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Workplace Calisthenics

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by Cal LeMon

Did you, like me, just spend endless hours handwriting "Best Wishes" at the bottom of business Christmas cards while munching the much-maligned fruitcake washed down with frequent belts of egg nog?

Best wishes. Nice sentiment, isn't it? But do you really want to do business as we round the corner on this century with "wishes"?

Most of us have entered 1999 with long lists of wishes written on the backs of Christmas card envelopes, computer screens or the incredibly neat and organized green-lined pages of Franklin-Covey time planners.

We are up to our collective wish-wazoo with the best of intentions to make 1999 the year we beat the competition, get organized, motivate staff, get that promotion or write that award-winning business column.

As someone who has gone on this annual binge of big business ideas, I can say with some authority: Intentions are great for dreaming, but intentions (wishes) do not create the dream.

I have come to the astute observation (duh!) that life is just far too short to be long on wishing.

Wishing is often a frivolous substitute for strategic thinking.

Wishing is the stuff of what I call wuss leadership: built on the discipline of crossing the index and middle fingers while looking heavenward hoping that someone or something will come along to rescue us and the organization with a John Wayne solution.

You and I will wish ourselves into another mediocre year with that kind of thinking.

And thinking, or belief, is the antidote for wuss leadership.

Gen. Robert E. Lee would not have routed the overwhelming Union forces

at Chancellorville without the right thinking.

Steve Jobs could not have resuscitated a code-blue Apple Computer without the right thinking. And you will never discover the potential of your career or organization without the right thinking.

Right thinking is built on the following three assumptions.

First, all of us have to deal with our fear of success. That's right, not failure success. There is an unspoken message that our organizations have broadcast to us: If you do an exceptional job today, we are expecting you to walk on water tomorrow.

There is one way to guarantee you will never be expected to be excellent remain mediocre. We have learned that mediocrity guarantees lifetime employment, your boss will never get in your face and you'll have a nice, quiet retirement in some people-kennel in Florida.

Wuss leaders have been suckled on coffee-cup tips, which include, "Keep your mouth shut and don't make waves."

Second, exceptional leaders are willing to take a smart risk. Instead of getting stuck on all the reasons why taking action will not work, these people count the cost and then yell, "Ready or not, here I come."

Oprah Winfrey, Michael Dell and Lee Iacocca would all be forgettable wannabes if they had not made gutsy moves.

Finally, wuss leadership suffocates to death in the refreshing breath of abundant thinking. This belief assertively says, "If this doesn't work, I have other options." In other words, what is the big, hairy deal if our attempt to grab our dream doesn't work?

The higher one goes in business, the greater the pressure to never be wrong. On the other hand, think about this: Being wrong clarifies what right might be. If an organization embraces the belief it does not have to be perfect, it has the potential of inching its way into fantastic success.

Wuss leadership is an attitude which acts itself out in mediocrity. 1999, in my business, and I'm sure in yours, has no room for best wishes.

So, if you didn't get my Christmas card this year, here is my greeting to you and your staff: Best Beliefs For Better Business.

Pass the fruitcake.

(Cal LeMon is an author, speaker and president of The Executive Edge, a corporate training firm.)

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