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If The Shoe Fits: Yea vs. Nay

Friday, May 19th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mBill “Badger Bill” Whyte, founder of W.S. Badger, with $16 million in revenue and 100 employees, is an excellent role model for any entrepreneur who wants to grow and run a successful, socially responsible business that treats its people fairly. His thoughts on the subject are succinct and simple.

“You can be financially successful and be a big jerk, or you can be financially successful and be a contributor to making the world better. I know which way I’d like Badger to move.”

Other great founder role models include Anand Sanwal of CB Insights and Marc Benioff of Salesforce, among many others.

However, if you are looking instead for a role model that represents the worst of Silicon Valley look no further than Evan Spiegel.

Spiegel’s boundless arrogance was on full show in the company’s first earnings call with analysts.

During the event, many analysts’ questions about the company were dismissed by Mr. Spiegel. None of the executives made a particularly impassioned case for why the business would be a success over the long term.

But what else would you expect from founders who already dumped much of their stock?

Spiegel, his co-founder Bobby Murphy and Snap’s largest venture investor, Benchmark, sold significant amounts of their stock when the company went public

Along with the current $2.2 billion loss is the whistleblower lawsuit claiming the pre-IPO metrics were inflated.

Malcolm Berko provided the best comment I’ve seen regarding all those who ignored the warnings in the prospectus, bought the stock, and are complaining.

When greed succeeds, everyone smiles. When greed fails, everyone wails.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Hollow Bros and True Brilliance

Friday, April 21st, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI have some great links for you today.

Yes, I realize I’m preaching to the choir and that those who really need to see this won’t.

Unless, of course, you forward it to where it’s most needed.

I’m sure you are tired of my griping (ranting?) about the bro culture, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that bro culture dates back to ancient Greece, although knowing doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Philosophers are the original, archetypal “brilliant jerks.” And hundreds of years have done little to change that.

It’s not surprising how many brilliant jerks have an “I’m the next Steve Jobs” mentality, which is rarely warrantedtrue genius is all around us, including the urban ghettos — and gravitate to startups.

So what does a life of true brilliance, genius, if you prefer, look like?

It looks like Robert W. Taylor  (died 4/2017) who, in 1968 said, “In a few years,” he wrote, “men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face,” and then proceeded to make sure it happened.

Even more so, it looks like John Goodenough.

In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.

Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.

Stupid professor, along with as all those who believe that creativity is an act reserved for the young.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If The Shoe Fits: Channel Nintendo

Friday, March 10th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mLast week we looked at what companies are doing about product security — which is little-to-nothing in most cases.

Unlike Nintendo.

Nintendo’s new Switch console — think Zelda — is making news, but its unique security effort should be in the limelight, too.

Unlike Tide, Nintendo realized the console’s tiny, SD-sized game cartridges would be irresistible to kids — so its designers came up with the perfect solution.

They didn’t wait for a curious kid (and the resulting lawsuit) to choke or even die from swallowing one, before addressing it.

They thought it through and spent the needed time and money to assure that kids wouldn’t eat the cartridges in the first place.

And they succeeded.

The cartridges are coated with something that makes them taste terrible.

Terrible as in spitting them out.

To avoid the possibility of accidental ingestion, keep the game card away from young children,” a Nintendo spokesperson told Kotaku. “A bittering agent (denatonium benzoate) has also been applied to the game card.” (The agent is non-toxic.)

Adults, too. Hilariously, it was an adult game reviewer who decided to lick the cartridge.

I put that Switch cart in my mouth and I’m not sure what those things are made of but I can still taste it. Do not try this at home.

— Jeff Gerstmann (@jeffgerstmann) February 25, 2017

No question, it’s a brilliant solution — the only kind that really works, since it requires absolutely no effort from consumers.

Three cheers for Nintendo.

Wouldn’t it be nice if founders and full-blown enterprises followed Nintendo’s lead before something happened?

Image credit: HikingArtist

The Necessity Of Fools

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/francescaromanacorreale/8162774877/

Yesterday’s Golden Oldie provided links to a variety of fools, most of which you can do without.

That said, there is one variety of fool that every company should have — and that is the wise fool, as described in King Lear.

Cloaked in the form of discourteous comments or unfiltered remarks, King Lear’s fool was able to express the thoughts that others were reluctant to express. Through the mask of comedy, he would remind the monarch of his own folly and humanity. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “every despot must have one disloyal subject to keep him sane.

Look around; does your company have at least one fool? Or, better yet, one fool in each department?

As Manfred Kets De Vries, the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organizational Change at INSEAD, points out.

All in all, fools are honest and loyal protectors, who allow society to reflect on and laugh at its own complex power relations. They can act as our “conscience” by helping us question our perceptions of wisdom and truth and their relationship to everyday experience. Through humor and frank communication, the “fool” and the “king” or “queen” engage in a form of deep play that deals with fundamental issues of human nature, such as control, rivalry, passivity, and action.

As such, fools contribute to group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust by providing an opportunity to humorously and critically review our values and judgments as the powerful socio-cultural structures of power pull, push, and shape our identity.

And, beyond all that, fools are a repository of wisdom — based on strong critical thinking coupled with extensive experience — which makes them excellent role models and a great source from which to learn.

Finally, whether a boss can hire, let alone keep, a fool is an accurate reflection of their MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and a good indicator of the prevailing culture.

Flickr image credit: Francesca Romana Correale

Golden Oldies: Differences Worth Noting

Monday, February 13th, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

During his time at GE, Jack Welch was lauded and crowned as a god of leadership and management— How times have changed. Welch’s success was dominantly a function of GE’s financial services and he created one of the harshest cultures around—which would have failed miserably with today’s workforce.

Immelt sold off the financial stuff, totally changed the culture from one of suspicion to one of trust,  dumped the forced rankings, just issued a directive that all new hires learn to code and has responded to the current worldwide protectionist mindset by moving from globalization to localization.

Immelt is a worthy role model.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

2185315789_e5d6af6e0d_mThere is a sizable difference between accepting positional leadership when a company is at the bottom and there is no place to go but up and taking over when its at its height—even more so when what was the growth engine and source of extraordinary profits disappears from the economic landscape.

It is one thing to maximize what you have, wringing out every last possible dollar, and investing in innovation for sustainable growth in the future.

It is one thing to create a culture where public shame and the likelihood of termination for missing your numbers rules and changing that to a culture that encourages appropriate risk-taking and never kills the messenger when the risk doesn’t pan out; a culture that understands not every innovation will be a home run, but encourages and applauds the effort anyway.

These are the differences between Jack Welch and Jeff Immelt.

Welch had taken over when the company was in the bottom of an economic cycle. He took over GE in a recession, not at the height of a bubble.

Immelt got the job right after the end of the high-flying 1990s, an era which crowned CEOs with mythical, God-like crowns, and Welch was bestowed the biggest of them all.

Immelt had known before the meltdown the company needed to wean off the leveraged risk from finance that was begun under Welch. … He admitted mistakes, as any good leader must do, and GE more quietly if not humbly went about its business in making the company a 21st century sustainable and reliable profit engine.

The differences are worth noting.

Flickr image credit: laurita13

Role Model: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein — Transparency Is A Two-Way Street

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

harley-finkelstein-shopify

There’s a lot of talk these days from consultants, academics and executives about the importance of transparency, AKA being totally open and honest.

And many of those in the business world, from team leaders through CEOs, are actually walking the talk.

Or believe they are.

The problem lies in the fact that even those executives who have opened operations, especially financials, to the internal scrutiny of their people don’t recognize that true transparency needs to be a two-way street.

One-way transparency is open to spin — whether intentional or not.

Which, if you stop to think about it, should come as no surprise. It is a normal, human characteristic to put the best face on even the most negative thing.

So how is true, two-way transparency achieved?

By opening yourself to a no-holds-barred Q&A with everybody and forcing yourself to provide the A no matter how uncomfortable.

Harley Finkelstein, COO at Shopify and a new “Dragon” on CBC’s Next Gen Den, among other things, is the perfect role model of what should be called AMA transparency.

The AMA idea has been around for a while.

President Obama broke with convention back in 2012 when he agreed to do an Ask Me Anything — AMA — on the Internet forum Reddit.

But if you think it takes guts to expose yourself to a half hour of inquiries from strangers on the web, try fielding regular sessions of no-holds-barred questions from your own employees — live and on camera. Welcome to our normal routine: the internal AMA.

… While facing questions from my team is tough when I’m in the hot seat, it’s become a crucial tool for building trust as we’ve scaled from hundreds to more than a thousand employees.

I doubt you’ll find a lot of executives willing to do it, because a true AMA isn’t exactly fun for those in the hot seat, as Finkelstein freely admits, but it’s a great way to build trust, ownership/engagement, eliminate fear, etc.

There are plenty of times when I’ve been caught entirely off-guard. But that’s precisely the point. The element of surprise is the secret ingredient that makes the internal AMA such a valuable tool. (…)

Creating a culture where it’s safe to ask literally anything can lead to some awkward moments, but just taking that step helps instill a sense of ownership at every level. Sitting in that hot seat might make you sweat, but that just means you’re doing it right.

Do you have what it takes to “do it right?”

Image credit: Shopify

PS: Shopify is the first site I’ve seen that offers a “download” link next to all their leadership team.

Role Model: Craig Zoberis and Fusion OEM

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

http://www.fusionoem.com/

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled his workers’ daily wage, much to the consternation of other magnates, who believed, as do most of them today, that success comes from paying as little as possible.

Ford, however, believed that he would benefit if his workers had disposable income and he was correct; they used the extra money to buy Fords.

The same holds true today; modern research has proved that higher wages increase profits.

Businesses, from very large to very small, still don’t believe it and scream at the thought of a so-called living wage.

But not all of them.

Fusion OEM at just $12 million is considered very small, but it’s profitable and founder Craig Zoberis is very happy, because he is meeting his twin goals.

While lots of other manufacturers have moved operations to China or Mexico, Zoberis has kept his plant in the United States – and considers it a point of pride to pay his 55 workers above-market rates. Workers with no experience start at $14-an-hour, he says, and by completing training and gaining skills can reach $18-to-20-an-hour, plus overtime and bonuses, for total pay near $50,000 a year, within a few years.

Zoberis doesn’t expect his people to buy his products, but he did want to have a  place to work that matched his MAP and not his father’s.

My father and his partner never did a good job of hiring the right people with the right attitude. I wanted to be excited to go to work every day, and working for my father’s company, I was not.

Fusion OEM has never had a layoff, but finding great workers in its industry is just as difficult as finding great programmers, hence the need for a creative, long-term solution.

My colleagues were always complaining that there aren’t enough skilled workers who have the right attitude. When I talk about skilled workers I’m talking about machinists (…) What we discovered halfway through our life at Fusion is that we couldn’t always look outside for skilled people. We decided to hire for attitude and train for aptitude.

Fusion OEM is enjoying double digit growth, but Zoberis isn’t interested in taking outside investment. He loves going to work, saying, “This is my hobby, my income, my life,” and knows that hyper growth can kill you.

You can’t grow your company any faster than you can get the right people. If it goes too far, you might go beyond your capabilities and you’ll fail.

The interview is well worth reading, especially their approach to hiring and compensation.

I rarely make predictions, but in this case I feel pretty safe making two.

  1. Zoberis will continue building his company, growing his own people and being a management outlier.
  2. Most companies of whatever size will continue to treat people as disposable, pay them as little as possible and bitch about them to whomever will listen.

Image credit: Fusion OEM

The Proliferation Of Narcissism

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

http://quoteaddicts.com/topic/you-are-the-center-of-universe/

Have you noticed that people in general are more wrapped up in themselves than ever before?

Whether in words or pictures, they document and share what they eat, where they go, what they do and with whom they do it, not just with their friends and known acquaintances, but with the world in general.

An article in the Harvard Business Review caught my eye and, in view of the recent election, resonated.

…narcissism levels have been rising for decades, which means that our world is increasingly self-centered, overconfident, and deluded.

And the next sentence really rang a bell.

Furthermore, these increases appear to be exacerbated among leaders, since those in charge of judging leadership potential often mistake confidence for competence.

Our politicians aren’t the only place where narcissism is running wild.

Narcissists are found at the helm of more and more companies of all sizes, but are especially prevalent in the financial sector and in tech.

In 2008 financial bosses with more confidence than competence brought the global economy to its knees.

Tech abounds with narcissistic founders and very few of them will stand the test of time, as have Jobs and Bezos.

Nor is narcissistic behavior limited to top bosses; it is found at every level of management, as well as every level of contributor — from new grads through the most senior contributor.

And lets not forget kindergartners through college.

We cannot make it alone, but we care too much about ourselves to genuinely care about others. This tension between our desire to get along with others and our desire to get ahead of them represents the fundamental conundrum of human affairs.

Much as I loathe the hype around “leaders,” it’s up to the positional leader to manage the get along/get ahead dichotomy if they are to have a successful organization.

I find it ironic that so many of those who preach the importance of data sets and evangelize data-based decisions, again, especially in tech, manage to ignore the hard data on what type of leader succeeds best.

Unfortunately, our admiration for charismatic leaders comes at a price: perpetuating the proliferation of narcissistic leaders. And while the existence of incredibly successful CEOs, such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos (and Rockefeller, Ford, and Disney before them), may suggest that narcissism is a beneficial leadership quality, most overconfident, entitled, and egotistical CEOs are not just ineffective but also destructive — even when they manage to attain a great deal of success. For example, narcissistic CEOs overpay when they acquire firms, costing their shareholders dearly. Their firms tend to perform in a volatile and unpredictable fashion, going from big wins to even bigger losses. They are often involved in counterproductive work behaviors, such as fraud. They are also more likely to abuse power and manipulate their followers, particularly those who are naïve and submissive.

Whether you are a boss or a worker, read the article; it’s short and will provide insights into your own actions, as well as those of your boss or the boss with whom you are interviewing.

Image credit: QuoteAddicts

Role Models: Yuchun Lee

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Two old adages, “don’t waste time reinventing the wheel” and “profit from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself” gave rise to a new series for 2017. Role Models is my effort to help you adhere to both, always remembering to tweak their ideas to fit your MAP.  

Yuchun LeeYuchun Lee was a member of the famous MIT blackjack team (the basis for the movie 21) and a serial entrepreneur since childhood. Unica, his first “real” startup, which went public in 2005 and sold for around $500 million to IBM in 2010 . He is currently co-founder/CEO of sales training startup Allego.

Lee learned early on that telling, let alone ordering, people to do whatever didn’t work and radically changed his approach.

But then you very soon realize that human beings have free will and you’ve got to persuade them.

He runs his company based on three core philosophies.

The first is the ability of the company to know what is true, what is not true, and what’s real and what’s not real. (…) The foundation is all about truth.

The second is how you behave as a team to solve problems. (…) Everybody’s trying to figure out how to look smart in front of the C.E.O. (…)  it’s actually O.K. if you sit there. If you’ve got nothing to say, don’t say it.

The third is about mistakes. We tell people you’ve got to love your mistake. If you go through a whole day without making a mistake, you just wasted a whole day because you probably haven’t pushed yourself. (…) You need to see mistakes as opportunities to improve.

Image credit: Allego

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