Category Archives: Character

Service Economy

I attended a seminar the other day from a group that was offering a new service to businesses and business professionals. I admit that my attendance was more at the urging of a friend who played upon our friendship to get me to go than any specific desire on my part to attend a seminar of this sort. I don’t usually go to these things. I usually prefer root canals to seminars. However the lure of a “free” lunch in exchange for having to listen to the speakers, and the fact that I was reminded by my friend that I had agreed to go a couple weeks earlier was enough to swing the deal.

I should have known. I think most of you can guess where this is going.

I’ll start with the lunch. It was your typical buffet set up. Not too bad. Most of us understand the idea of getting in line and taking our turns walking by the assorted warming trays and selecting the ingredients for our meals. That is most of us with the possible exception of those that are prompt enough to get in the front of the line.

Why is it that the people in the front of a line need any kind or urging to actually do what they got to the front of the line to do in the first place? I guess they just wanted to be at the front of the line. They didn’t actually want to be first to get their food, sit down and eat. Didn’t they realize that by slowing the line down at the onset that the follow on effect would be that every subsequent function, including the after lunch speakers, would also be delayed.

Wait a minute. In hind sight that might not have been such a bad thing.

Come on, people. I was here for a lunch and some enthralling discourse, not to stand in line wondering why those in the front weren’t holding up (pun intended) their end of the bargain and getting a move on. Step up and take control of the situation. We are supposed to be business leaders.

After almost ten minutes of standing around, a slight nudge and a direct suggestion (Why don’t we get started with lunch?) by some obnoxious loud mouth (I couldn’t say who. Really…) somewhere back in the line, lunch got started. It is here that I should have reinforced one of the rules I had learned at previous buffet lunches.

If you have to ask someone what the contents of a buffet lunch warming tray are, if it is not readily apparent just by looking at it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your plate and try to eat it.

As I said it had been a while since I had been to one of these things, and I was hungry. After all we had been standing in line almost tem minutes. The response to my tray contents question did not include the words “poison” or any other items related to “inedible”, so I gave it a go. It did not go well. I ended up eating the rice, vegetable medley and a roll, all of which were easily identifiable at the outset. I had to go back and get butter for the roll. I have my standards when it comes to breads.

My friend (the one who insisted that I go to this thing) informed me that he was a vegetarian so it seemed that he was able to avoid my food selection miscue. His lunch plate contained no mystery ingredients. It seems these events are scheduled monthly and he has attended them in the past. If he had been a true friend he would have suggested my conversion to the vegetarian life style before lunch.

So it was on top of the delicious, nutritious and filling repast that we then embarked on the actual reason for the meeting. We were going to listen to a couple of people tell us about a new service that they had put together. I could hardly wait. It was going to be good.

Now I always try to simplify things. It just makes it easier for me. If it is simple I can rapidly come to the determination if I think it is useful or has value. It took me a while listening to them talk and rereading the handout to figure out what their service was.

They were offering a service where they would read the management trends and directions books on the management book (I really didn’t know there was such a thing) best seller list and provide the subscriber of their service a synopsis of each one. Really.

The netted out value was that you still had to read (their synopses), you just didn’t have to read as much.

I had to give them points for creativity and trying to figure out a way to monetize their love of books and reading. I enjoy books and reading too. But there are some books that even I have a hard time reading.

“Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce is probably at the top of that list. It’s over six hundred pages long. It took him several years to write the base story and then more than a decade to obscure it in a variety of dialects, images and allusions as to render it almost unreadable. I am not the only one that feels this way about this book. You can look it up. It took a few weeks of dedicated effort for me to get through it, and then when I was done I had to additionally read one of those literary analyses books about it just so I could understand what it was that I had actually read.

The rest of the books on my personal “Hard to Read” list are comprised almost entirely of business management books. Their titles are basically interchangeable and don’t really seem to matter. They are usually on the list because of their content, not their style.

It is George Bernard Shaw who is usually attributed as the author of the phrase:

“Those who can’t do, teach”

I would be so bold as to extend this with the corollary:

“Those who can’t teach, write”

If these business management book writers were so good at business management, why aren’t they captaining businesses themselves and being successful implementing their own ideas? But I digress.

My point here is have we really reached a point in a service based economy where we need a service to read books for us and provide us with their views of the salient or important topics of each book?

Now I think we have had this in the past. There was a set of “books” called CliffsNotes. They could be purchased at just about any bookstore (this is in a dark historical period before Amazon and eReaders, where books were actually composed of paper). These short booklets contained the summaries and salient explanations of many different literary works. In today’s vernacular they would probably be known as Lite Books along the same lines as Lite Beer. All the literary enjoyment, but much less reading.

They were primarily purchased by students that were too lazy to actually read the entire book they were assigned to read, yet still had to pass a test on the book in their English class.

In reality I am not so sure how I actually feel about this new service in our serviced based business society. I am strongly in favor of reading and enjoy a broad spectrum of topics and genres. However I am not particularly in favor of reading management self help books as they all strike me as being somewhat derivative of the previous generations of these instructional books and the authors haven’t quite learned yet how to compensate for this shortcoming with incremental entertainment value.

Yet further on the other hand (since we can’t have three hands) is the fact that the service actually reduces the amount of reading that one would have to do if one actually desired of such management instructional input. This would result in less time actually wasted on reading these books.

I guess the bottom line is that the value of this service depends on the value that each person ascribes to management self help books. If you are a devotee of them, then here is a way to increase the number of them that you become aware of with the same reading effort as a synopsis is shorter than the actual book. If you are not, then it is just a shorter version of something you wouldn’t have read anyway.

Either way, I think next time I’ll make my friend buy me lunch.

Preparation

Okay friends and neighbors. It is time to look up. Cast your eyes skyward for I will be climbing way up on my soap box, my high horse, and anything else that I can orate from. It is time for me to emulate Don Quixote and joust one of my windmill like pet peeves: Preparation.

This is a topic that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I just didn’t quite know how to go about approaching it. I liken it to the general malaise that I feel has been permeating the business environment for several years. It is the feeling that not quite good enough is now good enough.

Let me provide an example.

There once was a time where it was unacceptable to have any issue whatsoever with your phone. This was a time before cellular service and mobile phones. The phone company was held to the absolute highest standards of reliability and quality of service. If you had a dropped call or a quality problem, it was addressed. You were paying for the best network and by golly you were supposed to get the best network.

Fast forward to the current mobile communications networked world. We have all experienced and have even come to expect dropped calls and garbled communications. It comes with the wireless territory. If you wanted the old network desk set reliability you would have called from a desk phone, or your home phone, or a pay phone. (As an aside, when was the last time anyone has seen a pay phone? They are gone.) Now as these wireless type technologies and capabilities are applied to our business and home communications networks in the name of cost reduction, we are now experiencing the same types of dropped calls, garbled communications and generally lower quality of phone service.

Business communications service and performance levels that would have gotten IT executives fired in the past are now the accepted norm. Money has obviously been saved, but not quite good enough is now good enough. In fact it is the norm.

So what has all this rant about networks and such have to do with preparation? Good question.

The idea of preparation was brought home to me the other day. Some of you may know that I am something of a would-be musician. I have told many people that the only thing keeping me from being a good musician is talent, or actually the lack of it.

Ron White, a very funny Texas comedian said “You can’t fix stupid.” I have definitely found this to be the case. Hard workers are great. Smart people are at a premium. The Steve Gobeli corollary to this statement is “You can’t learn talent.” I can learn all sorts of musical theory, styles and songs, but I will not be as good as those that were born with the musical gift.

But here I have truly digressed.

I was called the other day and asked if I would substitute for a regular band member who would be unable to play the gig. I was flattered and of course said yes. This was about six days before the gig.

I then started my preparations.

I got a copy of the set list so I would know what songs to play. I added about twenty minutes to my practice time to better familiarize myself with them. Things were going well.

On the day of the gig I left ninety minutes early because I knew that it would take me at least thirty minutes to get to the venue. I also knew that it would take another thirty to forty five minutes to load my equipment in and get it set up and ready to play. (In my world “roadies” are mythical beings. I have to haul my own amps and instruments.) I could then spend ten to fifteen minutes loosening up, relaxing and getting ready to play. At the appointed time I would be prepared, relaxed and ready to go.

It was interesting that the other guys in the band showed up about the same time I did. They did the same things. When it came time to start they were also ready.

We played for two hours. It was a blast. Even my wife said we sounded good. Strong praise indeed.

In business, for the most part, we know when our meetings are scheduled, what our roles in them will be and what the agenda is. When you think about it, it is a little bit like a musicians gig. The only difference is that in the new world where not quite good enough is now good enough if musicians performed their gigs like many business people are performing in their meetings, they would never be called back to play again.

Since meetings have evolved to where they are no longer really meetings, but more than likely conference calls, I can’t seem to remember when one actually started on time. People are late dialing in, switching phones because the one they are on is not working, hushing barking dogs, quieting crying children amongst other distractions, to the point where just getting the meeting started becomes a significant obstacle to overcome.

I am not saying that everyone needs to “practice” their parts in the meeting. What I am saying is that everyone should know what the meeting is about, have read the agenda and prepared for the role in it. If they are going to present charts, they should have located them on their computer, opened the presentation and been prepared to present them, instead of making everyone else wait while they perform these tasks.

In short, everyone needs to be prepared.

I have talked to other people in the office who have told me of the detailed preparations that they go through when they are getting ready for a game of golf or a ride on their motorcycle, or what they must go through in order to properly clean and wax their black corvette in the Texas heat.

I couldn’t make that last one up. He actually has a black plastic car in a place where the temperature regularly exceeds one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. According to him it requires all sorts of special cleaners and waxes because of the abundant (and hot) Texas sun.

These are just examples of how we prepare for events and activities (my substitute gig included) outside the office that we assign appropriate importance to. We know what it takes to play well in front of an audience, or get the paste wax shine on our car. We also know what it takes to be prepared for, and contribute to a meeting. We know when they start and what we are supposed to do.

Just like the audience lets the band know if they prepared for and performed appropriately, we need to start holding ourselves (and each other for that matter) to the same levels of preparation and performance in business. Not quite good enough in music is definitely not good enough. It sounds terrible.

But we seem to be willing to say that not quite good enough is good enough in business. We let it slide that the meeting started late, or that the slides weren’t ready or the attendees couldn’t respond to or answer the questions.

In most instances it’s not a question of talent. As I said, you can’t teach talent. For the most part I find most people in the professional environment to be very talented. I think it’s more of a question of preparation and the pride of performance in the public realm, or meeting as the case may be. In the new world of not quite good enough being good enough, it seems that it is okay to not be quite prepared enough for a meeting.

I find it to be frustrating, but then I guess I’m the kind of person that goes through the eight hours of preparation to play music and get paid only slightly more than minimum wage per hour for the “two hours of work”. I also invariably show up for meetings on time.

Saying Yes

I have written a few times in the past about the requirement that leaders are obliged to present a dissenting opinion when they genuinely feel that there may be a better alternative solution. I have also noted that that the word “no” can be one of the most important and valuable words in the leader’s lexicon. Having a different or contrary opinion does not make anyone any less a member of the team. It makes them someone who continues to maintain a different perspective on the business knowing that the diversity of opinion is a key to business health.

It is an exceedingly difficult line for a leader to walk. Many times a dissenting opinion can be confused with open opposition, which is something most managers cannot tolerate. Sometimes management doesn’t want to hear a differing opinion. Many times they can be quite content with a single perspective. What do you do when you have much to say to the contrary, but all that is desired of you is to hear you say “yes”?

I think we have all probably been in a situation like this from time to time. Most of the time situations like this are usually transient. Sometimes there is complete alignment on business topics. Occasionally there is divergence of opinions. Many times there are aspects of both alignment and divergence of opinions. This is what is known as a healthy business environment.

In this sort of business environment differing opinions are understood and accepted. The challenge is to the idea or the process, not the individual. The objective is to try and get to the best solution. As I said, this is in an ideal environment. Unfortunately individuals are prone to differing behaviors in the business environment.

Issues such as cultural differences, personalities, management styles and differing individual versus corporate objectives can come into play. Any one or more of these factors can contribute to a situation where the differences of perspective, opinion and approach are no longer the exception to the management alignment, but seem to become the standard.

In many instances there can also be “opinion drift”. If another manager sees that the alignment of opinion is better rewarded than the healthy discussion of alternatives, eventually a polarizing of positions and opinions can take place. It can fall more and more to the leader to make sure that the contrary is both heard and considered.

In time a situation can evolve where management is no longer looking for a specific or studied input on any new idea or direction. As more and more opinions drift into total alignment with management all that is desired is for all the various team members to align and say yes to each new process or direction and immediately get behind it. There can be a total breakdown in the structure of the healthy challenge business model. Contrary views and opinions in such an organization can begin to be viewed as oppositional and divisive.

Before leaping to specific conclusions along this line of thinking, as always it is best to take a step back to understand and assess the situation. Sometimes it only feels as though the stars are aligning and that everyone is aligning without due consideration. A complete management alignment along the lines described is a pretty rare event in my business experience.

On the other hand, I can hear the words my dad used to say in just about any situation that could even be remotely considered a parallel to this. His favorite was:

“Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get you.”

He would also say:

“Aim low because the bad guys* could be crawling.”

*Dad actually used a more colorful word for “bad guys” that also started with a “b”, but I know my mom occasionally reads this and she doesn’t like it when I use such colorful language.

Needless to say, you needed to take what dad said with a grain of salt.

Sometimes the best approach to a potential situation, particularly one that involves the input and behavior of others, is to not be in a hurry to resolve the perceived issue. This approach runs almost entirely contrary to everything we have seen, learned and thought about business leadership.

We have learned that those who recognize the issue first, are the first to take steps to resolve the issue and those that do in fact resolve the issues first are the ones usually rewarded. This approach does normally work when identifying and resolving business issues. However when the issues are not business or performance in nature and are more personality or management style related, an immediate and direct approach may be difficult.

It is best to remember that it always takes two to have a difference of opinion. In most instances no one sees themselves as being either wrong, or in the wrong. Sometimes a mismatch of this type can occur.

It is again at times like these that I think back to my dad and what he told me about these instances. He said:

“I may not always be right, but I am always boss”

I think that this was his way of telling me that while I was under his purview I was the one responsible for finding a way to rationalize our cultural or generational differences. Since he was the one paying the bills at that time, it did make a certain amount of sense.

However the parent offspring relationship is not the same as the leader team member relationship when it comes to differences of opinion. Leaders need to understand that differences of opinion, even prolonged ones, are something that should be expected. The recognition by the leader that opinion diversity needs to exist for the business to stay healthy is key. Differing opinions do not mean wrong opinions.

One of the best ways to establish a baseline for dealing with these management differences is to revisit past differences with an eye toward what the different positions were and what the eventual resolution of the difference was. Facts are normally everyone’s friends. The historical record has a funny way of refocusing the disagreement away from positions and more toward resolutions.

Business is about performance. Performance comes from taking the right positions and making the right choices. The historical record is always very clear along these lines. If the right positions are taken, contrary or aligned, the business performance will reflect this. If they weren’t then there are usually second and third “adjustments” that get made as the corrections are implemented.

I have found that members of teams that I have been leading are in many instances much closer to the specific issues at hand than I was. Because they have been closer they usually had a better vantage point from which to derive a solution. It has served me very well in the past to stop, even when I am so absolutely sure of the elegance, purity and accuracy of my solution, and truly understand why they are saying “no” when all I wanted to hear was “yes”.

In many instances I was fortunate to have done so. We can all be prone to having blind spots in our solutions when we are so sure of their accuracy. When someone wasn’t ready to go along with the desired solution, it usually was for a good reason, and that reason probably needed to be reviewed and possibly incorporated into the actual solution.

It almost always made for a stronger final solution.

All leaders will always want their teams to say yes, but will be open to addressing and incorporating differing or contrary opinions. This is how solutions are strengthened. Other managers may be less tolerant and accepting of differing positions with the resulting opinion drift I mentioned before.

Understanding which environment you are in will be a key in deciding how you can respond when someone is looking for you to say yes.

When to Network

I think we have all seen the statistics that say when we are out looking for a new position that it will be the people you know that are going to be the most valuable resources when in comes to identifying and landing that new role. For those of you who may not have seen the statistics, they show that between seventy and eighty percent of all new positions are found via networking. With estimates of up to seventy percent of all positions no longer being advertized, whether you are currently in a role and looking to move, or are already between positions and are looking for your next assignment, it is going to be your business associates, friends and acquaintances that will probably be responsible for your next role. I think that this sort of information clearly demonstrates that while what you may know is important, it will be who you know that will help you identify your next position.

Most of us have a tendency to think about our networks only when it comes time for us to start looking for a new assignment. While this might be the necessary time to exercise a network, is it the optimum time to be exercising the network?

I personally have been through multiple business changes. My son thinks my biggest change probably occurred when the Chicxulub meteor struck and wiped out my first cretaceous network. That fact did not however dissuade him from asking for help with his physics home work last night.

Meteors notwithstanding, I have found that for me the best time to network is not when I am in a search mode but rather when other people are in a search mode. When others are in a search mode they are already reaching out. In any network there will be those that respond and those that for whatever reason (to busy, not interested, etc.) that will not. I have made it a policy to always respond. I have found that it not only puts me in touch with my own network, it puts me in touch with the networks of others.

Networking is about creating links with others that may be two or three times (or more) removed from our own spheres of relationships. We already know who we know. It is by helping them that we get connected to the people that they know. By helping someone you not only confirm an existing relationship directly with that person, you establish a relationship with all the other people that person knows.

My dad, who I seem to give an increasing amount of attributions to, used to tell me:

“Never miss an opportunity to put the universe in your debt.”

I think this is his spin on the older version of:

“What goes around comes around.”

The latter phrase has a decidedly negative connotation associated with revenge or retribution for a previous bad behavior done against someone, whereas the former phrase is more associated with doing the first good deed for someone in the expectation that future good deeds will be done for you. In other words the best networking can be done in a “pay it forward” sort of mode.

Such is the essence of networking. Doing the first good deed is an excellent way to get and keep your network engaged. It gets to the point where the consideration of future good deeds coming back your way becomes secondary. I personally am not the best at asking for help, but I try to be pretty good at offering it. If you only network when you need something from your network, then that is the type of behavior that will quickly become associated with you.

The value of a network comes from being able to access it. The best way to access it is to be bringing something to it. Passing along position leads to others, or potential candidates for positions to recruiters, or just responding to general questions and requests for information rapidly generates a good receptivity when it is “your turn” to ask for help. Not everyone will reciprocate. That is human nature. But there will be many who feel and operate the way you do who will respond.

I have read several articles where successful business leaders have looked at themselves as the stewards of their business. Not surprisingly many of the leaders that I have had the opportunity to network with have looked at their networks the same way. They focus on the value that they bring to the system by enabling others to connect.

I guess it is appropriate to note that the network does not owe you a new position. You have to earn that. That is where the “what you know” part of the adage comes into play. You should not impose on your network to provide you with a new position, but rather look at it as connecting you with the opportunity to compete for a new position, as there will undoubtedly be others who are also in the market for something new.

Jerry Goldstein, the former CEO at Scott’s Liquid Gold is attributed as the author of the quote:

“Good fortune is when preparation meets opportunity.”

An active network, or better, a network that you are active in is one of the best ways to get connected to or “meet” an opportunity. It is obviously up to us to be prepared for such an event.

Feeling Inferior

I like to read. My son says he would prefer to wait for the movie. Any movie. Seeing as how he is still only fifteen years old, I don’t think that there is much that I can do about that right now. What I can do is control what I read. I was under the misguided idea that occasionally I should read articles, magazines and books written by and for successful people, who like to tell us other presumably less successful people what we should do to become more successful, just like them.

I don’t think I am going to do this anymore.

Every time I read one of these success missives, I can’t help but feel inferior. It has a tendency to either depress me or drive me nuts.

I’ll demonstrate by example:

I got an email notification that my college alma mater (of all things) “liked” an article on one of those professional networking sites. I take being a mighty Lobo alumnus of the University of New Mexico very seriously so I thought it best to go check out what my alma mater deemed important enough to actually like. I clicked on the link in the notification.

Via the magic of the internet I was immediately whisked to the site of some business and technology e-zine with the appropriately titled article (and I am paraphrasing here as I don’t wish to have to provide attribution)

“27 Things that People Who Are More Successful Than You Do Every Day – Including Weekends – Before They Leave Work, That You Probably Don’t Do Which Explains Why They Are Successful And You Aren’t”

You would be surprised how close to the real title that paraphrase is.

As I said, I like to read. I read for information and enjoyment. I also believe it is something of a dying art. I mean why read when you can text or IM or as my son does, watch the movie anyway? But that is not the point. The point here is that I was already at the site. I consider myself to be reasonably successful. I have not ruled the world but I have done moderately okay. I figured I would peruse the first few topics of the list of successful attributes purely out of self interest and compare what the list said successful people do with what I do and see how much similarity there was.

Big mistake.

After furiously reading through the entire list with ever increasing disbelief to see if there was anything at all that I did at the end of the day that even remotely resembled something that a successful person was purported to have done at the end of the day, I came to the crushing conclusion that I am not fit to leave work at the end of the day, let alone work anywhere.

In case some of you have not experienced the joy that accompanies an epiphany that springs from reading an article like this, let me provide an example as a means of explanation. Most of us know how to sign our names. There are probably a few of us who don’t, and due to the penmanship challenges associated with the inability to sign their name these people are hence genetically selected to become doctors. Over time we have all probably evolved our “signature”.

Now take the pen that you normally sign your name with, put in the other hand (the hand that normally holds the paper while the first hand signs your signature) and now be told that all successful people are ambidextrous and in order for you too to be considered successful you should immediately be able to use that other hand to sign your signature as quickly, clearly and effortlessly as the first hand.

Give it a try. See how that works for you.

You now have only the slightest of inklings how it feels to read these articles about the habits, traits, customs, manners, dispositions, styles, fashions, penchants and proclivities of successful business people.

It depresses me that I don’t seem to have any resemblance at all to these so called successful people. It depresses me that I don’t spring out of bed at four o’clock in the morning prepared to shampoo the dog and rotate the tires on my wife’s car, and jog six or eight miles while thinking great world changing thoughts, all before going into the office like successful people are being depicted as doing. I am crestfallen that I don’t seem to be the appropriate whirl wind of activity in the last ten minutes of my business day closing off to-do lists, clearing my desk while simultaneously creating a workable plan to solve world hunger as I prepare to do battle with the other presumably unsuccessful souls on my commute home from the office.

It further concerns me that almost all the people that I know that I would consider to be successful also seem to have nothing in common with the ideal successful person that these articles describe.

In the past I have discussed how happiness cannot be derived from the actions and relative performance of others. I guess the corollary here is that feelings of depression and inferiority in the office should also not be the result of the actions and relative performance of others either.

Unfortunately that approach does not seem to sell articles, magazines and books. Nor does it seem like a very good way to drive people to specific web sites where their eyeballs can be assaulted by both an article describing in detail why they should by inference not consider themselves to be successful as well as those advertisers that are on that site who have specifically tailored their self-help ads to those people who after reading the article are now feeling so insecure about their relative worth and success in business.

What this epiphany does open up to me is the idea of a new opportunity to address a whole new segment of the self help article, magazine and book market. It is the segment of the market that is for the business person that is at least in part moderately successful, and wants to feel good about what they have accomplished. Think about that for a moment. Doesn’t everyone want a little recognition, reinforcement and reaffirmation that they have in fact been doing things well?

Think about the titles for these articles, magazines and books that could be generated, based on this new and previously untapped market approach:

“From Good to Better”
“Twelve Habits of the Moderately Successful”
“Congratulations on Making it to the Office on Time”
“How to Get Back From Lunch in One Hour”
“Speakerphone Etiquette in the Cube Farm”
“The Art of Aiming Low and Meeting Your Objectives”

The list could go on and on.

I understand that in this day and age that it is hyperbole that sells. As another example, in the past it used to be enough to just report the news. Now we seem to have a never ending stream of talking heads that are associated with one end of the political spectrum or the other that are now presenting their “version” of the news. Everything now has “spin” and now screams for our attention. I think the same is now the case for the plethora of business “self help” articles, magazines and books that are vying for our attention.

Each of these new and improved lists of elements associated with success seems to be more outlandish than the previous. As I noted before, based on these items it is hard to understand how I or anyone else is or can ever be considered successful. Hence the source of my concerns over these feelings of inferiority.

I think the bottom line is that when you take everything into consideration it is still things like drive, determination, attention to detail, effort, honesty, knowledge, experience, cooperation, preparation and maybe just a smidgeon of luck that are some of the determining factors in success. These concepts are not particularly exciting and don’t promise any secret short cuts to success. Maybe that explains why there doesn’t seem to be a market for a book titled:

“Be Smart, Work Hard, Perform Well and Move Ahead”

Perhaps another answer to being considered a success is to write a book that tells other people what they should do in order to be considered a success.

Professionals

I think we all like to think of ourselves as professionals. In the truest sense of the word, since we all get paid for what we do, we are professionals. If we didn’t get paid we wouldn’t be called amateurs, we would be called unemployed. I’ve written in the past about what I think makes a leader in business. This time I am going to depart a little bit from that idea, but not too far. I am going to look at what makes a professional.

This may end up being one of my shorter discussions in that it doesn’t really seem to take a lot to define what a professional is. It does however take a lot to be a professional in business. It’s that execution thing that most people have a problem with. It is very much like golf (one of my favorite hobbies). Anybody can play golf. Get the proper equipment. Dress in attire that you would never normally own yet alone put on. Find a place called a golf course. Pay your admittance. Bingo, you are golfing. Very few however are golfers. I guess by extension even fewer are professional golfers.

I aspire to be considered a golfer. Since I have no illusions over the probability that I will ever be paid to play golf, I suspect that being a professional golfer is out of the question. Notice that I said I wished to be considered a golfer. Being a leader, being a professional, and by connected example being a golfer is really not something you can proclaim yourself to be. Others usually have to do it for you.

Being a golfer, like the other two, requires a little time and a commitment. It takes practice and an understanding of your own tendencies and behaviors. I have learned that getting mad or frustrated does not improve my golf game. It took me a long time to learn this. Sometimes I occasionally forget it after some unexpected turn of events or particularly bad break and my score then reflects this fact.

Professionals understand that similar events occur in business. Competition is fierce and occasionally may seem to be playing by a different set of rules. Management and staff may appear arbitrary and misguided from time to time. As the various television commercials enjoy pointing out, humans are not fully logical beings and seem to want to do things that from the outside looking in are misguided at best, but from the individuals point of view may have been a viable alternative at the time.

Regardless of whether the ball is in the fairway, the rough or a hazard, a golfer will always try to execute the best shot they are capable of in order to achieve the best score that they are capable of that day. Conditions change; people are not machines so their performance levels may vary from day to day. Just because you were able to par or even birdie a hole the last time you played it does not mean you will perform the same way or attain the same outcome this time. The experience helps but as they say in the stock market; past performance is no guarantee of future success. You have to try your best every time.

Professionals are those that understand that not every assignment may be in accordance with their opinion of a correct or proper strategy. They may not agree with the decision or direction that is being undertaken, but like the golfer, they do their absolute professional best regardless of the situation. They don’t complain or foment discord in the business ranks. They look at the situation, try to understand the direction and objective and do their best to achieve it.

They don’t get frustrated or mad that the business is doing something other than what they would prefer. They know that won’t help or improve their personal, their team’s or the business’ performance.

In theory golf is a pretty simple game. Get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible. Unlike so many other sports there are no opposing teams or people trying to keep you from your objective, and the ball doesn’t even move when you are trying to hit it. Despite these facts there are far fewer golfers on a golf course that there are people playing golf. You know them when you see them, and they don’t usually proclaim it. They just go quietly about their game, doing their best at all times. Their score usually reflects this.

Business as well is not rocket surgery (to mix metaphors a little, just for fun). While there is competition, their goal is not specifically to keep you from achieving your objective. It is more to achieve theirs. But like golfers on a golf course, there does not seem to be an abundance of professionals in business. You know them when you see them, and they too do not usually go around proclaiming their status. They just go quietly about their assignments trying to make sure that the business’ objectives are achieved. This includes even the assignments and objectives that they may not be fully in agreement with.

Especially those.

Little Things

I recently read an article by Gretchen Rubin titled “Trick Question: Can One Coin Make a Person Rich?” In this article she cites the fifteenth century scholar, Erasmus, from Rotterdam, Netherlands. This intrigued me as some of those who know me and my never ending quest for the arcane can attest. I finished reading the article and then did a little research on Erasmus as my curiosity had been piqued. Gretchen sited not a book, but a footnote in Erasmus’ 1509 essay “In Praise of Folly”. Now I was hooked. The footnote was related to and explained “the argument of the growing heap.”

According to the footnote, the argument of the growing heap is: “If ten coins are not enough to make a man rich, what if you add one coin? What if you add another? Finally, you will have to say that no one can be rich unless one coin can make him so.”

This is an interesting proposition. If you continue to give a person coins, at some point in time you will have given them enough so that they can be considered rich. But how many coins does it take? Which specific coin is the one that pushes the individual across the “rich” threshold? I think we can all conceive of and follow the logic here in general, but again may have divergent views on which individual act of giving a coin is the “special” one. This got me to thinking, yet again. That is always a dangerous process.

I continually try to look at what leadership is, as opposed to what management is in the business and sales environments. I like to point out that we have always looked up to and followed great leaders, not great managers. Applying what Gretchen Rubin cited and what Erasmus footnoted may seem at first to be a bit of a stretch here, but overall I think it is pretty interesting.

If we apply the argument of the growing heap to actions demonstrating leadership (or to actions demonstrating management for that matter) we would have to say that there is obviously some threshold where at which, after a certain number of leadership demonstrating actions an individual would be considered a leader. Let’s not get into what a leadership demonstrating action is. That too is a matter for conjecture. For purposes here, let’s just assume that there is such a thing.

To put this question another way, I would ask if one anomalous leader like activity in the career of an otherwise drone like manager would make that individual a leader. Now remember we are talking about business, not politics. My suggested answer would be no, one leadership action in a career doesn’t qualify anyone to be a leader. I have seen some managers take leader like actions by mistake and immediately revert back to their management activities. If it is not one action, then how many? Would ten qualify? How about a hundred?

I think you can now see the application of the argument of the growing heap that I am making to business. The fact that it originates in a sixteenth century essay titled “The Praise of Folly” seems to me to make it that much more apropos for its application to business, or politics today.

We all make a number of decisions and take a myriad of actions during the course of a normal business day. These decisions can either add to or detract from growing our leadership “heap”. How we are perceived as leaders is subjective in that each individual will have a different threshold for what they consider an acceptable leadership heap to be. Many will also have varying values that will be assigned as to how much a demonstration of leadership advances the heap and how much a management act reduces it.

I remember reading a joke which stated that every time someone did something good at the office they got a little token that read “Atta Boy!” When they got one hundred “Atta Boy!” tokens they were entitled to a firm handshake, a slap on the back and a “Good Job!” from the boss. However if they ever did something wrong they got an “Aw Crap!” sticker which meant that they had to immediately give back all of their “Atta Boy!” tokens, even if they had ninety-nine of them, and then start back from zero in their quest for a “Good Job!” from the boss.

I don’t know why that little story came to mind, but it does seem to fit in when we talk about the subjective nature of leadership activities, management acts, and how the two are judged by the population in general.

Sometimes we manage the issue and sometimes we lead by example. We need to remember that inevitably people are always watching what we as leaders do. According to the argument of the growing heap, it is in fact one individual act of leadership, in a succession of leadership acts that can qualify an individual to be a leader. The question then arises as to which single act is it? As no two individuals are going to have the same perceptions and values, it’s probably safe to say that there will never be an agreement on which specific act caused someone to cross the leadership threshold, or which management act caused them to fall back from it. Therefore I would say that every act is important.

If we add the complexity to the argument that an “Aw Crap!” management moment can reduce the “Atta Boy!” leadership heap by a disproportionate amount, it means that every action counts, both positive and negative counts even more.

Gretchen Rubin noted in her article “Often, when we consider our actions, it’s clear that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful.”

I would suggest that this is not the case in business. As a leader every action we take will have meaning. It will either add to or detract from your leadership position. I think we have all experienced the fact that it normally takes many more positive acts to outweigh what may be considered or perceived as a negative act.

Leadership is an ongoing process where every action counts. It will be good to remember that the next time you are going to take an action, even on the little things.

Think Like an Immigrant / Act Like an Artisan


I was reading an article the other day about the current tough economic times. It is difficult these days to read anything that does not somehow reference these tough economic times. I guess the same is true about this Blog article.


The article referred to the current situation as a “Balance Sheet” recession. The reference here was that everyone (businesses and individuals included) has racked up so much debt by previously buying things that they really couldn’t afford, and put it on their respective balance sheets that no one can borrow any more money to spend on consumption. With our economy based on 70% consumer purchases, this has put a pinch on demand as people (and companies) come to grips with their debts (and hopefully trying to pay them off). This reduced consumer demand has in turn caused the stagnation in growth needed to cause and drive companies to create jobs.


This in itself was not news. I think we have all felt the pain of the last few years in one form or another. What I did take away from the article and what I am addressing here were some of the fundamental mind set changes that were proposed to help people deal with the Balance Sheet recession. I thought they were equally if not more so applicable to running businesses, and probably jobs in general.



  1. Think Like an Immigrant.

Historically immigrants have come to this country with very little. They came with no sense of entitlement. They did not come expecting to be given anything…other than the opportunity or chance to do better than where they were.


It seems we may be starting to see this approach to our jobs (after 10 years of tougher economic times) but it appears that we may still have a ways to go. We need to remember that once we have a Job, it is not a “given”. It must be continually “earned”. We are not entitled to that job, or any other job for that matter. Like the immigrant we are entitled to the opportunity or chance to do better. If we don’t do better, then we may lose the opportunity, or job.


It is a little bit different world that we now live and work in, then it was before. We may need a little bit different mindset if we are to be successful in it.



  1. Act Like an Artisan.

Artisans have normally been considered the one-off and hand-made makers of goods. They did not mass produce anything, and their quality was considered a cut above. I am something of a would-be musician, and hand-made instruments made by artisan-luthiers are far more desirable (and expensive) than the production line models of the big manufacturers. They put their name on their output and take tremendous pride in what they make.


We need to start thinking like artisans in the businesses that we have. We need to take the sort of pride in our work that artisans take in their work, in whatever we do. It is not the job that we have been assigned by the boss. It is our job. It is a slight difference in approach but one that makes a significant difference in how you approach it and what you produce. If you had to sign your name, and your name only, to everything that you produced (reports, presentations, etc.), and then be judged by each one of them, would you do them differently?


An artisan is judged each time he creates a product by the product he has created.


I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, and I don’t want to intimate that everyone feels they are entitled and that no one takes pride in their work. That is clearly not the case. I do however think that there is merit in both refreshing our own mindsets, and those of our associates, of how we should be thinking about our jobs, and the pride that we should all be taking in the job we do.

Phishing Victim…..Me?

I enjoy writing my blog. I really enjoy getting comments. That means that someone has read my Blog, and thought enough about it to take the time and write a comment. I put an effort into thinking about topics to write on and for the most part it appeared that the people that wrote comments did also. That was until recently.

In the last few months I started to get a significant number of comments. At first I thought this was pretty neat. We all like a little recognition and this increase in comments seemed to indicate that I might be getting some.

Not…

Upon closer inspection of this newfound number of comments I noticed that they all seemed to be based from “Russian” servers. This is only an assumption, but it is based on the URL nomenclature of the site that generating the comment. Russian? Really? Could I really be generating a following in Russia?

Still something about this seemed “Phishy”. So I decided that I would Google one of the more reasonable sounding sights to see if they truly existed. It generated another Blog site. I then decided to go to one of this more reputable sounding site. I went, I saw, and I read. No big deal.

That’s when it started. The next day I got notification from my site hosting service that they had complied with my wish to have my domain changed. My domain changed? Who requested that?

I then went to my site to see what this all meant. What is meant was my site was no longer where I had bookmarked it. My site had been hijacked.

I then called (not emailed, not IM’ed, called) my hosting provider and asked what was going on. They said that they had complied with my email request to relocate my site to another domain/server. This was obviously news to me.

After verifying (via security questions and the like) that I was in fact who I said I was, and that the site in question was indeed mine, we started down the road to reclaiming my site. After the appropriate programming magic was accomplished, we started back-tracking what had happened.

It appears that by even going to the supposedly acceptable site of one of my commenter’s I had somehow enabled them to get into my hosting account through the information I had left (like they leave at my site) at their site. They then hacked my account and hijacked my site.

This was again, and interesting and somewhat unsettling experience. But the greater question to me is: Why would someone want my site? There is not a significant amount of traffic there (from internet standards), nor are there any secrets. I guess I will have to be vigilant and watch for any issues that may arrive at a later date. In the mean time, I would ask and suggest that all who receive any of these strange / anomalous emails or comments to beware.

Sometimes You Are Wrong


When I was younger my dad had 2 rules for life around our house: Rule 1 – Dad was never wrong. Rule 2 –Whenever dad was wrong, see Rule 1. This worked pretty well until I became a teenager, and like all teenagers I knew better….usually…I thought.

 

In business however, unlike my formative years, no one gets to be right all the time. We all work hard to make sure we are right as often as possible. It is the way you matriculate upward in management. Being right more often than not is a hallmark of the successful manager. There are times when despite your best efforts, you are not right. What you do now will tell many people a lot about your character as a leader.

 

If you are wrong, accept that things did not go as you had planned. It happens. Don’t equivocate – “We were 75% correct”. Don’t try and spin doctor the results – “We met our commitments, but didn’t reach the objectives…” Learn from it.

 

Identify what did go right,and also identify what did not. Specifically identify what needs to be done in the future to assure that when the same or similar issues arise in the future,the outcome will be different. The idea is to focus on the future and not waste cycles trying to explain, or bury the past. What is learned and assimilated into the business and how it is prepared to move forward is far more important than the protection of your ego over some perceived “failing”.

 

If at some point it turns out that you are wrong, despite however unlikely an occurrence this is believed to be, identify the issue, get it right and move on. In both the short and long term it will be better for you and the business for you to be the leader that corrected the issue and moved forward, and not the manager who tried to recast the past.

 

My dad still likes to remind me about Rule 1 though.