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Leadership's Future: Will It Work?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

booker-t-washingtonIf you are a manager and despair at the quality of people that fill your entry level positions, not their attitude, but their skills and basic education, prepare for it to get worse.

Perhaps instead of ranting and whining about America’s loss of global leadership we should look closer to home for the real cause—US education.

The ethnic groups with the worst outcomes in school are African-Americans and Hispanics. The achievement gaps between these groups and their white and Asian-American peers are already large in kindergarten and only grow as the school years pass. These are the youngsters least ready right now to travel the 21st-century road to a successful life.

By 2050, the percentage of whites in the work force is projected to fall from today’s 67 percent to 51.4 percent. The presence of blacks and Hispanics in the work force by midcentury is expected to be huge, with the growth especially sharp among Hispanics.

No, whites and Asians aren’t smarter, but they do have socioeconomic advantages that are lacking for these minorities.

Advantages that our educational system and politicians at all levels are doing little to address.

It’s not always about money, although that is a part of it, nor is it about standardized tests that do little to improve true education, it’s about innovation and educating outside the box.

Harvard Graduate School of Education is creating a new doctoral degree to be focused on leadership in education. It’s the first new degree offered by the school in 74 years. The three-year course will be tuition-free and conducted in collaboration with faculty members from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The idea is to develop dynamic new leaders who will offer the creativity, intellectual rigor and professionalism that is needed to help transform public education in the U.S.

Creativity, intellectual rigor, professionalism; this leadership isn’t just about visions and influence, it’s about creating people who will roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty often toil in relative obscurity on the biggest problems facing this country.

Kathleen McCartney, the graduate school’s dean, explained one of the dilemmas that has hampered reform. “If you look at people who are running districts,” she said, “some come from traditional schools of education, and they understand the core business of education but perhaps are a little weak on the management side. And then you’ve got the M.B.A.-types who understand operations, let’s say, but not so much teaching and learning.”

Will it work?

Can the program make a difference quickly enough to change the current downward trajectory of our future?

Will other schools step up to the plate now or will they wait a decade or so and see how the Harvard program fares?

Does anybody care enough about what will happen in 20, 30, 40 years to accept a little discomfort now or should we just build more prisons?

Leadership Turn is ending; its last day is December 29. I’ve enjoyed writing it and our interaction since August 16, 2007 and I hope we can continue at my other blog where Leadership’s Future will carry on.

If you enjoy my views and writing, please join me at MAPping Company Success or subscribe via RSS or EMAIL.

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Image credit: dbking on flickr

Seize Your Leadership Day: What To Do and Not Do

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

seize_your_dayThree great interviews sharing what to do and one commentary on the opposite.

Do you long for simplicity, especially in software? Jason Fried built his company 37Signals because he hates complexity. Read more about his attitudes in Inc’s excellent article, you may be surprised.

Next is the story of and an interview with Steve Chang, co-founder and chairman of Trend Micro. Learn why two failed startups didn’t dampen his entrepreneurial fire and what drives him to innovate.

I love this interview with William D. Green, chairman and C.E.O. of Accenture. He tells his first training seminar as a manager where he was told the 68 (no joke) things he needed to do to be successful; Green decided there were just the three Cs.

The first is competence — just being good at what you do, whatever it is, and focusing on the job you have, not on the job you think you want to have. The second one is confidence. People want to know what you think. So you have to have enough desirable self-confidence to articulate a point of view. The third thing is caring. Nothing today is about one individual. This is all about the team, and in the end, this is about giving a damn about your customers, your company, the people around you, and recognizing that the people around you are the ones who make you look good.

I don’t follow sports, but Wally Bock’s offers a comprehensive commentary on the amazing unprofessionalism of Brian Kelly, whose actions are a case study on the fastest way to trash your people. But I wonder how many people will actually find them offensive or just shrug and say no big deal.

Finally, the ongoing sex scandals of the Catholic Church have offered up some of best examples of how leaders dance around the truth, never really admitting their errors even when they claim to be sorry. Cardinal Egan is a Church leader who has danced for decades before his house of cards comes crashing down, but even now he hasn’t stopped dancing—or blowing smoke. When will those in power understand that an apology means nothing when the deed is diluted, denied or rationalized.

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Image credit:  nono farahshila on flickr

Wordless Wednesday: The Future Is Up To You

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009


Be sure and check out what’s for breakfast with the boss from Hell

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Leadership's Future: Abusing Water To Produce Energy

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

blog action dayToday is Blog Action Day and the topic is Climate Change, so I asked Chris Blackman, who is a strategic consultant specializing finding both private and public funding in the green and clean technology sector, to offer her thoughts on a subject that enrages me every time it comes up—which is more and more often. The subject is the sacrificing of one limited resource for the sake of another.

From Chris…

Would you choose to go hungry and thirsty so that you could have energy?

That choice is the dark side of clean energy.

A ‘clean coal’ power plant uses tens of thousands of gallons of water daily—water that cannot even be reused or recycled—because it is so fouled and contaminated.

To biomass’ benefit the water it consumes is reused over and over again, but turning waste to energy using the aerobic digestion method has a 1:1 ratio—one ton of waste requires one ton of water to process that waste.

In some ways, we have adopted an anything goes approach to producing some green energy and it seems a bit deja vu: using oil products to produce other energy forms.

In this case, it is even worse—it is not only the environmental impact but also the real possibility of going thirsty or hungry if we use our drinking or irrigation water to produce energy.

A recent New York Times article revealed that a solar power company dangled the opportunity to create hundreds of new jobs in a desert community at the cost of consuming 1.3 billion gallons of water a year, about 20 percent of the desert valley’s available water.”

All that community needs to do is to look at the legal battle being waged right now amongst the states that have access to the Colorado river to vividly understand why they should not sell their water rights, in the hopes of procuring water from their neighbors.

Already there are many parts of the country in which the water is already unusable in spite of the Clean Water Act.

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times. … the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment. State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene.

I am not in any way advocating stopping our investments in clean and green energy; however, it is tunnel vision to invest in clean energy at the cost of clean water.

There are places in this country better suited, where the solar and water requirements are better aligned: Florida and the rest of the Southeast, at least in most years. (See Chris’ post on how dark, rainy Germany used US-invented technology to become a global solar leader.)

The opening question may seem melodramatic, but I wonder what the former Soviet Republic would give today to have the Aral Sea back, since today it is mostly a dry lifeless bed of blowing salt.

Was its loss, and the salt poisoning of the surrounding lands, worth the measly two decades of cotton they produced while depleting its water sources? The environmental and economic toll of the Aral Sea’s destruction could end up being as costly as Chernobyl.

That is not melodrama, that is precedent.

Want more proof? T. Boon Pickens, who isn’t known for his ‘friend of the community’ attitudes, is betting 100 million dollars that water is the new oil.

‘Oh Father, spare me the need to eat and drink so that I may use these resources for electricity’ – who would ever pray for that?

We still don’t get “the vision thing.”

When will we begin to approach our economy and the environment as a single integrated whole?

When will we balance out the true costs and benefits of our activities?

When will the options we choose from include using less, instead of always inventing new ways to consume more?

When will we learn?

What do you think?

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Image credit: Blog Action Day

Ducks In A Row: Culture? Ask A Worm

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Company culture is a hot topic in the business press; CEOs are working to foster “cultures of innovation;” and culture is being lauded or blamed for a variety of happenings.

The bird’s eye view of what’s important in culture is as varied as the executives, academics, pundits, media and other experts who expound on the subject.

But what about the worm’s eye view—what do plain vanilla employees think and want? It’s important, since without them there is no company.

It used to be when I talked with people that it was easier for them to articulate the attitudes and behaviors they didn’t want to encounter in the workplace.

Even today, with a far more savvy and sophisticated workforce, people still tend to focus first on what they don’t want:

  • Too much politics: personal, group, or in senior management.
  • Unnecessary bureaucracy.
  • Poor management practices such as erratic management; intimidation; micro-management; belittling or contemptuous treatment; poor scheduling; no loyalty; the attitude that “we don’t have enough time to do it right but we have enough time to do it over;” workaholism; etc.
  • Any form of harassment, whether overt or covert
  • A generally negative attitude, i.e., the glass is half empty
  • Arrogance or an elitist attitude.
  • An unwillingness (at whatever level) to seek and implement the compromises necessary to meet most of the organization’s needs within the required timeframe.

But when you get them to focus on the positives, the sophisticated and savvier mindset of today’s workforce is even more obvious when discussing the factors they desire.

Here are some of the high points that people say they want for themselves and from their managers and company:

  • The opportunity to truly “make a difference.”
  • To be treated fairly.
  • To trust the management and be trusted by them.
  • To embrace the idea that work can and should be fun.
  • Accurate prioritizing of company, team, and individual goals while keeping them synergistic.
  • A positive “can-do” attitude (aggressive, but realistic—the glass is half-full).
  • Continuing development and quality improvement in people, products and services, and processes.
  • Committing to employees, customers, and investors—and meeting those commitments.
  • An open, accurate, company-wide flow of information starting from the top.
  • An environment that encourages people to reach their full potential, professionally and personally.
  • A conscious effort to stamp out “not invented here” syndrome (in all its varied forms) so as to not waste time reinventing the wheel.

There’s great value in this worm’s eye view. By eliminating what employees don’t like, and giving them what they want, you create a foundation on which to build the kind of innovative, profitable culture—the kind craved by investors, customers, and the rest of the outside world.

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Image credit: ZedBee|Zoë Power on flickr

Quotable Quotes: Jeff Bezos

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

I want to share three comments from Jeff Bezos today, because tomorrow’s post is about him.

They all focus on the financial side and point up the great difference between Bezos and many other CEOs when it comes to money and stock.

If Bezos is anything he is pragmatic and real—no BS. And that is just as true when he is talking about entrepreneurial topics as about his business.

The truth in this comment has only increased over the years and will continue into the future. “Good ideas will always get funded, so that’s not going to be a problem. But you will see that it will be harder and harder for bad ideas to get funded.”

“It’s part of the territory with Internet stocks, that kind of volatility. It can be up 30 percent one month, it can be down 30 percent in a month, and a minute spent thinking about the short-term stock price is a minute wasted.” Obviously, Bezos never wasted any minutes on the subject.

If you’ve followed Amazon at all, you know that every time Bezos invested in better technology or added product lines Wall Street predicted its imminent demise. Even today, after a decade of success, the analysts question Amazon’s every move.

Bezos takes it in stride, still focusing on the long term and customer satisfaction, as he has all along.

“No. I’ve taken plenty of criticism, but it’s always been about our stock price and never about our customer experience. After the bubble burst, I would sit down with our harshest critics, and at the end of the meeting they would say, “I’m a huge customer.” You know that when your harshest critics are among your best customers, you can’t be doing that badly.”

Join me tomorrow for a look at Bezos’ approach to nonmarkteing.

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Image credit: etech on flickr

More GoingGreen West: Energy

Friday, September 18th, 2009

Monday I introduced Chris Blackman, who attended the AlwaysOn GoingGreen West conference for us.

I found her reporting of the attitudes toward implementing renewable energy into the grid in the face of entrenched interests disturbing.

Fungible Grids

Will the energy grid replace existing sources of power—oil, coal, gas, and nuclear—with renewable energy? Currently, our energy is finite and polluting yet highly efficient. And all of the players in the market, producers and consumers, recognize the need to overcome these limitations.

Solar energy accounts for only 0.003% of energy consumption in the US today and that is projected to increase to 2% by 2025. That kind of miniscule percent of the overall energy consumed is not specific to solar energy. Wind, bio-mass and geothermal heat all give a negligible contribution to the US’s power supply.

The players in the market have one requirement of energy: it must be reliable at all times.  Oil and coal are reliable. And from what I could see at the AlwaysOn Going Green conference, oil and coal companies are not going to allow their market shares to erode without putting up a fight and having their case heard.  Chris Poirier, CEO of CoalTek, emphasized to the audience: coal in particular exists here in the US in abundance; coal companies are developing cleaner versions of this resource.

Much is made of “clean coal” but at the end of the day, clean coal is an oxymoron. Coal is a disaster at every stage of its production.

To mine coal, currently the companies raze our mountains to procure the coal. What they absolutely never want to discuss is that they are a highly subsidized industry: all of the energy used to transport the coal over vast distances is subsidized.

But probably the gravest problem of using coal as an energy source is that it emits more carbon dioxide than any other fuel and those carbons are much more polluting because the carbon molecule in coal is larger.

According to John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource Energy, the only way that we can overcome the limitations of going completely green and clean is if we take a localized approach to integrating the grid. That requires the grid to receive energy locally: solar power from Southern California and the Western states, wind from the Mid-West states, tidal power from the coastal states, etc.

That is a smart way of consuming energy. However, what do cleaner oil and coal have in common? The infrastructure already exists for these products. The grid already runs on oil and coal.

How will consumers and the US government react to the fact that this resource resides in abundance in this country and that we wouldn’t have to pay to overhaul our infrastructure to continue to use it?

For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that all renewable energies will have the same level of projected involvement as solar will in 2025, renewable energies would capture about 15% of the market.

Hopefully this is an ineffective way of looking at the situation as nothing is static and clean and green tech companies could possibly improve the amount of energy they generate exponentially in the future.

This all begs the question: can green and clean tech survive and even thrive without national policies to encourage their adoption?

I fear that due to the propaganda of coal being cleaner from the coal companies and the lack of capital investment and political incentives from the government to upgrade our infrastructure we will not replace coal and oil in our grid with renewable energies.

What do you think?

(Be sure to see what Chris says about water.)

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Image credit: LeoSynapse on sxc.hu

Leadership's Future: Who Teaches?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Remember the old line “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”

It’s not true. Most people who go into teaching do it because they have a true passion—at least when they start.

But passion is hard to sustain when all you hear is that

  • you are too easy/hard;
  • you give too much/not enough homework;
  • you too often receive little-to-no respect from parents, kids, administrators and even your colleagues;
  • more time is spent on politics than lesson plans;
  • you spend more time teaching basic manners than educating; and
  • your de facto hourly pay rate is around minimum wage in spite of a 9 month work year.

Some manage it and they are the ones who truly leave their mark.

Most of us remember the teacher(s) who really touched us, who opened our eyes and helped us see the world differently.

And we remember the worst we had, but the majority fall in-between and become a blur.

some of the best come to teaching from other successful careers.

One of the highest profile of these is Tom Bloch, who left H&R Block (the family business founded by his father) after 18 years, five as President, and a salary of nearly a million a year to teach math at an inner-city middle school in Kansas City, because he wanted to make a difference—and he has.

Listen to this interview and then read his story in Stand for the Best. Share it; maybe it will inspire others to apply their passion to teaching, but if nothing else, perhaps it will encourage them reconsider their own attitude towards teachers.


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Image credit: Growing Bolder

AlwaysOn Going Green ’09 Intro

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

There are many types of technology; Going Green brings together those active in what is called green tech and clean tech. Those fields are of critical interest for many reasons, to I prevailed on Chris Blackman to attend and share her impressions with you.

About Chris

Chris is a strategic consultant specializing in the positioning of clients for the acquisition of capital – private and public sources of funding – in the green and clean technology sector. Chris is a graduate of Columbia University having studied Political Science and International Relations. To date, Chris has written proposals in the green and clean tech space for a variety of water projects but is interested in a wide variety of topics. Her interest is piqued when there are projects at the intersection where green and clean tech meets the infrastructure.

Chris will be looking especially hard at these pressing questions:

  • What is being done in the green and clean tech space?
  • Who is financing the new startups and which kinds of startups are receiving funding?
  • What will be the impact of funding clean tech companies in the United States?

About the conference

AlwaysOn’s Going Green, founded by Tony Perkins of RedHerring repute, is a three day conference in the San Francisco Bay area that explores who is in the green and clean tech space and who is funding what in its myriad sectors. The conference can be viewed daily for free; if you have a webcam and mic you can be seen, join in and ask questions.

This year’s keynote speaker for the opening ceremony was R. James Woolsey. The former cabinet member of the Clinton administration analyzed the need for green technologies that continue to use existing infrastructure and the importance of developing green and clean technologies, which encourage local self-sufficiency on the community level.

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Image credit: AlwaysOn

Wordless Wednesday: The Relevance Of Twitter

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Take a look at decades of innovation

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