Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflection and Direction

As 2010 comes to a close, it is important to take time to reflect on the past twelve months.   Make note of the things you did well, and ponder those things you wish you could have done better.  Your reflection should set the stage for thinking about how you are going to approach the new year and how you will face the new challenges and opportunities the future holds.
Whether 2010 was a good year for you or a year worthy of improvement, the time you spend in reflection and the attitude with which you approach 2011 will set the tone for your success in the coming year.  Think about what you will do differently in 2011.  How will you be more effective?  How will you deal differently with people?  What will you contribute to your business, to the community, to your family and your friends?

Think too about the baggage you need to leave behind.  Negative energy detracts from the positive gains you might make in the coming year.  Don't waste time fretting the past.  You cannot change what has happened, you can only impact your future.  Your attitude as you enter the new year will set the tone for your success.  My favorite message on the power of attitude is by writer and clergyman Charles R. Swindol, which he concludes by saying:  
"I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.  And so it is with you...we are in charge of our ATTITUDES."
Keep this in mind as you prepare for 2011.

Finally, to help ensure your goals become reality, share them with someone close to you.  This will transform your goals from thoughts or words on paper to a shared commitment, written with the ink of your integrity.  

I wish you all the best in 2011.  Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Play the Face Card

I've become a big believer in social media.  In fact, I love it!  Our business Knicava could never have positioned itself as it has without the incredible connectivity the social media world facilitates.  Our friend and social media mentor Mark Schaefer has even posted a great story about our success in this area.   Our total investment has been no more than a tutorial by Mark and a bit of time every day connecting to others through FacebookTwitter, Linked-In and our daily blog-reader.

That said, and with no disrespect to the social media world, allow me to now move to the real premise of this post.  NOTHING can replace the value of face-to-face meetings and communication.  Social media is great; its connectivity is endless.  E-mail allows for expedient written communication and the phone still serves as a valuable tool for personalizing contact between two people.  But face-to-face is where the deal gets done.

The challenge with electronic media is that they are one-dimensional; two if you are on the phone, and perhaps 2-1/2 on a video call.  Each missing dimension leaves a void to be filled in by the receiving party, which means what you intended to say may not be what the person on the other end "hears".   That comical tone running through your head as you typed may not match the angry tone your reader saw, despite the :) smiley face.  Even on the phone, the missing dimension of visual cues can mean the difference between closing a deal or walking away from it because you didn't see them blink.  

By personalizing a relationship through a face-to-face meeting, obstacles can be easily overcome and goals more readily accomplished.  From the initial handshake at introduction to eye contact, voice inflection, body language and the general warmth associated with human interaction a personal meeting helps create an environment of cooperation and one-mindedness, which can often be missed in electronic interactions.

So post and tweet away.  Build your base and initiate targeted relationships through social media and other electronic means.  But when the chips are on the table and it's time to close the deal, play the face card and increase  your chances of success.

For more detail on the effect of body language in business situations, read the linked blog by Martin Zwilling.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How Powerful is Your Network?

Your network is one of the most powerful business tools in your toolbox.  But the network isn't just about numbers.  You must build quality into your networking process.

It is true that more connections will increase the probability that somebody in your network aligns with your needs, but managing your network strictly to the numbers will give you a false sense of security.  Anyone can accumulate numbers, but the best of you will build a powerful network of quality connections.

Here are five keys to building and maintaining a powerful business network:
  1. Treat every introduction as an opportunity to add to your network.  One mistake I see people frequently make is filtering relationship opportunities before they have the chance to assess them for potential.  Everybody you meet has the possibility of adding value to your network.  Just because you work in transportation and the person you just met is a jewelry designer doesn't mean you can't find business value in the relationship.  Get to know the other person, help them get to know you and...
  2. Assess every networking opportunity for shared potential.  Your network isn't only about how others can help you.  It is equally about how you can help others.  In fact, the best networks are built on the premise of helping first before asking for help.  Be prepared to approach new network prospects with your value proposition and probe for ways that you can help them.  If you are seen as a person who can solve problems for others, people will line up to help you when you need it most.
  3. Actively manage your network.  Your network is a living organism.  Therefore, it requires constant feeding and nurturing.  Think of it like managing a sales territory.  A good sales person is always in touch with their customers, regardless of where they are in the sales cycle.  You need to do the same with your network.  It may help you to categorize your network connections, giving them a relative priority and to evaluate the priority on a regular basis.  That way you can make sure  you are focusing your time and attention on the relationships that are most likely to align with your current activities and needs.
  4. Don't rely on formal organization relationships for your network.  Many times, particularly with younger people, I have seen a tremendous dependency on the formal organization for their network.  Don't just network within your daily operating sphere.  The best networks are built outside your day to day activities.  Those are the people who will still be there if your current job or company change - for whatever reason.
  5. Help others build their network.  One of the best things you can do for others is to help them build their networks.  Every time you make a new connection,  you should try to introduce that person to two new contacts.  This is a great way to quickly establish the shared potential of your new relationship, and it will ultimately lead to expansion of your own network.
To some, having an overt plan to manage your network may seem a bit mercenary.  However, a powerful network is critical to long term success and your network will ultimately be the foundation of your career.  If you plan and manage it well and if you put the time into developing quality two-way relationships, your network will pay you back many times over.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Give Thanks

On this Thanksgiving day, let us all give thanks for everything that has blessed our lives -

Give thanks for our founding fathers; for their wisdom, for their vision and for their courage.

Give thanks for our families who surround us, who support us and who encourage us even when others won't.

Give thanks for our freedom, for our liberty and for this great nation.

Give thanks for our health.

Give thanks for those who have fought and for those who continue to fight to defend our sovereign rights.

Give thanks for our children who hold the future in their hands and who are not afraid to dream of what could be.

Give thanks for those who serve our communities; those who protect us, those who teach us and those who heal us.

Give thanks for friends, and special thanks for those friends who are no longer with us.

Give thanks for life, that most precious gift.

Give thanks for our spiritual leaders who have chosen a life of humility and grace.

Give thanks to God, the creator of all that is before us.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    The Five-P's of Leadership

    Over the course of my career, I have used a leadership model, which has proven to be very effective in building engaged teams focused on achieving a common set of goals.  The results have been consistently impressive.  In many cases, the teams surprised themselves by far exceeding their own expectations or the expectations that had been set for them; expectations, which at the time were considered by many on the team to be unachievable.

    The Five-P's are five simple principles to be balanced across the organization.  Skipping one, or focusing only on two or three will lessen potential and will create challenging hurdles when it comes to execution.

    The Five-P's are:
    1. Purpose
    2. Perspective
    3. Presence
    4. Process
    5. People
    Purpose:  This is also commonly referred to a the vision and/or the mission.  As the leader you must provide a clearly defined purpose for the team.  You have to create a compelling vision of what will be different.  You must be able to clearly articulate a picture of success and how success will impact the organization and how employees, customers, suppliers and other critical stakeholders will operate in the new environment.  Your statement of purpose must be as simple and as informative as possible.  It must provide clear direction and it must be something the team can reference as an anchor point when faced with decisions.  A well defined purpose will enable your team to make the right decisions based on whether their choice takes them closer to or farther from the desired state.

    Perspective:  Once you have your purpose clearly defined, you need to provide perspective to your team members so each of them understands exactly how their role and daily activities contribute to the greater purpose.  When you provide perspective, team members will be more likely to be able to make decisions on their own, without always having to delegate critical decisions up.  Perspective must range from the top to bottom of the organization.  This critical element is probably the most overlooked in any organization attempting to drive change.  Leaders often believe that after spending time creating their purpose, printing snappy posters and making colorful powerpoint presentations, their job is done:  everybody is on board and success is just around the corner.  The truth is that people more than one layer removed from the creation of the purpose often don't understand it and don't know how their role will contribute to it.  Spending the time to create perspective will go a long way to ensuring success for your team.

    Presence:  The most effective tool in any leader's arsenal is their presence among the critical stakeholders.  Presence means getting up from your desk, and getting out with your people, your customers and your suppliers.  In today's world of instant communications:  e-mail, text messaging, video conferences, etc., the art of presence has been lost in many organizations.  There is NO substitute for face to face interaction.  When people can see the leader's commitment to their new purpose, when they can hear it in the leader's voice and when they can ask the leader directly about how things will change for the organization and for them as individuals, they will be more likely to align themselves with the change and dedicate their efforts to making it happen.

    Process:  Every organization must have a commitment to process and to continuous process improvement.  Without sounding bureaucratic,  I do believe it is important to establish clear processes and procedures for critical operating elements and to follow those closely.  It is also important to ensure that any formal processes and procedures are regularly evaluated for relevance and that those who are involved in their execution are committed to continually improving them.  It is also important that process improvement be managed through a disciplined change management system, which records the reason for change, the desired outcome of change and the actual outcome of the change for future reference.  This important step helps to avoid the future problem of not knowing why a particular change was made and perhaps changing something back to a prior state, without understanding the consequences.

    People:  Last but not least, people must be the focus of every leader.  This may be cliche, but people are the foundation of every organization.  The common thread through each of the previous four elements of this model is the way they connect to the people in the organization.  The most successful leaders I have worked with are the ones who know how to engage the hearts and minds of the majority of their employee base.  Doing so leverages their leadership influence and allows the leader to spend more time focused on developing and executing strategy, and less time dealing with tactical concerns.

    I have found that the simple step of communicating this model to my team before embarking on change goes a long way to helping them to align with the details of whatever changes are required.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Golden Wisdom

    In the last few months, I have come to develop a greater appreciation for the incredible wisdom of our elders.  Maybe this comes from the time my wife and I spend on weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries.  Or perhaps it's my hope that as I am getting older, younger generations will find something useful in what I have to say.

    I received my latest installment of aged wisdom from the 90 year old man who sits near me at our local high school football games.  At a recent game, while I was visiting with him at half time, this gentleman told me the incredible story of his father's journey to the United States in the early 1900's.  My friend and his wife presented a fascinating tale of how his grandfather divided a bag of gold coins among his children the night before their village was to be raided and told them to flee under cover of darkness and to spread their family to the ends of the earth.  With nothing but a few pieces of gold and the clothes on his back, my friend's then 15 year old father made his way from the mountainous Middle Eastern village that had been his ancestral home for centuries to the Boston Harbor, and eventually to Nashville where he became a successful and wealthy business man.

    As my friend finished the story he held out his hand and showed me a gold ring with a small gold coin inlaid in its face.  He told me the ring was made with one of the coins his father had brought with him on his journey.  He then explained that gold had saved his father's life and gold would continue to provide security for his family's future.

    As impressive as that story was, it was my friend's next statement that I found to be even more noteworthy.  He looked directly into my eyes and said:  "Let me tell you something.  Gold is a secure investment and gold saved my family, but nothing will secure your future better than integrity and a strong work ethic."

    Gold, or any wealth by itself is finite.  Left alone, it will eventually run out.  The gold my friend's grandfather gave his children for their escape was enough to secure their freedom and to ensure a continuing family bloodline, but little more.  Once my friend's father arrived in the US, it was his work ethic and moral compass that turned a few remaining gold coins into a thriving business and a family fortune.  This poor immigrant didn't hope for success, or wait for a handout; he worked for his fortune and he earned security for himself and his family.

    By combining a strong desire to work for success and a core set of values upon which your life is based, your life will be golden too, just as the life of my friend had been.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Simple Sells - Passion Wins

    This summer, Facebook topped half a billion subscribers.  To put this in context, in 2002 the entire world-wide web had the same number of users.  Now, one single website has reached that mark.  The continuing explosive growth of virtual connectivity never ceases to amaze me.

    But, I digress...

    More interesting to me than the number of Facebook subscribers was a quote I heard on the radio after the announcement.  A business analyst on our local Fox affiliate said this about Facebook's milestone:  "Something clean, well designed and easy to use can be incredibly successful."

    As I reflected on his insight, I realized how absolutely right he was; not just about Facebook, but about business in general.

    Simply put - Simple Sells.  Some of the world's most successful ideas are also some of the least complex.  To wit:  Post It Notes, Paperclips, Frisbees and Windshield Sun Shades.  In each of these cases, it wasn't the complexity of the idea or the impressiveness of the technology, but rather the simple, purpose driven design that led to success.

    How many times have you seen a product in a store or on TV and said to yourself:  "That is so simple, I should have thought of it."  Or worse:  "I did think of that, but I never pursued it."  The point is this -   ideas are everywhere.  If you have an idea that solves a problem or fills a void, it's likely that others have the same need.  The idea doesn't need to be complicated, as long as it has a purpose.  The simpler the better.

    What is more important than the sophistication of an idea are its utility and the originator's passion.  Even the best idea will wither without the nourishment of passion.  Passion will greatly enhance the odds of success.  Passion gets past obstacles and heals the wounds of rejection.  Passion is what fuels perseverance and creativity.  Passion is most often what differentiates between an idea remaining an idea and an idea that becomes a business reality.

    A simple idea combined with a deep passion for its value will find a home in the global marketplace.

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    The Messages We Send

    "Walk the Talk".  How many times have you heard or said those three words, when in reality what should have been stated was:  "Do as I say, not as I do."?

    Every organization adapts its culture to the actions of its leader.  Depending on the leader, adaptation can take place quickly, or it may occur over the course of several years.  Make no mistake though.  At some point in time, every organization will fall in line and will walk in the shadow of its leader.

    What about you?
    • Are you a leader who preaches the importance of safety, yet leads colleagues across a busy intersection, with a DON'T WALK sign flashing, so you won't be late for your next meeting?
    • Do you talk to people about the value of live communication on the phone or face to face, and then send an e-mail to the person sitting three offices down the hall?
    • Have you championed treating people with dignity and respect, but dismantled a presentation from your sales team in of a room full of people?
    I once worked with a guy (I'll call him Chris) who was a senior executive of a large company.  Chris often spoke about the importance of work-life balance and the value that balance brings to the long-term health of the employees and the organization.  Chris was adamant about employees taking their vacation, and vigilant about people unwinding on weekends.   Chris wanted his team to return to work refreshed and recharged every week.  Chris told his people that in general, he didn't expect them, or even want them to be working when they were away.

    Much to Chris' chagrin, his people never seemed to listen.  Every time one of Chris' staff would go on vacation, they would send and respond to e-mail several times a day. Some seemed to be constantly on line, responding almost immediately to any messages sent their way.

    Once, after a particular staff member returned from a week of vacation, during which he had been e-mailing and phoning into the office daily, Chris sat down with his team and asked why they didn't put work aside for a week and enjoy their time away when on vacation?  After a few awkward moments of silence, someone spoke up and said:  “Well Chris, we hear what you say, but whenever you go away on vacation, you are always sending us e-mail and calling in to see how things are going.  I figured that although you say you don’t want me to work when I am on vacation you do, so you must expect that I will as well.”  Heads nodded around the table.

    Chris didn’t know what to say.  He started to justify himself but he realized right then that if he expected his people to what he wanted them to do, Chris knew he needed to do the same himself and lead by action, not only words.

    You must lead by example.  People will see what you do more clearly than they hear what you say and they will follow your actions more closely than they will your words.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Leadership Values

    I compiled this list of leadership values over the course of my career.  None of it is profound and all of it I have taken from others who have influenced my life.  I share this list with my team each time I join a new organization.  It helps frame the perspective from which I will operate and it lets the team know what will be expected of them.  I hope you find this of value in your work.

    1.   Leadership is lonely.  Sometimes you will make people angry.
    2.   If you believe in people, you believe in safety & diversity.
    3.   Lead by example.  People see what you do more clearly than they hear what you say.
    4.   Don’t mold yourself to the latest fads and buzzwords.  Mold yourself to your beliefs, your values and your convictions.

    5.   Every decision has systemic implications beyond your field of vision.  Understand that, and know there will be unexpected tradeoffs.

    6.   Take the time to explain your decisions to the people who work for you.  Explaining does not mean justifying.  You need to build perspective so people can take ownership.

    7.   Give people the tools and the assistance necessary to do their jobs.  Let each situation dictate your involvement and what is necessary to accomplish the team’s mission.

    8.   Let people make decisions and mistakes.  Help them learn from their mistakes.

    9.   If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on.  Don’t dwell in the past, don’t hold grudges, and don’t make the same mistake twice.

    10.  Sharing a problem is not a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of mutual confidence.

    11.  Don’t blame your problems on others.  Take ownership and search for creative solutions.  Over time, people will recognize the character of a leader and a winner.

    12.  Bad news gets worse with time.  Don’t wait until it is too late to make a difference.

    13.  Good news should be shared, achievements praised and proper credit given to those who deserve it.

    14.  Your success as a leader will be measured by the legacy of the people you leave behind.

    15.  Fight for your people.  Earn their loyalty and their respect.

    16.  Loyalty means when an issue is open for debate, giving your honest opinion, whether the leader agrees or not.  Disagreement at this stage is stimulating.  However, once a decision is made, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.

    17.  If you don’t understand, ask.  If you still don’t understand, ask again.  If you still don’t understand, ask again.  There may be a problem with the speaker rather than with the listener.  Don’t ever let the phrase “I didn’t understand” be the reason for failure.

    18.  Share.  Your success is dependent on the success of the whole.  Isolationism doesn’t work.

    19.  Winning is not the most important thing.  What is important is doing everything within your power to ensure success.  In the end, you must be able to look yourself in the mirror with honor, pride and integrity.

    20.  Although winning isn’t everything, not everybody feels that way.  Understand the world looks at the win/loss column.  Results count.

    21.  Your career is to be enjoyed, not endured.  Have fun at work.  Don’t always run at maximum speed.  Take time off when you’ve earned it.  Spend time with your family.  Weekends and holidays were made to be taken.  Don’t use them as a dumping ground for your inefficiencies.

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Balancing the Essential Elements

    Leonardo DaVinci's Vitruvian Man illustrates the ideal proportions of Man and their relationship to the workings of the universe.  The five points of Man- head, hands and feet are also reflected in the pentagram or five-pointed star, which Pythagoras described as "mathematical perfection".  At the root of both of these depictions is balance and proportion.

    Life is a delicate balance.  Nature demands it.  The slightest imbalance in a person's body chemistry or in the ecosystem of a meadow or a pond can have catastrophic, even fatal consequences.  Yet occasionally our lives go out of balance.  Sometimes with intent, other times we lose our way without knowing it...until it is too late.

    Like the Vitruvian Man and the pentagram, there are five critical elements of balance in our lives:

    1. Spiritual
    2. Physical
    3. Intellectual
    4. Emotional
    5. Economic
    Spiritual:  Christian, Jew or Muslim; Hindu, Buddhist or Taoist, it is important that we establish a spiritual base in our lives.  Spirituality creates the moral boundaries of our existence.  It is what separates right from wrong in society.  It is the foundation for law and the antidote to lawlessness.  Spirituality exists only in human kind.  It is the element which contains our animal instincts and which separates humans from the rest of the living world.

    Physical:  Our physical state of well-being is what allows us to function every day.  People who lead a healthy lifestyle, who moderate what they eat and drink and who exercise regularly have more energy, greater mental alertness and they live longer lives than those who do not.  Loosing our physical health can detract significantly from our ability to effectively manage the other four elements.

    Intellectual:  It isn't just about being smart, but perhaps more importantly it is about how we use the intelligence we have been given.  Intelligence comes in many forms.  Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner has dedicated his life's work to multiple intelligence theory.  Simply put, each of us has an innate ability to understand particular elements, or combinations of elements in the world around us better than others.  We all know people who are brilliant in math or who excel in music, but those same people can get lost walking around the block.  Others are able to accurately assess a person's character in a brief meeting or seem to have a deeper connection to the spiritual world, but they don't know a screw from a nail.   We must work to enhance our intellectual capacity and put to use the intellect we have.  If we don't, it really doesn't matter how smart we are.

    Emotional:  Just as we must take care of our physical health, we must also dedicate part of our lives to maintaining our emotional health and increasing our emotional intelligence.  This includes placing emphasis on creating positive relationships with others and improving our own internal state of mind.  Healthy relationships with our families, our co-workers and friends are essential.  We must also spend time nurturing our self esteem and defining our aspirations.

    Economic:  This is perhaps the element where most of us are at risk of spinning our lives out of balance.  How many people toss some or all of the other four elements out the window in pursuit of wealth?  Financial stability is important, but it can't stand alone in our lives.  I contend that the greater the balance in our lives, the greater will be the potential for economic reward.

    Balancing these five essential elements in our lives isn't easy.  Sometimes life demands that we focus on one element more than another, usually to make up for a period of deficiency.  But on average, in the course of every day, each of these five elements requires attention.  Think of your life as a wheel and these five elements of balance as spokes on that wheel.  If one of the spokes is shorter than the others, or is missing altogether, the ride will be bumpy.  But if all the spokes are there and they are all the same length, imagine the difference in how smoothly your wheel will roll.

    Roll on!

    Saturday, April 24, 2010

    The Power of Balance - Getting Started

    This is my first blog post.

    Over the course of the last few months, I have found myself evolving from using my computer almost exclusively for e-mail and surfing the web to having a Facebook page, Tweeting and now trying my hand at writing a blog. Perhaps one day, this dinosaur will even walk upright and make fire! Stay tuned...

    Balance has always been a part of my life, although like most people, my definition of balance sometimes has to be brought back into alignment by those most important to me; namely - my family.

    Through this blog, I hope to share with you many of the things I have learned about the Power of Balance. I will build on my personal experiences, good and bad, and I will share insights from others. I also hope to learn from you and your experience. How do you put balance in your life? How do you achieve success through the Power of Balance? And, what happens when imbalance creeps in and your life begins to tilt too far one way or the other?

    So, climb aboard and enjoy the ride. I look forward to our adventure together.