How do filters impact your organization?

This blog is the second in a series that began with the Leadership Blog titled “The Cover Matters”. 

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I was born and raised in Canada.  When you think about Canada, what comes to mind?  Polite people?  Cold weather?  Hockey?  Toques?  Curling?  Free healthcare?  Eh?  Funky_glasses

There is an excellent chance that the things that come to your mind when you think of Canada and Canadians are an incomplete and inaccurate stereotype of a diverse country and the individuals who call it home. 

Each of us is, mostly unconsciously, programmed with filters.  Our cultural programming causes us to look at the world through the lens of that culture.  Our family of origin largely influences our programming, especially early in life.  For better or for worse, our beliefs about money, race, gender, age, religion, politics, the environment and so on are often shared among family members as if they were recorded in our DNA.  Our education system imprints us with filters.  Our peer groups influence the way we view the world. Our leaders indoctrinate us into a corporate culture.  The media plays a role in shaping the stereotypes we hold.  Our past experiences color our future experiences.

Do filters help us or are they harmful? That is an important question for all leaders to ponder.

Consider several commonly held negative stereotypes and contemplate how these filters may lead to poor decision making in the workplace.

  • Older people resist change
  • Young people are self-centered and entitled
  • Introverts don’t make good salespeople
  • Accountants can’t see the big picture

Even labels that don’t degrade the group they are assigned to can lead us to make decisions that have negative unintended consequences.  Here are some common examples.

  • Midwesterners have a good work ethic
  • Asians are good at math
  • Women are collaborative
  • Men are most capable in a crisis

What are some of the filters that permeate your organization?  Are they helping or hurting?

The cover matters

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Don’t judge a book by its cover – so the saying goes.  Book_learntolead

Sage advice? Perhaps. 

Practical? Not at all. 

Recall the last time you were faced with a multitude of titles on a single subject. How did you cull through the mass efficiently to locate the resource that would serve your purpose? The advice proffered about not judging a book by its cover is not useful to you in this moment. It is not practical for you to read each book in its entirety, or even to speed read critical sections, to determine which resource contains the most robust, relevant information for your needs. 

You need a shortcut. You narrow the possible choices to a few based on book covers, familiar authors and recommendations from others. You further narrow your selection by perusing the book jacket where you can quickly decipher what critics have to say about the contents of the book. If the choices are still too many, perhaps the table of contents gets a look.

Why we take shortcuts

While few would argue with the beauty of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a world where people would be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin, our natural programming makes this unlikely. 

We do judge a book by its cover – literally and metaphorically. On the surface it seems unjust.  Practically, it is how we make sense of the world and how we quickly sort through the huge amount of sensory stimuli we encounter throughout the day.

In the business world

What relevance does this have in a blog about leadership? 

We can squawk all day long about the unfairness of being overlooked for a promotion at work when we perceive we are clearly more qualified. We can lament the injustice of inequalities we perceive in the workplace that seem connected more to gender, age, race, sexual orientation, disability or other differences than they do to workplace contributions.  

Or, we can seek to understand our natural filtering system that makes it possible for us to take shortcuts. We can embark on a journey to incorporate this critical knowledge into our leadership toolbox and into our day-to-day leadership practices. Through acquiring intelligence and wisdom about this all-too-human characteristic, we can ensure the shortcuts we take as leaders do not lead to negative unintended consequences.

In the next several blogs I’ll explore both research and experiences on this subject from a variety of perspectives. In the meantime, I invite you to think about your own leadership experiences in judging and being judged.

Perseverance is key in leadership

IStock_000009035898SmallRowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

It’s a rare leader who doesn’t get discouraged. When faced with challenges, the essential leadership trait that serves us best is perseverance.

The value of courage, persistence and perseverance has rarely been illustrated more convincingly than in the life story of this man (his age appears in the column on the left): 

Age 22      Failed in business

Age 23      Ran for Legislature – defeated

Age 24      Again failed in business

Age 25      Elected to Legislature                                     

Age 26      Sweetheart died                                               

Age 27      Had a nervous breakdown                               

Age 29      Defeated for Speaker                                       

Age 31      Defeated for Elector                                        

Age 34      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 37      Elected to Congress                                         

Age 39      Defeated for Congress                                     

Age 46      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 47      Defeated for Vice President                            

Age 49      Defeated for Senate                                         

Age 51     Elected President of the United States

That’s the record of Abraham Lincoln. 

Organizations experience success and good fortune. It is easy to be a good leader when things are going well. 

They also experience frequent changes and obstacles. It is how leaders handle the challenging times that reveals their true character and shapes how they are described and remembered by others. 

Napoleon Hill once said, “The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun.”

So it is with great leaders.

The myth of multi-tasking

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

One of the most enduring myths around time management is that multi-tasking saves time. Evidence that we are surrounded by this myth comes from the more than six million web pages offering strategies about how to multi-task.  

Leaders covet this quality in employees and interview candidates brag about high multi-tasking abilities. People proudly credit multi-tasking for their ability to get many things done. After all, doing two things at once must be better than doing one thing at a time. Or is it? Multi-tasking

The Research

In his book, The One Thing, author Gary Keller cites a 2009 study designed to reveal the qualities that make for a great multi-tasker. Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass, divided 262 test subjects into two groups. 

The group of high multi-taskers were outperformed on every measure by their low multi-tasker counterparts. Despite their own convictions about their capacity to do two things at once, the research was clear. Multi-tasking is a recipe for losing efficiency and effectiveness. When you try to do two things at once, you either can’t or you won’t do either task as well.


Our brains are hard-wired to focus. 

Can I walk and talk at the same time? Yes. You use different parts of your brain for those activities and one of them (walking) is unconscious. If you are walking over treacherous terrain, the conversation would stop so you could concentrate (become conscious) on the walking. Similarly, you can drive your car and listen to the radio. That is, until you find yourself driving in a blinding Iowa snow storm and then the radio becomes a distraction. Driving has necessarily become conscious and you must focus.

Many of the things we try to do at the same time use the same part of our brain. For example, the activities of emailing and talking on the phone both use the communication center of your brain. When you try to do both activities at the same time, you miss something. When you try to read the scrolling updates at the bottom of the television screen while also listening to the media interview, your attempts at multi-tasking fail you and you miss something. When you are working on an expense report and your colleague drops by to interrupt you to talk about a business problem, the relative complexity of those two tasks makes it difficult to jump back and forth and it takes a toll on our productivity.

The Cost

What do multi-tasking and interruptions cost? It depends on the complexity of the tasks. Researchers estimate that the time lost can range from 25% on simple tasks to more than 100% on complex tasks. 

Multi-tasking also exacts a toll on relationships. When you are attempting to listen to someone while also checking your Smartphone, the other party realizes that they don’t have your full attention and the cost goes beyond lost efficiency – relationships also suffer.

Leaders can quickly enjoy improvements in productivity, decreases in errors and reductions in stress by applying this insight to their workplaces.

Leaders and Relationships

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Do you miss Canada? The answer is the same today as it was when I immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago. I miss the people.

This is probably the same answer you provide when asked if you miss your hometown. Your previous job. Your college days.  Leadership_shake hands

Relationships matter. Whether at work or at home, it is the quality of our relationships that shapes our lives – for better or for worse. Our personal experience testifies to the importance of relationships and independent research confirms it. Harvard University, Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Institute all showed that 85% of professional success is related to people skills.

Here are five leadership activities to help improve your relationships this week.

  1. Look up from your computer when interacting with someone. Many of us are so preoccupied with email that we fail to honor the human interaction in front of us.
  2. Turn your smartphone off when meeting or dining with someone.
  3. Make eye contact and smile when you greet others. 
  4. Write five thank you notes in the next five days.
  5. Provide others with tips on how to effectively interact with you. 

Relationships are a practical matter for leaders. While many people join organizations because of inspiring missions, great benefit packages and world-class training opportunities, research reveals that they stay for one reason – their relationships. 

The bottom line: People don’t leave organizations, they leave relationships. One of the most important relationships people have at work is the one with their direct supervisor.

The Power of Inner Motivation

What motivates you to do a good job? Leadership_motivate

Most of us have seen examples of passionate people who outperform individuals with greater technical qualifications or skills.  Without passion, individuals can lose their knowledge advantage through complacency.  Leaders who match individuals to jobs they are not only skilled in, but also motivated to do, will thrive in the face of today’s rapid changes.

External Motivation

A common approach to motivating people is to reward them for the behaviors you want to see and punish those you don’t want to see.  Hence the common saying, “What gets rewarded gets done.” 

Motivation theorist Frederick Herzberg describes external rewards like pay and benefits as hygiene factors.  They are like temperature.  When the room temperature is comfortable, we don’t think about it.  When it is too hot or too cold, we are unhappy and think about little else.  Similarly, the absence of rewards can be de-motivating.  The presence of rewards is not, in isolation, motivating.  

Inner Motivation

Inner motivation is something that motivates people to want to do something without expecting a reward.  According to study after study, people report feeling motivated by things like:  a sense of accomplishment, pride in good work, sense of growth, being challenged and working with great colleagues.

If we don’t tap into the emotion and passion of others, we are unlikely to achieve much more than short-term, limited success.  Competent leaders do not underestimate this challenge.  They know they cannot force someone to be passionate, and they understand the difference between external and internal motivation.  They devote energy to creating an environment that fosters and naturally promotes inner motivation.

Does this mean leaders shouldn’t reward people?  Rewards are important when they are given as recognition rather than bribe.  When rewards recognize the intrinsic motivation already in play, people cherish them for what they symbolize. 

Stephen Covey, author of the seminal book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People once said, “You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart.  You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain.  His heart is where his enthusiasm is; his brain is where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”

If you’re frustrated that you can’t offer greater rewards to your team, reflect on the tireless efforts that people devote in the spirit of volunteerism and ask yourself why?  You’ll probably reach the same conclusion the motivation studies report.  Tapping inner motivation doesn’t require a larger budget.  It requires leadership.

Leaders and delegation

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc.

Clean your room. Please, clean your room. I’ll pay you to clean your room. You can’t go out until you clean your room…

Rewards, punishments, begging, nagging... Why is it so challenging to get people to do things?


Delegation, whether at work or at home, is an area where many leaders struggle. Many times it seems simpler and more expedient to do the work ourselves. 

When done well, delegation benefits everyone. Leaders free up time for other activities. Followers grow and contribute.  Organizations achieve more. Sadly, many of us have never learned how to delegate well and we stress over whether the delegated task will get done right, or at all. Here are some fast tips.

Leaders must correctly diagnose two areas: skills and interest. If someone knows how to do the task and likes it, delegation is appropriate.  If one of those two variables is lacking, a different leadership action is needed.

1.     Skills and Knowledge

As leaders, we often make too many assumptions about what people can do and what they know (or should know). It is further complicated by employees who underestimate the task or overestimate their own skills and abilities. When someone lacks skills or knowledge in any measure, delegation is risky.

Let’s return to the “clean your room” example. It is common for parents to believe that their young person already possesses the necessary skills for this job. Do they? Really?

Why would a young person know how to clean a room well? Why would they share the same definition of “clean” that a parent does? If you have ever been met with the response “I did clean it” and the result doesn’t meet your standards, chances are there is a skill or knowledge gap. Delegation wasn’t appropriate.

Leader Action: Training and coaching.

2.     Interest and Motivation

If they have the skills and knowledge, can the leader delegate? It depends. Do they also possess sufficient interest and motivation?

All of us have things to do that we are skilled in but lack interest. We procrastinate. We make excuses. Does the individual find the task itself motivating? If yes, delegation is appropriate. If not, delegation may fail. You may find this is true of the exercise program you keep delegating yourself to do. You know what to do – you just don’t want to do it.

Leader Action:  Support and encouragement.

Leadership – An introduction

Rowena (Ro) Crosbie is the president of Tero International Inc. This is her first IowaBiz blog post.

Leadership is all around us. In our businesses, governments, sports teams, homes, schools andRowena Crosbie
communities. Many of us are called to lead formally. All of us are called to lead informally. 

What is leadership? Who is qualified to lead? What are the qualities of leaders? How do leaders bring out the best in others? What role does hard work play? What about ethics and values? Where does motivation and emotional intelligence fit in?

The definitions of leadership are numerous and the theories about what makes an effective leader are mixed. We do know that leadership is learned and that most leadership happens on a small-scale in everyday situations.   

This blog is dedicated to the subject of leadership and will be published twice a month. Stories, research studies and theories will be presented here. 

Why a leadership blog?

In 1993, I started Tero International with an idea and $200 that the bank required to open a business account. The first Tero office was a spare bedroom in our home. I named two house cats vice presidents of the company. They were my constant companions (at least as constant as you can be when you sleep 16 hours a day). Leadership was simple.

The idea: To provide presentation skills training to professionals who believed that competitive advantage was due, at least in part, to the ability to communicate persuasively and confidently.  It was a good idea in 1993 and corporate education is even more critical two decades later. 

Today the cats are retired, the business has grown and my role has changed. I am privileged to lead a team of professionals committed to helping clients build leadership and interpersonal skills. Like most of us, I have been a work-in-progress in developing my own leadership capacity. Unlike most of us, my job allows me to immerse myself in leadership research, a time-consuming luxury few leaders enjoy. This blog will share insights from both vantage points.

We hope that in this blog you will find ideas, inspiration and a community to help you develop your leadership capacity and improve things in whatever context you lead. For Tero graduates, we hope this blog is a valuable resource to further your professional development.

Learning leadership is a journey that happens over the course of a lifetime and in partnership with others. I look forward to our travels together and welcome your comments, suggestions and questions.

Employees with second jobs

In this economy, many people find it necessary to have second jobs. Reasons for those jobs vary from person to person and are needed for many different reasons. You probably have employees who have second jobs and you may not even know about them. Just because your employee has a second job does not mean they are not happy working for you.

Have you addressed second jobs in your handbook? Do you have a policy which states what kinds of jobs your employees may take? If not, you might want to take a look at the topic. Depending on what your business, is you might want to limit where employees can work part time. For instance, if you are a CPA firm you do not want your employee moonlighting for a tax place during tax season. In some industries it is OK to work in the same field, such as the food industry or healthcare. A nurse is a nurse no matter where they work but an accountant deals with clients. You do not want your clients going to another firm and following the employee.

It is a simple policy to implement and in certain cases much-needed. It also does not hurt to have in your handbooks that employees need to clarify it with human resources when they are seeking a second job.  The point is not to tell them they can’t, but to make sure they are not moonlighting with a competitor and also to find out why they need it.  Remember, they might really need it because of circumstances that you have no control over such as divorce, a spouse losing a job, kids going to college or they want to get out of debt. You need to be fair but firm with them.

-Susan Jones

Working from home

So you are one of those wonderful employers who allows employees to work from home when they want to. That’s great  - from the employee point of view. However, are you really getting the most and best out of your employees when they are working at home? 

There are many reasons to allow employees to work from their home. Convenience for them if they live far away and there is bad weather, or they (or their child) are sick. But how much work are they really getting done? If they work from home regularly, are you certain they are truly devoting eight hours to work? If it’s a beautiful day during the spring, how do you know they are not out planting a garden? Or hanging out at the beach?

Before (or perhaps after the fact now) you make it a regular practice to allow employees to work from home, you need to make some rules clear to them. For instance, checking in, whether it is by phone calls or emails, you need to be able to get a hold of them when needed. You both need to agree on their schedule, whether they will be working mostly during regular business hours or if it will be after hours and/or on the weekend. Both employer and employee need to be on the same page as to what is expected of each of them. 

Having employees working from home can be beneficial for both parties and some occupations can absolutely be done from outside the office. Just make sure you are truly
getting what you are paying for. If you have doubts it never hurts to have the situation evaluated.

-Susan Jones, Owner

JB Consulting

Does your company handbook help you or hurt you?

*Editor's Note: Susan Jones is the president of JB Consulting, a human resources firm located in Central Iowa. Susan has more than 20 years of human resources experience in the industries of insurance, healthcare, accounting, retail and other small business. She is the newest addition to IowaBiz.

Most businesses are under the impression that because they have a handbook which covers the basics, they are covered in all situations. A correct handbook can be a great asset and tool for a business. However, if your business has changed anything -- from adding departments to benefits -- within a year, you need to update your handbook. Also, if you do not have someone who pays attention to new laws and legislation regarding employees, your handbook can get you into some serious trouble.

When putting a successful handbook together, one must be able to look at it from different perspectives. Each employee will read that handbook from their perspective and their situation. Not only does the owner need to put in the basic rules of hours, payroll, benefits, what to do in case of conflict and so on; in today’s society new issues need to be addressed, such as social media. 

A handbook can also be a great way to communicate information to employees. It can include where, how and why the business was started, and by whom. It can also include what is expected of each employee in and outside of work. For a smaller firm in a small town, how someone is perceived outside of work can influence how the public sees the entire firm. Some forward thinking companies also require some kind of volunteer or community service. 

One important thing to remember when putting an effective handbook together is that whatever is in there, you as the employer are expected to abide by. The rules you are willing to bend for your best employee are the rules you need to be willing to bend for your worst employee.

-Susan Jones, JB Consulting
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I suggest you wobble

learning to ride a bike - _MG_2933Photo credit: sean dreilinger

David Allen, the guru of organizational skills, says "you have to do something to know something."

If you wait to know something before you do something, likely neither will happen. The development of real knowledge requires intentional activity. As you faithfully move -- your body, your thinking, your spirit... things unfold that would be inaccessible in any other way.

An old proverb reads, "When you stand, stand. When you sit, sit. But most of all, don't wobble."

I say, "wobble!"

The learning is in the wobbles. As kids, we learned to walk and ride a bike through a long process of trial and error. Our enthusiasm and others' encouragement gave us the persistence to stay at the task until we reached our goals. But as adults, we don't like to take that long to learn something. We want to know how, now. So, we often resist taking the time to learn something new because we don't like the feeling of being out of control, looking silly or wobbling.

As a leader, what's one thing you know you need to learn or know how to do to be more effective? Get started. Take action. And when the wobbling starts... and it likely will... be patient with yourself. Focus on what you're learning and not on how you're looking.

You didn't learn to ride a bike sitting in a seminar; you learned to ride by riding, by wobbling.

- Shirley Poertner

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Her name was Dorothy

118218401You have to care enough about someone to learn their name and then -- most importantly -- to remember it.

I wrote down a short blurb from a Guideposts magazine while waiting in a doctor's office a number of years ago written by a woman named Joann Jones. She said, "During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a pop quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one. 'What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?'"

"Surely this was some kind of joke," Joann thought. "I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in the paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade.

'Absolutely,' the professor said. 'In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.'

'I've never forgotten that lesson,' Joann continued. 'I also learned her name was Dorothy."

When I think about the most effective leaders I know, one of their outstanding qualities is their interest in others, demonstrated through the remembrance of others' names. I've toured dozens of offices and plants and worksites over the years and I'm always empressed when those leading the tours --usually a senior leader -- knows the names of those working the equipment, directing a work crew, or just waiting for the elevator. And talks with them. And introduces them to those of us on the tour. There's nothing more disheartening than to see a leader in his or her own department stand there and talk about the employees without ever engaging with them.

Saying, "I'm just not good at names" is a cop-out. We don't forget the names of those who are important to us -- our family members, friends, co-workers, team members, or our administrative assistant. Widen that circle. We know we have the mental capacity to remember thousands of names -- everyone on our floor, in our division, at our branch office -- if we care enough to do it.

If you learn everyone's full name and something about them, and do it sincerely, and they know you know them, their impression of you as a leader will be greatly enhanced. And you know what? Connecting in even a small way with those you bump into every day will make you a better human being. Whether it counts toward your grade or not.

- Shirley Poertner



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Who's the most miserable of all?

Cover of "The Three Signs of a Miserable ...Cover via Amazon

We read all the time about how miserable many Americans are at work. We hear about the "Sunday evening slump," when something clicks in the brains of millions of Americans and they recognize the weekend is history, and tomorrow it's back to the grind. Why do so many people hate their jobs?

If you're a leader, you should be especially interested in the answer to this question. Heaven forbid that your employees fall into this funk and go from being a fun and engaged parent on Saturdays to being despondent and grumpy on Sunday nights.

Patrick Lencioni has written numerous books about dysfunctional teams, deadly meetings, and other pitfalls of corporate America. In one of his latest books, he takes on this topic of misery at work. In Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he identifies the three things that make people miserable at work: irrelevancy, anonymity and immeasurement. In other words, people are miserable if they don't see how what they're doing makes a difference -- to anyone. It doesn't seem like their manager knows they exist, and they can't tell how well they're doing unless their manager decides to clue them in with some sort of subjective assessment.

So...step back.

Let's flip the characteristics that reportedly lead to dissatisfaction and look at them from a  positive angle. If I were to ask your employees the following three questions, do you know how they'd answer?

  • How does what you do on your job matter, and to whom? How do you know?
  • How well does your manager know you? How do you know?
  • Are you successful in your job? How do you know?

We talk about employee engagement. Here it is. The essence of engaging the hearts and minds and hands of the people who make leaders successful. They're pretty basic but they take attention and intention.

Through planning and processes and systems, leaders can implement ways for employees to see the connection between what they do everyday and how it matters: to the environment, the community, customers, and even to each other. Embedding metrics for measuring "How I'm doing" takes time but is totally do-able.

Of the three elements of job misery, however, I find that the feeling of being anonymous is the most disheartening. And it can't be faked. Not really. I know of work places where employees can go days without a connection with their manager, not because the manager isn't around, but because the manager is focused on the tasks at hand at the expense of any kind of relationship-building.

What's your take on this prevalent but often ignored topic in the workplace? Does anonymity make people the most miserable?

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What I learned from Great by Choice

BookIn his latest book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins examines why some companies thrive in tumultuous times and extreme environments and why others don't. It's a fantastic read; I highly recommend it.

Collins, his co-author Morten T. Hansen and a team of 20 researchers discovered after 9 years of research that the best leaders were not bigger risk takers, more visionary, or more creative than those who failed to achieve greatness in equally challenging circumstances.

What was it then?

"They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid," Collins says. But it's not those 3 qualities independent of each other that's the key. It's the combined effect of all three that makes the difference. It's the "and" principle at work. The best leaders in the worst times are disciplined AND creative AND what Collins calls "productively paranoid" -- in other words, taking precautions before the storm hits, remaining ever vigilant, and "bounding" the risk.

  • Who do you think of here locally, in a leadership position, who demonstrates all three of those traits in combination?
  • Think of the leaders we've seen come and go over the past five years as we've ridden out this historic recession. Were those who didn't make it lacking in at least one of those combined characteristics?
  • How do these three qualities apply to leaders within your own organization or industry?

I remember the first time I saw the cover of Collins' book at Barnes & Noble last year and was struck by the word "choice" in the title. Choice? Surely Collins' research doesn't show that some leaders choose to be great, and some not.

As Collins explains in his epilogue, "Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstances; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline." It's about taking action in a disciplined way regardless of what's going on in the markets or the environment. A quote by Ron Serino in Great by Choice sums it up well: "Freely chosen, discipline is absolute freedom."

(By the way, Jim Collins is speaking in Des Moines in June at the ABI Taking Care of Business Conference!)

"We Can Do" and you can too

"You don't really need to be a genius. You just need to work hard and you can accomplish anything."

That's what 14-year-old Moshe Kai Cavalin believes. His new book, "We Can Do," hopes to inspire other kids to do amazing things by focusing and approaching everything with total commitment. He means it. And lives it. He has earned two Associates Degrees since he was 8 and is about to graduate with honors from UCLA. He does more than just study though. He enjoys -- and excels at -- scuba diving, soccer, and martial arts.

Oh, and did I mention he's written a book, published in both Chinese and English, and did the translation himself?

Cavalin is to be commended. Being that focused and committed is not easy at any age. But I bet that Cavalin isn't facing a big mortgage or worrying about rising gas prices. Just how practical, and healthy, is all this talk about working hard?

We can. We do. Everyday. It's about rolling up our sleeves and:

  • defining what's really important to us -- our values. That provides focus.
  • putting in extra time and effort which leads to new challenges and opens new doors
  • committing 100% not just to our own success, but to our manager, our team members, our peers, our organization.

Thomas Edison said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Cavalin's been enamored by "overalls" for half his life. You can be too!

The sky is not the limit

No one can put a limit on you without your permission.

Eli Whitney was laughed at when he showed his cotton gin. Edison had to install his electric light free of charge in an office building before anyone would even look at it. The first sewing machine was smashed to pieces by a Boston mob. People scoffed at the idea of railroads. People thought that traveling thirty miles an hour would stop the circulation of the blood. Morse had to plead before ten Congresses before they would even look at his telegraph. Yet for all of these people the sky was not the limit.

In grade school I learned this little ditty and it has stuck with me ever since. "Beware of those who stand aloof and greet each venture with reproof; the world would stop if things were run by men who say, 'It can't be done.'"

Do you hope and strive for the very best, or do you just hope to avoid the worst? Is there some area where you've been your own worst enemy, putting your own limits on success?

Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, but by the time we unlocked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks and shut off the burglar alarm -- it was gone! Don't be one of those leaders who spend their lives looking around, looking down or looking behind, when you need to be looking up. The sky is not the limit.

Look around your world. Can you see the limits, the "I can'ts or shouldn'ts" that you have created for yourself? Remove just one this week and start to see just how high you can go.

Guilty of innovation pitfalls?

JERUSALEM - JANUARY 24:  Yad Vashem director A...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

In Blueprints for Innovation, Prather and Gundry list five pitfalls to innovation. If you're trying to change a process, create a new product or service, or get your team to think in new ways, check out this list of pitfalls. Are you guilty of letting any of them hold you back? Be honest with yourself. Ask others their perspective.

  1. Working on the wrong problem. You may be expending too much energy on something minor or even something that only you see as an issue.
  2. Judging ideas too quickly. There could be a "nugget" buried within a thought and you'll miss it if you're evaluating rather than really listening.
  3. Stopping with the first good idea. When you explore a variety of ideas, you can more carefully analyze, bring key thoughts to the top, blend the best of the best, and chart the path to innovation.
  4. Failure to get a sponsor. You can do few things in isolation, and innovation is dead without the support and blessing of key decision makers and influencers. Selling your idea to others is crucial to moving them forward.
  5. Obeying rules that don't exist. Know what's written in stone and what you see as true because it's always been that way. Innovation comes from those who think differently.

So what do you think? Recognize any stumbling blocks within that list to your own efforts to be more innovative? If so, focus on how you can eliminate it this week.

- Shirley Poertner

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Feed your back burner

English: Sopa de albondigas or Mexican meatbal...Image via Wikipedia

It's soup season. Don't you just love the aroma of a hearty pot of soup that's been simmering all afternoon when you walk into the house after a long winter's day at the office or in the field? I do. 

Our creative minds work kind 'a like that stock pot full of soup on the back burner of your stove.

The back burner of our minds work in much the same way as the back burner of a stove, slowly brewing a pot of vegetables and broth into a delicious, succulent feast of soup. All we have to do is put each of the ingredients in the pot, stir them up, and then leave them alone to cook, only periodically adding a dash of this or that and stirring the pot.

A soup on the back burner needs to cook slowly; if we cook it too fast, the flavors don't blend properly or we burn the ingredients. The back burner of a stove requires little attention; we can cook something else on the front burner at the same time.

Putting problems and decisions on the back burner does two things according to Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey in Slowing Down to the Speed of Life:

  • It allows us to slow down to the moment and attend to what is happening now and enjoy our lives.
  • It puts our most creative and intelligent thinking to work on issues that we have no immediate answer for.

We can solve problems with far greater ease if we feed our back burners. Try intentionally setting on your back burner a pot of problems, a handful of possible solutions, facts, and a timetable for when you need an answer. Like the ingredients of a soup, the thoughts you put on the back burner must now be left alone to cook properly while you go about the daily responsibilities of being a leader.

When you revisit the problem after it's simmered a while, you'll find the ingredients have come together in a way that will surprise you. And the solutions that surface will be much different -- and better -- than what you'd have gotten by turning up the heat and rushing the process.

It's like Emil Vollmer, the inventor, said years ago, "The challenge is the thing. I might not get the answer right away. I might have to walk away, have a cup of coffee, but when I come back, the idea comes to me."

- Shirley Poertner

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Is your name Buffett?

Is your name Perot, Gates or Buffett? Probably not. But it doesn't matter. A name and a bank account may open a door, but ultimately the person who walks through it will be measured by his or her core capabilities and actions. Successes in your past may be noteworthy, but it's how you handle each new challenge before you today that continually shapes your life and eventually your legacy.

Think about your current challenges. Answer these three questions:

  1. Has past success made you "dangerously comfortable" with your life?
  2. Can you risk "certainty" to create new levels of competency?
  3. What can you do to re-invent yourself, expand your skills and awareness, and move forward for self-growth?

The old Irish proverb is right: "You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."

Even if his name was Buffet.

-Shirley Poertner

Actions versus words

"Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't," Margaret Thatcher said.

It's the old "actions speak louder than words" philosophy; those who have to talk about their power are working to convince themselves -- as well as others -- that they really have it and know how to use it. But people become leaders in the eyes of others through their actions, not through their job titles or their rhetoric.

When you think of a true leader, who comes to mind? Who inspires you to be part of their team? What gives that person his or her power? What is his or her uniqueness, and how can you put such skills and capabilities to work for you? Alfred Lord Tennyson called power "self-reverence, self-knowledge and self-control." An organization can bestow a leadership title, but only an individual can earn it.

Identify one element of your leadership style that you would like to focus on in the coming week. Make a list of 3 or 4 specific actions that you could undertake that would help you hone that element. Remember, it's those actions that make all the difference, not the words!

- Shirley Poertner

Just get up!

Vince Lombardi said, "It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up."

Ever had a game plan that simply didn't work? Have there been days in which nothing seemed to go as you'd planned, no matter what you tried to accomplish or how you worked to move forward? How well did you handle your frustration and disappointment? Did you crumble in defeat or display resilience?

Do you make a practice of taking time to calm down, breathe deeply, reflect and develop a bounce-back strategy? A leader is not defeated or distracted by mistakes; a leader asks, "What can I learn from this? How can it empower me? How is this an opportunity to increase competency? What solutions am I not seeing?" A true leader is responsible for leading people out of disappointments and uses them as a way to rally and involve others in problem solving.

Vince Lombardi didn't say this, but he could have: Don't look to learn from those who win every game, go to the top, and then stay there. Look to learn from someone who has won, lost, and come back to win again. It's what you do when you don't win that helps you win in the end.

Try this: Identify someone you could learn from. If they're local, take them to lunch and ask them for tips and suggestions. If they're from elsewhere, or famous, read their blogs or books to gain some insight into their ability to get up when knocked down.

- Shirley Poertner

Who's driving your bus?

Imagine this: you've got a window in your forehead, so you can look in and see what's going on. There in your brain is a steering wheel, a big ole leather seat, and even one of those hats with a badge on it -- just like a Greyhound bus driver wore in the old days.

My question to you is, "Who's driving?" And the answer we often have to give is, "I've got a hijacker driving my bus!" Every one of us has one kind of hijacker or another driving our bus, at least some of the time.

So who's driving your bus? These hijackers or phantom bus drivers are our old, dependable habits. What each one of us is today, for better or worse, is the result of behaviors that we have repeated again and again over months and years and it is the same method -- repetition and practice -- that we must use to replace the hijackers in our driver's seats with new habits. New habits that are more effective and satisfying and that will drive us to a new and better destination.

Scary as it may sound, what you are or will be at sixty is what you are at thirty -- doubled. Unless you decide to change drivers. Now. No other outcome is possible otherwise, for practice makes perfect. With thirty, forty, or more years to drive the same route hundreds of times, your bus driver will be able to do it blindfolded, without even thinking about it.

Want to adopt new habits? Then take these steps:

  1. Name the old habit you want to change or eliminate.
  2. Clearly describe the new habit you want to adopt.
  3. List the steps you will take to get started and keep going.
  4. Identify right now how you keep yourself from deviating from your new habit at the first bump in the road.
  5. Ask someone to help you stay on course and be specific about what you want them to do.

Wrestle the wheel away from your hijackers! Drive your own bus to where you really want to go, not just to the place you happen to be headed.

- Shirley Poertner

Be the best you can be

Jessica Guidobono said, "Every job is a self-portrait of the person who did it. Autograph your work with excellence." When people see your "autograph," what do they see?

An employee went to his supervisor to ask for a raise. "I am already planning on giving you a raise," she said. "Oh, great!" he said. "When will it be effective?" "As soon as you are," she explained.

Do you give your best in your role at work? If a thing is worthy of our time (...and we all certainly dedicate many hours to our professions), it is worthy of our best efforts.

In some of his speeches, Louis T. Rader relates that many top executives feel that a 99 percent effort is good enough. But here is the eye opener. If this figure -- 99 percent -- were converted into our daily non-industrial life, it means that:

  • More than 30,000 babies would be accidentally dropped by doctors and nurses each year.
  • Electricity would be off for fifteen minutes each day.
  • Twelve newborns would be given to the wrong parents daily.
  • 114,500 mismatched pairs of shoes would be shipped each year.
  • 18,322 pieces of mail would be mishandled per hour.
  • 2.5 million books would be shipped with the wrong cover.
  • Two planes would crash daily at Chicago's O'Hare.

Perfection is impossible for us to achieve. But doing and being one's best is not. Texas' first black congresswoman, Barbara Jordon, once said, "Each day you have to look into the mirror and say to yourself, "I'm going to be the best I can no matter what it takes." She never said, "I will be the best." She said, "I will be the best I can."

Think about the effort you put into being the best programmer, the best sales rep, the best leader you can be. How would you rate yourself on a 10 point scale, with 10 being "I consistently give my best" and 1 being "I'm a sluggard."

If your job is a self-portrait of you, are you proud of that portrait?

  • If you can honestly answer "yes," how can you ensure that you maintain that level of effort through the ups and downs of the workplace?
  • If you had to answer "no," what one thing can you do differently starting today that will begin to improve that picture of your and your effort?

- Shirley Poertner


Don't be the bass on the wall

Ever notice that you never see a fish on the wall with its mouth shut?

Opening your mouth can get you in big trouble sometimes. Knowing when to speak up - out of conviction, regardless of the consequences - and when to remain quiet. That's the challenge. It's like teetering on the edge of a precipice. Lean backwards? Or lean over the edge and plunge ahead?

We've been blessed with two ears and one mouth. That's not an accident.

William Penn said, "If thou thinkest twice before thou speakest once, thou wilt speak twice the better for it." My motto has always been, "If in doubt, don't." Saying that phrase to myself in the moment of indecision ("Should I say this or not?") has served me well in the workplace. Seldom have I regretted holding my tongue if that still, small voice inside my head raised a red flag in the heat of the moment.

Can you think of a time when you wished you'd kept your mouth shut because you felt like you ended up mounted on someone's wall for all to see, embarassed and regretful? Think right now of a motto that you can silently say to yourself in those moments of temptation to give yourself time to decide, "Should I say this or not?"

- Shirley Poertner

Bring problems to their knees

Ever heard of Steve Ventura? He's a smart guy. He said, "The hallmark of a well-managed organization is not the absence of problems, but whether or not problems are effectively resolved." Sure beats trying to create a problem-free environment, huh?

Apollo 11, the first successful space flight to land humans on the moon, was off course 80 percent of the time throughout its successful 1969 mission. But thanks to continually making strategic changes and fine-tuning, they reached their goal.

Problems are inevitable and provide the best opportunity for real learning. No one welcomes yet another challenge, but we learn through the experience of dealing with them. Leadership guru Warren Bennis calls mistakes "missteps" that are necessary for actualizing visions and achieving success.

  • When faced with a problem, do you develop and consider at least two solutions? Or three? or four?
  • Are you comfortable with the challenges of "what if's?"
  • Do you consistently look beneath the symptoms to find the root causes?

Decide right now to use your next misstep as a practice field to bring problems to their knees and solve them.

- Shirley Poertner

Don't be a chicken: Fail quickly!

Rooster in grass.Image via Wikipedia

The people who design jet engines use a chicken test. This test fires chickens (usually purchased at the supermarket) at a running engine. They attempt to run this test as early in the design process as possible because if the engine can't pass the test, there is no point in spending additional millions designing it.

Fast failure is acceptable; slow failure is not. But even more unacceptable is NO failure. If you aren't failing anywhere at work, then it's likely that you're not trying hard enough. You are not pushing the envelope.

The following related story may be urban legend but it's a good one. (It comes from David Thielen's, The Twelve Simple Secrets of Microsoft Management.) A British company asked Boeing for one of its chicken guns to test a new jet windshield. After using it the Brits called up Boeing and reported that the chicken went through not only the windshield but also the brick wall behind it. Boeing sent an engineer over to England to investigate. After watching the workers run the test again, Boeing added to the instructions, "Make sure chickens are defrosted before firing."

The point? Identify failure as fast as possible.

  • Sit down and try to come up with everything you're doing that could lead to failure. (It's usually pretty easy to accurately predict all the things that could trip you up. The surprise is usually in which of the predicted items actually did cause the failure.)
  • For each item on your list, figure out how to determine, as early as possible, if this is a showstopper.
  • For each showstopper, don't give up. See if you can find a way around the problem.
  • Only if the problem is truly unsolvable do you kill the project.
  • Oh, and be sure to read the instructions. All the instructions.

- Shirley Poertner

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Hello, obstacles!

Talking To A Brick WallImage by Joriel "Joz" Jimenez via Flickr

Every obstacle introduces a person to himself.

How we respond to obstacles at work is important. No obstacle will ever leave you the way it found you. You will either be better or you will be worse as a result of that confrontation. But keep in mind one important fact about obstacles: every obstacle has a limited lifespan. Many times there are things that we worried about last year that we can't even remember today.

Mediocre leaders tend to be tamed and subdued by obstacles, but great leaders always rise above them. You and I need to be like the leader who, when asked what helped him overcome the obstacles he encountered, responded, "The other obstacles." We should be like a kite that rises against the wind, causing it to fly higher and higher.

What is one of the greatest obstacles that you are facing at work right now?

Lay that obstacle in front of you and take a good hard look at it from a number of perspectives. Flip it over. Turn it inside out if you can. Bring someone else in to look at it and tell you what she sees.

Many times obstacles, given this sort of scrutiny, begin to shrink in size. If nothing else, a number of paths will appear to go over or around or through what might have once seemed insurmountable. And pretty soon, you'll begin to welcome obstacles because you recognize that you're growing in the process of tackling them. Hello, opportunities!

- Shirley Poertner

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Just Believe

Frank Lloyd Wright said, "The thing always happens that you really believe in, the belief in a thing makes it happen." And we know how that turned out for Mr. Wright!

It only takes one idea to change your world. One idea and a trait that all visionary leaders share. Intelligence? A position of power? Charisma? Money? A brilliant plan? We know better, don't we?

The one common component? Belief.

Walt Disney had 84 banks turn down his financing request to create the animated film that introduced the world to Mickey Mouse before bank #85 said yes. Thomas Edison and his buddies tested 10,000 different materials before they discovered one suitable for the filament in electric light bulbs. They just would not give up. They believed.

Now, as a leader you may not have your sights set on inventing a world icon or radically changing the daily life of millions of people. But you are a leader, right? You do have a vision. Are you ready to do whatever it takes to bring that vision to life? Do you believe?

  • What idea do you believe in with such certainty that you know you simply could not walk away from it?
  • What's getting in the way of you making that vision a reality?
  • How could you remove that obstacle?
  • What other obstacles can you anticipate and prepare for in advance?
  • Who could help you?
  • Who would share your vision and belief?

And now the most important question: What are you waiting for?

Start today. Don't give up until it's done. Believe.

- Shirley Poertner

Master the 15-minute meeting

The minute hand at 3, 15 minutesImage via Wikipedia

Want to know something that can make all the difference in a successful day at the office? A must-attend, 15-minute maximum, 8 a.m. meeting in which you surface the day's milestones, needs for assistance, and snafus.

What about when a crisis arises during the day? Call a 15-minute meeting and sort it out.

If you're religious about sticking to the 15-minute-maximum rule, you'll discover you've stumbled across a powerful device that can pretty consistently move the productivity needle in the right direction.

Tom Peters said, "Master the 15-minute meeting! You can change (or at least organize) the world in 15 minutes!"

I don't know about that, but I do know that when people have 15 minutes to get things covered, they get things covered in 15 minutes. There's no room for fat, for pontificating, for unnecessary deference. People learn to state their cases simply and succinctly, which is a valuable, but uncommon, life-skill. Gone are all the small, time-wasting rituals that turn many meetings into endless drones.

The 15-minute-maximum-meeting routine sends powerful messages about action, clarity, brevity and focus. And, oh yes, simplicity, too. Which is another admired but uncommon trait.

Try this:

  • Schedule your first "lightning speed stand-up meeting" in the next 24 hours. And then every 24 hours thereafter.
  • The agenda? (1.) What's happened in the last 24 hours? (2.) What's going on today? (3.) And nothing else. Never go to 16 minutes. Fourteen is just great though. Set the alarm on your Blackberry if it helps. 
  • When you're absent, delegate. Have the meeting whether three people or 14 are in the office. But have the meeting religiously. Make it clear -- as in "What part of 'no' don't you understand?" -- that nobody misses this meeting. Period.
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Hoarding Hinders Success

Silver coins hoard from around 1700, England -...Image via Wikipedia

Face it. Unless your goals are very small, you're going to need help. Or at least some support. Unless you can do the work of the whole team by yourself, both performance and morale are going to suffer. You must quit hoarding and learn to delegate.

Be honest.

  • Do you hoard tasks, keeping your favorite ones for yourself?
  • Do you "throw" tasks at people without an overall plan or sufficient follow-up? And then complain because they never really got it?
  • Do you micromanage because you don't trust others to do it "right?"
  • Do you think it's easier or faster to just do it yourself?

If you answered yes to some of the questions above, you may have a delegation problem. The majority of managers do.

Andrew Carnegie said years ago, "No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it." Wanting all the credit is one thing; wanting to do it all yourself, for whatever reason, is another.

Time is our most precious commodity. There's never enough. One of the main reasons is that managers do too much themselves. They often do too much themselves because of their discomfort with delegation.

We all know cognitively that delegation frees up valuable time. Delegation motivates. Delegation develops people. It gets more done. It's a skill that first-line supervisors are supposed to learn.

Yet, many high level executives still haven't grasped it.

Even senior leaders can be guilty of doing the tactical stuff first and letting everything strategic go until last. And when they do that, they don't have time to develop others. That makes them even more reluctant to delegate work because their team members aren't ready to accept it. Duh!

If you know you hoard tasks and don't delegate effectively, try this:

  • Identify an important goal that's looming for you and your team.
  • Who's most critical to you and the team achieving that success?
  • What are the specifics of what that person needs to know to help achieve that goal?
  • Spend time now with that person and make sure they understand the why as well as the how of the task or project.
  • Then be available to that individual to answer questions, re-direct and reinforce.

You'll find yourself agreeing with William Feather, American author and publisher, who said, "Next to doing a good job yourself, the greatest joy is in having someone else do a first-class job under your direction."


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Frame It Up

Nike shoes.Image via Wikipedia

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region in Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram - or text message - saying, "SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES." The other writes back triumphantly, "GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES."

The frames our minds create define -- and confine -- what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish as new opportunities appear.

Konrad Adenauer said, "We all live under the same sky, but we don't all have the same horizon."

Our minds are designed to string events into story lines, whether there is actually any connection between the parts. These story lines are founded on a network of hidden assumptions, accumulated over time. If we can learn to notice and distinguish these stories and their underlying assumptions, then we can shift the framework to stories whose underlying assumptions allow for new perspectives. Henri Bergson says, "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." Even with something as simple as bare feet.

The next time you need -- or just want -- to look at a situation in new and different ways, ask yourself:

  • What assumptions am I making that I'm not even aware of that give me what I see?
  • What might I now invent that I haven't yet invented that would give me other choices?

We can learn to turn HOPELESS SITUATIONS into GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES just by changing the frame around our stories and their underlying assumptions...and never see things quite the same way again.

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Driving Ambition

A cropped photograph depicts singer Elvis Pres...Image via Wikipedia

Elvis Presley said that "Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine." What a sweet ride! Often it's the only difference between champions and losers. As star golfer Nancy Lopez once said, "Competitors take bad breaks and use them to drive themselves just that much harder. Quitters take bad breaks and use them as reasons to give up."

Donna Karan, the celebrated fashion designer and founder of DKNY, started out in the business as Anne Klein's assistant. But she had a dream with a V8 engine. While pregnant with her first child, she clearly communicated her priorities and goals to Klein. She was committed to the company and wanted to have as active a role as she could during and after her pregnancy, as long as her unborn baby's health would allow it. Anne Klein died when Karan's baby was two days old. The company's corporate head asked Karan to take over as chief designer.

Ambition doesn't mean being a workaholic. Nor does it mean being unethical. It's a combination of goal-setting, focus, engagement and competitiveness. On the golf course, Jack Nicklaus was as driven as they come. But off the course, he managed to build a multi-million-dollar business at the same time, raise a great family, and give back to his profession.

  • Who's your role model when it comes to ambition?
  • Is there someone in your company or your family who combines intensity, passion and focus with the ability to hang on for the long haul?
  • How do they do it? Ask them.

On a scale of one to ten, rank yourself on focus, goal-setting, and competitiveness. Your scores will tell you if you're running at V8 capacity or puttering along on only four cylinders.

- Shirley Poertner

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The Selfish Neither Thrive or Survive

A king piece in chess, with three pawns.Image via Wikipedia

After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box.

There's an important lesson there. Though that Italian Proverb has been around for a long time, it speaks to team life in today's workplace. If you want to be a contributing member of a successful team, you have to put others on the team ahead of yourself. You have to see the good of the team as more important than your own short-term success. How are you when it comes to taking a backseat to others? If someone else gets credit for work well done, does it bother you? If you get bumped from the "starting lineup" of the team, do you pout?

Try this:

  • Are there successful teams in your company? If so, ask to sit in on one of their meetings. What do you see them doing that you can immediately apply to your own team? Talk with some of their team members. Ask them what practices have led to the team's success.
  • Make a list of the three most important elements you took away from those conversations. Bring your team together and begin a conversation about how you might change the way you all work together.

Highly functioning teamwork is important. It can also be a matter of survival. Remember the movie, "March of the Penguins." If emperor penguins in Antarctica don't work together as a team, they die. Period. Thousands of male penguins huddle together, providing each other enough warmth to last through the most brutal subfreezing weather. They take turns walking around the outside of the huddle while those in the middle sleep.

Teamwork means survival, and the selfish don't survive.

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Orville Wright Did Not Have a Pilot's License

My model plane!Image by orangeacid via Flickr

Think about it. Orville had nothing tangilbe or framed on his wall to tell him that he could successfully do what he knew he had to try. And yet how often have you said to yourself, "I'm going to build a Web page after I've taken classes." Or, "I'd go for the sales manager job but without an MBA, what's the use?"

Some of the greatest advances in history were made by individuals who didn't know any better. They didn't know they "couldn't" do what they ended up doing.

Ask yourself:

  • "Is there something I'm putting off doing because I think I'm not quite ready?
  • Am I waiting for permission or validation from someone else?
  • Are the credentials I'm waiting for necessary?" 

What if you just stepped out and did it?

Would you fly?

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Let People Be Different

Mind the dip! Ostrich, near Omuramba, Kunene, ...Image via Wikipedia

David Grayson said, "Commandment number one of any truly civilized society is this: Let people be different." And why not? People ARE different!

For some reason, we can be uncomfortable with people and groups different from ourselves, but we find extreme differences within the animal kingdom as intriguing. Think about it. When it comes to survival, the ostrich seems to lack good sense, has eccentric parenting habits, and can't fly even though it has wings. But it can run 60 mph for 30 minutes to survive a predator.

We appreciate that in the ostrich. But equally as remarkable is the bombardier beetle, which survives by carrying twin storage tanks on its back of hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinone. When threatened, the bombardier beetle mixes those chemicals together, shoots them through a special nozzle and blinds their foe. Now that's also a strategy worthy of admiration.

To survive and thrive in today's global marketplace, it's important that leaders see diversity within their workforce as key. Markets are more diverse. The labor pool is more diverse. And almost every global company's greatest opportunities are in cultures different and more diverse than its home country's. Managing global diversity well starts with understanding and embracing small, local diversity.

As a leader, do you:

  • manage all kinds and classes of people equitably?
  • hire variety and diversity without regard to class?
  • deal effectively with all races, nationalities, cultures, disabilities, ages and both genders?
  • support equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all?

To truly let people be different -- and recognize and embrace and leverage those differences -- you'll want to:

  • understand without judging those who are different from yourself,
  • see people more as individuals and less as a member of a group,
  • recognize your own subtle stereotyping and biases, and
  • be able to make a business -- and personal -- case for diversity.

Differences are good. Mark Twain put it this way: "It is not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horseraces." The same can be said for successful enterprises.

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Is WOO You?

A Sundial by a church wall in Lannion, Brittan...Image via Wikipedia

Raise your hand if you haven't heard of Gallup's StrengthsFinder. Most of us have.

The book, which introduced the concept of nurturing your strengths, came out in 2001: "Now, Discover Your Strengths." Since then, there's been a worldwide conversation about the importance of identifying, nurturing and developing one's strengths, rather than focusing on the difficult and counterproductive task of overcoming weaknesses. Even Benjamin Franklin got it. He said, "Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What's a sundial in the shade?"

Makes sense. And it's a lot more fun than swimming upstream, taking the path of most resistance, rather than flipping over and floating with the current of least resistance.

That's where WOO comes in. It's one of the 34 themes in the StrengthsFinder repertoire. WOO stands for winning others over. Individuals who have this as one of their five greatest strengths enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting others to like them. Strangers are energizing if you're high in WOO. Learning the names of others, asking them questions, and finding areas of common interest are fun and exciting for you.

Once a connection is made, those high in WOO are happy to wrap it up and move on to meet new people in new places. It's not necessarily about making friends; it's about making connections.

Sounds like the quintessential net worker in today's speed-meeting, Facebooking, LinkedIn world, doesn't it?

If WOO is you:

  • Be prepared to explain to others that making connections is an innate part of who you are and how you're wired. To those with a lower WOO ratio, you could seem insincere and overly friendly otherwise.
  • Tap your talent for meeting and greeting new people and putting them at ease. You're the ideal person to serve as a greeter at your church! Find a job where you interact with lots of people over the course of a day.

If WOO is NOT you:

  • Don't despair. (Imagine what the world would be like if everyone had WOO as a top strength!) Reach out to someone with strong WOO talents and let them help you expand the range of your network. It'll be a win for both of you.
  • Don't take it personally if those with WOO as a strength are super friendly, but then don't stay in touch. It's not about you. They're just a sundial looking for more sun!


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It's Time to Defrag

A hard disk drive with the platters and motor ...Image via Wikipedia

Plunk down megabucks for a new computer. Still -- inevitably, eventually -- it'll become sluggish.

Frequent use of certain programs and stored documents causes pieces of information to become scattered, making your computer search for the pieces before they can be used. To fix it? You have to run a program that retrieves the pieces and brings them together where they can be more accessible again.This process is called "defragmentation." The secret is sensing when it's time to defrag.

Life's like that. We're all busy people. Like pieces of information on our hard drives, we can become scattered, and overwhelmed by everything on our plates and the constant pressures of being on call at work 24/7. Research on well-being though shows that the best adjusted people are generally the busiest people, both at work and off-work. The secret is they know when and how to defrag.

Harvey Mackay says, "Knowing when not to work is as important as knowing when to." Because this thing we call work/life balance really has nothing to do with 50/50 or clock time. It has to do with how we use the time we have. Here are three tips for defragging:

  • When you work late and have only an hour with the kids before their bedtime, are you there with them in the present tense? Or are you obsessing about something the CFO said to you in the parking lot after work? Focus on the moment. Defrag for 60 minutes.
  • If your worklife consumes you, add things to your off-work life. Seems counterintuitive, doesn't it? Yet research shows that the best adjusted people forced themselves to structure off-work activities into their schedules, just like they do meetings and offsites at work. They schedule time for the gym, they put date nights on the calendar with their significant others, they set aside 30 minutes a night to read mysteries or romance novels, just for fun. They structure in defragging time.
  • Bring your strengths at work into play at home. If you're great with people, start a neighborhood group to fight for a cause. If you like to organize things, volunteer to start up and organize a committee at church. When you're doing what you're really good at, in a relaxed setting away from the pressures of work, you can easily slip into defrag mode.     

Define what "balance" means for you. Then live it. Before you become sluggish and scattered. Know when it's time to defrag.  

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Short, Simple and to the Point

Knife FoxImage via Wikipedia

I've always said that if you can't explain the essence of a project in one page, you aren't ready to head up that project. Or, if you can't hold a powerful feedback session with employees, using  a one-page document outlining what's working and what's not, you have to question whether you deserve to be their manager. What about not being ready to make a group presentation if you can't talk from a 3X5 card?

I'm fascinated with the idea of brevity. So few can do it well. And yet, how do you know what you really think or want to do unless you can narrow your thoughts down to a razor-sharp focus in just a few words. Until you get to that point, I'm not convinced you actually know what you really want.

As an executive coach, I helped a client a few years ago develop the ability to do this. She'd gotten feedback that she was verbose. Her emails and her in-person exchanges were full of excess words and perceived fluff. She became a master at expressing herself with clarity --whether in writing or in person -- in just a few words. Or a few sentences if necessary. Or if need be, a page. Her influence rose quickly within the organization because people actually heard what she was saying, some for the first time.

Bill Joos is a venture capitalist and a marketeer from Silicon Valley. He gets 95,000 applications for funding. He teaches people how to get heard. He and his team at Garage Technology Ventures whittle that number down to 50 funded projects. Bill teaches entrepreneurs how to get heard by nailing the core business proposition down to just seven words. Seven words! Asking for millions of dollars with a seven-word target.
In a recent CBJ Quarterly (Corridor Business Journal Quarterly), Tim Boyle had "The Final Word" and talked about this topic of brevity. He talked about the power of "the six word synopsis," like an NPR-ish sort of parlor game. It's what great trial lawyers do well, he says. They practice "summation," wrapping up an argument with a punch line. Wham! No way the jurors could miss that point!
It's like Twitter-lite. Tim shared a few of his six-word favorites:
  • Text messaging just isn't cutting it.
  • Cancer diagnosis taught me to live.
  • Smart people can overcome their education.

And the six-word epitaph on a gravestone in Los Angeles, "I told you I was sick."

Can you boil the mission of your department down to six words? If you're unhappy with an employee's performance, how would you convey that in six words, leaving no chance of misunderstanding? What's your leadership vision. "In six words, who are you?"

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Work sucks. Fix it.

"Work sucks," according to Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, unless we rebel and do work differently. Unless we do it the way it makes sense. The way it ought to be done in the Information Age.

Instead, we're stuck in this Industrial Age mindset of forty hours, Monday through Friday, eight to five. And it's making us sick, according to Ressler and Thompson -- authors of Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It. It's why this sense of dread descents upon most of us on Sunday evenings, about the time that Sixty Minutes comes on. We know, deep down, that what we're about to do the next morning is stupid and unhealthy.

The solution as they see it? They call it a Results-Only Work Environment, or ROWE. In a ROWE, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. As long as someone is getting the results they are responsible for, their life is their own.

Ressler and Thompson wrote their book this year to start a movement, a movement to reshape the way things get done at work. They base their belief that this workplace of absolute trust and treating-adults-like-adults will really work on their experience in the early 2000's at Best Buy Corporate headquarters. They implemented ROWE there and found that:

  • employees are happier
  • company productivity is up an average of 35%, and
  • voluntary turnover rates are down as much as 90% in some divisions.

What do you think?

  • Would a ROWE work where you work? Why or why not?
  • How hard would it be for you as a leader to embrace the idea of trust to that extent?
  • Are there some people who would thrive in a ROWE and others who would fail miserably?
  • Do you already set the kind of clear goals and expectations that tell you whether someone is doing their job and getting the results they're supposed to get?

We all need clear targets and results-statements to be able to do our best work. And we'd all like to think that if we were just given the freedom to get those results as we see fit, we'd do it. However, the fact that so many people leave corporate America to start their own enterprises and survive only a year or two --in spite of being their own bosses and having total freedom to get the results they're after -- makes me wonder: like everything else in life, does a ROWE require an awful lot of discipline, more than a lot of us have? I know, that sucks!



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