The Impact of September 11

12 09 2011

Yesterday marks 10 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC, and the failed attempt which led to the crash of flight 93 in Pennsylvania. Over the past week, many of my friends and colleagues have reflected on this event and how it changed our world. Like many, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news first broke. In the weeks following the incident, we became a unified nation committed to overcoming our differences and moving forward through our pain. Ten years later, life has moved on. The pain and grief are still there though more subdued compared to a decade ago.

Though our world changed, we still enjoy a good quality of life here and we owe much to those who have given their lives for the freedom we sometimes take for granted. Today we face new challenges with mounting debt and a sluggish economy. These too can be overcome if we commit to the same resolve we had on that fateful day. It involves each of us taking an active role in growing this nation. We must be accountable. We must be responsible and we must use our strengths to innovate and compete on a global scale. I hope we can learn how to come together to get things done much like our grandparents did in World War II. They sparked a growth in this nation that continued a generation of prosperity. We too have to tap into that work ethic and provide direction and leadership not only for this generation, but future ones as well. Remember September 11. Remember how it unified us towards a common cause and let’s apply that to the other challenges we now face.





Is Leadership Killing Your Company?

7 09 2011

Recently I had the chance to touch base with a long-time client who had taken a leadership role in a new company. I had worked with his previous organization for about four years until he left for a new opportunity. This was my chance to see what differences he noticed in the new business.

The company he is working for now is in the same industry as the last place he worked with a noticeable difference. The current organization has struggled while the company he came from was doing quite well. For the past few years, his current employer has been in a constant state of transition. He is the third president in about as many years. Business is down and morale is down.

This person is no stranger to building a company up. For the past ten years he had improved the performance of the business to make it a market leader. He did observe some new challenges here. As we began to talk about the people he was working with, he pointed out this group had never seen success and wondered if they had the confidence in their organization. Many of the employees had not worked here long. Most staff members had only worked here a few years compared to over ten at his last company. He observed that overall, the energy of the staff seemed low.

My client knew the history of most of the employees and many had come from other struggling companies. What added to the challenge was the commitment of the leadership team here. He pointed out that his leaders didn’t seem to have the same level of care as in his past company. By his opinion, they had taken much of what they were doing for granted. What’s worse is the problem was somebody else’s fault. Whether it be the economy or a poor performing employee, the leadership didn’t take ownership and weren’t accountable. This meant a lot of hand holding by the president followed by a lot of frustration.

People are the most important asset to any organization. Yet leadership is absolutely critical to gaining the most value out of that asset. When leadership fails, the company is sure to follow. My client knows this and is taking steps to improve the problem. Unfortunately there is a lot of repair work that needs to be done from the shortcomings of past managers.

What challenges do you face with leadership in your company? Top level executives know the strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, but are they doing most to strengthen their skills? Much like a stone tossed into a pond, the impact of leadership creates ripples throughout the entire organization. We may take for granted a leaders lack of skills and hope they improve on their own, but do they ever? Coach, mentor, and be accountable. Most important, make others accountable as well. What you save in time and expense up front could cost you greatly in the end.





Short Week Equals Short on Writing. So Here’s an Article From a Friend.

7 09 2011

Believe it or not I took the holiday weekend off and spent time with family.  Now with the short week I have been playing catch up on work so until my posts start again tomorrow, I invite you to view an article from a friend and colleague of mine.

John Ingrisano is a fellow consultant and he puts out some pretty good stuff.  I liked his recent article and think it is well worth sharing.  Read and enjoy!

To Survive the Recession, Ditch the Hunker-In-The-Bunker Mentality





What a Three Year Old Can Teach Us About Business

1 09 2011

Today marks the first day of school in our area. It is time to get back into our “school” routines with early drop offs and homework. Our daughter who does a poor job pretending like she doesn’t want to be there couldn’t hardly wait for the car to stop in front of the school so she could get out and see her friends.

We have one more that will be going to school soon. At the ripe old age of three, he enjoys running around in order to keep his parents young. Right now he does not have to worry about teachers or homework. He can just spend his time being a little boy. Ahh, youth. There is something about the attitude of a child that reflects on the work I do with businesses. I’m beginning to think he’s the one who has it all figured out. There are pieces of our childhood that are lost as we grow older and become more mature. It turns out some of those elements are critical to the growth and innovation of a company. Not to mention they could really improve the environment we work in.

  1. Be your own person – At the age of three, we worry less about what others think of us.  That freedom allows us to figure out who we are and be who we truly want to be.  As we get older, the can’ts, shouldn’ts, and won’ts flood in and start restricting our behavior taking away who we truly are.  In business, these are the same things that squash ideas and creativity.   It forces culture to change because “that’s not how you do business.”  How would your company change if you pulled the restrictions that held people back?
  2. The laws of physics do not apply here – In the mind of a child, creativity is infinite.  My son’s ability to create elaborate stories and design his own definitions of how things should be is fun to watch.  Children live in the world of “what if” before they reach the world of “what is”.  In their minds they can become anything they want and create a whole new set of rules around it.  As we get older, many of us lose this creativity.  It gives way to the real world where rules and order apply.   Yet you look at some of the most innovative companies in the world today and they embrace creativity.  Ideas flow freely.  The focus is placed on how CAN we do this vs. why we can’t.  Maybe it is time to tap into our inner child again?
  3. They keep it simple – Sometimes knowledge is restrictive.  At three, you look for taking the fewest steps to get what you want.  You don’t worry about complicating things.  While the world of a three year old may not be as complex, they also don’t look to over-complicate things.  If there were ways to simplify your business, what would it do for you?  For your people?
  4. Boundless curiosity – In your youth everything is new and exciting.  For our three year old, when we take trips to different places we call them adventures.  Each place is wonderful to him when it’s an adventure.  This time of discovery and curiosity makes things fun and opens their world to new possibilities.  Why is a popular question at this age.  That sense of adventure and discovery is something that can be lost as we get older.  How would your business improve if your leadership and staff asked why more often?
  5. Focused determination – Children tend to embrace one thing and go after it with reckless abandon.  They become experts in their passions and learn everything they can about their favorite toys.  They also are clear about what they want and can be very determined to get it.  Sometimes that wreaks havoc on parents who are tired of hearing about the latest Barbie or Thomas toy.  Yet at the age of three everything is pursued with passion and determination.  How would increased passion and determination change your business?
  6. Desire to play – I remember once talking to a CEO about having fun at work.  His reply was this place (work) was for getting things done, not goofing around.  People should enjoy where they are at but it is not a place to have fun.  If the average person spends over 80,000 hours of their life at work, why shouldn’t there be some fun?  Children know how to play.  That play turns on different parts of the mind which leads to greater creativity.  In fact, at that age you are encouraged to teach children about work through play.  We make it a game to pick up his toys.  When it is a contest and it is fun, he readily participates.  What would happen if you injected a little play at your office?
  7. Don’t know that failure is an option – At three, you don’t worry about failure.  You are always willing to try new things.  With the right encouragement, children are often open to doing things they have never done before.  They are also more willing to get back up and try something all over again.  Fear rarely exists at this age.  Without the restrictive behavior of fear, children are open to more possibilities.  What would happen if you could take away the fear of failure from your staff.
  8. Live in the moment – Children are ever present.  They are tied into the world around them.  They live every minute of every day to their fullest.  They play, run, jump, laugh, and love.  They don’t check out.  What would change if you or your staff did this every day?  How would it change the relationships with co-workers and customers?  Enjoy every minute because once it is gone you can never get it back.
  9. Want independence – This is the age where kids first start stepping out on their own.  They want to do things themselves and are excited when they are able to accomplish tasks on their own.  As we get older, we continue to desire independence.  In the right work environment we are given responsibilities and are allowed to grow professionally.  Some workplaces want to restrict independence.  Places of high structure and low independence limits creativity and personal growth.  Often this is also a sign of micromanaging leadership that are overburdened with small tasks instead of visionary growth.  What are you doing to encourage independence with careers in your business?
  10. Willing to ask for help – Though the desire for children to do things themselves is strong; they are still not afraid to ask for help.  Somewhere along our path to our professional career, asking for help is often seen as a sign of weakness.  Actually, asking for help is a sign of strength.  Asking for help can avoid costly mistakes, allow you to get things done faster, and grow your knowledge  When was the last time you asked for help?

So parents, enjoy the first day of school.  They grow up to fast.  But most importantly, never forget how powerful the mind of a child truly is.  Take some time today to tap into some of that youth yourself.  Who knows, it may change things for the better.





When is OK No Longer OK?

31 08 2011

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of young professionals about leadership. During the discussion, the group brought up complacency. Their observation was that many people were just fine where they were at. One person recognized that people take into account what they hear in the news. “If we hear the economy is bad,” he concluded, “then I should be happy where I am at.” I can relate that to comments I hear from some business leaders who are happy to be doing as good as the market is. While they are not seeing growth, they are happy to at least be holding their own.

However, this satisfaction is not reflected in the news we hear. Confidence is at an all-time low. We point our finger at whichever political party or country we believe to be at fault. In the end we accept things for the way they are and move on. So when did OK become the norm?

In order to improve our outcomes, we must never settle. We must always strive to be better, both personally and professionally. When times are good, it is easy to hit cruise control. “Just keep the pace,” we say. When business drops off we wonder why. Fortunately there are leaders that say OK is not good enough. They continually strive to be better. That is what I saw in this group today. They were active, engaged and motivated. Their willingness to share ideas and be part of something bigger is exciting. In fact, their energy could help motivate others. For them, good enough isn’t good enough.

What about your organization? Are you utilizing the best talent to grow? Or are you willing to settle? You have the power to change the situation you are in. Accept the challenges around you and do something about them. More importantly, if you are unhappy or complacent about your current situation, only you can change it. Becoming settled is unsettling because if you are not willing to change your outcomes, someone else will do it for you.





What is Your Risk Factor?

31 08 2011

Business innovation, growth, profitability, and long-term success. These are traits virtually every business aspires towards. Yet how many companies do all these things? Do they all matter? What about stability, safety and being cautious in order to protect the business?

Many companies are risk averse but does that really equate to stability? If you were to speak to many leaders today they might say no. A bad economy will quickly expose what can be a company’s greatest weakness. Their unwillingness to change.

As much as we would like things to be the same, they never are and as much as we would like to avoid risk, we never can. In a recent New York Times article (http://nyti.ms/jobs_risk) Steve Lohr highlights the benefits of risk taking using the example of Apple and Steve Jobs. Because of Mr. Jobs willingness to take risks, Apple, Pixar and Next all benefited from his leadership. Apple has been the big winner. Under Job’s tenure, Apple has experienced an innovation premium with stock price. This premium is an investor’s bet that the future of the company will be even better than today because of innovation.

When done correctly, risk is actually the least risky venture of all. In order for innovation to take place, diversity in experiences, creativity and a willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things is necessary. However the greatest skills for growth are often the least developed. What are you willing to do to develop these skills in your company?





Growth is Out There. Are You Bringing Your Best Game to Get It?

29 08 2011

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit some friends at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. They are in the process of starting a museum in the area and I offered my assistance to help them on a big weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with the lake, it is a popular tourist spot south of Jefferson City. Its biggest activity: boating. For most of us here in the Midwest, we are familiar with a bass boat or small cruiser. At the Ozarks, you often see ocean going performance racers or large cabin cruisers because of the lake’s size. It is also in a beautiful part of the country that offers over 2000 miles of shorefront with all the little coves and inlets.

The reason I am bringing this up is to say that people are still spending money. This past weekend was Shootout, an annual event where everything from pontoons to fifty foot race boats compete for top speed on a stretch of open water as thousands of spectators watch. To say that the amount of money floating in the water is obscene would be an understatement. When many of these water-going projectiles can cost in the millions; and it is common to see several of these types of boats docked at any of the bars and restaurants lining the shore you can see that people are still spending money. Now they are just spending it differently.

While there I was able to talk with several executives in the industry as well as people who were there to enjoy the weekend. The business leaders were optimistic about their industry and were seeing a resurgence of buyers. They also admitted that the clients were the ones who were passionate about boating since lending practices have changed how people are able to afford these luxury items. People are still willing to spend, they are just more careful how they wish to spend their money. For their investment, they want more. If it is eating at a restaurant, the service has to be top notch. If they are buying products, they have to be high quality. Often the value of the item aligns with the values of the individual. That awareness is heightened in an environment where we are talking about a lifestyle.

As business leaders we are about creating experiences. Because people make their buying decisions based on emotion, we are continually pressed to make the experience the best one possible. Because our customers’ values are different we have to align the experience with their values. This is what makes business so challenging. We are always working to hit a moving target. The companies that are the best at this are growing and the businesses who fail to learn this are struggling.

This is why it is so important to know who your customers are. Learn which ones are the best. Understand what is important to them and why they would choose to do business with you. Also know which ones aren’t a good fit. You will never make everyone happy so spend your time making your best customers exstatic to do business with you.








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