Friday, January 30, 2009

Pomodoro (Networking upside down?)

Where do you focus your networking energy?

Sometime you meet someone and the creative sparks fly. Sounds corny but the conversation I had yesterday was richer than Pomodoro’s orzo. I think of myself as a seasoned professional with a long list of accomplishments and people I have developed. Johanna Hassan-Hollowich is equally or more accomplished in her field (founder/president of Potencium Limited, adjunct facility of UCLA , internationally recognized consultant, etc). I added an engineering, supply chain and technology element to the potential undertaking that she valued, while her expertise in learning and education, business needs assessment and standards of content development and delivery were way beyond anything I had experienced.

So – exactly how did this connection happen? Did we “link in” by joining virtual networks? Did we find our faces in the virtual social media world? Did we network with other accomplished executives and professionals to cross paths? No. None of these created this exciting event. We each independently focused on developing entry level people for our respective “organizations” and cultivated those relationships. It was an entry level engineer she taught at UCLA and I mentored professionally that introduced us (thank you Brandon). There is a lot to be said for how we used virtual technologies once the connection was made, but I was reminded again yesterday that real people at the bottom of the pecking order can influence your network as much as anything else.

Have you limited your network to looking upward? What are you doing to network with those starting in their careers?


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Who gave that great advice anyway? - Career Development

What does it say when years later someone gives your own leadership and career advice back to you and it sounds fresh, new and right on?

I’ve known Liam for many years and we have become trusted business colleagues. We each know that we can depend on statements and commitments made by the other. So when we were talking this afternoon about my career reboot activities, he reminded me that:

- Early in your career it is all about “what you know”
- Mid career it is about “what you can do”
- And, later in your career it is about “who you know”

The “who you know” refers to the creditable business relationships you have built over a career. It is the fact that people know your calls are important and that you don’t waste their time. Access is a valuable resource built with time, respect, results and trust. Liam provided a great reminder, but then reminded me that I told him these words when he was making a significant career transition a few years back. It gets a little scary when you hear your own career development advice and it sounds good.

What do you think of this sequence of value added contributions and have you coached colleagues in a similar manner?


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Heart Rate Test (Story-time part III)

You might ask how heart rate relates to leadership and inspiring others.

As an extremely active person, my heart rate can fluctuate from as low as 36 at rest to over 170 during a good run. While each of us has an optimum rate at which our performance peaks as leaders, there are also subprime rates.

There was a time in my career when I attended multiple day, corporate functional council meetings. They required travel to a common location, two or three days of PowerPoint presentations by well intentioned task teams, a dinner event and a massive meeting notes summary. During the best presentations, people were engaged and decisions made. The worst times resulted in attendees doing a conference room version of the “high-G pullout”. You’ve seen them – slow nodding progresses to full head drop with immediate recovery. A fellow colleague that was not a fan of these sessions used to ask me what my heart rate was during “that” presentation. A few times I checked and categorically I found that the driest of presentations usually equal a heart rate below 40.

From this experience we started an informal “heart rate test” where potential presenters were asked what the purpose/objective was and what heart rate they would like their audience to achieve. How did they plan to capture attention, make their points and create action?

How have you helped your team take a potentially dry presentation and made it something of significance?


Friday, January 23, 2009

Beyond good followership – Leaders step up

Last night we had the opportunity to watch the West Virginia Mountaineers upset the Georgetown Hoyas on their home court in WDC. It was a close game, but the Mountaineers broke it open by ten points in the second half and held on.

As a youth basketball coach (ok Triple Threat – this is your plug!), I know the importance of teaching the teamwork, sportsmanship and hard work in addition to the fundamentals of basketball। Kids watch how the coaches act and react to situations. The best coaches leave an indelible impression on the players they lead.

A colleague from the UK emailed me this Fox News story today and I had to contrast it to the post earlier this week on the importance of good followership (Followership - a leadership story).

Last week, a private Christian school in Dallas, Covenant, defeated the Dallas Academy girls basketball team 100-0 (Fox News link)। Why is it so easy to see the problem with this and yet the coaches of Covenant could not at the time? Afterwards, Covenant did ask the league to pull the game result and ask it to be converted to a forfeit. This is just too late. There are times when a good follower stands up for what is right.

If you want a positive example of players doing what is right – observe the Central Washington University women’s softball team.

When have you seen followers take the risk and stand up for what is right?


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Followership - a leadership story

Sometimes a leader must be a great follower. Please put your politics aside before reading.

A very important attribute that my wife and I share is a passion for sharing experiences over that of material objects. That being said, the opportunity to visit Washington DC and attend the Presidential Inauguration of Barack Obama was not to be missed.

I was surprised at the re-enforcing leadership lessons that spoke so loudly to me over and over. It started on the airplane where I met the self-titled “Obama-Mama” taking her three daughters to WDC. Another lady who sat in front of us said she had totaled her car on the way to the Spokane airport. After she was approved to leave by paramedics, she asked the police to have her car impounded and to call her a taxi. It was like this from Orange County to Dallas to WDC/Dulles.

We entered the WDC Metro at 6:00 AM to a “crush” crowd, but people were happy and energized. Everyone helped each other as they headed toward a shared goal to experience an event. We were not there to be up front, but to experience as much as we could and we did. People sang, cheered and smiled. Sure there were some protesters, but they were respectful and fit into the setting.

As a true leader we all must continue to learn from everyone and every event. The last time I saw inspired fans like this, they were entering an NCAA Final Four. Bottom line – we must be able to step back and learn from this extreme example of inspiration.

What leadership inspiration technique, tactic or tool did you learn on 20 January 2009?


Monday, January 19, 2009

Mentor the Masses

Twelve of the brightest college hires (Gen Y’s) are gathering for a round table discussion of which they do not yet know the topic. Some of the country’s best universities are represented and they include majors in engineering, computer science, business and the lone sociology major। The executive comes into the room and presents the question for debate and it is like a deer in the headlights। After sharing a couple of YouTube videos to gain perspective the conversation starts. The executive shares ideas that seem common sense to him, but they had never been presented in such a matter-of-fact way to these future leaders.

Then it happened. The group started to talk about how these stories need to be shared with more people. How can this be done? By email? A website? Maybe a blog? Did you read Brian’s blog last night? Did you see what he said last week about…? How about what Lisa said on her blog the night before?

Sometimes you’re good and sometimes you’re lucky. Whichever it is, I sat back and listened and became truly aware of the value of web 2.0 technologies to leaders. It’s a tool that must be explored by all leaders. I agreed to start a leadership blog if they would set it up. I figured that I would make a couple posts and it would end. That’s where web 2.0 kicks in again. The Gen X and Y’s get it and the boomers are enjoying learning. As soon as I learned to forget all the fears of past executive communications, write in the first person, share real life examples and have an opinion – this technology created a method to “Mentor the Masses.”

As a leader, how have you used change to exploit the power of web 2.0 technologies? How have you seen it used effectively?


Sunday, January 18, 2009

“Please come to my office”

Ah – the comforts of being the boss. The office, support staff and resources to get the job done. Hopefully you’re successful and you get a bigger office, more support staff and more resources to accomplish even bigger things. Take that a couple more levels and you have the risk of creating a completely protected and out of touch manager (note, I did not say leader). Email and the Blackberry have the potential to make this even worse. If you ever hear yourself say “would you please come to my office”, you know you are on the edge.

I’ve found a good way to really understand the pulse of the organization is to get up and visit the person or team you are wondering about. You are certain to learn more about the people, productivity and challenges of the team on your way to and from the place you’re headed than many managers will learn in a year. Tom Peters coined the term many years ago as MBWA (management by walking around). As the organization’s leader, take a look at your schedule and see how much time you send openly engaging with your team. Done correctly, the team will see these visits as recognition and caring.

Do you schedule yourself open walk-around time? How did you feel the times when your boss visited you without a specific task to be completed?


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Unwanted help

Looking back, 1991 was not the best of times. I was a senior manager on the production line of a major new aircraft development program, the days were endless, the “level of difficulty” was off the map and I believed I was doing something important. So when my director asked me for the second time to take an assignment in Cambridge England for 6 months, I said “no thank you” for the second time. The third time he visited me on the topic he simply said “you must be confusing these inquiries as an actual question.” With that, I understood I would be leaving the country for the first time! I learned that Joe Pickle, the senior vice president of Operations had selected me for the task so I visited him to clarify the mission. He said he wanted me to do three things - 1) Build the three airplanes and get them back to the states, 2) Take over for the existing on-site executive thus allowing him to return home, and last 3) “get some culture.” He told me he expected a one page report each Friday covering all three topics.

I was great with the first two missions. No problem, but what did he mean on the third one? Being a mechanically inclined schooled engineer, the first week I found a British motorcycle museum and enjoyed it. Week two was the WWII airplane museum – fantastic. By week three I was out of the obvious ideas. While in London Sunday afternoon, I ran into The National Galley for a quick look. This was just not in my comfort zone, but catching up with a tour group, I learned so much. It was a whole new world. As you might guess – there were plenty of options for culture the remainder of my assignment.

As leaders, we must be able to see the inner potential of our people and determine what assignments will bring them to light. I had no idea what Joe was talking about, but since that time my wife and I have visited 36 countries, countless museums and natural wonders that would blow you away.

What was the best assignment you were given or gave someone else to raise them to the next level?


Friday, January 16, 2009

Death by viewgraph….NOT (Story-time part II)

It’s 10:38AM and the big conference room is full with the normal crowd. The higher level “important” people sitting at the chairs around the table and the supporting cast in the seats backed up to the walls that proudly display the company product pictures. It’s the weekly divisional review and the first two functional heads have just completed their presentations. Nothing particularly exciting so far, but then Al is next up. He gets out of his chair, steps outside the conference room door and brings into the room a section of the outboard wing spoiler. He hands it to the first person at the table and tells him to pass it around. As this is happening, he tells a story about visiting the shop. By the time the part makes it half way around the table, Al asks “does anyone in this room want to go tell our mechanics why we designed this part so difficult to build?”

As leaders, it is our responsibility to clearly communicate our messages. Al, VP Engineering, was by far the best at using props to help communicate a strong message. While others would present a PowerPoint business case, Al would show you the problem and let you touch it. He always got what he was asking for in terms of investment or resources. Last week in the post, “It’s not an accident”, I compared business communications to the 3-to-5 year old story-time at the public library. One of the key tools Barbara Richardson used was props to keep attention and emphasize. Even the inventors of PowerPoint probably never expected it to become the meeting energy drain it has become. It is important to use caution not to be gimmicky or tacky, but using a physical object as a tool to communicate can have an enduring impact.

What is the most effective use of a prop to communicate have you seen or used?


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Congrats – now get to work

Tim was somewhat of a late bloomer in some senses. While he holds down a full time job and attends night school to achieve his bachelor’s degree now, it was not always that way. So when he announced he was selected for a big promotion to his first salary professional position, it was exciting and scary. What were going to be the differences in the expectations of him in this new role? What would separate him from the others?

My coaching to Tim for this transition was along three paths. First – think of yourself as a company. He was now the “product” that needed to provide value. The amount anyone will pay you is in direct relation to the amount of value you create. Increase your value and you increase your pay. Secondly – you work for yourself and you provide a product or service. You maybe have one customer (the employer) but do not confuse who you work for. You work for you. If you want to sell your “product” for more, enhance or improve it (via, added skills, content or education). Last – take calculated risks by setting goals early and make them public to your “customer” (your boss). Most co-workers will not take the goal setting and performance review process seriously and you will set yourself apart by doing so. This coaching should get him through his first couple months and then we’ll go to version 1.1.

How would you coach someone going into their first professional position?


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Are you the smart, hardworking one?

Sunday’s Orange County Register provided a nice summary of all the President-Elect Obama’s cabinet position selections to date. Twenty years ago I would have looked at the names and pictures and perhaps tried to just remember them. Sunday was somewhat different. I felt like I knew some of these people. In fact, I had met one of them (sort of). General Eric Shinseki (US Army - Retired) has been nominated to lead the Office of Veterans Affairs. I had the opportunity to listen to Gen. Shinseki speak on the topic of leadership in 2008.

The discussion that evening explored the concept of categorizing people under your command across two continuums – from smart to slow and from hardworking to lazy. The theory was that:
When you need something important accomplished but you have few resources, give it to the smart & lazy folks – they will finds the easiest way to get it done। They do not need much help and are always successful.

The bulk of all the hard work was accomplished by the hardworking & slow teammates. They carry the load and should be rewarded and recognized for this.
The smart & hardworking teammates need to be identified and given especially difficult assignments to help develop their leadership skills.
We must embrace our slow & lazy subordinates, help them find their strengths and move them to areas they can excel.

While I am not in full agreement with the General, I do respect his ability to quickly determine who to use your limited time and resources to help people. While I have found that web 2.0 technology has allowed me to expand my mentoring reach, time is still a valuable resource.

What are some ways you determine how to allocate your scarce coaching and mentoring time?


Monday, January 12, 2009

2 Degrees of Separation

When you are about to take on a new and different home improvement project, you can just dig in and give it a try, or you can talk to people and look on-line for others that have done the same thing. Experience has great value. I have never prided myself as having invented a solution for the most complicated problems. I do consider myself to be good at networking, learning and adapting solutions from one situation to be helpful on a new problem.

So, it did not make sense to complete my one opportunity at a career reboot without the wisdom, knowledge and experiences of some of the most successful rebooters before me. Pulling on the network archive (thanks Kevin), I did just that this afternoon. John P. Strelecky is likely known to many of you, but if not – he was a very accomplished business consultant that did a complete career reboot in 2002 and is now an internationally acclaimed author (The Big Five for Life - Leadership's Greatest Secret, The Why Café, and Life Safari), speaker and traveler. Coaches and mentors come in any size, age and location. The relationship and desire to be a part of something is the key. These Johns found areas of commonality and opportunities for future collaboration. It all came about based on a strong network and understanding that others have the expertise.

When have you had a challenge and engaged the best to help you?


Friday, January 9, 2009

It’s not by accident

It’s 10:00am and the colorful mini-auditorium held about 75 three-to-five year olds, a lot of moms, some grandparents, a couple dads and me (scary picture for those who know me – I tried to find a kid to borrow to fit in but none available). Barbara Richardson enters the room and immediately “owns” the environment. She is located in the power position, opens each activity with a short orientation and in her case she is the loudest among many (the microphone helped). Her 20 years of experience gave her credibility and authority. Yes – it’s “story-time” at the Huntington Beach Public Library. I timed seven distinct activities in 30 minutes for an average of 4.285714 minutes/event.

So, what does this have to do with leadership and our blog community? Given the fact that stories have proven to be an effective way of making points in the business world, I was curious exactly how early we are taught this method of listening/learning. There were more similarities than differences in what I observed. If there had been a way of changing the volume, pitch and colors of the room, it was the same dynamic as any senior level business environment we have experienced.

The story telling method of communicating (and thus blogging) works for many reasons. One is clearly our disposition towards it that we learned long ago. This should help you craft how you share your key messages during meetings, presentations and lectures.

Has the story telling method helped you communicate a difficult topic? Have you seen others be successful at it?


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Addiction or skill?

If you came home at 1:00pm to a quiet house on the last day culminating the conclusion of a successful three decade Fortune 100 career, what would be the first thing you would do?

I asked this question to many and the answers range from taking a nap to popping open a cold one. My answer Tuesday was to remove the random CDs from the Onkyo DV-CP702 six disc player, start at “A” in the CD collection and load music. In my case it was !!!, AC/DC, Aerosmith, AFI, Against Me and American Hi-Fi. That was working out pretty well until I paused for a moment and realized I had also reworked my new cell phone with a relevant message, posted on the blog, added the blog and my web to my Linkedin and Facebook pages, emailed a number of professional and personal contacts establishing new and different business relationships and set up a few “coffee meetings.”

So what is this all about? The extreme networking skills that allowed me to achieve so much over 3 decades might be part of my DNA at this point. Although these networks are the result of many years, they are also equally strong with the 22 year old Gen Y’s that are now helping use web 2.0 technology to align with my “old style” contacts (no, it is not still on a rolodex!).

If networking is an obvious tool for successful leaders, what have you done this week to build yours? What else should I be doing to network Leadership is a Verb™?


Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I have thought about “nothing” a number of times since attending a charity art fund raiser a month ago. Not useless nothing, but “The Nothing Machine.” It was equally interesting to the intellectual and engineering sides of my personality. The Nothing Machine stood 6 feet tall and about 3 foot by 3 foot square. It had a small electric motor that moved an endless series of gears, pullies, chains and rolling balls that ultimately pushed keys on an old typewriter to type out the word nothing over and over.

The artist’s point was - “The nothing machine was inspired by the world that revolves around us. With so much going on in life, it is often hard to slow down and see what really matters. Nothing really matters. Nothing is really important. Nothing is what is left when we are gone. Life goes by and we need to make our “Nothing” count.”

Leaders have an obligation to help their teams connect and make things count. Mindless work does not inspire creativity or self fulfillment.

What did you do this week to remove your team’s “Nothingness”?


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