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Archive for August, 2007

Leaders are recognized by their results

Friday, August 31st, 2007

No kidding, folks. No matter how minor the arena it’s results that count. And don’t expect brilliant rhetoric to make up for mediocre efforts.You can talk all day about who, what, where, when, why and how, but unless your walk matches your talk there will be no results—at least not the ones you predicted!

Whether you lead, manage, or both (the lead/manage discussion is for another time), no one’s going to listen to you if you don’t follow though. Worse, you’ll find that those who were taken in by your talk, and then tripped up when you didn’t walk, are a very unforgiving lot and rightly so.

I’ve had this conversation with hundreds of leaders/managers over the years, and the common response is along the lines of, “They won’t even notice <whatever>.”

Since I’m getting tired of explaining the same thing over and over, I thought I’d do it here and then just refer everyone to this post.

If you really believe that “they” won’t notice then you’re suffering from one or more of the following aberrations, AKA if the shoe fits…

  • You’re smarter than everyone else: Jeff Skilling is a recent example that comes to mind.

Or the flip side

  • People are stupid and don’t really pay attention: Richard Nixon is a prime example; he really didn’t believe that anyone would notice the blank spots on the tapes, and if they did, wouldn’t know what they meant.
  • You don’t believe in Murphy’s Law: You’re from either another planet or leading a charmed life and have a penchant for pushing your luck.
  • You’re a master obfuscator: If no one can understand your talk, then there’s no way to prove that you didn’t walk [it].

The great thing about talking and walking is that it’s part of your MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy)TM, therefore within your control, and, therefore, it’s your choice.

As always, think carefully and choose wisely.

Manager turnaround (continued)

Friday, August 31st, 2007

We talked for more than three hours brainstorming different ideas, playing out possible scenarios (some of the more outrageous ones really broke the tension) and finally came up with a plan that Ben felt comfortable implementing, based on his desire to stay at the company and belief that Jeana really couldn’t see what she was doing wrong and that she used to do it right.

Ben agreed that it wouldn’t be a quick fix, but that it was worth the effort.

Here’s an overview of our plan: as with the mule (described here) first we had to get Jeana’s attention; then help her develop a new version of how she used to be, since the old version was based on who she was before the promotion and that person really didn’t exist any more. Sounds simple, but accomplishing will be anything but.

During our brainstorming, we decided that the best 2×4 would be Jeana’s own words, so Ben dug out an old voice activated recorder that he could use to tape solid examples of both her talk and her walk.

Once he has a good selection, he’ll transcribe them and send me a copy. We’ll sort through them for the most obvious contradictions between talk and walk.

We agreed that the most critical aspect of the operation would be how Ben brings it up so we decided to wait until we have all our ducks, organize them and see what makes the most sense. We want to avoid creating a confrontational atmosphere.

The one thing we’re sure of is that it will be totally private, with nobody involved except Ben and Jeana. Ben has no interest in embarrassing her and knows that the whole thing could backfire and he’d be out. Even so, he feels it’s worth it, since he’d be gone anyway and, based on the weekly recruiter calls he gets, another job isn’t a concern.

Ben plans to start collecting “samples” right after Labor Day. It’ll be awhile, but I’ll keep you posted.

Manager turnaround

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

I received an email last weekend that I want to share with you; obviously, the names and any identifying information have been changed.

Hi Miki, I’m at my wits end and writing you is pretty much my last resort. We’ve been out of touch for several years, so I don’t know if you remember me, but it was really you who taught me how to manage when I first became a manager way back in ’99 and I’ve followed and built on that ever since, plus the info in your blog has given me yet more insights over the last 18 months.

I believe that it’s those skills, or MAP as you now call it, that helped me build my reputation as a manager whose group (department, now) always had the lowest turnover in every company I’ve worked for, and the main reason I was hired into my current position as director of engr. But I don’t think I can stay.

My wife is aghast at the idea, and I’m not happy about it, but I’ve been here nearly a year, and things aren’t improving. The company is fantastic and well positioned and the CEO and other sr execs are great, but as I said to my wife, I’m really being forced to quit over religious differences-my boss thinks she’s God and I don’t (forgive me, I’m trying to keep my sense of humor).

I made sure that culture was a main component in all the interviews with my boss and everyone else, including the CEO and it seemed to be a perfect match.

When I asked Jeana, the engr vp, why the last director left, she said that turnover was extremely high and that director wasn’t able to reverse it. She said that my reputation for being able to both hire and keep a stable organization was a large part of my attraction. It was subtle, but in all our discussions she made it sound as if my predecessor was to blame for the turnover.

As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, the problem is Jeana, who doesn’t walk her talk. In a large nutshell, here’s a sample of the kind of stuff she does.

  • She makes casual comments to my developers that are actually disparaging in one way or another and then says she was only joking when I call her on it.
  • She’s an engr by training and makes suggestions that make no sense, but because she’s the vp everyone thinks they should listen to her.
  • She doesn’t discuss, she states, and I’m supposed to agree because she “knows.”
  • She’s read lots of books on culture and leadership, is always quoting them, but doesn’t seem to realize that she’s not practicing them.

Now, I’ve believed in open communication since the days when you first instilled it in my then-company’s culture and practiced it and seen it in action since, so I applied it in every way I knew to get her to recognize the problems she’s causing and that she need’s to walk what she talks.

But no matter what I say, or what examples I offer, she merely explains that I don’t understand, but with patience and her as an example my own management skills will increase to the point that I can accomplish what I was brought in to do. Jeana says that’s been the problem with all the directors since she was promoted, none of us have been willing to follow her lead and improve our skills, so she’s forced to do both jobs, director and vp. I’ve asked around, and it seems that this “god” complex started with her promotion.

So, that’s it, Miki, I still like her, but what else can I do? I have a bit of rope left and am more than willing to try anything you dream up.

Yours with high hopes,


I remembered Ben vividly and on the one hand was delighted to be back in touch with him, but on the other, being the “last resort” for anything is daunting, to say the least, particularly in the case of a manager this talented.

I immediately called and we arrange a time to talk; strategizing something this complicated isn’t fit for an email exchange.

Continued tomorrow…

Leadership is "hot"

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

More leadership on Raven’s Brain says,gantthead has another great article on leadership: Hot Leadership. Author Bob Weinstein discusses the surge in leadership books and how the word itself – leadership – is becoming a trendy, hot topic, more of a buzzword than a impetus for better management through real leadership principles,” and includes an excerpt, but it was this comment on gantthead that caught my eye, “during the past 20 years, more has been written on leadership than in all of recorded history.”

Fascinating. Leadership is “hot,” so everyone who is trying to get ahead in whatever the effort or circumstances decide that being a leader is the path to success.

Do you know what you’d have if every person in a given organization who was trying to become a leader to ensure their own success succeeded? Chaos, total chaos.

Don’t misunderstand me, adding leadership skills to your skills arsenal is a great idea; setting out to “become a leader” is a totally different thing.

Think about it.

The Focus of a Leader

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Michael McKinney’s post highlights a 2007 leadership book, Measure of a Leader, wherein “the premise is a new model of leadership that focuses on the behavior of followers,” and he includes five leadership lessons from it that I agree make a lot of sense. However…

Duh! I find the idea that leaders aren’t savvy enough to realize for themselves the need to focus on those they lead, i.e., followers, to be as ridiculous as the need to tell business to focus on what their customers’ desires.

It should be a no-brainer that companies are in business so supply their customers with the specific goods and/or services that they want or need, but it’s rocket science based on the number of companies that get it wrong.

Likewise, it should be a no-brainer that a leader is there to get people to a place or outcome that they want, or have been convinced they want, as opposed to the self-aggrandizement of the leader.

Once again, I’ll quote what is to me the finest leadership ethos around, and probably the oldest.

As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate…
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
To lead the people, walk behind them.
Lao Tzu

Corporate culture and mergers

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Yesterday I wrote again about how changing a culture can save a company and I’ve highlighted dozens of similar stories discussing how culture underlies company success or failure over the last 18 months.

Culture is also one of the biggest causes of failed mergers, think Daimler and Chrysler.

A CNN Money.com article notes, “Some companies do it well. Johnson & Johnson and Cisco Systems in the 1990s cautiously evaluated target companies’ cultures and walked away from deals that made sense technologically, financially and strategically, but not culturally. “That’s smart, but rare,” according to Glenn Carroll, a Stanford Graduate School of Business organizations professor.”

Turnaround manager Martin Wobornik says, “…to treat these soft issues as seriously as you would a merger’s hard aspects, which include integrating accounting, human resource and supply chain systems. People are your most valuable assets. You can only make them stay (so long) with financial incentives. If they’re unhappy they’ll leave.”

The only difference between the incompatibility of cultures in a merger and the incompatibility of a candidate and a company’s culture is money.

Executives make money when mergers happen, whereas they lose money on culturally incompatible hires.

Are ethical values set or fluid?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Brian Clark over at copyblogger wrote an interesting post on whether or not people really want transparency and authenticity that sparked a discussion that’s well worth reading.

There are times when, “Do these pants make me look fat?” needs to be answered yes, but that yes can be phrased far more diplomatically, e.g., “You have far more becoming outfits to wear.”

Is the businessman who projected a positive persona that performed well truly at fault because his inner thoughts were different from the outer ones?

Isn’t what goes on in your head your business or is what we think the crime vs. what we do?

Isn’t it only when our thoughts spur actions, our own or others, which are detrimental to individuals or society that outsiders have the right to judge them?

Rich Brooks commented, “So, maybe it’s not that what we want is transparency and authenticity, but what we DON’T want is concealment and dishonesty.”

Sounds right, but all four attitudes-transparency, authenticity, concealment and dishonesty—are still situational, based on the society and time in which they’re happening. According to Lynn Sharp Paine, the John G. McLean Professor at Harvard Business School, “Indeed, as the size and importance of corporations have increased, so has the general propensity to view their activities through a moral lens.” (See post)

Unfortunately, the world isn’t black and white, but rather it’s done in shades of gray based on the beliefs of people in a particular society and at a particular time.

Most social police, blogging, fashion, etc., started as one person with a specific set of forceful opinions and the skill to make them known to a wide audience from which, s/he amassed like-minded people who added their voices and built clout until they suddenly became the arbiters on that topic. This scenario applies equally in politics (think Hitler), religion (every religious leader throughout time), etc. But being the <?> police doesn’t make them “right.”

Even most judgmental words such as, right, wrong, good, bad, etc., have meanings that have changed at various times in history and in the same times, but in different societies and cultures, or even the same ones.

Universally, murder has always been considered bad, but what constitutes murder is ever changing.

The most we ever state is our own opinion, IMO in today’s lexicon, as I have done today and then hope that it is backed up by others who share it.

Change the culture – save the company

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

In 2005, Merck was in crisis when Richard Clark was tapped as the man to save it and promoted to CEO. In addition to monster lawsuits and the upcoming loss of patent protection on two major products, “Merck’s labs, which other companies once hailed as a bastion of scientific innovation, were crippled by a culture that buried good ideas under layers of bureaucracy. But in the morass, Clark saw opportunity. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” says the CEO.” Rather than doing typical short-term maneuvers, such as large layoffs, Clark chose instead to tackle the root of the problem—Merck’s culture.

Merck’s Board was smart in promoting the insider; during his 35 years, Clark had watched the company degenerate into a collection of fiefdoms more focused on advancing their own agendas than on getting the right drugs to patients. To revitalize drug development he’d need to get Merck’s 60,000 employees–scientists, regulatory staff, and salespeople–to work together.

Clark set out to blast open deeply blocked channels of communication. Over the years, Merck had fallen out of touch with customers. Clark wanted to get employees to stop thinking about their specific job functions and to instead focus on the diseases they were trying to conquer. So he began placing people in teams defined by therapeutic fields such as cancer and diabetes. He encouraged the teams to huddle with doctors who prescribe Merck’s products, patients who take them, and even insurers that decide whether or not to pay for them. “It’s a different way of doing business,” says Clark…Bringing disparate voices together from Day One “is the way work should get done in companies.”

Clark also recognized, and R&D chief Peter S. Kim concurred, that they needed to overturn some of the most deeply ingrained behavior of the scientific world, not just at Merck.

“One of the hardest decisions any scientist has to make is when to abandon an experimental drug that’s not working. An inability to admit failure leads to inefficiencies. A scientist may spend months and tens of thousands of dollars studying a compound, hoping for a result he or she knows likely won’t come, rather than pitching in on a project with a better chance of turning into a viable drug. So Kim is promising stock options to scientists who bail out on losing projects. It’s not the loss per se that’s being rewarded but the decision to accept failure and move on. “You can’t change the truth. You can only delay how long it takes to find it out,” Kim says. “If you’re a good scientist, you want to spend your time and the company’s money on something that’s going to lead to success.””

Cultures don’t change overnight or in two years or even in ten, it’s an ongoing battle. Clark is “still haunted by the culture of complacency that left companies like his stuck in an innovation rut.” If you ever feel comfortable that your model is the right model, you end up where the industry is today,” he says. “It’s always going to be continuous improvement. We will never declare victory.”

There are good lessons for young companies in the fall and subsequent rising of 114 year-old Merck and a CEO who was a “low-key executive…from a very unglamorous post…head of manufacturing.”

Clark sums it up nicely when he says that finding a comfort zone, whether in your business model or your culture is one of the worst things that can happen to you.

The value of diversity

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

A Creative Generalist post led me to some excellent answers from Frans Johansson on questions regarding the value and importance of managing diversity. Here is the Q&A, along with additional thoughts.

Q. What does diversity bring to a business, and how can it make money?

A. Diversity brings the possibility to leapfrog competitors. By leveraging different perspectives, a company can create “Medici Effect”, an explosion of groundbreaking ideas. A corporation must first understand the need for diversity and then how to use it. With those two pieces in place, however, it will outperform. This is ultimately reflected in shareholder value. Diversity can make money in several ways. The most fundamental is in how it drives innovation. When Volvo Cars decided to create an all-female engineering team it came up with hundreds of ideas, most of them never suggested before – and many were brilliant. In addition, diversity can help us find unique market opportunities. When the Hispanic networking group at Frito-Lay in the US (part of PepsiCo) suggested the company develop a “Guacamole Chip”, the company went for it and made $100 million in its first year of sales.

Companies must do more than “understand the need;” CEOs often must instigate fundamental cultural changes across the organization’s MAP, starting with their own. Only then can the leaders expect diversity to be accepted as the norm.

Q. Does it [diversity] mean hiring people who are not as well-qualified?

A. Hiring well-qualified people is the baseline. But diversity means we need to question our assumptions about those qualifications. When L’Oreal acquired Maybelline it changed the make-up of the company’s staff by bringing in people of different ethnicities and countries ). Many may have been traditionally “not right” for the job, but five years later Maybelline had become the number one cosmetics brand in the world – a result of innovation from diversity.

I’ve written for years on the dangers of hiring only in your comfort zone and the dangers have increased exponentially with the explosion of global workforces and products.

Q. Does it have to mean age, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation?

A. Not necessarily but those attributes increase the chances in bringing together different perspectives. It can also mean different fields, experiences and expertise.

Those attributes also don’t guarantee diversity. For example, Dick Chaney, Clarence Thomas and Alberto Gonzales are ethnically diverse, but think in tandem.

Q. What if my occupation happens to attract a particular type, such as men, women, straight…?

A. If everyone around you is the same, you’ve got some serious problems. Every industry today is under intense pressure to innovate and change, and they should seek diversity anywhere possible. Seek out organisations that try to hire people different from yourself.

If you really believe that it’s the nature of your work that leads you to hire a particular type all the time, then it’s safe to assume that you also believe in the tooth fairy. Rationalizations aside, it’s almost a toss-up as to which is worse, mental or skills homogeny.

Q. How do I make a workplace more attractive to different types of people?

A. The first step is to ensure it is diverse to begin with. If your competitor is further along than you, get moving. To get a diverse workplace to begin with, though, you must breed openness, respect and tolerance. Only then can team members feel comfortable providing, championing and challenging ideas. In addition, you have to ensure people are evaluated more on their ideas than on how well you know them, since diverse teams tend to consist of people who may only have worked together for a short period of time. Things work pretty well when we’re all from the same backgrounds.

Openness, respect and tolerance must be embedded first in your MAP and the MAP of your managers, then in your company culture. The foundation of all three comes from your employees’ fundamental belief that the messenger won’t be killed—no matter the message or how it’s delivered. Because it’s a trust issue, recovering from a violation is more difficult than almost any other cultural stance.

Q. Wouldn’t changing the make-up mean conflict and inefficiency?

A. It’s all about leadership and management. The most important quality for a global leader is understanding how to manage diversity. That bit of extra time dwarfs in comparison to the benefits in revenue, market share or profit margin that results from the team’s composition.

To conflict and inefficiency add mental, psychic and, possibly, even physical discomfort—for you, your group and, if you’re a diversity trailblazer, the entire company. But that’s often the initial result of change, that’s why so many leaders, managers, people, often go through changes kicking and screaming all the way.

Q. Surely we’re going to have to spend more time on training?

A. We have developed a workshop which trains executives and managers to use existing diversity in their company to generate new innovations in products, services, supply chain, marketing, hiring… everywhere. With these skills, a corporation not only understands the value of diversity – it accomplishs breakthroughs because of it.

Another way to look at it is that any increased spending on diversity development is an investment and will be more than offset by the increases in innovation, productivity and revenues. If spending $100 results in a bottom line increase of $1000, did you really spend the $100, or did you gain $900? $900 that wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t invested the initial $100.

Managing takes thought

Monday, August 27th, 2007

It used to be when managers had new and challenging situations they needed resolve that they’d read expert information and discuss it with friends/colleagues; then they’d think about what they’d read/heard and synthesize the input, tweaking it so it would fit their MAP and the situation perfectly and, in doing so, it became an approach that they truly owned.

Best, management skills evolved, both personally and on a wider front as they shared their solutions with other managers, who also thought about it, adding and subtracting based on their situation, experience and MAP.

Rarely did managers use the whole cloth from just one source, but, unfortunately, I find that happening more often these days.

Granted, the demands on managers’ time are greater than ever, but this trend seems to be based more in a belief that most, if not all, solutions are available on the Net if one searches long enough and because too many managers seem to feel that if a solution is a better-than-50% fit, it can be used as is.

Of course, that’s often better than the “do first, think later” school of management.

But the way to become a great manager is to mull, accept, reject, evolve and even change your MAP as you digest and apply the information around you.

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