Job One

HanksI’ve had some good bosses along the way. I’ve had some who were not so talented. But, I have to admit, I never had a really bad boss.

Two of the things I’ve tried to learn from the dozens of managers and leaders I’ve worked for or with over the years have been, (1) Behaviors that seemed to work well and produce good results, and (2) Behaviors that did not work so well...those that I would put on my “avoid” list.

I had my first boss when I was about 11 years old. He owned a frozen custard stand near our home, and I got a job cleaning up the parking lot twice each day for the handsome salary of $1 per day. He was a very intense, type A-squared sort of a guy, perhaps the reason he unfortunately died at a relatively young age.

After several months of getting up early before school to clean up from the previous night’s crowd and rushing home after school to do the afternoon clean up, I got tired of the grind. I decided to resign and when I went to my boss I said I was quitting because I couldn’t do the job any more.

Hank quickly corrected me saying, “You CAN do the job, you just don’t WANT to do the job, isn’t that right?” I sheepishly admitted he was right, and I probably had a flush of embarrassment. But to this day I can say that yes, he was indeed right.

He gave me a good lesson. Maybe a bit abrupt, but that was his way, and actually a trait I’ve come to appreciate more with time. He was forcing me to accept responsibility for my decision instead of pretending some outside forces were the culprit.

Taking responsibility. Still good advice for leader and follower.


Email or Phone?

“Did you communicate with the vendor about this problem?”



“I sent them an email.”

“Did you get a response?”


“Then the answer to my first question is no.”


Email has it’s place in our world, but we should never assume that sending an email, in itself, is communicating.  To have communication, the loop must be closed.

Email is also not good for handling difficult situations that require confrontation or dealing with a sticky problem.  For generic problems that have no emotions attached, email usually works fine.

But sometimes, you just need to pick up the phone or log in to Skype and have a vocal rather than text conversation.

Knowing when to say no to email and yes to talking is a key critical thinking skill these days.

How can I have a more productive year? ~ Hitting the January-May Window

002-2011 Have you noticed the increased drag coefficient on getting things done that hits every holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day?  There’s a similar slo-mo period from June through August.

Today is exciting, because it launches the longest annual time frame of productive potential, the January-May window.  If you are hoping to increase sales, grow attendance, expand your markets, initiate an innovative idea or two, effect some change… this is your time.  The race starts today.

A lot of what you accomplish this year will depend on how well you sprint these first few furlongs out of the gate.

Fall presents a similar but shorter window running from the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Thanksgiving.  The Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving used to be more productive, but now that entire week through New Years marks a time where progress becomes more difficult as more energy turns toward leisure pursuits and the anticipation of same.

But now, people are mostly back from the holidays.  The kids have returned to school.  There is a faint scent of optimism wafting about. 

A great season for achievers, and near-Nirvana for over-achievers.

It’s a dash to Memorial Day.  Don’t get caught watching the paint dry.

An Old Hero and a New One

Wooden This week past for me was one of losing one hero and quite unexpectedly finding a new one.

Coach John Wooden’s feat of ten national championships stretched from my seventh grade efforts to walk and chew gum at the same time well into graduate school.  Many of those years through high school I played ball under a streetlight at the south dead end of Fifth Avenue in New Brighton, PA.  In the winter we’d bring our snow shovels to clear the street, though the slick spots made a jump stop an amusing spectacle.

I grew to love and admire the UCLA Bruins and while marveling at their accomplishments I wondered how they managed to maintain such a high level of play over such an extended period of time.  John Wooden was indeed a remarkable coach and teacher, but first he was a man of character…a fierce competitor but always under control.  For someone I never met, he had a most profound influence on my life. My love of the game of basketball and my tendency to apply its lessons to most of life is probably his fault.  He was a man of grace in victory or defeat, and I’ll always be grateful to him for his example.  He died last Friday at age 99.

Some 48 hours before Coach Wooden’s passing, another drama was unfolding in Detroit that would bring me to the edge of tears, much as would the news of this great coach’s death.

The runner was out.  The game was over. We all saw it.  Over and over.  From every angle. Out. Out. Out.

Galarraga In what will likely be remembered as one of the most unfair moments in sports history, the veteran umpire at first base called him safe, snuffing out one of the rarest accomplishments in all of sports – the perfect game.  Armando Galarraga was the victim, and while that is a word I rarely allow myself to use, if it is to ever be used in the arena of sports, this would certainly be that occasion. 

But it was not the blown call at first base that brought the mist into my eyes, but the amazing grace displayed by Armando Galarraga in the wake of a sudden, massive, and universally unfair disappointment.  While the rest of us yelled and screamed and possibly cursed the umpire, Galarraga smiled, kept his composure, went back to the mound and got the final out.  What a display of grace in a moment when he was robbed of a place in baseball history not only by losing his bid for a perfect game, but also losing out on several other firsts in the record books.

It didn’t end there.  Being interviewed after the game by voracious reporters Armando smiled and said, “We’re human, we all make mistakes.”  What?  Are you kidding me?  What kind of response is that when you have clearly been shafted with all of sports America witnessing and decrying the unfairness of the umpire’s call.  And then there was umpire Jim Joyce who seeing the replay after the game sought out Galarraga to apologize for blowing the call and costing the young Venezuelan his place in baseball history. 

090 The following day Joyce would draw home plate duties, and rather than one of the managers or coaches taking the starting lineup out to the home ump, Galarraga asked for the duty.  Joyce once again apologized and when Galarraga gave him a respectful pat on the shoulder, the gracious umpire wiped his eyes, once again overwhelmed by the character displayed by this young competitor from South America, and gratefully returned the respectful gesture.

With the mess in the Gulf, in Washington, and on Wall Street it was good to be reminded of those who remain big when smallness is so prevalent.

Goodbye Coach Wooden. 

Hello Armando Galarraga.

And thanks to you both.

PS. And to umpire Jim Joyce a grateful "Well done" also.

Saving Tinkerbell

Do you remember the story of Peter Pan?

The little fairy Tinkerbell drinks the poison intended for Peter and her light begins to dim and fade as certain death approaches.  But, why is she dying?  It’s not because she drank poison, oh no, it’s because not enough of us believed in fairies.

Peter implores the audience to show their belief in fairies by clapping and as the live audience is worked into a frenzy, Tinkerbell is miraculously revived and averts certain death.  We just needed to believe in fairies hard enough.

I’ve seen a lot of people in business over the years trying to save Tinkerbell.  I’ve done it myself.  Made a dumb decision, or two… OK, or three, and then believed that in spite of my own bad judgment I could somehow revive Tinkerbell if I just believed hard enough.

I consider myself a person of faith, but there are times if you drink the poison you die.  You can’t always believe yourself out of bad decisions.  Sometimes you just have to drink the antidote, which is usually a good dose of humility followed with a generous serving of taking responsibility for your choices.  And as you slowly climb out of the hole you dug for yourself, you begin to see that all the wildly clapping audiences in the world cannot really save Tinkerbell.  Peter Pan lied to us.

But we believed it because it was more comfortable than admitting we were wrong.  Then there was Jiminy Cricket who sang about wishing upon a star and your dreams would come true.  It seems that a lot of his disciples are regulars down at the Creek Nation Casino.

And who could forget Old Yeller.  A noble and faithful dog, he casts himself into mortal danger to shield his young master.  But, the bites lead to rabies and the young boy does the humane thing for his canine friend, he puts him down with a rifle shot to the head.  Man I cried when Old Yeller died.  I just knew he wasn’t really dead.  Maybe if we just clapped wildly and believed in dogs hard enough.  It just wasn’t fair.

Decisions have consequences.  Faith will help us through the process of facing those consequences, but the way of escape is through the consequences, not around them.  Life isn’t going to give you or me a pass.  We’re not that special.

As a teenage lad I was grumbling one day to my dad about how hard life was.  A man of few words, he never looked up from the big wheel bearing he was packing with heavy grease, but just said, “It’s supposed to be hard.”

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I don’t remember Dad clapping for Tinkerbell.

Catching a Wave

061 One of the haunting memories of the 2004 tsunami was the phenomenon that immediately preceded it.  The oceans receded and scores of curious individuals wandered out into the waterless shoreline to inspect this peculiar development.  Had these folks had any experience with a tsunami, they would have been running the opposite direction rather than sauntering about with the crabs and other exposed marine crustaceans. 

The economy is in a down cycle.  Profits, revenues, investment, credit - these all appear to be receding.  This scares a lot of people who still seem to expect that the economy should move in only one direction - up.  But this cycle will be followed by another wave, and in the same way Google was born in the depths of the dot com bust, this is a time of great opportunity.

I was reminded of this again in a recent post by Seth Godin.

It's a good season for entrepreneurs.  Be on top of this next wave, not under it.

Leadership this Leap Year

Over the past 10-15 years there has been a significant shift in business from the emphasis on management to developing leadership skills.  To be sure, there is a considerable overlap between the two.  Here are some thoughts on what tomorrow’s organizational leaders will face:
•    The emerging generation does not want to be “managed” and they’re not as impressed with the authority that in the past has been attached to a position. More than ever, authority must be earned along with respect.  My parents’ generation obeyed authority without much question, after all those people in authority were the experts.  My birth cohorts questioned authority more, realizing that somehow a lot of jerks made it into power positions.  Now we have a generation arising which has been fertilized with the importance of self esteem and they are less likely to ascribe honor to people whose behavior does not warrant honor.
•    “Fake it 'til you make it,” has given way to “Get real you _____.”  You have to be authentic these days to lead well.  People will generally forgive your faults if you expose and acknowledge them, provided that you are not doing so as a part of some manipulative game you are playing.
•    Fear is in decline as the motivator of choice.  These people have not grown up with the oppression of the Great Depression, a World War, or imminent nuclear annihilation.  They’re not free from fear, but you’d be wise to not use fear as a leadership or management tool.
•    The world is now being shaped increasingly by people in their 30’s and 40’s.  Get used to it and join in.  It’s fun.
•    Leading is not about you and your insecure ego.  It’s about you helping others find and achieve their dreams and goals.  Insecurity may be the strongest repellent on the planet these days.
•    Servant leadership will be discussed and promoted more and more.  Some will actually practice its tenets.
•    The greatest obstacle to women moving up the ladder today is other women.  I marvel at the lack of mentoring and the absence of any desire middle aged women generally have toward helping younger females in the work place.

There’s more, but this is a blog, not a textbook.

Happy Leap Day!

Lessons from Basketball

Page19_1 I love basketball.  I've played.  I've coached.  Most of all I've learned valuable lessons about life.          

1. Teamwork is a beautiful thing.  Skilled people who care about each other and who are dedicated to a common goal can accomplish incredible things.          

2. Peripheral vision is critical.  You have to see the whole floor in front of you with a good perspective on what's behind you.

3. The defense is always giving up something.  Find it and attack it.          

4. Game strategies and preparation are important. Adapting to the unexpected is critical.          

5. Michael Jordan's greatest and least recognized talent was his ability to make everyone else on his team better.

The Role of Strategic Planning

I’ve been exposed to a lot of different organizations.  Large to small businesses, churches and ministries, schools and government agencies.  And families.

Larger businesses tend to do a better job of strategic planning since they have more resources and have advanced from a start-up and growth phase where planning is more difficult and tends to be pushed down the ladder of priorities.  But the other organizations I mentioned need some semblance of planning in place in order to maximize their effectiveness.

My long-time friend and former professor, Dr. Henry Migliore dedicated his life to the study and practice of planning and management.  From individuals to large corporations he worked to help people benefit from the process of making strategic plans and I’ve been able to help a number of people over the years using his methods.

As I am working now with businesses and ministries who want to grow and flourish, I find that few have a written plan as a road map.  If you are a leader in any organization you move to adopting some system of strategic planning and management.  No system is perfect, but time and again I am seeing the lack of planning as a serious hindrance to growth.