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Leadership’s Future: Accountability

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

board_roomWork hard, work smart, climb the corporate ladder, get tight with the right people and you could grab the brass ring—a director’s seat on one (or more) boards.

Money, prestige, power, respect—the hallmarks of leadership.

Responsibility—lots of it, especially if you are an outside director.

Accountability—not so much.

Consequences—rarely if at all.

Most of the outside directors serving on boards for companies such as AIG, Bear Sterns and Lehman Bros. moved almost immediately to other boards.

No muss, no fuss, no accountability, no consequences.

“In too many cases, the radioactivity of a board member of a collapsed company has a half life measured in milliseconds,” said John Gillespie, a longtime Wall Street investment banker and the co-author of “Money for Nothing” (Free Press), a recent book on corporate boards.

Rakesh Khurana, a Harvard Business School professor specializing in corporate-governance issues, says there are legitimate questions surrounding these boards. “When selecting individuals to oversee an organization, what criteria should we be using other than their previous performance on a corporate board?” he said. “If there’s no accountability here, then what is the system of accountability?”

Makes you wonder exactly what “fiduciary responsibility” means these days—let alone what it takes to breach it.

stock.xchng image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/683292

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Leadership’s Future: How Will They Lead?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

I received the following email yesterday (edited for length and anonymity).

Miki,

With 20+ years of experience managing I thought I had seen it all, but I have a situation that I am at a loss on how to handle.

Short version, 6 months ago I hired an entry level engineer, with just a year of experience, but lots of potential I thought. Potential he is not living up to. I do not see the energy, initiative and go-get-’em attitude he projected in the interview. His peers complain that he is not pulling his weight and he acts as if showing up and performing at minimal level is enough. He has received positive input when he does something well, but I have been candid regarding the problems, offered suggestions for improving, etc., and blunt talk that if both his work and his attitude didn’t change he couldn’t stay.

So when all this came up again in his 6 month review I was taken aback when he acted like it was the first time he had heard any of this. OK, I’ve run into denial before, nothing new there.

But what totally floored me and the main reason for writing is that the day after his review I received a phone call from his parents (they were both on the line) demanding to know who the hell I thought I was not to give their son a 6 month promotion.

I said I was in a meeting and would get back to them; any suggestions besides the obvious none of your damn business.

I called him and after a bit more discussion he agreed that it would be best to turn this mess over to the company HR department. Fortunately, they were already aware of the problem and he had plenty of documentation to back up both the performance problems and the ongoing conversations about them.

The parental call was the final nail and the young man will be terminated for cause.

hoveringWe all read articles about helicopter parents, in fact, I just read one on how great a problem hovering is for colleges.

Some undergraduate officials see in parents’ separation anxieties evidence of the excesses of modern child-rearing. “A good deal of it has to do with the evolution of overinvolvement in our students’ lives,” said Mr. Dougharty of Grinnell. “These are the baby-on-board parents, highly invested in their students’ success. They do a lot of living vicariously, and this is one manifestation of that.”

What really angered me was the way the episode affected the manager. He found himself questioning his own skills, as if he could have done anything that would offset 23 years (and counting) of parental protection.

What chance do any of these coddled kids have at maturing into leaders, not only positional ones, but de facto leaders? Will their parents help articulate a vision and then chastise those who don’t follow?

What do you think?

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilsonb/2897692632/

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Leadership’s Future: Raising Our Future

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

entitled

Teams aren’t allowed to win by a large margin, everyone likes everyone, no one plays favorites; wouldn’t you love to live/work in a place where that was the norm?

Last Thursday I wrote about a school where teams lost the game if they scored too much and said, “Great lesson to teach our future leaders—don’t excel, don’t try too hard, don’t strive too much, don’t field a winning team and, whatever you do, don’t follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Magic Johnson, Dr. Jonas Salk or any of those who surpassed their peers by a wide margin.”

Now, in line with teachers and administrators varied efforts to “level the playing field” for kids in school, which is an oxymoron (accent on the moron) if I ever heard one, comes the push to eliminate “best friends.”

Indeed, much of the effort to encourage children to be friends with everyone is meant to head off bullying and other extreme consequences of social exclusion.

But the professionals see it differently.

If children’s friendships are choreographed and sanitized by adults, the argument goes, how is a child to prepare emotionally for both the affection and rejection likely to come later in life?

There was a time when the first 18-22 years of life was focused on growing up, not just getting older.

Kids made mistakes, fell on their butts, picked themselves up and kept going; they learned about cause and effect—if they did X, Y would happen; they learned about accountability and consequences—if they did not do X, Y blew up.

All this was considered normal.

What’s happening to your kids in their first 18-22 years? Are they wrapped in cotton wool; life’s kinks smoothed out; fights fought for them, their wants satisfied immediately; protected, encouraged—entitled?

Now here’s the 64 dollar question.

Which do you want to hire? Which do you want on your team?

Image credit: http://atom.smasher.org

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Heroes and Memorial Day

Monday, May 31st, 2010

My father turned down a parental deferral and desk job during World War II, instead choosing to fight and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific. He returned safely.

When he returned he clandestinely took up another cause, helping the Haganah in the fight to establish the State of Israel. He died in his sleep during a gun buying road trip along with two others when the driver also fell asleep.

Both were causes about which he felt strongly; both he was willing to fight for, but in one case he lived and the other he died.

To some he was a hero, to others a villain and to still others a fool, who risked his life when he didn’t have to.

We need more fools.

heroes

Heroes

Some Heroes obvious, some unsung,
their lives and health, tempting fate.
Vulnerable in tasks for our civilization,
few glories for their life’s profession.

The Service men in our Armed Forces,
the cause be sure for freedom’s sake.
For their family, strangers, citizens all,
few medals show their life’s duress.

The policeman whose life is in peril,
by high-speed chase, gunfight ensued.
The simple traffic stop may kill,
few medals show the dangers faced.

The man who is trained as a fireman,
to save our lives, our homes from fire.
The first on scene when aid in need,
few medals show each hazardous deed.

The utilities that keep our comfort whole,
power and phone, the men on poles.
Sewage, garbage disposed for health,
no recognition for the civilian fight.

The many others whose work obscure,
performing tasks with risks not yours.
Construction, or the viral flu to cure,
no medals glory for the civilian plight.

Flickr photo credit to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/donabelandewen/470780785/

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Expand Your Mind: This and That

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

expand-your-mind

I was looking through my articles to see what I would offer you and I realized that I had five I wanted to share, but they didn’t fit into a nice, neat category. I decided I didn’t care that it was an illogical collection, it fits my mood and an irrational dose of spring fever I’m enjoying along with the weather.

First up is a little story to make you think. I write a lot about accountability; I read this years ago and forgot all about it until I saw it again in a post from Dan McCarthy. Share it as often as possible; it sinks in far faster than anything else I’ve found.

This is a story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it.
Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.
Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody‘s job.
Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn‘t do it.
It ended that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Anyone who follows this blog knows that brain research fascinates me and this one is no different. Seems that laughter isn’t about funny, it’s a form of communication.

Laughing is primal, our first way of communicating. Apes laugh. So do dogs and rats. Babies laugh long before they speak.

Every week or so I receive an invitation to join Facebook that I politely refuse, explaining that I don’t do anything except LinkedIn. Many times they write back and ask why, so I thought it would be faster to post a link than to write every time and explain that I’m a digital dinosaur who still believes in an old fashioned concept called privacy—which seems to be disappearing whether by hook, crook or glitch.

On Wednesday, users discovered a glitch that gave them access to supposedly private information in the accounts of their Facebook friends, like chat conversations.

This one may offend some of my readers, but you don’t have to click the link. Again, long time readers are probably aware that I am vehemently opposed to the teaching of “intelligent design” or any other faith-based content, so I found the idea of someone evangelizing evolution through rap brilliant.

For Baba Brinkman has taken Darwin’s exhortation seriously. He is a man on a mission to spread the word about evolution — how it works, what it means for our view of the world, and why it is something to be celebrated rather than feared. To this end, he has concocted a set of mini-lectures disguised as rap songs.

Finally, a superbly intelligent explanation that, for me, answers the question of why the health care bill brought forth so much strong negative emotion. What do you think?

To find a prototype for the overheated reaction to the health care bill, you have to look a year before Medicare, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance.

Flickr photo credit to: pedroCarvalho on flickr

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The Hypocrisy of Leaders, Et Al

Friday, March 5th, 2010

hypocriteAnyone who knows me knows that hypocrisy and fanaticism are tied for first place on my list of things-that-I-detest.

Political, religious and business hypocrisy continue to make headlines; rarely do I find myself laughing, but this time I did.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the undisputed king of monopolistic uncompetitive practices is boo-hooing to both US and European regulators that Google has an unfair advantage in search.

Ballmer said Microsoft believes Google Inc. has done a number of things to gain an unfair advantage in the Internet’s lucrative search advertising market. He didn’t specify the alleged misconduct.

I am not alone in considering this totally ludicrous. And it’s not what Google does or does not do, but that Ballmer has the audacity to complain in the wake of Microsoft’s own track record.

And therein lays the real problem.

The idea that if ‘they’ do it it’s unfair, immoral, or illegal, but if we do it it’s OK.

We saw it in the arguments of torture being acceptable on the detainees at Gitmo.

We see it in the political and religious leaders who preach high moral codes while practicing immorality.

We see it in business leaders who preach ethics and practice them only as long as it’s convenient.

We see it in parents who demand better education and then condemn any teacher that doesn’t give their child a good grade.

We see it in colleagues whom we complain of slacking only to do something similar ourselves.

We see it in friends who share our private information even as we share someone else’s.

To paraphrase Walt Kelly’s Pogo, “We have met the hypocrite and he is us.”

Image credit: Kain Kalju on flickr

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Self-starter Does Not Mean Self-managed

Friday, February 19th, 2010

dream-realityHow flat should an organization be?

How well do “self-starters” manage themselves?

Crucial questions for startups and small businesses, since how they are addressed can make or break the company.

Often the most important hires made when a company wants to grow are in sales.

Founders and owners often have technical, marketing or business backgrounds and many have a tendency to shrug when it comes to sales.

They see hiring salespeople as no big deal—there is an assumption that as long as they have a good track record in their previous sales position and understand the new product they can manage themselves.

If this sounds off base to you, you’re right, it’s not that simple. To use a real-life example, I had a client who thought that way.

The CEO hired “Jack” (before my time), a salesman with a fantastic record selling a parallel product to the same market.

The CEO personally taught Jack the product line and explained what the company was working to accomplish and then pretty much gave him free reign.

In the year Jack was with them he sold only two accounts, spent a good deal of his time on marketing and managed one large client; commissions totaled only $15K.

When he left he went to work in a field completely unrelated to anything he’d done before and in a market about which he knew nothing. In his first year at the new company he earned over 125K in commissions.

The difference was management.

Based on his track record both the CEO and Jack assumed that he could manage himself.

However, Jack didn’t have, and didn’t create for himself, the structure, accountability, etc., necessary to be successful.

During his exit interview he admitted that although he had no knowledge or training in marketing, he spent substantially more time than he should have because it was new and exciting.

After the CEO and I had fully analyzed what happened he concluded that the failure was 80-20, with the 80% his responsibility.

Hind sight is 20/20 and my client believes that if he had taken the time to do what was needed, instead of expecting Jack to completely manage himself, that he would still be with the company and doing a spectacular job.

The important lesson here is that “self-starter” does not mean “self-managed.” Even the best will need direction, structure, and accountability in order to perform brilliantly.

Image credit: iamwahid on sxc.hu

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Leadership’s Future: Expectations

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Ask any employee at any level what motivates them the most

  • easy work
  • low performance standards
  • no consequences
  • or

  • challenging work
  • higher achievement
  • accountability
  • and 9 out of 10 will choose the second list.

    expectationsSo why do school boards do the opposite?

    Many school districts follow the lead of the Dallas Independent School District, which follows the first list with slavish devotion.

    What happens when the second list is followed instead?

    One program is called early-college high school and it mixes college level courses with the normal courses taught in junior and senior years and is offered to at-risk kids, not the over-achieving elite.

    North Carolina is the leader and the results are impressive.

    “Last year, half our early-college high schools had zero dropouts, and that’s just unprecedented for North Carolina, where only 62 percent of our high school students graduate after four years,” said Tony Habit, president of the North Carolina New Schools Project, the nonprofit group spearheading the state’s high school reform.

    In addition, North Carolina’s early-college high school students are getting slightly better grades in their college courses than their older classmates.

    Another proponent of the second list is KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program), which runs charter schools in several states.

    Started in 1994 as an experiment with 50 fifth graders in Houston’s inner city, KIPP has blossomed into the biggest U.S. charter school operator, with 82 schools for poor and minority children in 19 states.

    KIPP now has an 85% college matriculation rate, compared with 40% for low-income students nationwide, according to a 2008 report card KIPP prepared and posted on its Web site. About 90% of KIPP’s 20,000 students are black or Hispanic; 80% qualify for subsidized meals.

    The difference between the two lists can be summed up in one work—expectations.

    The foundation of expectations is a belief that whatever it is can be accomplished.

    We humans tend to strive to meet the expectations of those around us, be they bosses, friends, parents, teachers or school administrators.

    Actions more than words tell us what is expected.

    List 1 = low expectations and kids live up to them.

    List 2 = high expectations and the kids live up to them.

    Which list do you want at your work?

    Which list do you support for your kids?

    Image credit: bjornmeansbear on flickr

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    Ducks in a Row: the Prevalence of Lying

    Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

    ducks_in_a_rowDo you wonder what’s happened to people over the last century and into this one?

    Did something change or was it always this way?

    When did fudging, dissembling, dissimulating, equivocating, falsifying, fibbing, inventing, misleading, misrepresenting, misstating, and prevaricating become business as usual?

    Call it what you will, it is still lying.

    Leaders, followers, parents, kids; religious or not; whether business or personal, everybody does it.

    We lie to avoid confrontation; improve results; sidestep repercussions.

    We lie to our friends, parents, kids, congregations, clergy people, bosses, workers, colleagues and service providers.

    From why something/someone is late to income tax to stock option backdating and corporate results to campaign promises and disagreeing ideologies—the list is both endless and all encompassing.

    Most of us don’t see ourselves as liars, usually because there are “valid reasons” for it.

    But ‘reasons’ don’t change the bottom line and Plato’s words ring as true today as when he spoke them,

    “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.”

    That infection has become a pandemic, spreading from one to another in both obvious and insidious ways.

    It’s doubtful that there is any way to actually eradicate lying, but the next time you deviate from the truth think hard about your reasons; most of the time they won’t hold up.

    Image credit: Svadilfari on flickr

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    Leadership’s Future: Teachers are People, Too.

    Thursday, January 7th, 2010

    I think if I read one more op-ed piece saying the path to improving US education is paved with better teachers I’ll scream.

    I’m not saying that good teachers aren’t important, but I don’t believe that teachers are the root of the problems.

    Before I start with examples, let me ask you this: how well would you perform if you were

    • terminated for insisting that projects not only be done, but done on time;
    • poorly compensated in comparison to most people with similar education and experience, but in other industries;
    • subject to pressure, tirades, insults and having people constantly go over your head to change your decisions; and
    • shown little respect by your direct reports, indirect reports and management.

    Does that sound like an environment that would encourage you to do your utmost? I actually find it surprising that there are as many good, dedicated teachers as there are.

    Staying with the current analogy, direct reports = students, indirect reports = parents and management = administrators.

    Teaching is like any other form of work—it thrives in a good culture, sags, wilts and gives up in a bad one.

    The Dallas Independent School System is a good example of what is happening. DISD is where the teacher was fired at the instigation of parents for being too tough and giving homework—the fact that the kids scored well on tests didn’t count.

    It’s DISD that hired new teachers in 2007 with no way to pay them leading to a $64,000,000 budget shortfall that grew to about $84,000,000 in 2008. Their solution was to layoff the teachers—no damage to the administration idiots—maybe they all took math from teachers who passed them rather than lose their jobs.

    Then there is the head of technology who was just fired over issues of leadership and nepotism.

    Her rise in DISD in a span of three years has been frowned upon by some observers. She was making $87,000 as a division manager in 2006 and ended her career grossing around $140,000.

    Some DISD trustees had questioned an organizational chart change that left her husband overseeing the department that she worked in. Her boss was reporting to her husband.

    Ya think?

    And then there is the saga of Taylor Pugh, AKA Tater Tot, who was growing his hair so he could donate it to a charity that makes wigs for cancer patients—but his suburban Dallas school saw it as reason for in-school suspension for violating the district dress code.

    <

    Back to our analogy. How engaged, productive and innovative would you be working for a company where management performed similarly?

    Dallas isn’t alone; it has plenty of company across the country.

    So before ranting and blaming the dismal state of US education on teachers, check out your district and state administrations—and then look in the mirror.

    Image credit: terrieization on YouTube

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