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Leadership Thought #480 – Recruiting/Retention Is More Important Than Ever

The war for talent is not just a contrived theory it is reality.  Despite what our politicians may be saying, there are many good jobs out there at all levels of skill, talent and experience. In all my years of consulting/coaching I have never seen a period where so many companies have vacancies for key positions and are having a hard time recruiting for them.  From what I can see, there are several variables driving this phenomenon:

  • A genuine supply and demand issue. In many cases (especially in certain industries), there just aren’t enough talented people to go around.
  • There is so much noise in the recruiting area that it’s getting more difficult to gauge the ROI of recruiting efforts. Traditional methods have become trite.  There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of innovation or differentiation happening in the recruiting space. Quantity is definitely battering quality at the moment.
  • People with minimal work experience are job hopping at an accelerated rate sometimes without any rhyme or reason. This makes it hard for these individuals to develop a truly useful skill set. It’s easy to hire raw, much more difficult to hire seasoned.
  • Employees now think differently about the employee-employer relationship. In essence, top talent now more than ever fully understands their value and will act as free agents and leave if they don’t feel appreciated (and this means different things to different people).
  • Expectations around job flexibility have made it especially difficult for employers who need staff on site and require normal work hours.
  • Our societies continued devaluing of blue collar trade work (to our peril) versus white collar sedentary service-related work. Hard work is less attractive than ever before.  In addition, trade schools and apprentice programs just aren’t churning out enough graduates.
  • Commuting has been become a major issue especially around major cities. Geographical constraints are becoming a significant burden on working families especially those with young children. The job may be a fit with their skills but the effort to get there and the stress around getting back home, as well as accommodating your spouse’s/partner’s work life, can tilt the cost benefit analysis in the wrong direction
  • Employers are getting much better at screening potential applicants and being disciplined about finding a good fit, therefore the process takes longer and filters out more people.

So, if there are not enough people with the right skills and experience who are also able to make the commitments necessary to make the job work, what do you do?  If your key people have ample opportunities to leave if they desire, how do you keep them engaged.  In essence, how can you still recruit and retain talent in this difficult environment?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Make recruiting every employee’s job and incent them accordingly. It’s amazing to me how many employers are willing to pay a recruiter 20% of a first year’s salary, but balk at paying their employees a much smaller percentage than that.
  • Keep communication lines open with vendors and key clients concerning your recruiting needs. In almost all cases, they have a vested interest in your success.  Why not pay them referral fees as well?
  • Don’t just recruit when you have an open position. Always be recruiting for talent at all levels of the organization.  This doesn’t mean you have to hire where no need exists, but you can begin building relationships for when a need arises, upgrade the talent that currently exists and even make some exceptions for the right candidates.
  • Depending upon how many people you hire each year, you may want to hire for in-house full-time recruiting positions who just focus on that. You should certainly keep using recruiters if they have proven effective or you don’t have the volume needs to justify full time hires.  In addition, using both in-house and external talent provides a nice check and balance on the efforts of both.
  • Do your homework and pay what’s required to get the talent you need. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Pay is a dissatisfier not satisfier.  If you buy someone on the cheap they will eventually uncover it and resent you for it.
  • Work with local community colleges, universities, public workforce development agencies, trade associations, and others to build a longer-term pipeline of qualified candidates.
  • Aggressively use internship positions to attract young talent to your company.
  • Use temporary employment agencies wherever feasible and consider a temporary to permanent employment model if they work out for a reasonable period of time.
  • Be much more open to splitting job duties using a part-time model. There are many talented people who for any number of personal reasons cannot work full-time, but they can still add some value.
  • Whenever and wherever possible allow telecommuting at least part time.
  • Don’t keep talent pinned down in any one job too long. Good people want advancement potential and a path to get there.  The path can either be deep or broad depending upon their skill set and personality. If people are learning and growing, they tend to stick around longer.
  • Just as we have a marketing/public relations budget to promote our products/services, we need to invest in selling our company to potential recruits as well.
  • Don’t burn the bridge when good people leave. Keep the door open for them if they decide they want to come back.  Make them feel good and appreciated for the time you spent together.  I would also stay in contact with them and pay referral fees to them as well.
  • Lastly, build an employee friendly culture. Be a place that others want to come work because of how well you treat your employees.  Word does get around.

I’ve always told my clients that business fundamentally comes down to two things: math decisions and people decisions.  In today’s hyper-competitive world for talent, you have no choice but to acknowledge this latter reality and consciously go about outperforming you competitors in your recruiting and retention efforts.

Leadership Thought #419 – The Problem of Attention Deficit Leadership

I have the good fortune to spend a significant amount of time with CEOs and business owners. I may be one of the few people who will spend a full day with them on a regular basis. It’s always fascinating to watch how they cope with a long meeting. For some of them, it is considerable work to stay in one place and focus on one issue for any extended period. They get jittery, shift in their seats, continually check their cell phone or laptop, and quickly jump into action any time there is a break. They definitely suffer from sort of attention deficit syndrome. While I understand this is how many of them are naturally wired, I also notice the most successful of my clients and colleagues tend to be able to hold their focus the longest. The best leaders are able to be fully in the moment of whatever they are doing. When they commit their time and energy to something, they commit fully.

Leaders have far too many tools to distract them these days. It’s easy to default to hyperactivity mode where action and movement trumps everything else. For example, it is impossible to properly listen to someone or fully understand a situation if you are constantly checking in and out of the conversation or thinking about what else you could or should be doing. It worries me that as business and life get increasingly complex, our leaders are losing their capacity to focus and think. More often than not, there isn’t a simple answer or quick fix to issues that end up on the desk of the chief decision-maker. While it has become popular these days to espouse the benefits of learning by failing, some failures are hard to recover from (and completely unnecessary). You can’t just plough forward and believe that courage, confidence, speed, and resilience are the primary secrets to success. The quality of your thinking, application of your experience, soundness of your judgment, and consistency of your efforts are equally important.

I don’t claim to understand all of the psychosocial factors that have led us to this point. Clearly, something is going on in a society where barely a day passes that I do not hear from someone that they or someone they know has ADHD. You all see evidence in Washington and Wall Street that leaders cannot get their heads wrapped around the big important issues and, instead, get distracted by short-term thinking and political competitiveness. Instead of focusing on the greater good through addressing difficult challenges and considering the potential long-term consequences of their actions, it’s all about the next news cycle or quarterly report. Moreover, watching the news has become increasingly frustrating as the broadcasters jump from topic to topic in a disconnected way with no real depth of coverage or understanding of the topic they are presenting. If often feels like we are drinking from an informational fire hose at full blast in hope of quenching our thirst (which never works).

My advice to you is to slow it down, pay attention and be fully in the moment of whatever you are doing. In addition, take the time to fully grasp an issue before rushing to judgment. Let strategy drive tactics; not the other way around. Listen more intentionally and talk less. Prioritize your activities and focus on what is most important. Take your commitments seriously and lead by example in this regard. The world needs more leaders who are attentive, focused thinkers, not just doers. As a society, we need to address the problem of attention-deficit leadership before it is too late.

 

Leadership Thought #424 – The Example of George Washington

Tomorrow is George Washington’s birthday.  There are very few people (and an even a smaller number of Americans) where you can honestly say that their birth ended up changing the course of human history.  Not only did he lead the upstart Continental Army to victory against of the most powerful military power in the world at that time, he also walked away from supreme power when he refused to become king of the newly formed United States of America, and voluntarily gave up his position as our first President.  I think sometimes we forget how unusual, risky, and selfless these two actions were at the time.  You can seriously argue that if George Washington had not existed, the U.S. experiment with democracy would have never had a chance of taking flight and much of modern history could have turned out differently.

While most of us cannot scale the heights of his character there is still much to learn from the man who would not be king:

  • The way you carry yourself as a leader matters.  Washington was known for having impeccable manners and professional attire.  He was also highly regarded for treating everyone around him with dignity and respect.  Your behavior should match the nobility of your purpose.
  • Strive to be as honest and straightforward as possible.  Everyone knew that when you spoke with Washington you were getting the truth and he would be a man of his word including his slaves who were freed upon his death as promised.
  • An army needs structure and discipline and you don’t provide it at your own peril. Washington was definitely a “by the book” type of guy. 
  • Training matters – he made sure his underfunded and overmatched troops where properly drilled and instructed.
  • Keep your communication clear and concise.  Washington was not a great orator or writer. He accepted this fact and instead made sure his messages were devoid of ambiguity.
  • Keep detailed records of important matters in both your personal and professional life.
  • Strategy should drive tactics not the other way around.  The Continental Army lost many more battles than it won, but Washington knew it was a war of attrition and that if he played his cards right the British would eventually give up.  He had a plan and stuck to it, just as Grant did almost 100 years later.
  • Surround yourself with the best talent possible (regardless of politics), give them clear direction and then trust that they will do their job.  And, when you need to give constructive feedback only ever do it in private and in a gracious manner.
  • Experience what your troops are experiencing. Don’t get too far from the front lines or remove yourself from Valley Forge type situations. Your people need to know that you appreciate and care about what they are going through.
  • Don’t get sucked into the vortex of political infighting or non-productive interpersonal communication.  Washington was notorious for always rising above the fray and having little patience for pettiness and backroom posturing.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Understand the moment you are in and focus on the most important issues/ priorities and do those well.  Avoid the leadership temptation of over-reaching.
  • Know when not to fight.  It would have been easy to get pulled back into another conflict after The Revolutionary War  but he steadfastly and wisely refused to take the bait as President.
  • Know when to walk away. It sounds easier than it actually is.  Washington knew when it was time for him to move on and let others step up.  He wouldn’t have been human if his leadership ambitions were never about him, but it does seem that he always put the good of the country above his own ego.
  • Appreciate and love your spouse and be a generous supportive family member and friend.  Your core personal relationships provide the foundation (or not) from which you can cultivate your talents and launch your professional ambitions.

I think sometimes we get a little numb to our annual holidays or other days of remembrance.  I’ve never liked the fact that we simply lump Lincoln and Washington together and call it President’s Day.  If ever there were two American men who deserved their own day of acknowledgement it is these two.  George Washington was truly a great man.  We are all still benefitting from his immense leadership character back in the 18th century.  Our current leaders could learn a great deal from him if they would only take notice and follow his example.  Those of us in other leadership positions also have something to strive for which includes the added benefit of making us better people.

Martin Luther King As A Leader

Donald T. Phillips in his wonderful book, Martin Luther King on Leadership, does a nice job providing significant detail as to why Martin Luther King (MLK) was a great leader.  We often focus on the rhetoric and powerful speeches that he gave, but there is so much more substance to the man than just what he had to say.   There were many civil rights leaders who were talented with their rhetoric, but only one that had the full package of leadership skills to truly change a nation’s attitudes and its laws.  I took away the following points from Phillip’s book about MLK and his gifts as a leader:

  • He was exceptional at tailoring his rhetoric and communication style to fit the needs or particulars of a given situation.
  • He was a very active listener and was diligent about striving to understand individual motivations and the rationale behind different points of view.
  • He was an unusual student of human nature and knew how to connect with people in a positive and nonthreatening manner.
  • He truly led by example, and never asked his people to do anything he wouldn’t do himself and he literally put his life on the line for the cause he believed in.
  • He was a talented grass roots organizer, who had an uncanny ability to get groups of people focused and acting on a common cause.
  • He was an amazing alliance builder and could stitch together strategic coalitions that were critical to what he was trying to achieve on a regional and national level.
  • He was a skilled negotiator and managed to win many incremental battles along the way by being fully prepared and compromising as needed to keep things moving in a positive direction.
  • He was a determined goal setter and planner and was very disciplined about putting the important pieces in place that would leave to goal achievement.
  • He was a staunch advocate of creativity and innovation and was always looking for better and more effective way to get things done.
  • He was a tireless learner who never stopped pushing himself to grow his own capabilities and the skill sets of those around him.
  • When he had to be, he was incredibly decisive and made the tough decisions necessary to move the agenda forward, even under extremely difficult circumstances.
  • He had incredible emotional strength and while some of his peers allowed themselves to succumb to emotional triggers and got sidetracked by personal attacks, he was able to rise above the fray and stay focused on his mission.

I have always believed that the Unites States has been blessed with incredible leaders at certain points in our history.  Martin Luther King is certainly a prime example of this.  At a time where our country was in social and political disarray and struggling to come to grips with our past, present and uncertain future, he stood up and led us in a way we needed to be led.  He pushed our nation to reexamine and live up to our core principles and values.  He appealed to our better natures both individually and collectively. He was the rare breed of nonviolent revolutionary who ended up sacrificing his own life for a cause he deemed greater than himself.   We are all fortunate today that he was such an exceptional leader at a critical time in our history.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019!

I am always drawn to the romantic view of the first Thanksgiving.  Not sure this is fully accurate, but the story informs, nonetheless.

A group of people new to a foreign land begin to build a community completely out of nothing.  They didn’t arrive well-versed in how to do this, but instead figured it out as they went along.  Their motivation was pure and simple: freedom to live their lives as they wanted without fear of retribution.

Another group of Native-American Indians saw the settlers struggling to adjust to their new surroundings and ended up helping them learn to adapt and survive in their new environment.

I am sure there were those on both sides who feared their respective differences, but somehow, they collectively managed to figure it out and respect one another.

Both groups came together at a feast and shared food and traditions from their respective cultures.  They didn’t just eat with one another but also spent several days enjoying each other’s company and getting to know one another better.

I am sure there are holes in the simple retelling of this story (and we all know how it ended up for the Native American Indians), however it did seem for a brief moment in history people of vast differences figured out how to coexist, support and learn from one another.

This is America at its best.  People coming together and rallying around our shared objectives of individual freedom and collective responsibility.  Our diversity of perspective and capability is our strength.  Sadly, our basic human reaction is to fear difference.   However, we are strongest as a country and society when we don’t succumb to these fears and instead strive to understand and respect one another.  Throughout history, it has always been easier for leaders to divide rather than unite us.  All they have to do is prey on our instinctual weaknesses.  In contract, the best leaders encourage us to unify around common goals and objectives that serve all of us better.  This is much harder work especially as our country has grown in size and diversity and become increasingly segmented around differing points of view and socio-economic realities.

Life is not a win-lose proposition.  My gain doesn’t have to be your loss or vice versa.  We can both win just maybe not as much as we’d personally like to.  Living an ethical and moral life always involves some level of sacrifice. I’ve often wondered how different things would have turned out if we embraced the spirit of Thanksgiving and instead on conquering and removing the Native American Indians, we would have instead figured out a way to coexist with them peacefully.   This may sound naïve and Pollyannaish to some, but so be it.  There is always a gap between the “ideal” and the “real.”   That doesn’t mean you don’t strive to bridge the chasm.  Abraham Lincoln during a very dark time in our nation’s history implored us to tap into the “better angels of our nature,” It would be nice if we would heed his advice.  Not just for one day or a holiday season but as an ongoing commitment to one another.

I sincerely hope your family and you have a joyous and peaceful Thanksgiving.  As the year draws to a close, my wish is that 2019 ends better than planned and if not, that you gain the wisdom and resilience to make 2020 a stellar year.  I also hope that instead of yielding to the negative energy of what we all assume to be a difficult election year, we elevate the dialogue amongst ourselves striving to find common positive ground.  In a metaphorical sense, I envision us all sitting around a large Thanksgiving table being thankful for our many individual blessings and shared American destiny.

All the best,

Ed

Leadership Thought #286 – You Either Hit Your Goals Or You Don’t

As we finish off the final accounting on 2019 it’s a useful exercise to reflect on the past year and how we actually performed against the goals we set out at the beginning of last year.   I believe you start by being honest with yourself about whether hit your goals or you didn’t.   There should be no wriggle room or rationalizations.  Progress is certainly good, but it is no substitute for achievement.  Too often in business and life we accept less than stellar results.

There are only five main explanations as to why people don’t hit their goals:

  1. They didn’t believe in the goal in the first place;
  2. There were too many other competing goals;
  3. The goals are set too high and were unrealistic;
  4. Lack of support/buy-in from others critical to goal accomplishment;
  5. A significant personal or professional event intervened and diverted your focus.

First, too many people commit to things they think they should be doing rather than focusing on what they truly believe needs to get done.  Success requires some level of passion and commitment.  If the WHY isn’t big enough, then the HOW won’t matter.   It’s easy to lose focus and get off track if you aren’t really committed to the outcome.  Sometimes something sounds important and makes logical sense, but if your heart isn’t in it, it won’t happen.

Second, people have a tendency to set way too many goals.  In their enthusiasm at the beginning of the year they take a laundry list approach to everything they want to get done and lose all sense of perspective and prioritization.  If everything is a priority, then noting truly is.  Goals shouldn’t be something that would be nice to do, but rather those things you feel compelled to do because of their importance and overall impact on your personal or professional life. I advise my clients and friends to have no more than 5-7 major goals in a given year.

Third, there’s a difference to setting a stretch goal and being completely unrealistic.   There has to be some reasonable chance you can hit your goal. I do have some colleagues/clients who believe that if you set very challenging goals you may not achieve them but the act of trying to get there pushes you to perform at more elevated level than expected. Personally I don’t subscribe to this mindset, but even if you do, there should be some minimal threshold of what is acceptable progress and this bar should be relatively high otherwise you will get used to the idea of ”good enough”  which rarely ever is.

Fourth, no one lives in a vacuum. We are dependent upon other people all the time to get what we want and need.  If your goal requires significant input/effort/support from someone else, you better make sure they are on board with the goal in the first place.  The quickest path to frustration is to assume that your priority is someone else’s priority (even if you pay them to help you).  Goal alignment is the necessary lubricant for success if you want to have any chance of getting there

Finally, the first four reasons are within the realm of our control.  If we are aware of the obstacles going in we can do something about them.  However sometimes extraordinary (often unseen) events do occur and derail our focus and progress.  There is not much you can do when this happens except re-prioritize your efforts around what’s now most important.  Instead of beating yourself up for not being successful, revisit what you originally planned and make reasonable adjustments based of the first four explanations and impact of what you are now dealing with. Don’t lose site of the original destination, but instead design a different possibly longer route to get there.

I encourage you never to get comfortable with non-performance.  It becomes too easy to rationalize why things didn’t happen and live a mediocre life.  As time goes by, the gap between who you wanted to be and who you have become only widens and leads to a negative self-image, bitterness, worry and discontent.  You either hit your goals or you don’t – it’s that simple.

Leadership Thought #245 – Leaders Are Paid To Make the Hard Decisions

Leadership is very rarely about doing what is easy.  If the decision ends up on your desk it typically means no one else can or should be making it.  As Harry Truman was fond of saying, “The buck stops here.”  If you are delegating properly, then your people will feel empowered to step up and make most day-to-day decisions.  If you are picking the right people, then they will be capable of using sound judgment and thinking through just about anything.  However, some issues come down to leadership prerogative and accountability.

As the leader, once you get to 10 or more employees you should spend more time “thinking” and less time “doing”.  This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp.  The reason you ended up where you are is that you were more proactive than others were and did what you said you would do.

As your company grows, the stakes will only get higher and you must accept that you can’t do everything anymore.  What used to be simple decisions become more nuanced and complicated.  You cannot simply outwork the competition anymore and you must also outthink and outmaneuver them.  You no longer have the time to be mired in the weeds of day-to-day business actions and decision making.

A leader should be ahead of the market curve and see things others don’t see.  Today’s opportunities could be tomorrow’s nightmares.  Saying “no” becomes more important than saying “yes.”  Your business model will require constant refinement and can grow stale quickly.   Financial risk can grow exponentially.  New and established competitors will always be lurking on the horizon and testing your vulnerabilities.  Your talented people will want to take more initiative and expect greater autonomy.   Sadly, you will outgrow the capabilities of many loyal people – understanding and acting on this reality while painful is essential to sustained growth and success.

It takes both self-confidence and courage to lead an organization, but you must be careful to keep your ego in check. You won’t always be right, but you should be quick to learn from your mistakes and create an environment where others do the same.   The only way to grow your organization is to grow your people.  The only way to grow your people is to step back and let them do their job.  You already have enough on your plate that needs to be done without getting distracted by the “lower hanging fruit” of other people’s responsibilities.   Creating an environment of accountability is different than doing employee’s jobs for them.

I have a colleague who encourages his clients to put a post it on their computer screen with the question -“Whose job am I doing right now?”  A leader’s job is to ask and then find answers to the difficult questions that are critical to his/her company’s success and survival.   This doesn’t mean you still don’t act as the “closer” on big sales or ensure solid financial management or focus on employee/cultural issues or customer satisfaction.  It does mean, however, that you begin to view these issues strategically not tactically and as part of a larger interconnected strategy that ultimately will need to be executed by others.

Leadership Thought #493 – All Waves Come Crashing to Shore

We have experienced a very good run in business over the past decade or so. After experiencing a difficult recession, our economy roared back to life. Many of us have not only regained but grown our personal wealth as a result. It has been fun to participate in this Bull Market. Business conversations are much less strained when the biggest concerns you have are around managing your growth and not having enough employees. However, all business cycles have peaks and valleys. Anything that goes up will eventually come down (or at least slow down considerably). All waves do come crashing to shore even the beautiful powerful ones.

It’s important when times are good not to take this for granted. When the wave is cresting, ride it. Use this as an opportunity to pay down debt, make strategic investments, enhance margins and increase cash reserves. You can hedge your bets a bit more without worrying about too much market risk and/or volatility. It becomes possible to strengthen both your business and personal balance sheets. Up cycles are what make the responsibilities and rigors of business ownership/leadership worth it.

I do not have a crystal ball and cannot tell you when the next recession will come. I can only guess. There are some early indicators that a correction looms in our not too distant future. I also do know how long or how deep the next market correction will last. All I can say with certainty that it will happen and there will be some adverse consequences for most businesses.

My gut tells me that it is time for business leaders not to double down on high risk possibilities but instead to begin to take a more careful thoughtful approach. Don’t assume that relatively cheap debt will last forever, especially if you are vulnerable to variable interest rates. Lock in your rates now if you can. If you are nearing your debt limits or pushing against loan covenants, it might be time to tighten things up financially to free up a bigger cushion. Look for enhanced opportunities to increase your margins through better pricing and increased efficiencies. Do what you can to limit your company’s economic exposure.

The good news is that smart businesses can even benefit from a downturn. If others are struggling under the weight of bad or mistimed financial decisions, there might be opportunities for you to benefit at a reduced cost. All your competitors who just road the industry wave without doing anything special will be found out. You may be able to leverage your relatively strong cash position to negotiate better business deals and acquire other available companies and/or top talent. To paraphrase Warren Buffett, “when everyone else is nervous and selling, that’s when we gain our confidence and find our best buying opportunities.” However, you need to be in a strong economic position to do this.

Even though all waves do crash to shore, most of the water still returns to the ocean to once again reform in a new wave configuration at some point and time. Thank goodness business leaders are a resilient group. The best ones practice proactive not reactive resilience. They navigate not just where they are now but where the ocean current is taking them. They position themselves to ride the waves higher and longer than anyone else but don’t operate under the illusion that any given wave will not end. It’s the ability to stay in the water to keep finding and surfing waves when others can’t or won’t that ultimately makes all the difference to your business.

Leadership Thought #348 – Do You Know What Truly Makes You Happy?

Quite a few people out there claim to know what will make us happy.  I am always a bit suspect of accepting general answers to mostly subjective questions.  One person’s happiness can be another person’s burden, obligation or chore.  My contention is that most people don’t spend enough time truly trying to get in touch with themselves as individuals and what honestly makes them happy.  In fact, we often feel a bit sheepish or odd when we don’t follow a conventional formula for happiness.   There is this overriding sense that it is better to fit in than be different – which is nonsense and a direct pathway to personal malaise and/or unhappiness.

The media tries to sell us a package of success and happiness that typically involves good looks, money, sex, fame, power, prestige and acquiring things.  You can’t blame them.  Media executives are mostly in the business of selling us things we do not need, so if they work hard to create perceived deficits in our lives so we will try to fill the gaps.  If only you were thinner, had whiter teeth, better hair, a more expensive car, bigger house, nicer things, cool gadgets, perfect kids, a more understanding spouse, and took luxurious vacations, you would be happier.

We all know this is not true.  There are no shortcuts.  Look at Hollywood – there is never a shortage of unhappiness fodder for the tabloids (and with network media that is unfortunately becoming the same thing).

I don’t claim to have any answers except that you need to keep asking the right questions, having new experiences, stepping outside your comfort zone, and embracing your own individuality.  You need to fully explore being you!

Each one of us is a miracle of nature full of many gifts and talents.  Pay attention to what makes you feel good about yourself, to what fits your natural abilities, to what prompts you to be more charitable towards others, and to what leads you towards healthier lifestyle behaviors.  It is always preferable to spend time with people who help bring these things out of you.  I’ve read about and also experienced myself that when you are truly in a space of pure joy and contentment, time seems to stand still and life feels almost effortless.   I am fairly certain we would all like to experience more moments like this.

As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “To thine own self be true…”

Leadership Thought #425 – 10 Ways To Ensure Your Business Success As A Leader

I often tell my clients that business is simple but people complicate it.  A few basic things every leader can do will increase their effectiveness right away.  If you practice discipline on the following items 10 items, I guarantee you will see rapidly improved business results:

  1. You mission statement and core values should be easy to read and understandable and revisited in every leadership/management meeting before you get started. This information also should be posted in as many locations as possible.
  2. Make sure your organization manages to a dashboard of 5-7 key performance indicators and that this information is made public and the topic of ongoing management discussions.
  3. The organization should go through a strategic planning process every 3-5 years where you establish a strategic direction for the company with supporting goals and major action items.
  4. Make sure you don’t make big decisions in an ad hoc or gut level fashion. Create and use a formal decision making filtering process aligned with the previous three points and stick to it.
  5. Make sure each of your direct reports has a succinct position description with crystal clear responsibilities and definitions of success. Individual definitions of success should easily track back to your mission, values, goals and organization-wide key performance indicators.
  6. Have regular 1-1 meetings with your direct reports where you discuss their individual progress in their position, obstacles to their continued success, balancing of shifting priorities, check-in on major action items, and discuss training/support needs. I highly encourage you to create a 1-1 culture throughout all levels of your company.
  7. Have all of your direct reports meet together as a leadership team at least monthly where you discuss progress against key performance indicators and goals, balance organization-wide priorities, and coordinate performance efforts.
  8. Make sure you have an HR approach that hires people carefully and screens individual employees for basic leadership/management competencies before you promote them into a supervisory position. Once the move is made, ensure there is ongoing training and support to maximize individual growth and development.
  9. Create the infrastructure within your company to regularly solicit customer feedback, reward success, identify opportunities, and make adjustments based on this information.
  10. Make sure every employee has at least some variable pay built into his or her compensation package. The higher an individual goes in your organization the more of their pay should fluctuate based on performance.

Leadership is not rocket science.  Creating the conditions for business success is actually pretty basic:

  • Be clear about where you are going and why
  • Define what success looks like and track performance
  • Make sure all of your key people on the same page
  • Don’t “wing it” when it comes to important decisions
  • Ensure that every single employee knows how they fit in the big picture and what they are supposed to be doing
  • Create a process for providing on-going performance feedback
  • Hold people accountable for results
  • Be careful about who you hire and put in supervisory roles
  • Provide extensive training and support
  • Never stop communicating with your customers
  • Make sure everyone shares in the success of the business but also feels the pinch of nonperformance

There Is Much To Learn From Saint Patrick

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo

Statue of St. Patrick in Aughagower, County Mayo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You don’t have to be Catholic to admire and appreciate the life of St. Patrick – the Patron Saint of Ireland.  He was born more than 1,600 years ago but his memory still lives on.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that his holiday is often a day of much fanfare and celebration for people of Irish background.  Saint Patrick himself was known to enjoy a drink or two.  However the celebratory aspect of the day should not overshadow the remarkable life and good works of the man.

As a teenager of wealth and privilege he was kidnapped and taken from his adopted home of Scotland (his parents were originally from Rome) bought to Ireland and sold into slavery.  At the age of 20 he escaped his bondage and found his way back home only to volunteer to return again to Ireland in his 30s as an ordained priest on a missionary quest. He spent the remainder of his life spreading his beliefs throughout the country and converting people from all walks of life.  It’s worth noting that his journey was not an easy one and he was often imprisoned and beaten because of the courage of his convictions and success of his work.

There is much to learn from the life of Saint Patrick including the following:

  • No matter what happens to you don’t forsake hope or allow yourself to be fully defined by your adverse circumstances;
  • A life of privilege is meaningless unless you can anchor it to something more profound and “bigger” than yourself;
  • Committing yourself to a cause you believe in is not for the feint of heart and requires courage and persistence;
  • You can accomplish great things in life if you truly believe in what you are doing and your values align with your work;
  • Confront your fears head on and grow because of (not in spite of)  your bad experiences;
  • Speak out when you see and injustice and help others whenever you can (even if there is a price to pay for this behavior);
  • A life of significance is the result of diligent daily effort.

To my knowledge Saint Patrick was never officially canonized by the Vatican but he is still on the list of saints.  Sometimes a life’s work stands on its own.  If and when you raise a glass in toast this weekend, I encourage to consider toasting Saint Patrick.  He was a special man who accomplished great things despite many difficulties and hardships.  He put the welfare of others ahead of his own and literally was the spark that transformed the religious faith of a nation.

Leadership Thought #301 – President’s Day Is A Special Day

President’s Day is a very special day.  We take time to honor two great men and past presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.   A case could easily be made that without the influence and leadership of these two men our country wouldn’t exist or at least wouldn’t be as strong and united as it is today.  In their own way they contributed to building a strong national foundation which required great personal sacrifice and the willingness to make bold decisions focused on the greater good.

George Washington was a man who could have easily remained a loyalist.  He had much to lose and little to gain by standing up to England at a time when it was near the peak of its military dominance.   His life could have been filled with wealth and privilege if he just went along with the status quo.  He certainly wouldn’t of had to spend so much time away from his beloved wife Martha and their beautiful home/farm at Mount Vernon.

When you read about Washington you get the sense that he knew he was predestined for greatness. It is clear he felt it was incumbent upon him to live a life that warranted this responsibility.   He strived to build the personal fortitude to step up when the time came regardless of the circumstances.  He led the Continental Army for the duration of the long war without pay only asking that Congress reimburse his relatively meager expenses.  He lost more battles then he won, but was keenly aware of his resource/skill disadvantages and won when it counted.  It is said that when he walked into a room he earned instant respect and made all of those around him better.  Moreover, when they wanted to make him a king, he voluntarily gave up power and stayed true to the democratic origins of the movement.  Just look at world politics today.  How many leaders or revolutionaries walk away from power once they achieve it?  A rare man indeed!

Unlike Washington, Lincoln was born to very humble circumstances.  With only one year of formal schooling he managed to become one of the most widely quoted leaders in modern history.  His childhood was filled with much adversity and his path to leadership a very difficult one.  Lesser men would have given up at many different times, but Lincoln persevered.  He always persevered.

At a time where our country was coming apart at the seams and some would say the very morality of our nation was being tested, Lincoln stepped up to the challenge. He chose to do what’s right rather than what would have been easy or politically convenient.  He suffered constant personal attacks and second guessing of his leadership abilities but soldiered on anyway.  When times looked dark and it would have easy to give up, he stayed the course and never lost sight of what was most important.  He literally risked everything and gave his life for a cause he believed in which was keeping our relatively young country united and committed to the value and dignity of all human life.

So far our country has been very fortunate that throughout its history we have been able to find leaders both willing and able to step up to whatever big challenges confronted us.   I believe that this leadership has been what has kept us strong and united at time when it could have been easy to dissolve or come apart.  The growth and trajectory of the United States as a world power and beacon of democratic principles is unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Let us hope we find similar leadership as we need it in the future. Washington and Lincoln cast a big shadow and raise the bar considerably on what we can and should expect from our leaders.   Greatness may be rare but it is often required to keep a community, organization, society, nation or mankind on the right track.