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If The Shoe Fits: Travis Kalanick And Spin

Friday, August 11th, 2017

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mArrogance seems to be a constant, whether in the cowboy heroes of yesterday or the “leader heroes” of today. Or perhaps we should say “unhero.”

Travis Kalanick is a true unhero and a good, if overused, example of above and beyond arrogance.

He publicly claimed he would be “Steve Jobs-ing” his dismissal and would return as CEO.

He still claims this in spite of a statement from Uber co-founder and director Garrett Camp, who says Kalanick will not return as CEO.

His “Steve Jobs-ing” comment refers to Jobs being forced out, but ignores the full story of how Jobs came back and what he did in the meantime (founded another company that Apple ended up acquiring).

What Jobs did NOT do was hire an advisory company that specialized in “CEO & Leadership positioning.”

“Through our close relationships with the world’s leading editors, reporters, producers, and hosts at top-tier print, online, and broadcast outlets, we develop and execute strategic, results-driven media engagement programs for CEOs that leverage traditional and social media platforms.”

More prosaically, it’s called spin.

In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favor or against some organization or public figure. … “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics.

In short, spin alleviates the necessity of actually changing.

All Kalanick needs to do is write a check, probably a sizable one, and Teneo, the company he hired, will sell the “new” Kalanick to the world.

All hail personal growth and authenticity — the myths of Silicon Valley — along with meritocracy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you are interested in authentic personal growth be sure to check out this month’s Leadership Development Carnival.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Golden Oldies: Power, Arrogance And MAP

Monday, August 7th, 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 are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Last week we started looking at our heroes — first as cowboys and then why/how they needed to change. It’s a timely subject, especially considering the attitudes/actions of so many of our current ones — from Donald Trump to Travis Kalanick and all those inbetween.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

I recently questioned whether, in fact, the imperial CEO is indeed dead as many are saying.

Wednesday Dan McCarthy was inspired to write 10 Ways to Avoid the Arrogance of Power after reading The Arrogance of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Business School. Pfeffer says,

“The higher you go in an organization, the more those around you are going to tell you that you are right. The higher reaches of organizations–which includes government, too, in case you slept through the past eight years–are largely absent of critical thought. … There is also evidence, including some wonderful studies by business school professor Don Hambrick at Penn State, that shows the corroding effects of ego. Leaders filled with hubris are more likely to overpay for acquisitions and engage in other risky strategies. Leaders ought to cultivate humility.” He ends by advising not to hold your breath waiting for this to change.”

I think much of Dan’s advice is good, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for the advice to be taken.

I think that power corrupts those susceptible to it, not all those who have it; there are enough examples of powerful people who didn’t succumb to keep me convinced.

Susceptibility is woven in MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and is especially prevalent in today’s society of mememememememe with its sense of entitlement.

Changing MAP and stopping drinking are similar, since the individual has to choose to change. All the horses and all the men can’t convince the king to change—that only happens from the inside out.

Moreover, as I’ve frequently said, MAP is sneaky; it will pretend to change and then revert to its normal pattern when no one’s looking.

We, the people, can’t force them to change, but we can learn to sustain our attention span and keep looking.

Image credit: flickr

Guest Post: Our Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

When I was five or six, every Saturday morning was the same. I’d strap on my trusty toy six-shooter over my pajamas, grab my cowboy hat, and mount the arm of my father’s armchair, which I thought of as my trusty steed. From that perch, I’d watch the Saturday morning cowboy shows on our black and white television. Like most of the rest of America, I loved my cowboy heroes. It took a while to understand how unrealistic they were.

The cowboys were all white guys, there wasn’t an African American, or a Mexican American, or a Mexican to be seen doing real work. In real life, about a quarter of working cowboys were African-Americans. And much of the dress, equipment, and the language of the working cowboy came from the Mexican vaqueros.

The cowboys I watched on television were all clean and wore fancy clothes. Real cowboys did a dirty job and wore clothes and used equipment to make it safer and easier.

Television cowboys had almost superhuman skills. They could ride a horse at a full gallop and shoot the pistol out of a bad guy’s hand at a couple of hundred yards. When the evildoer was trying to run away, they could whip out their trusty lasso and pull him off his horse. Every time. They never missed. They were heroes.

The cowboy heroes did super masculine things with grace. They knocked out bad guys with a single punch. The women in the shows were always attractive, but their primary role was to be rescued or protected.

You would think, if they had the usual set of masculine urges that there would be some chasing after the beautiful women who populated the television West. But no. When their work of rescuing and protecting was over, the cowboy heroes rode away, accompanied if at all, by their trusty sidekick. That’s weird.

Those heroes were great for me when I was five. Today, I’m not so sure they fit the world we want to create.

Let’s Broaden Our View of Heroes

There’s no reason we need to limit our definition of heroes to white men with superpowers. Women can be heroes, too. So, can people with every shade of skin tone imaginable. They have been throughout history.

Heroes don’t need superpowers, and they don’t need to be flashy. Some of our greatest heroes do quiet work that makes a difference in the world, like Dan Nigro on and after 9/11.

Cowboy Heroes in A Team-Centric World

Today, most of the world’s work gets done in teams, so you would think we would modify our idea of a hero. We haven’t. Instead, we’ve made the situation fit our fantasy rather than the facts.

We laud lone innovators like Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, except they weren’t “lone” at all. Edison had the muckers and Jobs had hundreds of people at Apple. We laud the fighter pilot and forget the crew that keeps the jet flying and the pilot safe.

When US Airways flight 1549 was set down in the Hudson River, the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, became the hero of the day. No one except Sullenberger wanted to talk about the contributions of the copilot or the cabin crew to making the landing safe and getting the passengers off the plane. No one wanted to bring up the training in the cockpit resource management that prepared those people to react as a team.

The all-knowing physician is another variation of the lone hero. That may make great TV drama, but it just doesn’t fit what we need. Atul Gawande is an author, surgeon, and professor. He puts the situation this way.

“We have trained, hired, and awarded physicians to be cowboys, when what we want are pit crews for patients.”

We’ve done that with managers, too. Except we don’t call them managers anymore. We call them “leaders,” that’s today’s hero-word. We expect those leaders to do the business equivalent of shooting the gun out of the evil-doer’s hand while riding at a full gallop.

Our Challenge Today

The world of the future will not belong to the superheroes, like the cowboy heroes of my youth. Instead, the work will be much less romantic but much more effective. Team leaders will learn that their job is to accomplish the mission through the group, not to do it all themselves. They’ll also learn that their job involves helping the individual team members succeed, develop, and grow.

None of that makes for good television. I’m pretty sure that no six-year-old today is sitting in his father’s chair spellbound by a TV drama about a leader coaching a team member. But that’s what effective leadership looks like.

Our heroes have always been cowboys, but maybe it’s time for something different.

Originally posted July 27, 2017 on Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog.

If the Shoe Fits: Mike Rothenberg

Friday, September 16th, 2016

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn the beginning the story of Mike Rothenberg, founder of Rothenberg Ventures, is the story of just how far a privileged background and pure chutzpah can take a 28 year-old.

“What if you could combine the service-model approach of Andreessen Horowitz, and the founder-first community building offline and online approach of First Round Capital, with the processing power and reach of Silicon Valley Angels, and the discretion of Floodgate and the judgment of Sequoia? No one else can make the claim that they are even building those pieces. That’s what we’re doing.”

But a lousy manager according to his people.

…a demanding boss who needed to sign off on all decisions including investments, yet rarely made himself available to do so.

Four years later it’s the story of how fast a privileged background, super-size chutzpah, plenty of swagger, negligent management skills and questionable actions can bring you down.

And the very gifts that enabled Rothenberg to start his fund and carve out a name for himself in the crowded valley venture scene — his youth, his Stanford and Harvard degrees, and his dense social network and splashy events — may have set the course for his fiasco.

Read the story.

Look in the mirror.

Review your track record and actions.

Eradicate any similarities.

Hat tip to Anand Sanwal for pointing me to this story.

Image credit: Hiking Artist

Golden Oldies: Entrepreneurs: Limitations

Monday, July 25th, 2016

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.

CEOs, their words, actions, and egos, have been fodder for academics, coaches, consultants, pundits, the media and numerous others for decades. I’ve never believed that stardom (at any level) travels well. I wrote this three years ago and since then I believe that egos have gotten bigger even faster than CEO skills have shrunk. Read other Golden Oldies here.

superheroIn a celebrity-driven culture and considering the hype around global startup salvation, you might start believing that founders are, indeed, some kind of superhero, different from the rest of us, and worthy of adoration.

But you would be wrong.

“Throughout history, narcissists have always emerged to inspire people and to shape the future. The ones who lead companies to greatness are those who can recognize their own limitations.” –Michael Maccoby (2000 Harvard Business Review article about the pros and cons of narcissistic leaders.)

A Fortune article, with heavy input from Zachary First, managing director of The Drucker Institute, does a good job kicking holes in the idea.

Star CEOs grow dangerous when they see their success as destiny, their place at the head of the pack as the only path possible, rendering all of their choices justified. The best leaders might enjoy the red carpet, that’s fine, as long as they understand that being the best fit for the CEO job is a relative status — relative to the needs of the rest of the people in an organization at a specific moment in time.

And fame, no matter how great it may feel, does not equal infallibility.

Steve Jobs is considered a star CEO, but it’s questionable whether he would be if he hadn’t brought in John Sculley, been dumped and then come back.

While it’s not good to believe you’re the smartest person in the room it is far worse to actually be the smartest.

There are many things you can do if you want to stay grounded; here are the basics.

  • Hire people who are smarter than yourself;
  • encourage feedback and don’t dismiss it;
  • listen and hear what you’d rather not;
  • build a culture with sans fear where the messenger is never killed; and
  • don’t believe your own hype or drink your own Kool-aid.

And above all, stay aware.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for KG’s take on leadership strength, vulnerability — and asking questions.

Flickr image credit: Cory Doctorow

Marvin Ellison’s Winning Way

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

http://www.blackpast.org/aah/ellison-marvin-1966The following points are from a profile of Marvin Ellison, CEO of JC Penney and author of its successful turnaround strategy.

He is also the guy credited with Home Depot’s turnaround after Bob Nardelli’s  disastrous run as CEO.

Ellison’s attitude and approach is the 180 degree opposite of Nardelli’s imperial, top down, command and control management style.

I was at Home Depot last weekend and in conversation with two employees who were solving a problem for me, which they did brilliantly.

I mentioned how different shopping there was now compared to during Nardelli’s reign. It turned out they had both worked at HD during that time and a couple of the stories they told were beyond belief.

If you think I’m exaggerating, or are too young to remember him, note that Nardelli is number 17 on Portfolio’s Worst American CEOs of All Time.

How different is Ellison?

The following four Ellison quotes clearly illustrate his approach.

Beyond explaining his leadership skill the quotes are solid cornerstones on which to build your own approach.

“I’m trying to understand the culture and customer. In retail, understanding those two things is essential.”

“…listening to people about what we need to do;”

“There will be change, but not for the sake of change.”

“There’s nothing more instructive than asking store employees for their opinions. I have no problem doing it.”

Hat tip to Wally Bock for pointing me to this article.

Image credit: BlackPast.org

Ducks in a Row: Gary Kelly and Southwest Airlines

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/akandbdl/4929952917/

What drives a company’s success as it grows?

Its people.

What drives a company’s culture?

Its people — all of them from CEO to entry-level grunt.

Since Southwest started in 1971 has grown to 47,000, but what is truly amazing is its employment record over those 45 years.

The most astonishing factoid about Southwest is that it has not had a single layoff in its 44 years—a stunning accomplishment in an industry that leads the economy in bankruptcies, re-organizations, mergers and companies that have disappeared. Think Eastern and Pan Am.

SWA was number 13 on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in 2015 and nearly 180,000 people applied for work. What criteria does SWA consider most important?

“We have a passion for what we do and we look for people that share that passion. Our mantra is, we hire for attitude and we train for skill. Since our early days we seek people who don’t just have the skill, but also have the passion and the attitude to take care of each other and to take great care of our customers. We work hard to identify that. Many people want to be a part of a team like this. But many times we’ll have employees that say, “You know what? This just isn’t for me and it’s not the right fit.”

Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly has been with the company for 29 years, the first 15 as CFO, but doesn’t claim hero status.

In an eye-opening interview Kelly talks about the importance of SWA’s culture as a competitive edge and how it’s been maintained over the decades.

If you’re going to have a team, you’ve got to invest the time to create the relationships. The bigger the company gets, the more effort it takes. We use a variety of techniques to do that. Right near my office is a group called Internal Customer Care that keeps track of important things happening in our employees’ lives. (…)I get a pile of thank you notes and in turn I send out thank you notes. It’s creates a very human connection. It’s basic, but very meaningful. That’s why we put the heart symbol in our logo. We’re not the American Heart Association, but our employees believe in the heart and when we deviate from living by the golden rule, people call each other on that. It makes for a very powerful culture.

In short, management spends time walking as opposed to time talking.

Read the interview. While you/your company may not have the money to match Southwest’s benefits, you can certainly create the relationships.

Flickr image credit: Keith Laverack

Golden Oldies: Mine’s Bigger Than Yours

Monday, January 25th, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over nearly 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. Read other Golden Oldies here

no_guarantee

I’m no happier about the AIG and other bonuses paid to screwed up Wall Street banks, but I’m not sure why any of us are surprised.

“In the largest 25 corporate bankruptcies between 1999 and 2002, while hundreds of billions of dollars of investor wealth and over 100,000 jobs disappeared, the Financial Times found the “barons of bankruptcy” made off with $3.3 billion.”

Giant compensation packages, guaranteed bonuses and platinum parachutes are excused by Boards and executives as necessary to attract the “best and brightest,” but here’s what’s really going on.

The ‘name’ demands outsize compensation/stock options/guaranteed bonus/etc. in order to validate their ‘brand’.

Those responsible for hiring not only meet the demands, but even exceed them in an effort to attain or sustain the company’s reputation as a better home for ‘stars’—the more stars you have the greater the bragging rights— mine’s bigger than yours in high school locker room talk.

Now let’s consider the folly of this attitude.

Those hiring often seek a name brand in the mistaken belief that the brand comes with a warranty that guarantees good results.

But no matter who you hire you’re actually paying for their past performance, which is always influenced by

  • circumstances—boss and company positioning in its market and industry
  • environment—culture and colleagues;

and let us not forget that minor factor

  • the economy.

The hiring mindset is that everything the brand accomplished was done in a total vacuum and dependent only on the brand’s own actions, therefore changing every single surrounding factor will have no impact on performance.

Put like that it sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it.

This is one of the prime reasons that so many CEOs bring their ‘own team’ over when they move, as do managers all the way down the food chain—they know they didn’t do it alone.

CEOs aren’t like movie and rock stars whose very names draw consumers into spending money—nobody ever bought a product from GE because Jack Welch was CEO, nor do they carry Jobs’ iPods—so why pay them that way?

Moreover, assuming that performance occurring during an expansion is a valid yardstick for performance in general, let alone a downturn, is sheer idiocy.

You have only to remember the difficulties faced by people whose management skills were honed between 1991 and 2000, the longest expansion in our history. When the recession hit in March of 2001 they had no experience whatsoever of how to drive revenue or manage in a down economy.

That recession and the previous one in 1990 lasted only 8 months each. The longest recession we’ve had was 2 years, January-July 1980 and July 1981-November 1982, and that one had a 12 month break in it. This means there are a very small number of managers with any actual experience managing in anything even close to what’s happening now.

The current recession officially started in December 2007, so it’s already 15 months old and the end isn’t in sight.

What experience makes these folks the ‘best and brightest’ for today’s world?

Just what the hell are companies still guaranteeing oversized compensation and exorbitant exit packages when now is definitely the time to pay for future performance—no guarantees.

Sad, isn’t it. Seven years and nothing’s changed, in fact, it’s gotten much worse.  

The wealth of the richest 62 people grew by more than half a trillion dollars in that last half-decade, while the wealth of the poorest 50 percent of people globally decreased by more than $1 trillion during the same period.

Image credit: flickr

If the Shoe Fits: Gods and Gurus

Friday, March 15th, 2013

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

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mAristotle produced a good bit of wisdom in the course of his life, much of which can be tweaked to apply to subjects other than those originally intended. For instance,

“A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.”

All you have to do to this one is singularize and capitalize ‘gods’ and it’s just as applicable today as it was when he said it.

Tweak the words differently and you have a profile that fits more founders than you might think.

A founder must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to startup gurus. Employees are less apprehensive of invalid treatment from a leader whom they consider guru-savvy and humble. On the other hand, they do less easily walk, believing that he has the gurus on his side.

Well? What do you think?

Does the shoe fit?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Limitations

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

http://www.flickr.com/photos/doctorow/8081086093/

In a celebrity-driven culture and considering the hype around global startup salvation, you might start believing that founders are, indeed, some kind of superhero, different from the rest of us, and worthy of adoration.

But you would be wrong.

“Throughout history, narcissists have always emerged to inspire people and to shape the future. The ones who lead companies to greatness are those who can recognize their own limitations.” –Michael Maccoby (2000 Harvard Business Review article about the pros and cons of narcissistic leaders.)

A Fortune article, with heavy input from Zachary First, managing director of The Drucker Institute, does a good job kicking holes in the idea.

Star CEOs grow dangerous when they see their success as destiny, their place at the head of the pack as the only path possible, rendering all of their choices justified. The best leaders might enjoy the red carpet, that’s fine, as long as they understand that being the best fit for the CEO job is a relative status — relative to the needs of the rest of the people in an organization at a specific moment in time.

And fame, no matter how great it may feel, does not equal infallibility.

Steve Jobs is considered a star CEO, but it’s questionable whether he would be if he hadn’t brought in John Sculley, been dumped and then come back.

While it’s not good to believe you’re the smartest person in the room it is far worse to actually be the smartest.

There are many things you can do if you want to stay grounded; here are the basics.

  • Hire people who are smarter than yourself;
  • encourage feedback and don’t dismiss it;
  • listen and hear what you’d rather not;
  • build a culture with sans fear where the messenger is never killed; and
  • don’t believe your own hype or drink your own Kool-aid.

And above all, stay aware.

Flickr image credit: Cory Doctorow

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