Tuesday, December 29, 2009

You’re never above it

An unexpected package arrived in the mail. I recognized the return address, but was not expecting anything. With my typical curiosity, I tore open the padded envelope to find a nice note attached to Tom Lydon’s new book, “The ETF Trend Following Playbook.”

Tom is a good friend, hoops buddy and well-known expert in the financial planning world. Earlier in the year, Tom asked me if I would review his manuscript and give him comments and insights. I was glad to help and certainly did not expect to be thanked in any meaningful way. So, was I surprised to find a full paragraph in the acknowledgements thanking me for my time and expertise.

This made me think about the power of a “thank you” and the fact that it can be delivered in any direction. Convention has told us that bosses thank team members. This is a very limiting view. Teammates should equally thank peers and superiors. The act of remembering to take the time to thank someone when they least expect it has powerful impact.

When have you thanked the unexpected with amazing results?


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Say “Thanks”

Thank you for all your contributions to LiaV in 2009. You have made it the success it has become. While others are focused on shopping and rushing around, I encourage you to slow down for a moment and say thanks to all those that allow you to do and be what you are.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do you learn from watching?

Ask any professional educator and they will talk about how people learn differently. There are those that read and understand. Then, some just put on the skis and do it. Last, there are those of us who watch someone else doing something and they get it.

Since so much of what is on the internet about leadership is based on our ability to learn from the written word, I decided to start a search of the websites that specialize in compiling significant videos of thought leaders. Following are three examples:

TED – Technology, Education and Design - Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.
MIT World Distributed Intelligence - MIT World is a free and open site that provides on demand video of significant public events at MIT. MIT World's video index contains more than 600 videos.
The Leap - Hosted by David Belasco of USC Marshall School of Business to provide “Inspiration, empowerment and a kick in the ass.”
eCorner – Stanford University’s Entrepreneurship Corner - Entrepreneurial thought leaders lecture series that take place every Wednesday during the academic year.
Manager Tools - a weekly podcast talking about new tools and easy techniques you can use to help achieve your management and career objectives.
YouTube EDU/Leadership - dedicated exclusively to videos from the more than 100 schools--ranging from Grand Rapids Community College to Harvard Business School
iTunesU/Business/Management - More than 170 schools offer content free to the public on Apple's iTunes U, which originated in 2004 as a way for colleges to distribute content privately to their own students. (downside - requires you register for iTunes)
Academic Earth/Entrepreneurship - Thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars.

Please comment on this posting and add the URL links for the sites you believe add to this library.


Monday, December 14, 2009


Many organizations get confused this time of year. A management ritual in December is to summarize the accomplishments of the team and start preparing annual performance reviews. We all want to be fair and reasonable. Some managers find it challenging to inform teammates they are anything other than fully competent. At same time, if the objectives are underclear or easy enough, anyone deserves a high rating.

I, on the other hand, have always felt December to be the most important month of the year because it sets the tone for the rest of the year. The team should dedicate quality time setting robust goals, definitions and metrics to be used the next twelve months. The S.M.A.R.T. criteria are well documented and have stood the test of time. (SMART = Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time phased). When leadership spends time creating buy-in and understanding, the next 12 months go much more smoothly. It also allows the team to perform self performance reviews. The facts and data will speak for themselves.

Does your leadership take the time to mutually develop robust goals with you annually? Do each meet the SMART criteria?


Thursday, December 10, 2009

You own nothing here

At the conclusion of a meeting the other day, I recommended to my team that they should use my office as a conference room when I’m on travel. With the amount of international travel I do, the office was being wasted. It is a valuable resource and should be utilized as such.

The team looked at me like I was from another planet. I shared with them that I do not own the office, the company does. It happens to be assigned to me and it should be used like any other company asset. While the concept was foreign to the team, they appreciated the gesture. It has been a few weeks and I doubt anyone has taken my offer yet. This whole situation caused me to wonder what it is that makes executive leaders categorize “things” as entitlements and something of their own. I think the team believes it is a sign of respect to give their leadership space, but this should not be at the expense of productivity.

What do you believe causes this entitlement mentality? Can a single leader change it?


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Personal Leadership

Guest blog post by Paul Mallory .

A few thoughts of my own on personal leadership from my Soul Work blog...

We hear all the time that we are living through a period of furious pace of change. One take on this can be seen in the (technology-centric) 'shift happens' video. (See http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=ljbI-363A2Q)

Clearly, we can't stop change happening, nor slow it's pace...
Change is not a bad thing. It is inevitable, and it is fast.
Some things change and some things don't...

For me, personal leadership is about knowing who you are and what you are for, having a beacon to guide you through the storm of change. Many people today are clear what they are against... many people today find purpose and fulfillment from being against something, whether it be wind farms, nuclear energy or the prospect of an eco-town being built near their home. Another perspective is to decide what you are for in this world.

The good news is, we needn't be like a cork bobbing on the tide of popular opinion and ever-changing (not always for the better) societal values. Indeed, there is little virtue in just 'going along with the others'. As philosopher Edmund Burke is reputed to have said: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

We have the option to decide who we are, who we will be, what we are for, what difference we will make in this world. This is effortful work, requiring much contemplation and deep personal honesty (it comes from within). However, deciding our purpose and reason for being is the first step to discovering a level of passion and inspiration within ourselves that can lead to an extraordinary quality of life.

And, guess what, change begins with ourselves, as Gandhi memorably remarked: "Be the change you want to see in the world".

How much more fulfilling such a life is than living the life of a grazing cow...

Personal opinion! Paul

Paul Mallory is the host of the “Soul Work Blog” - http://soulworkblog.blogspot.com/


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What’s normal to you?

The Parlor Mob is not the typical band you would take your seven-year-old daughter to see. They play some serious alternative tunes and bring in the twenty-something crowd. I learned of them at the Austin City Limits this past October. While listening, I noticed this kid also enjoying the event.

But, what if you did grow up as a child experiencing major international music shows? You would learn many kinds of music, meet all types of people and view unusual forms of art. Your perspective on crowds, volume, self-expression and tolerance would be different than the typical kid.

The reason this question even occurred to me after seeing this kids enjoying the concert was it clearly demonstrated the differences among people. As leaders, we need to be very careful not to stereotype people into categories that might not fit. The more interest you take in the people you lead, the more likely you will learn something they can contribute that nobody else can. Ask questions and actually listen to the answers. It will pay off in the end.

Have you ever had a boss take an interest and have it result in a better assignment? Have you ever learned a detail about one of your teammates that allowed you to better use their unique skills?


Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the General

I have had the opportunity to work for and with a number of retired military generals who transitioned into industry during my career. Some have made the move relatively seamlessly and others it took a little more effort. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity, in a casual setting, I like to ask them, “What are the major differences you notice between leading major military operations and leading as a business executive?” As you might guess, the responses range from very insightful to rather bizarre.

The other evening, I had my first opportunity to ask the same question to a retired general from outside the United States. His answers were so insightful and honest I thought we all could learn from them. He said there were four main differences: 1) Decisions in the military tend to be more black and white:;2) The overall goal or mission is clearer to everyone in the military; 3) Teamwork is more natural and built into the military process; and 4) There is no runner up in a military operation! He shared that his role in business is to help instill these things within the business environment and gave some examples.

What do you think of these insights? Is there something we can all take from them?


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving in NYC

NYC, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, New Delhi, Shanghai, Jingdezhen, Beijing, Jingdezhen, Shanghai, Chicago, NYC.

Travel, business and building operations are great fun, but Thanksgiving weekend in NYC after all that is fantastic. Today’s is a lesson of remembering to have fun and recharge with friends and family.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Locked out

So where the heck has John been? LiaV has not had a new post in days.

Greetings from Jingdezhen, China this evening (the porcelain capital). After days of being blocked from my own blog, I figured out a way of getting in. Sure many of the things you read about are true, many others are not. The team I’m with has been working many hours, hand-in-hand, with our business partners in the factory to achieve a major milestone. I’ve been providing “top cover” with senior leadership.

I’ve also met some locals. I tried my hand at an outdoor ping pong park for pick-up games and got my butt kicked by an old lady (she were good). I visited a student art exhibit and had tea with an English professor. Like many places, the people and the people in charge do not always share the exact same opinion. The same is true in the USA. We should not generalize or stereotype.

When you travel, do you take the time to meet locals and understand?


Friday, November 13, 2009

“They have chocolate in the States”

After walking a new plant construction site in Hyderabad, India, we were hosted to share a traditional Indian lunch. The location was a nice hotel and the service was fantastic. There was a nice variety of desserts and I selected one. My traveling partner returned to his seat with a much more interesting and aggressive choice of desserts. He looked at my plate and said, “You can get chocolate in the States!” He was quite right and I caught myself following habit (yes, I got up and tried things I did not recognize).

The same can be true in how you lead and what solutions you apply to problems. Learning, wisdom and habits have many benefits, but if they cause a leader to avoid trying new techniques, styles and approaches, they become a hindrance. We all need to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and sometimes others do it for us. We just need to listen and hear them when they do.

When have you been reminded in a to stretch out of your comfort zone? How did you respond?


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Where is this “new place we are going?”

As leaders, every so often one of your team members asks you an honest question that makes you stop in your tracks and reconsider exactly what messages you are sending. Most of our LiaV community knows that I recently accepted a new executive assignment on the East Coast. It’s a great chance to use all I’ve learned in the last 30 years of aerospace manufacturing, supply chain and program management.

I arrived on the scene asking many questions, listening, meeting people and internalizing what I was hearing. These are all the things we talk about so often. After a fair amount of time, I came to conclusions of what was needed and started to point a vector in that direction. While we worked hard to find and deploy tools and processes, I also talked about the journey we are about to start. Progress was slow, but acceptable. That was until one of my long-time leaders, Tim, walked into my office very frustrated and said, “John, we understand that you are here to take us to some new place and we accept that, but can you just tell us what you expect from us?”

In a flash, it occurred to me that I was working hard within the organization on the detailed mechanics and with the leaders on the vision, but I was not as clear as I could be on what I expected differently on a day-to-day basis. It was an easy thing to correct by writing out some top-level expectations and having a team discussion. Thank goodness I took the time to build trust with Tim early so he knew he could share his frustration without risk.

Have you ever been “leading” so fast and hard that when you looked back, the team was not as close behind you as you thought? What did you do?


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pioneers are lonely

Have you ever noticed that the first people to try something new are treated as outcasts? Think about it. This is particularly true as it pertains to teenagers, music and fashion. Think about the kids with the long hair, then the short hair, then the colored hair and the no hair. The first kids to wear grunge were considered bums. Nobody understood rap or gangsta to start and now it is some of the fastest selling music.

The same thing is true in business. Those who believed the internet would change the world were thought to be wasting their time. The first leaders that believed people could work from home were considered crazy. How would we ever keep track of them? The forward-looking leaders that first understood the importance of executing flawless complex supply chains were exiled. Now we all know the supplier chain management is a competitive discriminator. There are still many leaders that have not embraced the impact web 2.0 can have. Many of us already use it as the norm.

If you accept that these pioneers are lonely front liners, then that is exactly where we should always be looking for talent. Leaders need to look for what is new and where trends are headed.

How do you stay current and find fresh ideas, talent and trends?


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

“Wal-Mart killed the country store”

It was about 1:15 in the afternoon and another rain shower was starting. There was only one stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival that was fully covered by a tent, and we headed that direction. I had never heard of Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band before that time, but I’ll remember them from now on. The band only includes Peyton, his brother and his wife, and they play an eclectic brand of self-published bluegrass “truths,” as they call them.

When they performed their single that is downloaded the most, “Wal-Mart killed the country store,” the crowd really responded. Even the people like me that had never heard the sound before were curious. I thought to myself, “I wonder if Wal-Mart leadership knows of this song?” They should. It is feedback. Then I wondered if many companies really make the effort to move beyond the recognized media to see what their reputation really is. There are plenty of blogs, chat rooms, web sites. There are even web sites like www.jobvent.com that specialize in allowing employees to expose culture and environmental factors about their companies. I know a businesswoman that uses information like this during the due diligence process when considering a merger or purchase of a company.

Do you believe this information reaches senior leaders? Have you ever found and used such information?


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dunk your leader

Many companies have team building or charity fund raising events that include a dunk tank. There are typically all different kinds of people sitting on the dunk board. People pay small fees for the opportunity to throw a couple of balls at the target, resulting in the person dropping into the tank of water. It is always a fun undertaking, particularly if you are the one on the dry side of the tank!

My sister recently had the opportunity to dunk her boss in one of the events and posted some pretty funny pictures on our family web page. That started an interesting dialog on “boss dunking.” Many comments revolved around the idea of dunking the boss to gain some sort of equity for the way the boss treats others. Others thought the idea of boss dunking was all in fun.

I was asked if I would allow myself to be boss dunked if I knew the dunking was because I was not liked. Wow! That was hard to consider. While I know it is not reasonable to be liked by everyone, a leader has certain hopes they are at least respected. Having participated in dunk tanks in the past, I know the team building value. My guess is that managers that are generally not liked would not volunteer for this potential embarrassment.

Are you the leader that gets dunked for fun or pay-back?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Culture comes from someplace

Whenever you travel a foreign country, there is the challenge of language. For some, this is so intimidating that they will never travel someplace too far off the beaten path. It does not seem to bother others.

While on a 3 country operations program review (including about 15 city stops) the importance of having a healthy curiosity cultures occurred to me. During one of my many flights, I debated which was more important – the language skills of the country visited or a healthy curiosity of the culture and history associated with the country. While the language helps you directly communicate, learning the culture helps you understand everyone. I concluded that language is a skill and culture is an attitude. A leader can hire or teach and skill, but it is more difficult to develop a curious nature. For this reason I chose cultural curiosity as most important.

Which do you believe is more improve for an international business person – language or cultural curiosity?


Monday, October 19, 2009

It’s the people stupid!

New York, Munich, Ankara, Eskisehir, Ankara, Munich, Warsaw, Rzeszow, Mielec, Krakow, Krosno, Rzeszow, Warsaw, Helsinki. I’m half way through a half globe-trotting It has been a few months since I’ve been on a global supply building review trip, but like riding a bike, one does not forget. There are always plenty of planes, airports, factories, conference rooms and dinners. Who am I kidding? I wouldn’t do this profession if that was all I remembered.

It is about the people you meet with and along the way. The striped haired girl with piercings in the Rzeszow airport that explained to me what was being announced during the fog delay. The two young professionals in Poland that are taking the lead developing complex supply chain management metrics. The highly trained, Turkish machinist demonstrating the improvements on his statistical process control charts. And, the well intentioned waitress in Turkey that brought the boss a martini that was like no other. Sometimes we forget through the meetings and shop tours, but it is all about the people.

Have you found yourself at times focusing more on the task that the people? How do you remind yourself to refocus?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The road from Bethel

A couple weeks ago, we took a motorcycle for a ride to a popular 2009 pilgrimage. Yes, this would be to Bethel, NY for the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival. While it was an enlightening opportunity and the people of Bethel have a great job restoring the grounds and presenting the museum, it reminded me of an old blog posting titled “Freeze.”


Leaders, stop! Freeze! Close your eyes. Go back for just a moment to 1969, or whenever you were entering the workforce. Do you think for a moment that the leaders of American industry were feeling comfortable about turning over the keys to us? Not likely. Well, they did and we are in charge. Some might argue, but it seems like we are doing an ok job. We are now ready because people took chances and put us in charge of projects, programs, work groups and teams to learn the leadership skills we need. We made early mistakes and learned from them.

We need to do the same with the Gen X and Y’s on our teams. You might believe your hands are tied by Human Resources or some other authority. They are guidelines and expect you to select the most qualified candidates. It is absolutely critical we follow our respective selection processes and select the best qualified candidate, but it is up to us to develop the skills to make these teammates ready. I personally disagree when people generalize that these folks are not loyal. They are loyal to being challenged, and it is our job to keep them stretched beyond what they even think is possible. This is fun stuff if you change your paradigm on what is possible.

Do you have an example of a Gen X and Y that over delivered in a leadership role?”


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Half Century

For the first time in almost two years, LiaV was not updated last week. While I had plenty of lessons and learning to share, I made a decision not to post as I was on a road trip celebrating my half century birthday. I was coached almost thirty years ago not to work on my birthday and years later started taking the full week off. Now this has matured to major travel and festivals where I can learn and experience new environments and cultures.

This year it was the Austin City Limits music festival. It was an amazing collection of bluegrass, country, rock, alternative, metal, folk, jazz and soul musicians. It also had a lot of rain and five inches of mud this year. Once you conceded that you were going to be a little wet and muddy, it was a blast. Even more important was the people we met and the experiences. We were learning all the time. Learning about Texas, music, people and crowd behavior.

Thanks for the week off and you’ll see some of the learning mentioned in upcoming posts.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Follow Virginia

A very nice old woman in our building invited Barb and I to her art gallery a while back. We put it on our list and this past Saturday rode the motorcycle there. It was a nice, but odd, selection of art. But Virginia was extremely knowledgeable and nice as can be. The more we talked and listened, the more it became clear that Virginia was fairly famous in the NYC art and modeling world. She shared old news clippings of herself with famous artists of the times, and she was a beautiful young woman. She had that Marilyn Monroe look all dressed up.

As we talked more, she shared that her father was one of the first WWI Naval Air pilots flying amphibious planes out of Long Island, NY and then Pensacola, FL. POW. There it was! There were very few WWI pilots and most knew each other. Having just assembled a museum nomination for my grandfather (Fitzwilliam Dalrymple), I had a lot of information on this topic. We were both so excited to explore this topic more.

It makes me wonder how many people would have skipped the gallery invitation and never met such a fascinating lady and then made a family connection! Would you have?


Monday, September 28, 2009

Culture versus Climate

A recent LiaV post entitled “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” resulted in over one hundred community comments. It was a record. They went in many directions, but one particular comment by Gail Johnson Morris made me think. Gail asked us to think about the difference between culture and climate.

This concept really caught my attention because in my last position, we took the results of employee surveys seriously. The team I led worked hard taking into account the real time “environmental factors” that would have an impact on our scores that were often outside the control of the team. Complex topics like the economy, company employment status, stock price, news articles and customer feedback on products fell into this category. Gail’s insight now provided me the ability to clearly rationalize the difference.

When you work on improving your workplace culture, do you consider climate? Have you confused good climate as good culture in the past?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Titans of leadership?

It was a simple family home. A mere seventy-five rooms, walls gilded in gold and platinum, an entry way larger than many places of employment, enough exotic marble to be a place of worship, and fresh and salt running water to the bath tubs. While this was the biggest home in the neighborhood, it is among others of similar peers.

The mansion is called “The Breakers” and was the family summer “cottage” of the William Vanderbilt family in Newport, Rhode Island. We visited this fantastic location this past weekend and learned more of the accomplishments of the Vanderbilt family. William was the grandson of founder Cornelius Vanderbilt who created the shipping and railroad empire.

After the tour, I thought to myself, “what a great leaders the Vanderbilt’s must have been.” As I thought and walked around, it occurred to me that they were great businessmen, family patriarchs and community influences. But leaders, I wondered. If critical roles of leadership is building ongoing compelling visions and developing people, then the Vanderbilt’s do not measure up. If their initial vision of controlling the shipping and railroad lines had true life, it would not have faded once monopoly laws and alternative modes of transportation evolved. I looked more and was unable to find clear examples of great achievers that developed under the Vanderbilt system.

While paying respect to their achievements, do you feel vision and developing people are compelling enough reasons to keep the Vanderbilt’s out of the Leadership Hall of Fame?


Monday, September 21, 2009

137 MPH

It started with the 9:12 AM train to Grand Central. Then the 9:56 to Long Island. Exit at Flushing Meadows. The net had the distinctive 6-inch center slope, there were six official line judges, six ball chasers stood at attention when not darting to recover wild balls, seventeen cameras focused from all angles and high-powered microphones picked up every whisper (yes, if they wanted us to know what Venus Williams actually said; we could know).

I’m not a serious tennis fan, but I was given the opportunity to attend the US Open last Sunday at Flushing Meadows, Long Island. It was a stark reminder that we should all take opportunities to try new things. The crowd was into tennis. They were polite and knew the competitors. It seemed like many of them had been there multiple times in the past. I even got to see Juan Martin del Potro crush a 137 MPH serve a few times.

I have blogged often about “staying out of the white aisles” and trying new things. Whether it is new work projects, making new friends or trying a new sporting event, all of us need to continuously expand our environment. Going to the US Open reminded me to follow my own advice.

What things are you doing to continuously expand your world?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Passion or money?

“Take exit 29 off I95 North, turn right on Stratford, travel about a mile and turn left on Freeman, go a block and cross Connecticut Ave into the parking lot. Don’t mind the neighborhood, it looks more intimidating than is actually is. I’m on the 4th floor of the old brick building. I’ll have to come down and get you in the parking lot.”

From the parking lot, we walked up an old staircase, by many art, yoga, music and small business studios. We waited for the freight elevator a moment and decided to walk up the remaining stairs to Debbie’s fourth floor studio operation (Art Bags). It was not the cleanest I’ve ever seen but produced a quality product. The product was not something I totally understood, but one that has raving fans. The building’s tenants each did their own thing and lived special lives.

I have not seen Debbie in fifteen years. She was an aerospace executive colleague with the usual executive tendencies. I recently reconnected with her and visited her Bridgeport, CT studio. It was so refreshing to talk to someone with so much passion and personal fulfillment. Debbie shared that the business she was forging was not the most profitable in the world but brought her more enjoyment and personal satisfaction than any career up to this point.

Driving home that night, I could not help but feel good about Debbie and Art Bags. I also could not help but wonder how business leaders could assist their teammates find such passion in their professions and careers.

How do you help your teams feel Debbie’s passion in their work?


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who are your Whos?

Independent of your role in life, we are all interested in gaining insights from those who have already achieved what we are trying to do. Over the last year, I have learned to stop asking people how to do things. The problem with this question is people are inherently helpful and will try to answer even if they don't always know the correct response. I have moved to asking do you know someone "who" has done something. This is one of the learnings from John Strelecky's "Big Five for Life” book.

"Dr. Sharon" is one of my whos. I originally met her in her executive coach role as she was working with a couple of my colleagues. We had mutual leadership interests, so when I starting building this blog and preparing material for a book, she was a multi-role “who.” I recently listened to her free download on discovering your purpose. I answered her five questions to determine WHO I was and WHO I was becoming. It was short, simple, fun and enlightening. I highly recommend you try it.

From the experience, I believe her “Heart's Way” Tele-workshop Program, Discover your Passionate Calling in nine weeks could be very helpful for anyone asking: 1) What am I here to do? 2) What is my next step? or 3) Why do I feel something is missing in my life? Her Tele-workshop begins September 24th - November 19th on Thursday evenings from 6:00 - 7:30 pst (all workshops are recorded in case you miss a class). It is an interactive 9-week transformative experience using an innovative telephone workshop format and and an even greater value if you use the website coupon.

So - I've shared a "who" with you. What "whos" would you like to share with others?

Note - Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman is the CEO, Inside Out Learning Inc., and adjunct faculty member with Columbia University. She was recently quoted in The New York Times and The Oprah Magazine. 480-502-4766.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

R U Age Blind?

Guest blog by David Armstrong:

As an older worker, I’m sensitive to hiring issues regarding people of my vintage, however, as a manager, I always thought that I totally disregarded age when I was hiring or evaluating employees.

Recently, I had two experiences that gave me a wake-up call to own perceptions regarding age as it relates to jobs.

The first was when we were introduced to a friend of my daughter, a bright, pleasant, intelligent young man who was reviewing for his annual flight simulator qualification. He is an airline pilot and daily is responsible for the safety and hopefully uneventful shepherding of hundreds of passengers across the country. He is 27. As we left the meeting, my wife and I looked at each other and said, “”He’s too young to be a pilot”.

The other occurrence was a call I received from my niece, an accomplished musician and who has been a substitute teacher in California schools. She now expects to be out of a job due to the California budget situation. She is 51. In her call, she told me she was applying for a job as a musician on a cruise ship. When I told my wife, we both said, “She’s too old”.

There is no question that each of these individuals is fully qualified and capable to pursue their respective career interests. Yet, my experience showed to me that despite by belief that I was age “blind”, I had stereotypical notions about the “proper” age for certain positions. I am now much more sensitive to my own perception and hope that with my awareness, I will not be judgmental in the future.

Have you have a perception that certain positions can only be filled by people in a certain age range? Did you act on that perception or ignore it? What was the outcome?

David Armstrong is a Principal at Inventory Curve and a member of the LiaV community.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

To the boys in the hood

Hi Guys,

The East Coast is not nearly as bad as you warned me about. Different from what you told me. There really are nice people and things east of the 405 freeway. I’m happy to report that the other hoop players did not actually punch me in the throat when going for a rebound. Everyone does not pack pistols and it only rains every other day. The hills in my four mile daily run are not the size of mountains and the mosquitoes are only large enough to carry small babies away!

You were right on a few things – it is really humid and there are far fewer convertibles and motorcycles.

While these were many of the jokes my basketball buddies razzed me about at my going away party, it does make one think about all the silly things people say and how important it is for each of us to sort out what we truly believe. If we take things too seriously we will lock ourselves into inaction and take no risks in life (or in our career).

Have you received silly advice and later found out it was not worthy of your consideration?


Monday, August 31, 2009

The truth about balance in life

Guest blog post by Mohd Firdaus Bin Mohd Johari:

It was a normal morning, stuck in a traffic jam. Rude drivers cutting through traffic and I let them pass. A friend of mine who was carpooling to work with me asked, "Why do you let that happen?" I replied, "Are we in a hurry? We always leave for work at this time and we reach the office with time to spare." "But you cannot let people walk over you," he answered.

"I'm not." And I explained further. The Taipei 101 skyscraper was built to withstand earthquakes and storms. How? By being flexible where it can afford to, and being tough and stern where is must be. It also applies to our lives. In the case of my argument with my car pooling friend, I know I can afford to let some cars go by, because I have spare time to reach the office. But if it was a matter of life and death, then I wouldn't react in the same way. In a conflict you must know when to compromise and when to stand your ground. Sounds obvious right?

A lot of people talk about 'balance' as far as how they navigate conflict but it is these same people are the ones not being able to uphold this balance. More often than not, they themselves are the ones who get mistreated in conflicts. There is no perfect 'balance', it is not practical.

The 'balance' can be attempted, which ultimately brings us to an acceptable range. However, people fail to do this for three reasons:
• Lack of objective
• Lack of defining their thresholds
• Lack of self-awareness

When you do not know what you want in life, then you will not know what you need to achieve it. If you do not know that, you will not know which aspects of your life that you should prioritize and what you cannot compromise on. You would know your boundaries. All this wouldn't be a problem if you are honest and sincere with yourself, having a better understanding of who you are and what you want to be.

How do you balance your life?

Mohd Firdaus Bin Mohd Johari is from Malaysia, hosts the Beyond Uni blog and a member of the LiaV community.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

It’s not a technology play

It’s a geographically dispersed team that thinks and acts like they are in one place. The assumption is the individuals know how to use the communication tools. If you are lucky enough for this to be true but your virtual team is still struggling, think again.

The challenge for leadership to excel leading geographically dispersed teams is more difficult than most people accept. Virtual teams have many of their own peculiar traits that, if left unmanaged, destroy the potential effectiveness of the team. The book “Virtual Teams: Reaching Across Space, Time and Organizations With Technology” by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps, and their related website, hits the point that many leaders miss. “Success is 90% the people and 10% technology.” Knowing how to use the tools is a basic element of the virtual game. All your leadership efforts must be exaggerated. You have to try twice as hard.

What are some of your best “people-oriented” virtual leadership techniques?


Sunday, August 23, 2009

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”

A strategy can be written in short order and communicated to the team by using multiple mediums in a matter of weeks. The best part is that if you get it wrong, the strategy can be adjusted and changed as needed. Culture, on the other hand, is a big deal. Every company or organization gets the culture it deserves. To make matters worse, when you end up with the wrong one, it can take a generation to fix it.

In the January 23, 2006 Wall Street Journal, Debbie Holton wrote an article regarding a quote made by Ford that "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." She commented that this quote comes from the war room of the new Ford makeover. The article sums it up in one paragraph. "Mr. Fields says he is now trying to rouse and create a sense of urgency in a corporate culture that has withstood repeated efforts at overhauls, ranging from former CEO Alex Troutman's sweeping Ford 2000 globalization effort, to former CEO Jacques Nasser's dot-com era campaign to remake Ford into a diversified consumer-products company with a strong internet component."

Have you seen a world-class strategy crushed under the weight of miscalculated culture? What could have been done differently?


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Don’t cave!

It is always fun to meet someone from a different industry and culture who is experiencing the new company and culture I am learning. This happened again this past week when I had the opportunity to meet an ex-dot-com leader gone aerospace. He had a great background with plenty to offer (multiple languages, industries, functions and cultures).

Then it happened! I asked him a question about why some group was not involved in a particular meeting and he said, “To reduce travel costs.” This was an ex-dot-com leader that had, for the briefest of moments, forgotten that people do not have to travel to take part in a meeting. Phones, web-meetings and VTC’s are meetings too. When I pointed this out to my new colleague, he immediately knew what had happened and thanked me for reminding him. At the close of our time together, he coached me to continue to probe and move forward.

Driving back that evening, the question that kept bothering me was, how do I even know when I’m starting to cave? How do I catch myself when it starts to happen?

What tools have you used to remind yourself to never accept the status quo and challenge the way things are done?


Monday, August 17, 2009

But I’m not a manager

We had a blast this past weekend. NYC was hosting its Summer Streets on Saturday. They closed Park Avenue from the Brooklyn Bridge (south) to Central Park (north) to only pedestrians, runners, skaters and bicyclists. We hosted my sister and her husband, and we all pedaled bikes the full length of the course a couple of times.

So what the heck does this have to do with leadership? Sometime during the weekend, my sister commented and complimented the postings and comments on LiaV. While she did add a comment to the blog on one occasion, she said the blog was more for “management people.” She enjoyed the context but did not want to insert comments. I understood her opinion, but it made me think. I learn so much from the most unsuspecting places. There is so much more to be learned about leadership from those being led day-in and day-out! I work hard to get this feedback from the people I work with, but it has not been a priority on this blog.

How can we encourage LiaV readers that are not in management positions to coment more often and teach us from their perspective?


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Do you have a lesson to share?

“Leadership is a Verb” is a community of us helping each other. As the host, it is my role to observe events and prepare them for a robust discussion. I have found the raconteur style to work well (story telling).

I am confident you have many more lessons, stories and experiences than I could possibly imagine. I would like to extend to you the opportunity to publish your thoughts and test the reactions of our community. Our topics are leadership, diversity, career development and the virtual workplace. Readers tend to prefer postings that are between 150 and 250 words with a question to ponder at the end.

If this interests you, please let me know.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Darn that wisdom thing

The other evening I was collaborating with an esteemed professor of systems engineering on some virtual team course material. We were making great progress, working remotely, using content-sharing software and low-cost web-link technology. One could say we were cutting edge collaborators in the moment.

It became clear to us that the course module needed more team introduction content, and we needed to do some research into basic teaming definitions and skills. This would require going old-school to get the information. Then my colleague made an interesting observation and said, “The older I get the more I respect that which came before me.” The dichotomy of working in the mist of all that technology and then being dependent on research before our reign was interesting.

Do you have examples of times when you gained a renewed respect for old-school knowledge?


Thursday, August 6, 2009

One letter can change the culture

Many of you know that I recently made a transition from CA to CT. All I really changed was one letter (from an “A” to a “T”). Sure, some things would be different, but we were still in the same country, sort of.

As I now know, there were more cultural differences in the singe letter change than anyone could guess. For example:

Most popular vehicle....Suburban....................Subaru
Baseball debate............Dodgers or Angels........Yankees or Red Sox
Daily 4 mile run..........Open beach strand........Privately owned streets

If you are wondering what this has to do with being a good leader, it is about understanding and appreciating individual differences. Certain people characteristics are geographically driven, and the leader who is sensitive to this will be more successful.

Where have you discovered cultural differences and adjusted your leadership approach?


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


What if someone told you that one of your responsibilities as a leader was to seek and recruit talent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year? Not just when you had an opening, but all the time. Even to the extent that you may recruit an individual even when no position exists because you understand a person of this capability and experience does not become available often.

In today’s business environment, this is almost hard to believe, but I had the pleasure to experience such an organization a short while back. It reminded of the time in 1996 when I was refinancing to a lower interest rate and was so impressed with the loan agent that I recruited her to become a pricing analyst in the supply chain management organization.

If you limit your recruiting to the time when you have an opening or in the mood, there are many people you will never notice. Talent is not confined to the Human Resources search process. Some great people have been found in unconventional places.

Do you recruit 24-7-52? Where was the most unconventional place you found a great talent?


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leadership Litmus Test

As a student of leadership, I am always looking for that simple introspective question or test to use to when assessing leadership skills. A LiaV reader contributed this litmus test.

“When I was in the Marine Corps in the late 60's and early 70's, we used one question to measure a man's leadership ability: Would I follow this man into combat?. As a sergeant in Vietnam, I am sure my men probably had to ask that question of me and decide, just like I pondered that question of my superiors. I don't remember ever saying no, which speaks a ton for the Marine Corps ability to develop leaders. I still catch myself asking the same question of superiors in my professional career. Unfortunately, there have been many "no's".”

Those of us in the business world think we have a leadership challenge. This puts it into a whole new category. Makes me think we need to remember to recruit these experienced leaders as they complete their military careers and are ready for their next experience.

Do you have leadership litmus tests you have used from outside the business environment that we can learn from?


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Work to live

The “live to work or work to live” debate has been bantered about for years. There the extended argument that “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.” Of course, there is also the bumper sticker that says “the worst day fishing is better than the best day working.”

A lot of it is perspective, but let me share a portion of an email I got last week from a colleague.

“At this point in my life, I too will hopefully be making some changes....sometime soon I will make the decision to retire. In the meantime, I have formed a non-profit organization named ListoAmerica (Listo is the Spanish word that means "ready"/"prepared" and also an acronym for Latino Infusion into Science & Technology Opportunities). To learn more about ListoAmerica, I'm in the process of developing the webpage: www.listoamerica.org (even though I have not yet generally communicated this webpage information (since I don't think it is the finished product yet), I have now given you the webpage and you can learn more about ListoAmerica since the webpage is actually live).”

As leaders we need to recognize that “whole” people work for us. We do not get a third of a person. We get a whole person for a third of their total time! They are doing very important things with the other two-thirds. Leaders need to help bring this passion into the workplace and bridge the workplace with the external passion. Imagine what the person that authored this email could do for the Latino workforce if they were unleashed.

What are you doing to build bridges to create opportunities for your team’s passions?


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Sugar Candy”

I recently had and opportunity to assist the new CEO of a $60M business on a competition. What should have been business as normal had become confusing, and they were about to miss out on a significant opportunity. I did not contribute anything more than asking a couple key questions and providing strategy guidance.

At the conclusion of our final conversation, I asked the CEO how he got into this situation in the first place. He said, “All that people bring to my office is sugar candy.” His point was that he had not yet built a culture where people bring him bad news. Only good news arrives. I thought about “sugar candy” on the way home and remembered a time in my career where the company was attempting to create a culture of providing help needed and it back-fired. The managers were taught to use the “five-whys” and to offer help. What actually happened was subordinates were “five-why’d” to the point of feeling like idiots and the offer of help had the tone of “do you need me to do it for you?” People took their issues under cover. It was less painful.

I learned from that experience that the culture a leader creates is not always the one they want. The communication tools the leader uses might dictate the resulting culture. I need to explore this when the time is right with my CEO friend.

Have you seen small errors derail cultural change efforts? What could have been done differently?


Monday, July 20, 2009

Know your surroundings

JW was doing pretty well on the shuffleboard table in the lounge after a company-sponsored training event. The lounge is designed in such a way as to create a good networking environment and burn off some of the energy pent up during the day of sitting in classrooms. Her opponent was pretty good at shuffleboard also which gave way to a little professionally constructive “team building talk.”

Upon a pulling off a slim victory, one of JW’s colleagues asked her if she knew who she had just defeated. “No,” she replied. As it turns out, JW had just successfully beaten the prior family owner and largest stockholder of the company. Not a big deal per se, but something she will likely remember for her career. In comes the next challenger.

Here was the debate a couple days later. Being that the event was in this environment often attended by members of the board of directors, should JW had done research to have known the board members in advance or was it better she had not to give the encounter a far more “real” feel and result?

What side of the debate do you side with and why?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s”

I can still hear it like it was yesterday. “If you only hire people more talented than yourself, then your job as the leader is to remove barriers and get out of the way,” said Ron. It was part of a discussion we were having about my concern that I was doing work I thought was higher level than others in my pay grade.

He suggested I watch the way some of his peers spend their time. He was far calmer and seemed to have his act together. Besides he said, “I have no problem with you achieving or even going beyond my current leadership level.” Ron told me that by hiring the best people, he was able to focus on other priorities for the organization. He also provided the insight that many managers are not comfortable with this concept because they think there is some mysterious competition. Simply put, A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s.

I have found over my career that not only is this a great yardstick for recruiting, but it turns out to be a valuable time management guide. When you just hire people more talented than yourself, the only thing you find yourself repeating is the recruiting and hiring process as you help these people spread their wings and take off. As the leader, you can focus on longer term strategy, diversity, talent development and customers/suppliers.

Have you had the opportunity to work for a leader that only hires A’s? Did it raise your performance?


Monday, July 13, 2009


“I want you to be more employable tomorrow than you are today.”

A generation ago, large companies would present the potential for life-time employment. From watching our parents, family, neighbors and friends, we know this is not still on the table. Companies do not consider this financially viable, and leaders struggle with how to accomplish it on their own within the confines of the legacy company. Seems like quite a dilemma.

What if I told you this was a leader’s artificial constraint? Like the “Ball & Chain” mentioned a week ago. While a leader and company might not be able to offer guaranteed employment, it is within the leader’s capability to offer improved employability. Employability in this context refers to keeping one’s skills current and relevant to the marketplace. As the leader, we usually have the insight to see business cycles, professional trends, technology insertions and skill set changes.

For example, for the last ten years, it was the stated objective of many organizations to move up the value chain and increase global presence. As the leader of a significant supply chain management organization, I was able to help buyers understand what this meant to them and what skills they would need to gain to remain relevant. This simple assistance by the leader allowed these great people to remain employable.

Are you helping your people remain employable? Do you have examples to share on skill set shifts where a leader helped transition the team?

If you have not voted LiaV as #1 leadership blog - please click here or upper right.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Change, Leadership, and the Three Types of Courage

Guest blog post by Scott C. Griffin

Every day we are faced with challenge and change. What differs is how we act, react and the ability to handle the challenge set before us. What differs is how some are able to stand up to these turbulent challenges and find the necessity to make needed changes. Change usually requires courage, and on a grander scale, takes leadership.

The Three Types of Courage

The Courage to Fail
If the corporate environment does not allow failure then the organization will fail to progress and to become successful. Organizations need to have the ability to allow failures as long lessons are learned from the error without dire consequences – hence the cliché “learn though our mistakes.”

Interpersonal Courage
Leaders who excel at interpersonal courage frequently form authentic relationships with their. However, these leaders also display the capacity to make tough decisions regarding people while considering the best interests of the organization. Courage comprises the ability to tolerate risk, ambiguity, and anxiety. Leaders high in courage welcome constructive criticism, admit and learn from their mistakes, and are aware of their own limitations.

Moral Courage
Moral courage is one of the hardest courage of the three. Moral Courage can affect your career and possible future advancement. This is often an area to tread lightly if your career depends on it. There are simpler ways to demonstrate moral courage.

True leaders take responsibility for their actions. Leadership takes courage. Leadership has to face an ever-changing environment just to keep pace. Nothing in life is stagnant and change is inevitable. It boils down to how a leader approaches the challenge of change.

Note: Scott Griffin is a contributor to our Liav leadership community, a graduate of the Keller Graduate School of Management and employed with a local government agency. (http://www.linkedin.com/in/scottcgriffin).


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just wait until you need them back

I had the opportunity to congratulate a colleague last week on being recruited to become the president of the North American subsidiary of a major international conglomerate. In doing so, it occurred to us that a paradigm shift is taking place under the talent of large legacy companies and the cost-cutting effort is not allowing them to see it.

While “managers” have dutifully been reducing the work force to achieve cost and profit objectives, actual leaders are also thinking about post recovery business environment. The memory of this workforce is more robust than many give credit. True leaders have been approaching the down cycle by engaging their teams in the tough decisions, and this has created different employment decisions than in the past. It is not as simple as one generation letting the younger generation go.

The most talented stars in the workforce today know their value and are not threatened by the idea of moving to other opportunities. The toughest task is for the leader in a legacy company to step up and act as though they understand that the economy will recover and the karma demonstrated today will be paid back.

Have you seen a leader that understands this new workforce paradigm? Do you believe the karma will be paid back?


Monday, July 6, 2009

You’re fired! Thank you!

Many companies truly want to be a part of and help their surrounding communities. They encourage team members to volunteer and expect their executives to participate in leadership roles.

This all seems like the right thing to do, and I can share another reason for this involvement. As the past president of the Long Beach Management Association, a leadership networking and community service organization, I had to have the dreaded discussion with a fellow board member that was not quite achieving all the roles of the position. Having never led a volunteer organization before, I approached the conversation like it was work.

It was not work and as soon as I provided the opportunity, the individual said they were quite busy and would love to pass this on to someone else. I moved from not getting all I hoped to getting nothing. It struck me like a 2x4. Leading a volunteer effort is way more delicate than leading organizations where people are paid.

So, the next time you are looking to develop one of your up-and-coming leadership hot shots that has a little edge, assign them to lead a volunteer organization. In fact, if you have never done this, sign up yourself! It is a great leadership development undertaking.

Have you had a challenge leading a volunteer effort? Are the leadership skills required different?

Vote Leadership is a Verb as best leadership blog of 2009.


Friday, July 3, 2009

“How Not to Act Old”

Do you really care where you get good career advice?

You know those long flights where you find yourself re-reading the “Sky Mall” magazine for the twentieth time? Sometimes you just read the thing that is available at the time. Thus, my adventure through “More” magazine this weekend (“The best-selling magazine for women over 40”). I decided to read an article by Pamela Redmond Satran on “How Not to Act Old.” “The point isn’t to behave like a 26-year-old. It’s to learn how not to act like someone a 26-year-old might snicker at.”

Previously, we explored the generational differences of the Gen Y’s and the leadership implications they present on LiaV, but never listed the twenty-one simple things you can do today to better communicate with your Gen Y teammates (Warning: Based on the source, some are not work or male oriented!). Hints like not being the team’s history channel, losing the watch, vmail and txt etiquette, getting out of your chair, redefining “long term”, re-evaluating refreshments, thinking fun, not volunteering parental advice and typing with your thumbs are interesting hints into their world.

I personally felt pretty good that I made at least half of the suggested “male” oriented adjustments prior to reading the article based on observations we have discussed in the past. I dare you to remove your watch for the next week.

Do you seek insight from any source? Have you developed the skill to recognize good advice when you see it?

Note: The article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “How Not to Act Old: 185 Ways to Pass for Phat, Sick, Hot, Dope, Awesome, or at Least Not Totally Lame” by Pamela Redmond Satran.

PS – Another thought on not acting old – just use Pamela’s blog.


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Your input is needed – LiaV nominated for 2009 Best of Leadership Blogs

What an honor that our “Leadership is a Verb” blog has been selected as one of the top ten Best Leadership Blogs for 2009. We are clearly the underdog standing side-by-side with professionals.

You can rock the vote. Click the logo to the right.
The winner will be announced on Monday, August 3.
Thank you, and remember to check back periodically for updates on the results. Make sure to share the competition with your friends, family and colleagues!



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I want to be redundant

“I do not understand how you had the time to get your real job done,” said Johanna after I had explained the significant improvements and awards the organization had won in the area of diversity and abilities awareness. My response was simple, “You have plenty of time to work collateral topics when your primary focus is on recruiting and developing people to be more capable and competent than yourself.”

The dialog created from a recent LiaV post (“Someone has to end it”), about how learning stops if you do the exact some job for too long, surfaced an interesting goal for leaders. Many agreed it was the role of the leader to develop the people and improve the systems and processes to the point that the leader actually became redundant.

While this seems like such a simple concept, it is also extremely risky. By definition it says that leaders must work themselves out of a job every couple of years. This is a very uncomfortable place to be so often. Leaders have to be very confident in their skills and contributions to become so vulnerable repeatedly. Those working for progressive leadership understand how this continues to happen. If not, leaders may not get the best assignment they deserve.

Do you believe it is the role of leaders to become redundant? have you seen a leader accomplish this goal?


Monday, June 29, 2009

Who is your “Sweet Chuck”?

Disclosure – I am not a big Kobe Bryant basketball fan. I believe he could be doing so much more for the community and the world.

That being said, as a leader, it is my responsibility to find the contributions and value every individual brings to an organization and respect their efforts. I learned in a recent article by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, entitled “Scout’s eye helped Bryant focus on title drive,” exactly how much effort Mr. Bryant puts into mentally preparing and studying for every game. It seemed to be off the map compared to his peers.

The other very interesting thing about Bryant’s preparation is the fact that he is willing to accept insights and guidance from non-traditional sources. Kobe’s most insightful source in the current championship drive was a relatively unknown basketball scout with the nickname “Sweet Chuck.” Mike Procopio (his real name) came with facts and specific recommendations, not generalities. He gained Kobe’s respect and the rest is history.

Whether we call them mentors, coaches or just colleagues, we all need the advice and insights of others. Even more importantly, as our careers progress, we cannot forget that best leadership advice often comes from the most unlikely sources. My twenty-something coaches provide me insights a peer or boss could not. The 35-year shop guy knows more than anyone where the skeletons are hidden.

Do you have “Sweet Chucks” that tell you the facts? Have you found non-traditional mentors useful in your career?


Friday, June 26, 2009

Who is listening to you?

When you come from a family the size of ours (23 siblings between my wife and I), you have to choose which events you can reasonably attend. Of the five possible graduations this season, we were able to go to the Mt. Greylock High School graduation of a niece and the master’s graduation of a sister-in-law from California State University in Bakersfield.

While both events were completely different in scope and circumstance, they were both celebrations of academic and life achievement. What really struck me about the two events was the content and delivery of the two commencement speakers. The university speaker spoke about the challenging California budget environment and the cuts in services that will result. The tone was somber and perhaps a little defensive. The high-school speaker was light hearted, spoke to the students about achievements and opportunity and recognized the families for their contributions.

While reflecting later on the flight home, it occurred to me the difference might have been who the speaker in each case considered to be their audience. The university speaker may have thought the audience to be tax payers (which was true) but they were not in the auditorium as such at that moment. The high school speaker believed the audience to be successful students and proud families. That simple difference created a completely different message, tone and event.

Careful thought of your audience and the purpose of their attendance is a critical element for a leader to understand to communicate successfully. Even if a message “should” be told, if the audience is not there to hear it, the after talk will be more about the inappropriateness than the facts of the presentation.

Have you seen good speakers gone bad based on missing the audience? What lessons have you learned?


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