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Leaders, State Fairs, and a One Man Band

I love the Iowa State Fair.  I’m an Iowa native and August always means the Iowa State Fair and a symphony of cicadas.  The cicadas have followed me to the East Coast so I still get to hear them each year.  My visits to the Iowa State Fair, though, are not annual events anymore.  If I’m lucky, I get back to the fair about every five years.  This was one of those years!

The 2013 Iowa State Fair Butter Cow
The 2013 Iowa State Fair Butter Cow

Even though I’ve been going to the Iowa State Fair since I was a small child, there are still things one must do every time one goes.  You’ve got to see the Butter Cow which unfortunately was damaged by vandals this year.  The picture seen here shows how the cow looked on the opening day of the fair when I was there.  You’ve also got to walk through the midway to let all the carnival barkers have a chance to take your money.  You’ve got see the Big Boar.  For the first time ever I got to see the Big Boar weigh-in competition.  Otis, weighing in at 1,103 pounds, was the winner though he was actually 232 pounds lighter than Reggie, the 2012 champion and record-setting Big Boar.  So, why didn’t Reggie come back to defend his title, you may ask?  One word:  sausage.  Otis is a one-time winner, too, but watch for him to appear in a deli section near you.

Otis - 1,103 lbs - Iowa State Fair Big Boar
Otis – 1,103 lbs – Iowa State Fair Big Boar

Speaking of food, you’ve also got to hit the myriad of food stands at the fair (I had two incredible monster cinnamon rolls and, to honor my heritage as an Iowa hog farmer, a pork tenderloin and a pulled pork sandwich).

Though there are things I have to do at the Iowa State Fair as part of the tradition there are always a few surprises.  This year it was The One and Only Bandaloni.  Bandaloni is a “one man band” but don’t let that phrase conjure up the wrong image for you.  Bandaloni is not some quasi-talented guy on a street corner trying to make a buck by playing a ukulele, harmonica, and cymbals strapped to his knees.  (He’s actually got a nearly full drum set on his back.)  He’s a talented pro who sings and plays up to 12 instruments at the same time all the while strolling about and interacting with the large crowds he draws.  A local television station in Des Moines did a feature on Bandaloni’s appearance at the Iowa State Fair that is worth a look.

My ingrained Iowa farm kid work ethic makes it virtually impossible for me to simply have fun watching someone like Bandaloni without finding a good reason for enjoying myself so much.  The lesson I learned from Bandaloni that justified the fun I had watching him was this:  Bandaloni exemplifies much of what it takes to be a good, effective leader today.

Iowa State Fair Concessions
Iowa State Fair Concessions

First, leaders need to multitask seamlessly.  Leaders usually don’t have the luxury of doing just one thing at a time.  They have to continuously juggle and balance responsibilities, expectations, and priorities.  Even when they go a little off-key or miss a beat, they need to recover and keep going.

Second, leaders need to focus.  Though it may seem counter intuitive, effective multitasking requires intense focus to make sure everything is being addressed with high quality.  Sure, some busy leaders who are moving about wildly and without apparent reason are truly unfocused.  But others, and I believe these are the most effective leaders, if you look more closely, are like Bandaloni who have no wasted effort and they make amazing music.  This only happens when they are genuinely focused despite the 12 different simultaneous tasks they have to perform which may make them look a little wild and uncontrolled at times.

The One and Only Bandaloni
The One and Only Bandaloni

Third, leaders need to adapt to changing conditions.  If Bandaloni had been sitting on a chair performing his act on a stage, it would have been far less impressive.  Instead, he moves through the audience interacting with individuals even as he performs.  To do this Bandaloni has to be able to quickly and intuitively adapt his act for any possible situation (and when you perform at state fairs you get a wide variety of situations).  Leaders in the 21st century can no longer sit as the authority on the stage making pronouncements to their follows.  Instead they have to be engaged and able to adapt to the different individuals, situations, and contexts they encounter.

Finally, leaders need to have fun.  Bandaloni is having fun even as he is helping others have fun.  This is what makes it everything work so well.  The fun a leader has in doing the work of leadership conveys the sense of joy, excitement, passion, and committment she or he has.  Think about it.  I bet anyone you know who has those four things going for them mostly have a lot of fun doing their work…and their spirit is contagious to others.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got.  After all, I was on vacation.  In one last homage to summer vacation, join me in laughing, smiling, and singing along again with Bandaloni at the Iowa State Fair on August 8, 2013.  Enjoy!

More later…

T.W.K.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas W. Klaus

Of Dog Walking and Dissertating

I’ve been spending an unnatural amount of time talking to people and making extensive notes on the conversations.  Before you assume I’m moonlighting for the National Security Administration (which is within 10 miles of where I live – hey, aren’t they supposed to be in a secret location?) or call the authorities on me, let me clarify this is all in the name of science.  Honest.  Its part of the dissertation research I’m doing.  I’m in the final lap of the PhD race (aka RAG, for Running the Academic Gauntlet).  I collected the data which included 35 intensive interviews with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met, each interview was painfully…er, painstakingly…transcribed, and the data have been pulled apart, examined, put back together, reviewed and analyzed ad nauseum.  Four of the five chapters have been written and are now in the hands of a couple of trusted and capable reviewers and next week I finally get to begin the process writing the summary and recommendations.  Oh, what is the dissertation about, you ask (thanks for asking, by the way)?  It is a qualitative, grounded theory study of the motivation to lead among leaders in sexual health organizations that are engaged in the long-term, contentious national (U.S.) dialogue on the sexuality education of young people.

On February 28th my spouse gave me the gift of devoting full-time to dissertating.  I left a long-time full-time position as Director of Sustainability and Capacity Building with a terrific global nonprofit to devote full-time at home working on the Dissertation (capitalized now for how it has taken over our lives).  In my spare time, I get to work on setting up the Non-Profit GP consulting practice (note the not-so-subtle product placement promotion), cleaning up after meals, sweeping the floors, keeping my bathroom clean, and walking the dogs, Madison and Dolly.  I’m not sure writing blogs is supposed to be on the list, so let’s just keep this between you and me, okay?  In truth, I’m spending a lot of time working on the Dissertation because I’ve got a pretty tight timeline.  My Dissertation defense hearing was just scheduled for September 19, 2013 and by the end of the year I’ve either got to have a decent consulting practice going or I need to find a real job.  So I’ve been slogging away.  By July 15 my Dissertation chair needs to see the whole thing and it has to be to my full committee by August 15 to stay on track.

Dolly and Madison
Dolly and Madison

So, my research is on motivation to lead and I’m learning much about the subject when I take Madison and Dolly on their walks throughout the day.   Both came to us from a dog rescuer who got them from a “backyard breeder” in the Midwest.  We are pretty certain Madison is Dolly’s mother.  Both were cropped and trimmed to look like the stereotypical miniature schnauzer in some rather inhumane ways.  Unfortunately, both were also debarked by the breeder.  While we don’t know for sure what conditions were like for them in their former “home,” we do know they came with certain deficits to our home – they didn’t know what dog treats were, they had not eaten “normal” dog food, they had never been trained to walk on a leash, they weren’t house broken, they didn’t know how to play, and, most sadly of all, they were exceedingly submissive to humans out of fear.  The rescuer explained that Madison had been one of the favorites of the breeder so her fear of humans was less.  Dolly, however, to this day, too easily cowers, fears brooms and mops, and defensively barks when people move too quickly near her.  Dolly and I do have a special bond, though, and she follows me everywhere I go while Madison tends to prefer her “mom” to me.

The walks we take together are a fascinating experience and we must be an odd sight to the neighbors.  Dolly charges out of the door first, followed by me (and I also serve as the porter for lugging the “doggy doo doo” bags), and Madison brings up the rear, acting as if she really doesn’t want to be bothered with going for a walk.  As we move down the sidewalk Dolly continues to practically strain at her leash while Madison practically makes me drag her.  There we are, slowly moving down the sidewalk, heaven forbid we actually go fast.  We occupy at least 18 feet of the sidewalk (Dolly’s 6 foot leash, Tom’s 6 foot wingspan stretched between the leash handles walking sideways, and Madison’s 6 foot leash).  Thus it continues for several minutes until something more exciting happens (e.g., squirrel, rabbit, one of their dog friends, or something really interesting to sniff, which is most anything.)  Though Dolly appears to be the leader of this pack, it is actually Madison.

Madison is what I’d describe as a “quiet leader.”  She doesn’t appear to be the one in charge at all.  She is an introvert, she’s passive, doesn’t care about other dogs, and generally never gets as excited as Dolly about anything.  But she is in charge.  Why?  Because Madison wants to be in charge and likes it (affective MTL, for those of you who know the theory).  When she wants to stop, we all stop…and we don’t go again until she is good and ready.  There is a more traditional way in which Madison exerts herself, however.  Whenever Dolly stops to answer a nature call, Madison immediately moves to the spot and “marks” over it.  Dolly fully understands who is in charge.  She won’t mark over Madison and always defers to her.

While Madison’s behavior seems to be consistent with affective MTL (motivation to lead), Dolly apparently subscribes to the “Great Dog” theory of leadership and happily follows Madison.  For me, though, it’s all about Charismatic leadership.  I’m a sucker for “The Girls” (by which they’ve become affectionately known throughout our neighborhood) and I’d follow them anywhere…and I often do.

That’s it for now.  Nothing really heavy here…just needed a break from the Dissertation.  Besides, it’s time for a walk…

More later,

T.W.K.

Copyright 2013 by Thomas W. Klaus