Monday, February 28th, 2011
I had brunch today with two friends.
During the conversation one told me that he couldn’t believe I was still such an idealist at my age (older than dirt:).
His wife disagreed, saying that she couldn’t believe how cynical I had gotten.
They are both right.
I am, and always have been, a pragmatic idealist.
How do you become a pragmatic idealist?
By always striving to implement the ideals in which you believe, while fully functioning within the reality in which you actually live.
Image credit: http://www.warningsigngenerator.com
Thursday, January 6th, 2011
“Entrepreneur” is the new black.
The term/title is being applied to a multitude of people, from the consultant/coach making ends meet until businesses start hiring to the bleary-eyed kid in his dorm room hoping to be the next Facebook or Google; from the preteen mowing lawns to the Boomers using severance pay to follow their passions; from the person using the proceeds from the sale of one startup to launch the next to the woman using a micro loan to lift her family up from poverty.
Some are entrepreneurs by choice, some by chance; some run and leap into new opportunities with a battle cry on their lips, while others drag themselves kicking and screaming into the fray, but all are fascinating.
All face one particular challenge and the need to overcome it is great, because these days there are fewer choices, fewer options to pay the bills, fewer paths from here to there.
It’s motivation and it’s the biggest challenge faced by every working living person on the planet.
Whether you are a solopreneur, a founder/member of a startup or one in a cast of thousands you need to keep yourself and your people motivated.
While clear visions and strong passions help, motivation is in the doing—not the talking or the planning.
This is especially true for entrepreneurs, because the fewer the people the fewer the places to hide.
There’s no way around it, being an entrepreneur means full responsibility and full accountability, but it also means undiluted pride in the results.
Please join me Saturday for a look at a few of the more unusual entrepreneurs.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/csatch/4309778208/
Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
Do you agree with the following statement?
“The most fundamental job of a leader is to recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct, and regularly refuel the energy of those they lead.”
I do with one glaring exception—the words “leader” and “lead.”
That sentence is just as valid if you substitute ‘manager’ for ‘leader’ and ‘manage’ for ‘lead’.
The quote is from a Harvard Business Review post called The CEO Is the Chief Energy Officer and although it’s a cute play on ‘CEO’ the lessons it imparts apply to every manager at every level in every company—even if that manager is the only person in the company.
If you are in a position where you manage anyone and you skip any of the actions mentioned above then you are doing a major disservice to your people and yourself.
Even more so if you are your own manager, which, in the end, we all are.
This is a great time to institute change—not with great fanfare, but through sustainable actions.
So every day get out there and “recruit, mobilize, inspire, focus, direct, and regularly refuel the energy.”
You’ll be glad you did.
Flickr image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zedbee/103147140/
Thursday, September 16th, 2010
Work 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
Thursday, August 26th, 2010
I received the following email yesterday (edited for length and anonymity).
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.
We 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/
Thursday, June 24th, 2010
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
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.
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/
Saturday, May 8th, 2010
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
Friday, March 5th, 2010
Anyone 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
Friday, February 19th, 2010
How 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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