningful relationship, calls for some sacrifice — to “die” just a little, to put to death your ego, and most of the little voices that scream “me” and “mine.”

Is it worth it? I’m convinced that if you make a commitment to nurturing each of these love affairs, your life will bear their fruits — whether at home, in your workplace, or in your community.

AuthorJoseph Fusco
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On her blog and in an “Information Week” column, author Penelope Trunk (The Brazen Careerist) offers five steps to being a workplace superstar. They are all very provocative ideas, with a helpful message in there somewhere between the lines (with the exception of “start a side business” — this may be good for your career and your life, but it won’t necessarily make you a superstar at work).

I’d like to suggest five additional ways to shine brightly in the workplace, particularly for twenty- and thirty-somethings, but also for anyone looking for a path to accomplishment, accolades, control over your life, and value:

1. Build Yourself. You cannot spend enough time seeking mastery of not only your technical skills, but your personality/behavioral/leadership skills as well. Find out how the most effective leaders you know behave and treat people, and work exceedingly hard to become just like them.

2. Build the People Around You. Do you make everyone around you great at what they do? Coach, teach, encourage — that’s what a true superstar does.

3. Never Take Any Job You Are Not Matched For — one whose problems and challenges you don’t have a deep passion for and enjoyment of. You will suck at it or, at best, be mediocre and waste precious time in your one turn at bat on this planet.

4. Fight for Margin. Margin is the space between your limits — physical, time, financial and emotional — and your life’s workload. Superstars have margin, lots of it. They have the energy to work hard, the time to think, the financial security to say “screw you” if need be, and the relationships that give support. Also, all the great things you will do in your career will flow from margin — building yourself, building other people, and building a business.

5. Be Truthful. The biggest enemy faced by senior executives and CEOs is that no one wants to tell them the truth. There are two types of people who are useless in the workplace: those that can’t (or won’t) tell the truth, and those that can’t (or won’t) listen to the truth. Want to be a superstar? Be someone your leaders can count on for frank and candid insight, advice and feedback, offered genuinely and without agenda.

Superstars are superstars because the things they are good at are very rare. My experience is that these five things are among the rarest behaviors in any organization.

AuthorJoseph Fusco
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