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?


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