Category Archives: Example


One of the immutable laws of leadership is that leaders get criticized. Throughout recorded history, when a leader has emerged, so has the criticism of what they are doing. This has been shown to be true in this country all the way back to George Washington, the man who is widely recognized as one of the founding fathers of our country, and the first president of the United States. With the myth that has evolved around Washington and his leadership, it is difficult to believe that anyone would have, or even could have criticized him. They did. And many of them were actually thrown in jail for doing so. I guess they knew better how to deal with critics and criticism back then.

Can you imagine the prison issues that would occur today if they could still throw everyone who criticized the president in jail?

The point here is that Washington took a stand. Because of the stand he took, he was asked to lead. He had an opinion and a position, and actually had the temerity to act upon them. Washington was a Federalist. He supported a strong federal government. His critics were Republicans (who should not be confused with today’s republicans) who believed that the majority of governmental authority should be vested with the states.

Washington acted upon his beliefs and the criticism raged. There were editorials in several newspapers of the time literally calling for the hand of God to intervene in the activities. This was pretty scathing stuff for the time. You didn’t just call upon God for any old issue. If you were going to call upon Him you apparently really had to mean it.

But this was George Washington; the man who threw a dollar across the Potomac River; the man who chopped down the cherry tree and couldn’t tell a lie; the man who led the armies of the American Revolution and won. Here he was being criticized, more than just a little vigorously, for doing what he had been called upon and put in the position to do.

Fast forward about sixty years to another one of the great leaders of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. Half of the then country was so critical of his activities and policies that tried to secede from the union. This plan obviously did not go over well and the result was one of the bloodiest conflicts in our nation’s history. It also ultimately cost him his life at the hands of an assassin who also did not agree with his policies.

So, enough of the history lesson. What is the point, you may ask.
The point that I choose to make here is that if you choose to be a leader, you are going to be criticized. Opinions and positions are polarizing. There will always be those that immediately agree with you, and those that immediately, and sometimes irrevocably disagree with you. There are going to be people that regardless of the obviousness, intelligence or palatability of the position that you are taking are just not going to agree with you. They are going to criticize you.

Once the criticism starts, how you handle it will tell much about your leadership character and capabilities. After many years of both dizzying success and abysmal failure at handling criticism, I will share some of the things I have learned in how to handle criticism. A sort of leadership behavioral Dos and Don’ts for handling critics and their associated criticism:

Do: Understand that it is easier to oppose an idea that it is to generate an idea. You may have spent a significant amount of time taking multiple factors into account in presenting or proposing something. You have created something where before your idea there was nothing. Not everyone can do this.

Understand that it does not take near that amount of effort to create any criticism to your proposal or idea. In fact, in many instances you may notice the criticism is almost instantaneous, especially if you present your plan in person in front of multiple people. Picture the image of pouring blood into piranha filled waters.

Don’t: Don’t question the intellect behind any criticism. As I just noted, it is much easier to provide criticism of an idea than it is to provide an idea. You may infer that I think that critics are only those people of lower intellect. This may or may not actually be the case. Now critics may defend their position in this intellectual argument by noting that by conserving their precious few available brain cells by only creating critiques instead of creating ideas, that they may actually be truly benefitting the company. They can state that you can never tell when you may actually have to rely on a critic to create a new idea, and they want those limited number of brain cells in reserve for when or if they are ever called upon for independent thought.

Personally when I need new ideas generated I prefer to call on people who have demonstrated the ability to think independently and generate ideas.

Perhaps you have heard how some people try to generalize society into the “haves” and the “have nots”. This may be incorrect on so many levels but I am not here to argue that point. I only use it as an illustration of how we like to categorize people. I think the equivalent bifurcation of people in business would be the “idea generators” and the “critics”, or maybe more accurately the “thinks” and the “think nots”.

Do: When criticized focus on the idea not the person. It is very easy to get defensive about our creations. Any criticism of them is almost too easy to take as a personal attack or direct insult on us. Whether this is the actual case or not is not important. Focus on the idea and content being supplied. Do not get wrapped up in the person providing or the method they are providing it.

Remember the old adage: Even a blind pig will occasionally root up an acorn. So it is with critics. Occasionally they can and even do provide valuable input. It is possible that one of their critiques will have merit. I personally have never seen this, but I have heard the business legends, myths and stories of it actually occurring.

Don’t: Don’t refer to your critic as a “blind pig” or any other name should their criticism eventually prove fruitless or unfounded. Take the high road. And remember “myopic swine” is not the high road either.

Remember that invariably facts will be your friends. Get the data. Do the research. Deal with the idea not the person. Reduce the criticism to a provable or disprovable point and work on it from that point of view. Leadership is about assimilating input, even inaccurate critical input. Leadership is not about getting those people who agree with you to align. It is about getting those that do not agree, the critics, to align.

Notice I didn’t say accept. I said align. It is possible that some critics will never accept your proposal or idea. After all, their criticism is as dear to them as your idea is to you.

When you look back at Washington and Lincoln, one of the traits that made them great leaders was the way they responded to criticism. Regardless of how harsh or personal or unfounded the attacks were, they dealt specifically with the issues or business at hand. They did not respond in kind to spurious criticism. They focused on the idea and the objective they needed to achieve.

Most importantly they as leaders moved forward with their ideas and plans. They acted. They got things done regardless of and in some instances in spite of their critics and criticism. They didn’t let the criticism get them down nor slow them down.

In business there will always be those that for whatever reason will tell you that your ideas or plans will not work. It is okay to listen to them, but it cannot be allowed to become the reason for not moving forward, nor can the fear of such criticism be the reason that you did not bring forward a new idea.

Turn On The Lights

Sunsets are nice. They have beautiful colors and signal the end of the day. They inspire poetry and song. All in all though, I think I prefer sunrises. They signal the onset of a new day. They also inspire poetry and songs although I don’t think quite as many poems and songs as sunsets. Apparently the preponderance of poets and musicians are not up early enough to see sunrises, but do manage to see the sunsets. Go figure. I like sunrises because it is nature’s way of turning on the lights.

When I was a younger person, a long, long time ago, I used to enjoy the night. The sunset would happen (very nice) and then life would begin. As I have gotten older I have now found that the nights are a particularly nice time for sleeping. Perhaps I am fortunate in that I usually have no need for any type of sleep aid other than turning out the lights. My children don’t seem to share this affinity for sleep and hence I don’t seem to be able to sleep as much at night as I would like.

I do get up earlier than them though. Most of the time I get up before sunrise and despite some of my more mischievous urges, I do not go and wake them up as early as I have awoken just to get even with them for keeping me up the night before…..usually.

It seems to me that there is now something of a direct relationship between my energy levels and the amount of light present in my environment. I don’t think I am entirely unique in this respect. I think everyone has had discussions with their friends regarding low energy levels and “blah” days when it is rainy or cloudy outside as opposed to bright sunny days. I know my kids do, but I normally attribute this to the fact that they have probably been up most of the night surfing the internet, playing video games or talking to their friends on the cell phones instead of sleeping like I was trying to do.

Even plants, I guess especially plants do better in the light since their vital link in the ecological chain is to convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy and oxygen. I find I am very partial to that oxygen thing. The key here is the use of light energy to enable the performance of a necessary task.

Now you may wonder what this relatively long harangue about light in its various forms has to do with business. I will now get to that. After travelling to multiple domestic and international locations over the last several years, I have arrived at significant question:

Is it just me or do our work environments seem to be getting darker?

To this point I am going to make what I think is a subtle but necessary distinction between “sufficient light” and “necessary light” in the office environment. Sufficient light is the amount of light required to conduct day to day functions in your office (or cube) without straining or otherwise causing damage to your eyesight. Necessary light is the amount of light required to generate a brightness or energy in the office environment that adds rather than detracts from your emotional state.

There is obviously sufficient light in our physical business environments for us to conduct our work. This is not a question. Perhaps I am getting older (obviously) or it may just be my imagination but I don’t remember offices being this dark last century.

I threw that “last century” remark in to give a little more feeling to the idea of in times past.

I understand the ideas associated with energy conservation and the high cost of utilities, but could we actually be dimming our office environments in an effort to save money? I have been in many different buildings over time. I seem to remember a time when most office ceiling light fixtures contained the larger (slightly over two inches in diameter) fluorescent tubes. We used to complain about how the bright fluorescent light made us all look so pale.

Now when I look up I see fewer of the larger brighter bulbs, or I see them replaced with the new one inch diameter bulbs, or I see even fewer of the one inch diameter bulbs. I looked it up. The new bulbs use about twenty percent less energy, but they produce about ten percent less light. From an efficiency point of view getting a twenty percent cost reduction while suffering only a ten percent performance reduction is a good trade to make, initially.

It seems that businesses are using fewer light bulbs, and the bulbs that they are using are producing less light.

Now this is a little thing, but in a business environment where we want to capture every iota of efficiency have we possibly missed something here? I understand the hard dollar savings associated with lower energy consumption for lighting the work place. What I am concerned about is the potential soft dollar loss associated with reduction in the efficiency of our teams by making the work environment just that little bit less friendly, appealing, and yes, energetic.

I am not saying that adding lights or generating / providing more lumens in the office will immediately improve productivity. I am saying that it is probably one of the steps that will need to be taken in addition to many others if we are serious about reenergizing (there is that “energy” word again) our work places.

When people started working from virtual offices instead of the standard brick and mortar office we seemed to have lost some of the human interaction and energy that made our organizations vibrant. When we started to implement the energy cost saving measures that seem to have further added to the darkening of our offices (possibly because it is believed that there are not as many people there now so not as much light is needed) we seem to have further reduced the overall energy level of our offices.

I think it is time to turn on or turn up the lights and brighten our work places. I have said in the past that I also believe we need to find ways to get people out of their virtual offices and back into the business environment where they interact face to face. We need to put energy back into our office environments, the light energy that even plants need, but especially the people energy that the business needs. If you are going to try to put the people back in the office, you will need to turn up the lights for them.

Not to go too far overboard here, but I do seem to recall a pretty important quote on this topic. I think it went:

“Let there be light.”


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.

Sports Coats

Let’s get this straight right up front. I am a dinosaur. I know it. I am proud of it. I will probably never change. Okay, now that we have that out of the way you may be wondering why I am so unapologetically proclaiming my status and how I can in fact prove that I am what I claim to be. It is very simple. I still wear a sports coat to work.

I know, I know. How utterly old school and last century of me. But you know what? I don’t care. I still believe that the “office” is a place where professionals go to interact and conduct business. To me professional attire and business conduct go together. It is difficult for me to ever associate blue jeans, sneakers and tee shirts with professional and business. I won’t even pretend to apologize if this stance offends you. I have never been accused of being particularly politically correct.

I do not long for the days of suits, ties and professional attire, for those of us that can remember those days. I don’t wish to return to the days of casual Fridays which begat sloppy Fridays which seemed destined to degenerate into underwear and bathrobe Fridays before the entire thing was junked in favor of the current wear anything you want as long as you are decently clothed rules. I would simply like to remind everyone that having a job is not an entitlement, it is a privilege. We are professionals and are here to conduct business. We ought to dress like it.

Now with all the issues besetting the business world such as high unemployment, enormous public and private debt loads, contracting markets and increasingly fierce competition, you might think that I would have more to talk about, or rail against then what I might consider to be some slovenly trends in our office haberdashery. I do, but I thought I would start at the very basics.

I remember seeing an instructional video by the great Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi, who upon arriving in Green Bay got the team together and held a team meeting. The team had suffered through several losing seasons before he arrived. He told the team that he was going to start at the basics. He told the team how they would wear their uniform, how they would dress and how they would conduct themselves, both on and off the field.

He then held up a football and continued his instructional lecture when he said: “This is a football.” Before he could go any further he was asked by the team if he could “go a little slower.”

Football players. Go figure.

However Lombardi did go on to lead the Packers to several world championships.

John Wooden, the ten time national champion basketball coach at UCLA had similar approaches to uniforms, attire and conduct. He is even reported to have instructed his team in how to properly lace and tie their shoes. He too understood that how you dressed and looked affected what you did and how you performed. This approach seemed to work out well for him and his team. As I said before, ten national championships means you knew how to do things right.

I am not proposing that we need to return to the days of dress codes. I am proposing that we as leaders should want to set an example for our teams as to how we want to be perceived and how we wish to conduct ourselves and our business. This would come under the definition of leading by example.

I will illustrate my point. Many of us at one time or another has been in the job market interviewing for a new position. What did you wear to that job interview? Did you wear the jeans, sneakers and shirt that you are now wearing? I would hazard the guess and say of course not. You probably wore at least slacks, a button down shirt, dress shoes and a sports coat. Depending on your approach you could have been wearing a suit and a tie.

It seems that you are expected to dress professionally when you are looking for a job, but that you no longer feel the need to dress that way once you have the job. I wonder why that is? Does familiarity breed contempt? Remember my point about entitlement. Just because you currently have a job doesn’t mean that you are entitled to keep that job.

Another example would be what attire you choose when you meet with customers. I think the same examples apply. It seems everybody is just a little bit more dressed up when they are meeting with a customer than when they are just “working”. Again, I wonder why that is?

Diana Bocco looked at the role clothing plays in conveying human identity in an article she contributed to the ezine Curiosity, which is part of the Discovery channel family of information. In it she states: “…in many professional fields, a conservative, classic look makes you look more capable and showcases your professionalism.”

Nowadays with the internet anyone is capable of finding a quote to support whatever position they choose to adopt. That is part of the fun of the internet. It has however been a longstanding proposition that “Clothes make the man (and with a seldom seen from me bow to political correctness) …or woman”. When I go to see my doctor, I want to see him in a long white lab coat, preferably with his name embroidered on the left chest pocket, not in a leather biker jacket with chains and big black boots. When I go to have my car worked on, I would expect and hope to see the mechanic in a set of overalls, preferably greasy, not in the tutu and slippers of Mikhail Baryshnikov at the height of his ballet prowess.

Wow. I may have some trouble getting that last picture out of my mind.

When I am conducting business I like to wear a sport coat. I also prefer long sleeve button down shirts, slacks and leather dress shoes. I do make a nod to casual styles by wearing loafers instead of lace up shoes. Just call me wild and reckless when it comes to foot wear. I am also not saying that anybody else has to dress like I do. As I have noted we are past the time of mandatory dress codes.

Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the Desert Storm action has said that leaders lead. I like that. I think a small and basic place to start is to set the example for what to wear for business. It doesn’t take much effort. I don’t think it is any more expensive than any other type of attire. I do think is says a lot about who you are and the type of respect you wish to show both the people you work with and your job in general.

I also think that it is an infinitely preferable trend to try and set, as opposed to the guy who is currently walking around in the office wearing “Crocs” rubber shoes, because they are “comfortable”.