RapidStart Leadership Podcast

Ken Downer

The RapidStart Leadership Podcast brings you short, interesting stories, revealing research, and practical tools to help make you a more effective leader. Whether you are a new leader, a seasoned manager, or mentoring someone else who is learning to lead, these podcasts will arm you with actionable takeaways you can apply, whatever the leadership situation you find yourself in. Host Ken Downer is the founder of RapidStartLeadership.com where his blog posts, videos, podcasts, and online courses equip leaders and mangers of all experience levels to become more skilled at getting things done through people. Through his 26 years of active duty as a U.S. Army Infantryman, he has lead people in a wide variety of circumstances, from the jungles of Panama to the cubical jungles of the office environment. Using those and other life experiences, he regularly shares practical tips and techniques that help leaders master the art of leadership, whether it is self-improvement, setting a vision, team-building, problem-solving, planning and organizing, communicating, or simply figuring out the first steps to take as a new leader. Becoming a great leader is hard work. The goal of RapidStart Leadership is to make climbing the leadership learning curve a little easier for you. Lead On! read less

The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On
Mar 15 2022
The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus On
Most people know that a marathon is 26.2 miles long.  Successful runners also know that it’s a mistake to focus solely on that distance.  Smart leaders can benefit from similar thinking.  Whatever marathon we are running with our teams, to get to that distant goal, it’s not the finish line we should focus on, it’s the 18th mile.  Here’s why. Notes and Resources: Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:The 18th Mile: It’s Not the Finish Line Leaders Should Focus OnWhen it comes to clearly defining the problem we are trying to solve, this post can help, and demonstrates why it’s so important to invest the time to do this part right:  What’s the Problem:  Problem-Solving Lessons-Learned from Moneyball. Team culture is critically important in helping us make it through the 18th mile.  Here’s more on how to build one that will go the distance:  How to Build Team Culture From the Ground UpThe study of fund raisers is described in this paper prepared by Ashley V. Whillans from the Department of Psychology at the University of British ColumbiaMy post Beat the Hamster Wheel – 5 Ways to Keep Going When You’d Rather Not has several ways to help you and your team persevere. Quotable: “Expecting and preparing for things to become difficult is the first step to overcoming them.”- Ken Downer “The presence of an obstacle doesn’t necessarily mean we’re on the wrong path, just that we need to be more creative and resourceful to continue forward.”- Ken Downer  “The true team players emerge at the 18th mile.  Pay attention to who they are, value them, encourage them, support them; they are not always who we thought they were.”- Ken Downer Related posts: How Serving Can Make You a Better Leader Type 2 Fun: The Secret to Achieving Your Goals Spotlight the Support
Leading Winning Teams: 5 Leadership Lessons from Mushers
Feb 16 2022
Leading Winning Teams: 5 Leadership Lessons from Mushers
On a recent sub-zero day on a frozen lake in central Minnesota, I got a chance to witness great team leadership in action.  It was a crash course in what leading winning teams is all about.  Here’s what the experience was like, and five key lessons from the leaders themselves that we can all use in leading our own teams.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:Leading Winning Teams: 5 Leadership Lessons from MushersA great article posted on LinkedIn by Aaron Phillips goes even farther into detail with his conversations with several of the mushers featured in this podcast.If you are interested in a deeper dive into the interface between mushing and leadership, an hour well-spent would be with the Always in Pursuit podcast interview with 5x Iditarod champion musher Dallas Seavey, hosted by Mike Burke, an exceptional leader in his own right.  Quotable:“I have to figure out how to make each dog reach its best potential.”- Libby Riddles, first woman to win the Iditarod“They’re a great team because I eat beans and rice and they eat steak and eggs. - Iditarod musher Lance Mackay“Good leaders do not secure their position by making others less confident.   - Caroline Blair-Smith, Musher“It is not what the challenge is, it’s how the team handles the challenge.”- Dallas Seavey, 5-Time Iditarod Champion“My job is to make sure these dogs succeed.  The race portion will take care of itself.”- Dallas Seavey Related posts: How to Respond to Crisis: Four Steps for LeadersPositive Feedback – Catch them Doing Something RightRapid Deliberation: 7 Ways to Hit the Target While Under Stress
Running in the Rain: What to Think About When You Think About Quitting
Jan 20 2022
Running in the Rain: What to Think About When You Think About Quitting
How do we convince ourselves to do something we’d rather not?It’s cold and raining outside, but I’m supposed to go for a training run today.  I really don’t want to.  To get myself out the door, here are the kinds of things that go through my head, and ways we can all think about approaching any difficult task that we’d really rather not do.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full pos tRunning in the Rain: What to Think About When You Think About QuittingType 1 fun is an activity that is fun in the moment, like a rollercoaster ride; Type 2 fun is more fun when looking back on it, like a tough workout.  It’s “fun when it’s done.”For more ideas on how to set and achieve your goals, check out my Goal Mastery Course; the first several lessons are free.Quotable: “Our will is a kind of muscle, and it’s times like these when we can either train it to grow stronger, or allow it to atrophy.”  - Ken Downer“When it comes to willpower, winning today’s battle will make it easier to win the one tomorrow.”  - Ken Downer“There is no such thing as bad weather, only poor clothing choices.”  - Outdoorsman’s adage“The first step to growth is accepting discomfort.”  - Ken Downer“The impediment to action advances action.  What stands in the way becomes the way.”  - Marcus Aurelius, MeditationsRelated posts: Beat the Hamster Wheel: 5 Ways to Keep Going When You’d Rather NotType 2 Fun: The Secret to Achieving Your GoalsWhere Did Everybody Go? 23 Ways to Stick With Your Goals
Reflecting Back on the Year Ahead – 11 Ways to Make Your Reflection Session Pay Off
Jan 20 2022
Reflecting Back on the Year Ahead – 11 Ways to Make Your Reflection Session Pay Off
As ever, with the approach of the New Year, there is talk of reflection.  Extracting the lessons-learned from the past year and using them as we look forward is a great path to continued growth.  But few are the people who will actually sit down and do it.  One reason may be that there is no owner’s manual to guide the process.  With that in mind, here are some ideas for how to go about reflecting on the year gone by so that the year ahead is as good as we can make it.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full postReflecting Back on the Year Ahead – 11 Ways to Make Your Reflection Session Pay OffWhy use pen and paper?  It gets us away from the screen, it triggers a different way of thinking, and it results in a tangible, concrete artifact we are more likely to remember. Here are the domains for reflecting that Donald Latumahina suggests, along with some questions in each we can ask ourselves:Material Have we been able to reduce debt, add to savings, and spend wisely?What is the next career step, and how are we progressing towards it?  Are we in control of our possessions, or are they in control of us?Spiritual Do we feel fulfilled? Why or why not? Whatever our belief set, how well are we practicing its precepts?  What about meditation or reflective reading?  What would our obituary say if it only covered the past year – what reasons have we given others to say we were a good person?Physical What do we do to stay healthy? How often do we exercise, and is that adequate?  How could we be more active even without a formal program?  Is the food we eat helping or hurting our efforts to reach fitness goals, or to lead a healthy life?  Do we get enough sleep?Social How would we rate the quality of our key relationships with spouse, family, and friends? What could we do to improve them?  Have we made new friends in the past year?  How well did we stay connected to old ones?  Do all our friends look just like us, or could we stand to have a little more variety in interests, background, and culture?Quotable: “Explore thyself.  Herin are demanded the eye and the nerve.”  - Henry David Thoreau“Often, it’s not the hail-Mary pass but the slow and steady plodding that lead to our eventual success..”  - Ken Downer“Maybe the best way to start the new year is by thanking the people who helped us get through the old one.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: 6 Powerful Ways Leaders Reflect, and how Reflection Makes Your Team GreatThe After Action Review: A Leader’s GuideNo Car, No Phone, No Clue: 10 Life Lessons from a Treasure Hunt
Delegate Better: Three Ways to Get the Results You Want
Oct 22 2021
Delegate Better: Three Ways to Get the Results You Want
When telling people what we need done, how do we strike the balance between being overly prescriptive, and recklessly lax? How can we be sure what we want in the beginning will be what we get at the end?  A story I read recently involving a frozen lake, a pack of wolves, and a canoe full of beer can serve as a helpful guide in helping us master the art of delegation.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post Delegate Better: Three Ways to Get the Results You WantThis example of poor delegation comes from Farley Mowat’s book Never Cry Wolf.  It is both very amusing, and an eye-opening look at how we can be blinded, often willfully, by our own prejudices.   It was also made into a movie, but I don’t recommend it.For a deeper look into the possibility that we may have become micromanagers, check out Micromanagement: 7 Signs You’re a Micromanager and What to Do About ItThis post on Set and Forget Leadership in another take on delegation and how to avoid getting burned when handing off a task to someone else. Quotable: “Getting better at delegation means putting more energy into the start of the process.”  - Ken Downer“Never tell people how to do things.  Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”  - General George S. Patton“Leaders strive to unlock the potential contained between other people’s ears.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: How To Delegate, Part 1: Why?Delegation, Part 2: What to Delegate?Delegation, Part 3: Who, How to Delegate?
"Set and Forget" Leadership - How to Delegate so You Don't Get Burned
Sep 28 2021
"Set and Forget" Leadership - How to Delegate so You Don't Get Burned
‘Set and forget’ leadership:  Hand off the task as fast as possible, move on to other things.  It’s what we tend to do when we’re in a hurry, but the biggest speed advantage this approach confers may be how quickly it can get us into trouble.  Here’s a way to think about how to delegate that task we’ve cooked up so that things function smoothly in the kitchen, and nobody gets burned.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  ‘Set and Forget’ Leadership: How to Delegate So You Won’t Get BurnedLike so many of his books, Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw is both and entertaining and informative look into the quirks of being human.Check out Delegate or Die and how to delegate for a deeper dive behind the idea of why we need to delegate, even if we can do the task best.For a detailed look at how to conduct an after-action review, read The After Action Review:  A Leader’s Guide – it gives a blow-by-blow approach to what to do before, during, and after the big event so that each time you keep getting better. Quotable: “If it happened in our kitchen, our fingers are scorched; we have to own it.”  - Ken Downer“Micromanaging our teammates can erode trust and foster disengagement almost as fast as blame-shifting can.”  - Ken Downer“’Set and forget’ is now way to run a kitchen, not if we want to avoid sullen chefs and dissatisfied diners.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: Micromanagement: 7 Signs You’re a Micromanager and What to Do About ItGetting Down in the Trenches: Tips for Taking OverMind the Gap: 9 Ways to Close the Trust Gap on Your Team
Big Hammer or Small Blade? What it Really Takes to Achieve Your Goals
Sep 22 2021
Big Hammer or Small Blade? What it Really Takes to Achieve Your Goals
Want to achieve your goals?  Don’t listen to the marketers…We are continually bombarded by messages that to cater to, and encourage, our short attention span. There is no shortage of “life hacks,” quick-fix remedies, and promises of miraculous overnight success.  Like a blow from Thor’s mighty hammer, we’re led to expect quick resolution to our problems, and rapid attainment of our goals.But something I saw recently reminded me that most of that is not helpful.  When it comes to achieving your goals, there is a better approach you can employ. This may be best explained using an oddly shaped chunk of apple tree.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  Big Hammer or Small Blade? What it Really Takes to Achieve Your GoalsHere’s a short video of craftsman Matt Jordan turning a burled apple tree limb into a beautiful coffee mug.Here’s the slow motion video of what is really happening with every turn of the spindle, thanks to Bailey Woodworks.Here’s a short description of the Habit Cycle and how you can use it to help you stick to your plan.For more skills to help you achieve your goals, be sure to check out my Goal Setting Mastery Course to help you build the habits that will turn your future into the one you envision. Quotable: “Progress is not measured in a few giant swings of a hammer but in thousands of little chips from a blade.”  - Ken Downer“Focus small instead of big.  Know that every tiny little bit matters, and all those little bits can add up to something amazing.”  - Ken Downer“Missing a day is like working with dull tools or a saw with missing teeth; it’s going to take longer and the outcome may not be as good; steady persistence is a multiplier.”  - Ken Downer“One great workout will not win a race. 30-40 good workouts strung together in close proximity is what wins races!”  - Lionel Sanders, Professional TriathleteRelated posts: How to Communicate the Vision: Striking the Right Chord3 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets ToughWhy I Resolve to do Nothing Next Year
Hyperbolic Discounting and 7 Ways to Prevent Self-Sabotage
Sep 3 2021
Hyperbolic Discounting and 7 Ways to Prevent Self-Sabotage
Hyperbolic discounting may sound like a super-charged holiday sales technique, but in reality, it’s a phenomenon that leaves us vulnerable to making poor impulse choices and sabotaging our goals.  Here’s what it is, and seven ways to turn this dangerous penchant into a tool to help us make smart decisions. Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  Hyperbolic Discounting and 7 Ways to Prevent Self-SabotageFor more of the fascinating research behind this concept see The Economics of Immediate Gratification by Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew RabinHere’s reference to the 2016 study that demonstrated the “Priming” was an effective way to reduce cognitive bias.Here’s the link to my Goal-Setting Mastery Course that will help you not only set good goals, but stay on track long enough to attain them.  The first several videos are free. Quotable: “Naughty goods are sold in small packages.”  - Marketing dictum“We are tempted to over-value options that that put things in our hands in the near-term, even though we know we’ll end up paying a greater cost down the road.”  - Ken Downer“Since we know that our future selves are smarter about these kinds of things, we can imagine the person we want to be five years from now, and get their thoughts on what choice to make today.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: Type 2 Fun: The Secret to Achieving Your GoalsBridging the Gap to Your Goals: Building a Span That LastsMaster the Habit Cycle and Achieve Your Goals– features a short video on how to make smart choices happen automatically.
7 Stages of Self-Righteousness: Symptoms and Treatments
Aug 26 2021
7 Stages of Self-Righteousness: Symptoms and Treatments
Self-Righteousness in the media and in my social media feed seems to have become almost as prevalent as Covid-19, driving people even farther apart than the six feet needed for safe social distancing.  So, while the scientists are searching for a medical cure to stop the pandemic, I thought I’d take a stab at addressing the symptoms of this other sickness. My first breakthrough:  like the stages of grief, self-righteousness seems to follow a familiar pattern. Here’s what I think the stages of self-righteousness are, and what we can do as leaders whenever we encounter someone exhibiting these symptoms.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  7 Stages of Self-Righteousness: Symptoms and TreatmentsThe Ransperger Pivot is a useful way to discuss a topic with someone that begins by looking for points of agreement before attempting to change minds.For more on Benjamin Franklin’s attempts to become more humble, check out How to be HumbleQuotable: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”  - Voltaire“The weaker the argument, the quicker the shift to name-calling.”  - Ken Downer“If we all stopped talking with people we have argued with, it would be a lonely planet indeed.  - Ken DownerRelated posts: Leadership Tantrums – 15 Reasons to Keep Your Cool – on the harmful by-products of heated tempers and how to stay coolThe Best Revenge: What to Do When Someone Does Us WrongRapid Deliberation: 7 Ways to Hit the Target While Under Stress
The Final Act of Leadership: What Leaders Get Wrong About Succession
Aug 23 2021
The Final Act of Leadership: What Leaders Get Wrong About Succession
How do we know if someone was a great leader?  One key is to take a hard look at their final act of leadership before they let go of the reins.  Too many would-be leaders see succession in a distorted light that invalidates any good work they may have done.  If we want to be seen as “one of the good ones” here’s how to get the focus right.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  The Final Act of Leadership: What Leaders Get Wrong About SuccessionRead more thoughts about Jim Collin’s book Good to Great here, or check it out on Amazon.Collins found that three fourths of CEOs deliberately set their successors up for failure so that they themselves would look good.Here’s the original video of the dropped baton; see the last 20 seconds for the slow-motion close-up. Quotable: “Leaders who truly care about their organization and the people within it do not set them up to fail the moment they walk away.”  - Ken Downer“If an organization soon stumbles after the leader departs, that’s not a testament to his leadership ability, it’s an indictment of it.”  - Ken Downer“If we would be seen as great leaders, if we want our team to win, our final act of leadership is clear:  don’t drop the baton.”  - Ken Downer"Great leaders prepare the organization to thrive even when they are no longer leading it."       - Ken DownerRelated posts: Who’s Your Second? Are We Really Leading, or Just in Charge?Delegation, Part 2: What to Delegate?  Tips on how to develop your teammates through intelligent delegation.What is Your Leadership Legacy?
Stop Social Loafing: 6 Ways to Get Everyone Working
Aug 14 2021
Stop Social Loafing: 6 Ways to Get Everyone Working
Did you know that 1 + 1 + 1 does not always equal 3?  You would think that the more people on a project, the greater the output.  Sadly, that’s not always the case.  A phenomenon called Social Loafing leads some team members to do the minimum possible.  They drag down group productivity like a boat anchor.  Today we’ll look at why social loafing happens, and six ways you can be sure to get the best effort from everyone.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  Stop Social Loafing: 6 Ways to Get Everyone WorkingHere’s the original article about Max Ringleman’s findings. Social loafing is the tendency for people to exert less effort when they are part of a group than when they are by themselves.For how to harness social pressures to build a higher-performing group, check out Secrets of Social Facilitation:  Putting the Audience to WorkReasons for social loafing can relate to group size, goal achievability, goal value, goal low-balling, skill differential within the group, and the “Sucker Effect.” Quotable: “The larger the group, the greater the tendency to slack off.”  - Ken Downer“Good leaders do their best to prevent a competition for ‘who’s best at doing the least.’”  - Ken Downer“Potential ‘loafers’ will be more likely to contribute if they believe they will be found out.”  - Ken Downer“Peers may be in the best position to assess who’s pulling their weight.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: SMART Goals: How to be SMART about Goal-SettingThey Do This in Church, Too? 9 Ways Getting Constructive Feedback is a Game-ChangerHow to Get Kicked Out of Leadership School: The Spotlight Leader
In Praise of Praise:  5 Ways to Enhance the Power of Your Appreciation
Aug 11 2021
In Praise of Praise: 5 Ways to Enhance the Power of Your Appreciation
There’s a tool sitting on our leadership work bench that often goes neglected.  Yet it has the power to increase our team’s efforts, raise their spirits, and improve performance.  As a bonus, it takes very little time, is easy to use, costs almost nothing, and comes in unlimited supply.  What is it, you may ask?   It’s praise, and today we’ll talk about five ways you can give praise that motivates, inspires, and possibly even changes lives.Notes and Resources:Prefer to read?  Here’s the full post:  In Praise of Praise: 5 Ways to Enhance the Power of Your AppreciationThe longer we wait to praise, the less meaning it hasSaying, “Good job” is not enough.  Praise is more impactful if it is specific; when we can say specifically what was noteworthy, we increase the chance that the person will do it again.Praise that comes through the chain of command reinforces that chain and strengthens cultural values at the same time. Quotable: “Praise it has the power to increase our team’s efforts, raise their spirits, and improve performance.  As a bonus, it takes very little time, is easy to use, costs almost nothing, and comes in unlimited supply.”  - Ken Downer“Putting praise in ink enhances its value and impact.”  - Ken DownerRelated posts: How to Build Team Culture From the Ground UpPositive Feedback – Catch them Doing Something RightCrutch Phrases That Weaken Our Leadership