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?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

“Listen until it hurts”

What I liked most about Tim was that fact that he brought a different perspective to every discussion. What some others did not like about Tim was that he brought a different perspective to every discussion.

Some might think it is easier to lead when you surround yourself with like-minded people. While it may be easier, it probably does not bring the strongest and best solutions. When a leader that recruits and hires a staff with a similar thought process as themselves, the staff will likely agree with the leaders ideas, seldom question “group think” and avoid conflict.

The mature and confident leader will look to hire the experts in their fields with experience and expertise they do not have. These leaders speak less and listen more. I still remember Tim coaching us going into a customer meeting to “listen until it hurts.” We were being coached not to try to tell the customer what they wanted, but to hear what they needed. I can recall Tim summarizing the half-day session by repeating what a young US Army Sergeant had said, “I’d rather be safe than comfortable.” Tim listened to different perspectives and pulled the key lessons.

Have you encountered great listeners? How did they make you feel?


Monday, June 22, 2009

What is your ball and chain?

Those of you that know me understand that I solve the world’s problems each afternoon as I am running on the beach listening to my iPod. Unfortunately, I usually forget the solution by the time I get back from a four-mile run.

Something occurred to me while listening to Social Distortion’s 1990 hit “Ball and Chain” yesterday. They never say exactly what the ball and chain is. I always assumed it was a partner.

If we assume for a moment that we all have some self-inflicted constraints, then we are all bearing a ball and chain. Some of us assume talent or time limitations; others view the benefits of peers to somehow be our constraint. I’ve mentored people who believe their family responsibilities are holding them back. There are people who think they are too old to finish their education and others who are convinced their constraint is race, sex, color or religious-related.

While I understand there are real constraints in the world, what would happen if we each decided to “take away this ball and chain” and move on? I know I find that every time I forget my personal constraints, I accomplish something amazing. The biggest challenge is overcoming the fear of trying the unknown.

Have you ever left behind a constraint and accomplished something you did not think you could?


Friday, June 19, 2009

“Real” Networking

John’s company sells a value-added service that many entities need and use. I am a very likely buyer of John’s company’s services, but we have not yet connected the dots to do business together. John has never tried to sell me anything, but if I wanted some of what he sells, I would ensure he was on the bid list.

We had lunch together the other day, and we each brought the other up-to-speed on our latest happenings. There is a mutual respect that eliminates the need for some type of sales pitch. He always takes the time to teach me the most advanced 3PL (third party logistics) solutions across multiple industries, and I try to share my latest knowledge about strategic sourcing, leadership and web 2.0. Each of us ultimately leaves every meeting feeling we have accomplished/learned something important.

We talked about the litmus test last week in “But would they return the call?” and many of you responded that networking is about giving of one’s self without the expectation of anything in return. John and I may do business together one day, but in the meantime, we mutually help each other achieve personal and business results. I return John’s calls.

Do you remember to take the time to build relationships even when you don’t need anything?


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Movie stars and choppers

Not long ago, Sunset Beach (CA) hosted their annual arts & crafts fair on the narrow grassy area between Pacific Coast Highway and the beach front homes. It is a local family event and the furthest most people might travel is 5 or 10 miles to attend. Interestingly, Sandra Bullock and Jessie James (hopefully you have heard of these 2 very different, but married celebrities) are locals to the immediate area and joined in the festivities. What struck me about seeing them in the crowd was how well they fit in. They did not want, or get, any special attention from anyone. They enjoyed themselves as simply as we all do.

There is a leadership lesson about perception, remaining true to one’s self and being fearful of isolation in this observation. Months ago on the LifeAtBoeing blog, Brian talked about how reserved parking for executives could create isolation if not realized. As we progress in our professional careers, we need to maintain a self-awareness of who we are, what is important to us and how it all relates to the expectations of the positions we hold. If we accept a job, we need to do what it takes to be successful. At the same time, we need to remain “real” people and not be consumed with the title and trappings. Don’t lose site of what made you successful in the first place.

What other similar experiences do you believe we need to be aware of to avoid isolation?


Monday, June 15, 2009

Never be the one!

I received an email Sunday afternoon that a colleague had passed away from a massive heart attack while on the golf course. It was very sad to hear, and my heart goes out to the family and friends. Later that day, it reminded me of the most basic of all leadership responsibilities – safety. This is the first of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Can you even imagine being the manager that has to call the spouse of one of your employees to tell them their partner was seriously injured or even killed in an accident while at work? In some ways, I was lucky to learn the importance of safety early when I was seriously injured while training to be a welder at a technical school. A couple hundred stitches and a few months later, I was back on the basketball court. But that did not prepare me in any way for the day I had to call the spouse of an employee who had a life ending medical emergency while on the job. I did not know at the time that it was a brain aneurysm and believed it to be work-related.

Leaders must do absolutely everything within their power to ensure a safe workplace. You never want to make the call I did. This lesson is short and direct.


Friday, June 12, 2009

It’s the second one that will kill you

In a recent Leader is a Verb posting on the importance of being a positive role model and always putting the team ahead of self, I used the poor judgment of LeBron James after the Orlando-Cleveland series to highlight what not to do. MANY of you commented with various insights.

Having thought about it a few more days, I now believe there is an even more important leadership lesson to be learned from this drama, and it just may be still playing out. ALL leaders will make mistakes. If you do not make mistakes, you are not trying anything new or taking risks. The key is how does the leader who has made a mistake react and present the error in public. Mr. James tried to justify an obvious incorrect action and people saw right through it.

A couple years ago, a senior executive at a Fortune 100 company broke the law by talking to a government official about employment. Once uncovered, the two tried to say it did not happen. Both were imprisoned. When the CEO was asked what the leadership should learn from the ordeal, he said “you MAY BE fired for making a serious error, but you will ALWAYS be fired for covering it up.” It is the second mistake that gets otherwise good people into trouble. Just stand up and admit what happened. We tend to accept imperfection.

Have you seen someone admit a serious error, and was forgiven?


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It’s about the people, stupid.

“Why should I shake their hands, LeBron doesn’t,” said Patrick’s nine year-old son.

I know it drives some of you nuts when I bring sports analogies into the discussion of leadership, but I strongly believe role modeling and the resulting imitation is a big part of being a leader.

The Orlando Magic was victorious over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron “the King” James was surprisingly upset by Orlando because they acted and played as a team. Although I was publicly hoping for a Cleveland-LA match-up in the finals, such is basketball.

At the series conclusion, LeBron James walked off the court, did not congratulate the other team and skipped the post game news conference. James said, “It doesn’t make sense for me to go over and shake somebody’s hand.” Whether or not Mr. James understands this at age 24, he was thrust in a position of power and many people (young and old) look up to him. Even though it was brief, LeBron forgot the basics and went into a “me” world forgetting that it is not about him, it is about the people. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports explained it well.

It is in the worst of times when great leaders are tested for to see if their true values come through. Some bend the rules or avoid the tough decisions. Others stand up and do the right thing.

Have you observed a strong leader do the right thing in a tough situation? Did it result in more respect for the leader?


Monday, June 8, 2009

Someone has to end it

Suppose you are the absolute expert in your job. You are the person people come to ask directions, policy, etc. You are comfortable and seldom does someone ask you something you have not experienced or do not know the answer to. Someone has to bring an end to this!

While there is something to be said for having people in the organization that truly understand the inner workings and have the ability to work the system, there is also something to be said for people being challenged and growing. This is an extremely delicate balance new leaders must learn through trial and error.

I remember working with a 35-year expert that was completing his last couple of years before retirement. He appeared as someone not interested in a challenge or learning something new. We talked honestly a few times and I learned he was passionate about people learning from his experiences before he left. Long story short, he ultimately took over the new college hire orientation process giving his knowledge away.

Have you been in too comfortable situation where it had to end? Have you helped others see this dilemma without them realizing they were in it? How did it turn out?


Friday, June 5, 2009

But would they take your call?

I received some outstanding coaching many years back that “the time you need a strong professional network is not the time to start networking.” While I am a very outgoing and gregarious individual, I have never been much for meaningless conversation. It took me a few years to understand that the strongest network relationships were built from professional business dealings, by taking a genuine interest in individuals and a quest to really help others.

Over the last few months, I have tested the strength of my network and was surprisingly pleased. I had a simple litmus test that proved overwhelmingly successful. When I called for absolutely no apparent reason, in today’s economy, with no current active business, did they take my call. I was pleasantly surprised to find the “old school” way I was taught to do business paid off handsomely. This made me step back and think for a moment about what it was I had actually done for so many years. It was not magic, but it was constant and consistent. Here are some simple examples:

• Care about others as much as yourself.
• Care a lot about both sides of “the deal” you are negotiating.
• Stand up for your supplier/customer inside your company when appropriate.
• When you read something that will interest a colleague, send it to them.
• Always make time to visit when you are on someone else’s location.
• Make time accept a colleague visiting your location.
• When someone calls and you don’t know the answer, recommend someone who may help.
• Speak at events that assist them fulfilling their obligations.

This is so simple you may not believe it could work, but I have been doing these little acts daily for many years. I am fortunate to be in a life-changing opportunity that only became available based on my personal and professional network.

What small tips or tools for network building would you add to this list?


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The world is perfect

Think back for a moment to when you were eighteen years old and in your final week of high school. The world was perfect. You had great friends, your future was an open book, people were congratulating you and, of course, there were the gifts. While you did not know what the future would bring, you believed it would be good and you were looking forward to it with every fiber of your being.

I received this graduation photo in an email the other day, and it immediately brought me back 30 years. These two young men own the world and it is filled with challenge, opportunity and promise. You can see it in their faces. They have accomplished something important and are headed into a world of unknown perfection.

The photo also made me think that as a leader, this is one of my key responsibilities. To help my team accomplish the present challenges and excite them about the future, even though no one really knows for sure what that future will include. As the leader, (or parent) you work with the team to create this level of “possibility” in what might be.

Does your team demonstrate this level of excitement? Were there times they did?


Monday, June 1, 2009

Life by Regina

The below list was written by Regina Brett, 90 years old, of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio "to celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I've ever written."

1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch .
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree .
7. Cry with someone. It's more healing than crying alone.
8. It's OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won't screw up the present.
12. It's OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn't be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath . It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn't kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It's never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don't take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don't save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words 'In five years, will this matter?'
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn't do.
35. Don't audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative -- dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's,we'd grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn't tied with a bow, but it's still a gift."


Add to Technorati Favorites