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 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.


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