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Archive for January, 2009

Seize Your Leadership Day: Coherence, Interviewing And Decisions

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

I only received one response to my query last week and it was positive, so here again are three food-for-thought links. I wouldn’t want you to run out of stuff to do this weekend.

First up is a post from Denis, who starred in my post, A Follower Leads. Denis is a senior software developer who says he isn’t a great follower, but he’s not a manager and doesn’t seem to see what he does as ‘leading’. The other day he wrote about Group Coherence/Common Purpose—one of the best explanation/discussion I’ve seen on the topic. I think Denis a leader, what do you think?

Next is from HBS Conversation Starter, a favorite source of mine, not so much for the posts as for the responses from readers (which are the whole point). This one is by Peter Bregman, CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., who offers up what he considers the ultimate interview question“After you have narrowed the pool of applicants down to those with the skills, experience, and knowledge to do the job, ask each candidate one question: What do you do in your spare time?” I hope that if you join the conversation, you repost your comment here.

Last, but not least, is a link to yet another Harvard offering. It’s the abstract of a paper called Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions. It discusses how “Neuroscience reveals what distorts a leader’s judgment. Here’s how you can keep your own judgment clear.” The teaser is interesting, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether to buy the entire paper.

OK, that should keep you busy for an hour or so. Have fun the rest of the time!

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Image credit: flickr

Saturday Odd Bits Roundup: Weird Toys, Egos And Talent

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Last spring I mentioned that I love Mark Jabo of Biz Levity and you have him to thank for this Odd Bit. Mark has a link to Abbott Research & Consulting which has a link to a discussion on Amazon about a toy called Playmobil security checkpoint—termed a “Seriously Disturbing Toy!” I’m not sure which is creepier, the toy or the kids reactions. What do you think?

Next, writing on BNET. Steve Tobak offers up on comments on grandiose, company-crashing visions and profiles the three types of CEOs who have them, with examples of each.

Last, but not least, is from Dan McCarthy at Great Leadership. His post and commentary on The State of Talent Management and link to the full report make useful reading for anyone with a company to run.

All in all, tasty reading for this weekend.

Image credit: flickr

Strength And Grace: A Leader To Remember

Friday, January 30th, 2009

As regular readers know, I don’t believe that leadership is reserved to the few, the chosen, the anointed. I do believe that it can and should be practiced by all, every day and in all aspects of their lives.

That said, now and then there comes someone who truly leads in all senses of the word.

Mahatma Gandhi was such a person.

He was murdered on January 30, 1948, by a Hindu extremist.

61 years after his death, while fanatics of all stripes continue to wreak their own brand of havoc on the world, his ideas and actions remain a shining beacon.

Thank you, Mahatma Gandhi.

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Image credit: flickr

Book Review: High Altitude Leadership

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Another day, another leadership book. I sometimes wonder how far around the earth they would stretch if laid end to end. Most have viable lessons, useable by everyone, not just the person running the show.

Many of the attitudes, actions and lessons learned and offered are similar, but each seeks a teaching mechanism that will catch and hold your interest.

Not an easy task in a time of information abundance.

Chris Warner and Don Schmincke manage to do it in High Altitude Leadership.

It’s not that their leadership guidance is new, but the presentation is riveting.

I like it because it directly addresses MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and offers examples from a world where screwing up easily results in death—real death as in gone from the world, not the company.

Amazing how different the advice feels when viewed through the lens of the “death zone,” i.e., the top altitude of the planet’s tallest mountains where mistakes are usually fatal.

“In achieving peak performance as a high-altitude leader, you also risk death. It could be the death of a career, project, team or company, or in extreme situations, someone’s physical death. Learning the best way to succeed comes from studying the death zone.”

Chris Warner is founder of Earth Treks (indoor climbing centers) and has led more than 150 international expeditions.

Don Schmincke started as a scientist and engineer who became a management consultant after realizing that most management theories fail to work.

There are eight dangers in the death zone and, although the authors stress that it’s the high altitude leaders that face the same eight dangers, I think that everybody faces them every day and in all facets of their lives.

The dangers are

  1. Fear of Death
  2. Selfishness
  3. Tool Seduction
  4. Arrogance
  5. Lone Heroism
  6. Cowardice
  7. Comfort
  8. Gravity

Not really new information, but when seen in the light of the death zone they have a very different impact.

High Altitude Leadership is an exciting, sometimes hair-raising read (even when the transference to business doesn’t work well) that will get you thinking whether you’re heading a Fortune 50 or trying to raise your kids. It’s a book that helps you see the problems in your own MAP.

What the book doesn’t offer are easy, paste on solutions—changing how you think means changing your MAP which is doable, but not easy.

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Image credit: Jane Wesman PR

The Cultural Rocket Science Of Zappos

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Amidst all the doomsayers and layoffs stands 34 year-old Tony Hsieh, CEO of billion dollar Zappos and as far from an imperial CEO as it’s possible to get. (I wrote about Zappos last spring with a link to an excellent interview.)

Hsieh sold LinkExchange, his first company, in 1999 to Microsoft for $265 million and then founded Zappos, a company known for its astronomically high quality customer experience and some of the happiest employees on Earth.

And the downturn isn’t changing that.

From the start, he chose to spend the marketing and advertising money on the customer experience, fostering repeat business and word of mouth advertising.

For his customers:

“Unconventional for an online retailer, Zappos offers free shipping both ways and a 365-day return policy. Customers can order 10 pairs of shoes, try them on, and send nine back. Or 10. Free.

Where other companies duck customers and hide their contact information…Zappos’ 800 telephone number is prominently displayed at the top of its Web page. At the Zappos call center, representatives work without scripts and are under no pressure to quickly dispatch with customers. … Shipping is promised in five to six days. But the company’s little secret is that most orders are automatically upgraded to free overnight shipping. The warehouse operates 24/7… The goal is building a lifelong relationship.”

For employees:

Hsieh says, “The number one focus and priority for the company, even though we want the brand to be about customer service, is company culture … Our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like great customer service, will just happen naturally.”

When asked why more companies don’t do as Zappos does, Hsieh says. “Patience. Most corporations don’t want to put in the time to build customer service and a company culture. … Chase the vision, not the money. The money will follow.”

The culture is built on four principles,

Vision. Repeat customers. Transparency. Communicate core values.

Not exactly rocket science.

Headquarted in Nevada, Zappos.com ranked No. 23 on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work For in 2009 and Hsieh sees no reason for that to change—except to move up.

Image credit: flickr

The imperial CEO—Dead Or Gone Underground?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Jeffrey Krames, author of Inside Drucker’s Brain, wrote a great piece detailing why the imperial CEO is dead—or should be. (Hat tip to ManagingLeadership for the link to this post.)

Krames quotes Sungard’s CEO, Chris Conde, “The CEO is like a conductor—he conducts and orchestrates a system. It is very arrogant to think you can make better decisions than the thousands of people below you. The role of the boss is to make a handful of decisions that cannot be made by anyone else and to maintain the collaboration systems. I really think the rise of these collaborative systems is redefining organizational structures and the role of the CEO; they are the last nail in the coffin of the imperial CEO.” and goes on to detail the advantages of collaboration.

All of which I heartily agree with.

The problem is that the imperial ego isn’t dead, it’s not only alive and well, it’s still kicking butt instead of having its butt kicked.

As I said Tuesday, we’re a long way from ending the sense of entitlement felt by so many executives and worse, executives-to-be.

It’s a NIMBY kind of problem. People understand logically that doing to the new generation that which was done to them isn’t really payback and that it should stop, but feel that it should stop after them.

Survival-forced collaboration may diminish the imperial CEO power, but I doubt it will go far in changing either their MAP or their sense of entitlement.

There will still (always?) be a percentage that believes they deserve giant compensation packages and that they could make a better decision/choice if they just had time. They won’t rush to empower their people and will be dragged kicking and screaming in to the collaborative future.

And just because the guy four levels down is making profitable decisions for the company doesn’t mean he’ll get a ride on the imperial jet any time soon.

Image credit: flickr

Leadership's Future: Think Short-term, Fail Long-term

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I found a great quote on JD Prickett’s blog by Harvard’s Roland Barth.

“Show me a school whose inhabitants constantly examine the school’s culture and work to transform it into one hospitable to sustained human learning, and I’ll show you students who graduate with both the capacity and the heart for lifelong learning.”

I agree passionately that the school’s culture is the basis for its accomplishments and that the principal’s MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) is the source, whether active, passive or by benign neglect.

Unfortunately, the culture described above is constrained, distorted or totally destroyed by education policy—Dallas Independent School District is a great example of how truly bad policy can destroy learning.

Prickett, a school administrator (not in Dallas) hit the nail on the head when commenting on the pressure to produce good test-takers he said “the price of short-term success is long-term failure.”

No Child Left Behind, test performance-based funding and similar idiocies over the years have focused education directly on short-term results.

And that sounds like any number of banks, auto companies, insurance carriers and other corporate entities whose short-term thinking and drive for quarterly results left them constrained, distorted and totally destroyed.

Short-term thinking and quick profits of any kind are incapable of breeding long-term success in business or education.

Too bad. It’s solid K-12 education and life long learning that truly fuels our economy, underlies our democracy and makes for a strong, engaged populace.

Of course, the full effect of actions such as DISD’s are a long-term function that won’t be felt until long after the members of local, state and federal legislators are out of office leaving a mess significantly worse than the current economic debacle.

Even when Congress does do something it’s often botched. They’re rushing out a $150 billion education aid package spread over two years and more than doubling the current DOE budget. A flash flood of money that will be hard to manage and too much is bound to be wasted.

And, of course, there’s the ideological fight as opposed to whether it will work.

“Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California and the ranking minority member of the House education committee, said, “By putting the federal government in the business of building schools, Democrats may be irrevocably changing the federal government’s role in education in this country.””

True, but maybe the federal government’s role does need to change, especially in mandating expensive requirements—No Child Left Behind, multiple security measures—and leaving the States to find ways to pay for them or be penalized; an action similar to a company mandating doubling the number of new products in development with no increases in budget or head count (yes, that’s been done many times).

When did ‘decade’ and ‘long-term’ become dirty words?

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Image credit: flickr

Wordless Wednesday: Forefather Of The Imperial CEO

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Now check out my vision of the future

Image credit: flickr

Wordless Wednesday: Into The Future—No Vision, No Detours, Just Speed

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Now meet the forefather of the Imperial CEO

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Wall Street Entitlement

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

What a joke. Bloomberg offers up information on which bankers are foregoing salaries and how bonuses are being set up.

For example, Steve Black and William Winters, who head up JPMorgan Chase’s investment banking unit, will forgo cash and stock bonuses in 2008, accepting only 700,000 stock options each.

“The stock will be awarded based on future company performance and must be held for five years, the bank said. The JPMorgan stock appreciation awards were priced at $19.49, the average of the high and low price of trading on Jan. 20, according to Bloomberg data. Shares of JPMorgan fell 21 percent that day and have since climbed to $24.28.”

I love the ‘only’. I just checked and the stock is up another 22 cents.

That means that even if the stock is no higher in 5 years they would still reap a little more than 3.5 million dollars.

Let’s not all cry at once.

There’s a reason that all those hotshot MBAs want to work on Wall Street. It’s because they believe, with reason, that they’ll make low seven figures within a year, two if they’re slow.

The attitude is blamed on Wall Street culture, but it goes further than that.

It goes back to their individual MAP and the deeply seated belief that they deserve it—they are entitled to that compensation; and that MAP certainly isn’t reserved for the new grads, it permeates all levels.

It’s not that they call themselves ‘Masters of the Universe’—it’s that they believe it.

Big problem since MAP is only changeable from the inside out. MAP is also sneaky and will pretend to change and then revert to its normal pattern when no one’s looking.

That means that we, the people, and we, the politicians, better have longer memories going forward than we’ve had in the past.

(Richard is traveling and will return next week.)

Image credit: flickr

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