Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Beyond the Golden Rule

We all know the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I had never given it much thought beyond the obvious admonition that we should be nice to other people lest they treat me badly. Recently, I learned about that rule taken to its next logical step: The Platinum Rule.

The Platinum Rule is a book by Dr. Tony Alessandra. I haven't read the books, but I like the summary Allesandra shares here. It goes like this: Treat others the way they want to be treated.

At first glance, it may sound like the same thing, right? Well, not really. It’s a matter of perspective. The Golden Rule is said from my perspective. If I follow it, I’m telling people how I want things done. The Platinum Rule is me taking into consideration how YOU want to be treated.

Used properly, this can transform you at the personal and professional level. For example, should I focus on how I want to be treated or on how my family wants to be treated? Which will help to build more harmony and peace at home? Which do I control? At work, should I focus on how I want my team to treat me or on how they want to be treated? Which do I control? Which will create a better teamwork environment?

It can change the nature of your relationship with the people around you.

An effective leader looks at how he/she deals with their team, making sure they feel like they really are part of a team rather than just employees assigned to you. This puts a lot of responsibility on the leader. But, that’s why you are the leader.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

7 Life Lessons You Can Learn From 'Star Trek'

Yes, I love "Star Trek." But that headline is not mine, unfortunately. David Borgenicht posted a neat commentary by that title.

He holds, and I agree, that you can learn some good leadership lessons from "Star Trek." These are the 7 points he makes:

"1. The best way to travel is to boldly go where no one has gone before." From a new restaurant to a new career, this will take you to new places.
"2. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few--or the one." You are not the center of the universe or even the world.
"3. Expressing your emotions is a healthy thing." There are times when you have to let it out.
"4. When estimating how long a job will take, overestimate--and when you do better your captain will always be impressed." Yes, Scottie always restarted the engines with seconds to spare.
"5. Wearing red makes you a target." Think of ideas as color-coded.
"6. When you don't know what to say, pause." It wasn’t just bad acting (though there was some of that) that made Kirk a great negotiator.
"7. The most powerful force in the universe is friendship." Why else would you want to save the galaxy?

Whether you’re trying to save the universe, your business or a local park, these lessons will make your journey a little easier to handle.

Friday, November 18, 2011

How To Think Creatively

According to a post by Tony Schwartz on the Harvard Business Review blog page, a century’s worth of research has produced some agreement on what leads to creative thinking. Schwartz discusses the left-right brain connections and also has four stages.

“1. Saturation: Once the problem or creative challenge has been defined, the next stage of creativity requires absorbing one's self in what's already known. Any creative breakthrough inevitably rests on the shoulders of all that came before it.

2. Incubation: The second stage of creativity begins when we walk away from a problem. Incubation involves mulling over information, often unconsciously.

3. Illumination: Ah-ha moments — spontaneous, intuitive, unbidden — characterize the third stage of creativity. Where are you when you get your best ideas? I'm guessing it's not when you're sitting at your desk, or consciously trying to think creatively. Rather it's when you're doing something else, whether it's exercising, taking a shower, driving or even sleeping.

4. Verification: This stage is about challenging and testing the creative breakthrough you've had. Scientists do this in a laboratory. Painters do it on a canvas. Writers do it by translating a vision into words. How do you do this?”

More importantly, this all takes practice. Like all important skills, it needs to be practiced.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Would You Move Away From A Burning Car?

If you were next to a burning car, assuming there’s no one inside, would you move away? 99% of us would. But, just how far away would you move?

There are two general strands of thought in motivation methods: people move away from something (getting fired, losing the house, getting another heart attack, etc.) or people move toward something (a raise, a bigger house, a new car, etc.). The problem with the first one is that it tends to be short-term.

When that car starts to burn, people in the crowd move quite differently. Some will run away as fast and as far as they can, leaving the scene before the cops can get there to ask questions. Some will walk briskly away. Some will just saunter off a few steps. Most will move a safe distance away, turn around and stare at the car to discuss what happened. A small few will remain too close and get injured or even killed when the gas tank finally explodes.

When the boss comes in and announces that the unit is not producing where it should be and that some people will get fired if performance doesn’t improve, the employees will behave like the crowd and the burning car. Some will really start producing as fast and as much as they can. Some will start producing enough to keep their jobs, but not much more than that. A few will not produce enough and get reprimanded and even fired.

The other problem with this approach to motivation is that it is the easiest thing to do: threaten people with something terrible. It only moves people so far. You have to keep doing it over and over again, and then it becomes a very negative environment.

Moving people toward something is much harder. Which is why most managers don’t do it. You have to know your people and know how their own goals intersect with your organization’s goals. It’s more targeted and requires long-term thinking. That’s hard. Leadership is hard. It requires thinking.

On the other hand,there's the rare organization where people work together to pull everyone away from getting fired, like the crowd that rushed to save a man under the car. That would be a great organization to work for. Is your organization like that?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The answer is not in the's in the PowerPoint®

I use that phrase sometimes: the answer is not in the spreadsheet, it's in the PowerPoint®.

Both really do similar things. They take information and data and organize it. One looks at it in the micro view and the other in the macro view. The spreadsheet provides the dots. The PowerPoint® connects them. This assumes you've done it well. While the meat is in the spreadsheet, people will be able to see the answer in the PowerPoint®.

Good leaders use both effectively but show the answer in terms that are easy to understand and absorb in PowerPoint®. The spreadsheet is the back up when people want details. If all you show is the spreadsheet, it will overwhelm most people. If all you show is the PowerPoint®, it will leave doubts about the details. Effective leaders communicate with both.

Choose your tools well, practice your use of both and use them sparingly.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What's your organizational chart look like?

Seth Godin has an interesting take on the organizational chart. I like the ones describing Microsoft and Apple. I assume Steven Jobs is the red dot in the Apple chart.

The Microsoft one is particularly telling because it has each unit pointing guns at the other units within Microsft! The Oracle one shows way more lawyers than engineers.

In many organizations, instead of arrows showing connections, you might actually include barbed-wire fences and moats between units. In other units, you might show open doors or even no boxes at all.

So, what's your organizational chart look like? More importantly, how does it really work? Instead of arrows and lines, how would you draw your organization and then your unit within the organization?

The actual way an organizational chart works is not a function of its legal formation. It is a result of the leader's style and what he or she allows or not to happen between individuals and units. What atmosphere are you creating with your leadership style?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Never ask for a raise

Never ask for a raise. Ask for a raise wrapped in a challenge that will stretch your capabilities.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Chance Favors The Connected Mind

Steven Johnson has a short but very informative ">video about where ideas come from.

He talks about how some ideas take time to come together and develop. Once they come together, it seems like a stroke of lightning.

Following Steven's line of thought, I will revert to the old Mexican saying, "El diable sabe mas por viejo que por diablo." (The devil knows more because he's so old than because he's a devil.)

Innovation, like good leadership, sometimes takes time to mature.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs as Leader

All organizations are really about people: the people who work there, their idiosyncrasies, their relationships, what they contribute, how they work or don't work well together and so on. Of course, it is all guided from the top. The person/people at the top set that entire environment.

So, Steve Jobs created that environment of a very tight leadership structure with a distinctive culture (the relationships). If he did it well and imparted his approach to those around him, it will continue. If not, it will last for a while and then fade.

In this case, the true test of whether Steve Jobs was a great leader and not just a genius at creating and developing great products will be told in the future. He has already cemented his genius in design. His genius in leadership will be defined in whether Apple can continue as successfully in the future.

In a sense, leadership is practicd in the now but defined in the future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Perfect Job Description

If you could create your ideal job description, what would it be like?

What would you be doing? What type of work? What kind of people would you require to be part of your work? What would be the limitations and boundaries on your job? What kind of supervision would demand? What kind of leadership would you work under? What would your environment look like? Where would it be? It’s your job. You decide how you want to structure it.

Notice that I did not mention money? I think that the job and what you get paid for it are often not really connected. Besides, that’s not what makes a job enjoyable.

Now, that you’ve written it, it’s time to start creating that job. What would you need to do to create that job? What will it take? How long would it take?

Why would you want to do this exercise? We spend so much time working that it really should be something that is enjoyable. It should be work that is meaningful to you. If it isn’t, why would you continue to tolerate working there unless you have some plan to get to the ideal job.

Our work should be part of our purpose. Without purpose, we cannot be effective leaders.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Design vs Manufacturing

Seth Godin has a great blog piece today about defining quality. He makes a distinction between two types of quality: quality of manufacturing and quality of design. It’s a lot easier to get to quality of manufacturing. Quality of design is much harder to define and achieve. Guess which we do more of?

Leadership is more about quality of design: the experience of using a product, how much you enjoy working at a business, the real learning when taking a class, the satisfaction you get volunteering in your community or the quality of the dining experience at a restaurant. Not that quality of manufacturing is unimportant. It supports quality of design. Quality of manufacturing should be a means to get to quality of design. Good leadership takes both into account but understands which is the priority.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Short-term Change Leads To Long-term Results

I’ve heard it many times: I can’t change. That’s just the way I am!

It’s a simple excuse for not making changes. On the other hand, I’ve also seen people who try to do a complete and very dramatic wholesale change focusing on numerous items. My advice has always been to focus one or two things to change in your life, be it personal or professional. It is the small, cumulative changes that are easier to manage and more likely to be long-term successes.

Going for a large-scale transformation (diet, exercise, sleep, work habits, education goals, spiritual goals, etc.) is often overwhelming and less likely to be successful, long-term change. Humans, like many other creatures, tend to deal better with incremental, focused changes.

Whether you are seeking to end bad habits or start good ones, it seems to be best to pick one or two and work on those. Once you have those more or less under control, then you can move on to the next.

In this TED presentation, Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, offers a simple approach to making changes in your life, one thing at a time. As he points out, after the 30 days, the change has likely become permanent.

Whether you’re trying to change your diet or your poor communication skills, focus on one item that you change for 30 days. Then, see your progress at the end of period and see how much longer you can keep it up after that. You will likely find that maintaining the change will be fairly easy.

If you want to improve your leadership skills, make it a 6- or 12-month plan. Identify 6 or so key changes you want to make in your life. Start with the most important one and go. The next month, go on to the next one and so on. Hopefully, in one year, you will have made some significant changes. You many not make each change completely, but you will be well on your path of improved leadership. You will have some failures, but you can always start a new calendar any day of the year.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Innovation's Nine Critical Success Factors

Mark Sebell and Jay Terwilliger, managing partners at Creative Realities, Inc., a Boston-based innovation management collaborative, argue that your group needs to have some basic structure in place to innovate productively, in a post at the Harvard Business Review. They cite nine factors. See how your organization rates on these:

1. A compelling case for innovation.
2. An inspiring, shared vision of the future.
3. A fully aligned strategic innovation agenda.
4. Visible senior management involvement.
5. A decision-making model that fosters teamwork in support of passionate champions.
6. A creatively resourced, multi-functional dedicated team
7. Open-minded exploration of the marketplace drivers of innovation.
8. Willingness to take risk and see value in absurdity.
9. A well-defined yet flexible execution process.

Check out the full descriptions in the HBR post. Rate your organization from 1 to 10, with ten being outstanding.

Friday, June 10, 2011


That's all, just IMAGINE.

Spend a few minutes IMAGINING, then get back to whatever you were doing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Innovation: critical in a down economy

In a bad economy, cutting costs becomes the first tool organizations resort to when they try to keep their heads above water. The creative group is among the first to go and last to be returned. That is likely a mistake. If anything, the creative team should be kept because you really need to focus on developing new products and services – or at least that’s what PricewaterhouseCooper’s survey of 1200 CEOs from around the world revealed.

“Innovation, along with increasing their existing business, now outstrips all other means of potential expansion, including moving into new markets, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures and other alliances,” the survey determined. The CEOs “believe innovation will generate ‘significant’ new revenue and cost reduction opportunities over the next three years…(M)ore than 40 per cent of CEOs believe their greatest opportunities for growth come from spawning new products and services.”

The study also contents that “the drive for innovation must arise from the CEO and other executive leadership by creating a culture that is open to new ideas and systematic in its approach to their development.”

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the innovation process can be broken down to four phases: Discovery, Incubation, Acceleration and Scale. The study also identifies seven misconceptions about the innovation process:
• Innovation can be delegated. Not so. The drive to innovate begins at the top. If the CEO doesn't protect and reward the process, it will fail.
• Middle Management is the ally of innovation. Managers are not natural champions of innovation. They tend to reject new ideas in favor of efficiency.
• Innovative people work for the money. Establishing a culture that embeds innovation in the organization will attract and retain creative talent.
• Innovation is a lucky accident. Successful innovation most often results from a disciplined process that sorts through many ideas.
• The more open the innovation process, the less disciplined. Advances in collaborative tools, like social networking, are accelerating open innovation.
• Businesses know how much innovation they need. Leaders must calculate their potential for inorganic growth to determine their need to innovate.
• Innovation can't be measured. Leadership needs to identify its ROII--Return on Innovation Investment.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Avoiding the Gotcha Approach

It starts out as an innocent statement or question. It seems so innocent, you don’t really think about the answer.

Them: I think we should integrate our approach.

You: Yes, I think we should.

Seems so innocuous and rhetorical that you don’t really think about it. For some people, that would be the end of it. But, some people like to use that as a trap. Like a trap, it’s so unassuming that you don’t realize that there’s another question coming.

Them: So, I noticed that you did not include the western region in your presentation.

No matter how you answer that, it will look like your answers are inconsistent – Gotcha! This is particularly troublesome if it is done in public or in front of other people. You get embarrassed and are seen as either incompetent or a liar.

The more direct and professional approach would be for them to have asked directly why the western region was not included.

Them: I noticed that the western region was not included in your presentation. What were your thoughts on that?

It gets directly to the point and isn’t loaded with subterfuge. However, some people enjoy using the Gotcha approach to dealing with people. It’s a way of pointing out that they are smarter than you and a way to keep people in line by setting them up for a contradiction. It creates suspicion and distrust in the atmosphere. It's a way to hammer and intimidate people. They seem to take pleasure in pointing out other people's errors and inconsistencies, especially in public.

As a leader, honesty and transparency has to be a key element of your relationship with the people around you. Avoid the gotcha questions. If you have a question, ask it directly. Ask it as non-judgmentally as possible. Treat people with respect and compassion. Don’t make them out to be something they are not.

11 Words for 2011

Author and political consultant Frank Luntz offers 11 Phrases and Words for effective communinication. Check out this clip from Morning Joe. It's a good primer for leaders to learn from. Check out the book Win.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Parable of the Five Gorillas

This is a story I’ve heard in several forms.

A scientist, according to the story, did an experiment with five gorillas housed in a cage. The scientist hung a bunch of bananas in the cage where the gorillas could not reach them. Then a large tree branch was put up against the wall close to the bananas. One gorilla figured out that he could climb the branch and reach the bananas. But, just as it was about to grab them, the scientist drenched all the gorillas with cold, frigid water. There was chaos. Later, the same gorillas tried to get to the bananas. Again, the scientist covered them with cold water. This went on several more times until at least one of the gorillas made the connection between reaching for the bananas and the cold water.

At the next attempt, that gorilla attacked the one who was trying to get the bananas. The others joined in when it became clear that reaching for the bananas caused the water to start. After that, none of the gorillas tried to get the bananas.

Later, the scientist took out one of the gorillas and included a new one that had not seen what was going on in the cage. As you might think, the new gorilla tried to get the bananas. Of course, the other gorillas attacked it when it tried to do so. They managed to stop it before the water started. It learned not to try to get the bananas. The scientist then removed another of the original gorillas and included a new one. Well, the process repeated itself, including the first new gorilla joining in the attack, even though it did not know why.

The scientist removed the original gorillas one by one, replacing them with a new gorilla every time. Each time the reaction was the same. The new gorilla was attacked when they tried to get the bananas. Eventually, all the original gorillas were replaced. All this time, none of the new gorillas had been sprayed with water. Even though they did not know why, all the replacement gorillas kept attacking the new gorilla every time they tried to get the bananas.

Why? Well, they had all learned, “That’s how we do things around here. That’s how it’s always been done.”

Does that sound like your organization? A leader and potential leaders should determine why people do things the way they do. Maybe there was a good reason at the time or maybe it was just what somebody decided a long, long time ago and it may not be applicable now.

The Paralysis of Uncertainty and the FAQ Office

As I have commented before, having too many choices can be paralyzing. Uncertainty is another state of mind that can lead to paralysis.

You’ve heard this phrase countless times, a lot more lately it seems: In these uncertain times... I get the unstated threat in that statement. You don’t know what’s coming. It could be good, but don’t count on it, the ad implies. It more than likely will be bad for you, the ad seems to be saying. I get that.

But, where does that sense of foreboding come from? Currently, it seems to be coming from a number of areas: government budget cuts (at all levels) that may impact government employees and the businesses that service those government agencies. It comes from businesses going through difficult times. It comes from the potential for nuclear fallout. It comes from the growing turmoil all over the world. It comes from the growing turmoil in our political environment. It comes from, well, from whatever it is that is bothering you.

Your office or organization is likely going through some uncertainty. The danger is that uncertainty can lead to paralysis. Not knowing, for example, whether you will have a job in six months, some people are paralyzed, unable to really focus and do their work. Why does this happen? Likely, this is an information gap, oftentimes fueled by rumors.

For example, government employees are being threatened with layoffs across the board. The threat is not overt. It is implied as administrators are absorbed with looming budget cuts without really knowing how much their budgets are being cut. Employees want administrators to tell them if their jobs will be safe, but the administrators can’t tell their employees what they don’t know, hence the uncertainty. As a result, there’s a lot of rumors that sound like this: “I heard that they’re going to cut _____________ (insert the latest rumored target).”

This is where good leadership needs to step in and address the rumors. Actually, this something that good leadership should always do, regardless of what the business environment is like. Every organization should have an FAQ/Rumors Office to address these issues. Obviously, some things can’t be known until things like budgets get settled. But, you can tell people how you are planning to respond, possible scenarios and options for employees. The worst you can do is not tell people anything. Your silence seems to reinforce rumors and fears. And the paralysis sets in, dragging down motivation and productivity, all adding to the downward spiral of the organization.

Your FAQ/Rumors Office (FRO) doesn’t have to be a large office. It can be one person who can answer questions or just develop an FAQ sheet to address the current uncertainty. You may not be able to answer all the questions and fears, but you can try to limit the paralysis. In some cases, if your FRO does it well, it could actually spur motivation and productivity.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Living life to the fullest

There seems, to me, to be quite a lot being written about living life to the fullest. My first thought when I hear that is of someone going full throttle for 22 hours, sleeping a few minutes and then going off on an adventure to the Andes, all the while running a business through their smart phone and meeting people way more fabulous than anyone I have ever met.

I thought about that. What would “living my life to the fullest” mean? Would that mean that I would be running off to SXSW to mingle with all these alternative bands, hanging out at bars till dawn, talking about new Internet-based models for the music industry? Sounds neat.

No, it doesn’t sound neat for me. Maybe for someone else, but not for me.
What would living life to the fullest really mean to me? Honestly, it would be a mix of many things, but it likely would not be about that full-throttle feel that many people tend to give to the idea of living life to the fullest.

Perhaps it’s a function of age and what life means to me, perhaps it’s just a different perspective/personality. What is exciting to me and interesting is different from what others find interesting and exciting. I enjoy being with my family. A family vacation is fulfilling, so is a good dinner or bbq with them. My book sale is thrilling. Playing with my granddaughter is more fun than climbing a mountain and certainly more enjoyable to me than hanging out in a bar till five in the morning.

As much as I am sure that looking out over the beach on a small Caribbean island is magical and awe-inspiring, it does not hold my attention as much as looking at the bench I just finished building.

Living life to the fullest should not necessarily be about the speed of living but about enjoying the moments. For leaders, that means enjoying the experience and not necessarily with the intensity and speed of leadership.

In the end, however, one has to decide what living life to the fullest means to them. What does it mean to you?