Category Archives: Business Posts

Mentoring: Avoiding Task List Target Practice. Part 2 of 2

This is part two of a two-part article.  The first installation was published on June 6, 2010.

This post  is for leaders — from students to mid-level managers like me — dealing with workaday problems.  It is about the importance of seeking mentoring to inspire you to in times of frustration.  It is for people who have been frustrated for so long, they may have forgotten how to reset the Attitude button and release themselves from suffocating frustration at work.

My favorite gems from AL, with my own perspective woven in, included:

  1. A manager, even a great leader, has only a small role in an employee’s career success.  Ultimately, the employee is responsible for using the opportunities given her or him.  And it is that individual’s responsibility for having the “fire” in her or his belly. Continue reading

Get unstuck: Avoiding Task List Target Practice. Part 1 of 2

This is part one of a two-part article.  The second installation will be published on June 7, 2010.

This post  is for leaders — from students to mid-level managers like me — dealing with workaday problems.  It is about the importance of seeking mentoring to inspire you.  It is for people who have been frustrated for so long, they may have forgotten how to reset the Attitude button and release themselves from suffocating intellectually.

For weeks, I wrestled with some turbulent leadership learning opportunities.  It seemed at every turn, the reality of our progress was subdued by a few key colleagues’ ability to make it seem like failure.  As a result, I was, by definition, “stuck.”  Folks in my Accountability Group worried openly about me, and my usual laid-back demeanor was wound tight.

I faced more than a reasonable number of issues in which I felt compromised, undermined, or simply overruled, even though I was responsible for setting and leading a team in accomplishing objectives.

I started last week with the belief that none of the grinding, intense work I — and numerous other staff — were putting in was netting us enough productivity or, to be frank, appreciation.  In the last year or two, our business unit has undergone extraordinary change, from who sits in each proverbial seat on the bus, to how we manage our business processes and track productivity, to how we assess what success looks like.  We went from a larger staff to a smaller one as we launched major new initiatives.  We went from young guns anxious to correct the boss to young guns being bosses.  My self-congratulatory takeaway is that progress and change, and both measuring and sharing productivity,  are fearsome threats to the ineffective and unfocused among us.

At any rate, a couple days ago, my outlook changed.  Why?  I had  lunch with a person I admire and respect deeply, and who is one of the most intelligent leaders I know.  I shall query him and question him, and call him AL.  This meeting was like getting an iPad for Father’s Day when all you rightly and happily expected was a card; it was a huge treat. Continue reading

Tiger Woods: a study in failing your unforgivingly adoring public; or why PR is important

If you have ever wanted a case study in how petty and fickle the American public and media are about celebrities’ fame, just look at the scrutiny and criticism Tiger Woods is enduring after what amounts to a wacky accident.  With little factual evidence to support it, every national media outlet from the Today Show, to the National Enquirer to the East Sheboygan Cougar newsletter is reveling in the wrecked front end of Tiger’s Cadillac SUV.

Few public opinion leaders consider this a private matter, despite the fact that it happened on private property, in a gated community, in the early morning darkness of Black Friday.  And despite the fact that it was a single vehicle incident.  And despite the fact that he has complied with Florida’s incident reporting requirements.

It seems clear to me that he has finally shown a degree of . . . humanness that his gleeful critics can swarm around and chew on greedily.  Unfortunately, his million-dollar handlers have failed miserably as they backtrack, stumble and grope, and otherwise flail toward a plausible explanation.

Perhaps because their own livelihood hinges on Tiger’s sterling public image, or their acquiescence with his demands, it seems his “team” is using tactics that only invite more scrutiny and distrust.

Whether the result of a domestic feud, or his body fat percentage dipping precipitously low, Tiger’s most recent weekend green-side duel shows that even he is susceptible to inferior guidance and public gaffes.  In the first public relations course most students take, sage past practitioners extoll the virtues of candor and quick control of messy PR issues.  Even by this elementary tactical decision, Tiger’s “people” failed him.  And ultimately, his delicate position atop the marketing mountain of gold may be modestly damaged by their inability to humanize their client, and give him an authentic, honest, human persona during this crisis.  That, he could survive.

And shame on them, because ultimately, an “adoring” but publicity-addicted public is likely to forget about, or forgive, Tiger for a domestic transgression against his wife.  But they simply cannot forget Tiger lying to them.  To violate a private trust can be understood.  But to violate the trust of your adoring public is unforgivable.  Heaven forbid the adoring public  should no longer enjoy the . . . intimacy of totally understanding the Billionaire Next Door.  I mean, we buy AT&T cell phones and Tag Heuer watches because of this guy.  Even a glancing blow at the real cause of the accident would allow us to let it go.  His PR team should trust the pace of today’s sports news cycle to relegate this to the middle of the trash heap within hours.  Instead, their antics are keeping right at the forefront.

Whatever public humiliation and financial setbacks Tiger will suffer because of this, his PR team should suffer the most for leading him down a path that takes him farther away from the supposed trust he has asked fans, wealthy shoppers and investors to share with him.

Tiger, so the public sentiment seems to say, can lie to his wife.  But he can’t lie to his fans.  The relationships at home are much more forgiving than those you share with the public.  That is what top PR pros get paid to tell high-profile clients, like Tiger Woods.

One man’s race toward a conquered e-mail inbox

E-mail has ruined my life. Well, it nearly ruined my ability to be effective at my real job. An inbox that always hovered near 300 unchecked emails had become a real obstacle to effectiveness. All those missives felt like a few hundred gnats flitting about, each waiting for either a swat, a blast of creative problem solving, or an observant eye followed by studied response. While I may never control all of the factors contributing to my inbox infestation, I did strike back today.

ZERO TOLERANCE
I feel like I earned my first merit badge for mastering a particularly distasteful task. After many fits and starts in which I would create modest goals — “today, I get my inbox down to below 200 unchecked email,” or “this week, I want to dip below 100 before I leave for the weekend” — today, I got up the brass to make the only meaningful strike in the e-mail wars: ZERO to go. Yep, I chose to conquer instead of divide.

I owe the inspiration to my wife, a regular witness to my anxiety attacks. Her good counsel over the weekend helped finally make me commit to eliminate the stench of outdated text, rotted requests, stale suggestions, and Cover-Your-Ass “Reply-to-Alls.” And the final push came from a trusted colleague who suggested I had to set my mental picture firmly: ZERO survivors! Every email must be dealt with today.

First, it bears noting that I have repeatedly documented my frustration with my email inbox. Organizational mavens I trust and seek out for counsel have provided websites, blog entries, DIY tactics, professional gurus, and more to kick me into high gear. None got me where I needed to be. But today, it all came together and I conquered my massive mail maelstrom.

There are two ingredients I used to beat back the fatal funk of forlorn documentation: the time to focus, and the willingness to take immediate action on every untended email..

FIRST: A DISCLAIMER
The success of the plan was keyed by the fact that today is a holiday, which rendered many vacationing Time Bandits (colleagues) powerless to interfere with my self-centered project. No impromptu meetings, no hallway deliberations, no email tidal waves or Carbon Copy-fests that create inbox litter. The relative solitude of Labor Day turned into the perfect opportunity to focus on the beast beast.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
1. Seniority Rules. I inverted my inbox and sorted it by date, oldest on top. I normally deal with email based on recency, so the newest issues get my attention first . I do this because in reading the most recent emails first, I can follow the preceding thread in sequence in one email, thereby eliminating both the propensity to respond to an early post without the benefit of the latter submission; and reducing the number of posts I have to read to get a complete situation report. Looking at the oldest stuff meant I could quickly assess which had already been concluded by face-to-face chats or the “recency” solution above.

2. Dump the dead weight. I set my sights on the target and promised to take no prisoners. I took advantage of Outlook’s nifty preview panel to quick-scan each email. I . . . and its still hard to say . . . I decided a nominal amount of social and professional dialogue and educational tips would be sacrificed for the greater good. I may miss a blood drive or movie night, but its a risk I can accept.

I isolated and quickly deleted list-serve discussions, sales mail, Outlook Updates, group distributions, and old event invites. I used the CTRL + DELETE buttons to kill single posts and the SHIFT + DELETE combo for mass email destruction. Few of these were from real individuals whose work depended on my response. So I didn’t bother to give them one!

This lightened my load from a staggering 360 emails to a manageable 200. And it gets better. I realized many of the untended communiques were progress updates on staff projects; things I had spot-checked along the way, then ignored because they didn’t require my response. Why I didn’t just delete them I will never know. But there went another 50 or so.

3. SPEED ROUND. Finally, I gathered the remaining 150 emails and began a triage exercise. I would either delete, file or respond to each. About 20 percent of these were CYA responses from others. These got deleted with glee. Another 50 percent simply needed to be filed; and the remaining 30 percent required some action or engagement on my part.

With the inbox count hovering in the low-100s after deleting and filing, I was quite motivated to power through and provide quick, but careful responses to the remaining posts. Most of these were less than one week old, suggesting my system of stockpiling dead mail in my inbox was frustrating but not negligent.

FINISHING STRONG
By 5:30 this evening, I had the list down to one unread email. As the street light came on, and the crickets started to chirp outside, I got the sign to get my butt home for dinner as I hit the OPEN button on that final unchecked email. I responded sweetly, mildly, succinctly, and with pleasant salutations. Just like in the old days.

Today, I won. For however briefly, I tasted the sweet nectar of control.

Thanks to Teri, first and foremost, for instilling in me the vision over the weekend to attack this challenge. Thanks to a trusted friend and colleague for helping drive home the need for me to quit stalling and take immediate action. And thanks for those who were part of the journey to get to this point. You each made a difference, and I finally did it.

If you have to manage mountains of data, content and news daily; then distribute, delegate, or delete it all to keep the balls balanced, you will appreciate the feat. “Nothing” never felt so good! And I left ZERO survivors.

Facebook: Will it keep you from, or encourage you to return to campus?

Alumni professionals, alumni volunteers and freelancers (alumni who increasingly plan their own class and group reunions without requesting support from the institution), here’s the big question facing Alumni Associations today: does social networking online help, hurt, or not affect your interest in returning to your alma mater?

Andy Shaindlin, the most important thought leader and thought-provoker in the profession today, offers up this:

Reunions in the Digital Age: More Compelling, or Less?

From where I sit, I believe Facebook in particular has given us our best shot in years at actually growing reunion participation.  From class leaders creating Facebook pages to promote reunion and reconnect folks, to independent alumni building their own reunions (freelance volunteer), this online tool has certainly improved vastly the ties alumni have to their college experiences.

My theory is that more people will attend reunions, but more importantly, and here is where we alumni staffers need to pay attention: alumni will increasingly fall into the freelance volunteer category.  I use this term to describe alumni who, for a variety of very good reasons, believe they can represent the institution and draw more people to college/class reunion/alumni events if the institution just leaves them to their own devices.  They have the local resources to pull events off, use Facebook to connect their friends to the event, and they importantly, are working with affection for the institution, not antagonism.

These events have grown at Lynchburg College —  in New York City, Georgetown/Washington, and elsewhere — and seem to meet a critical need for these folks to get together with their tightest circles of buddies, on their terms, without fear that they will have to spend lots of time gripping and grinning with officials and party crashers.

Ultimately there is only one right way to “commit” affinity programming properly: the way that makes the most people the most connected to their alma mater, and committed to being more engaged through event attendance, volunteering, and giving.  And the folks on campus need to be prepared to serve these alumni where they are.

If these phenomena — from Facebook to freelancers — serve as a gateway to a greater level of engagement for a segment of our population, we should support them fully, because they are helping us succeed.  And right now, that is what I see happening.  It will be interesting to watch it develop, and see whether we will ever be able to tie these tools to increases in those metric areas I mentioned above.

What do you think?  As you respond, describe your relationship to alma mater (staffer, committee volunteer, or freelance volunteer)

Leadership: Its about what you leave behind

Tonight, near the very end of a great vacation, I dined on fresh green beans and the star of the show, stuffed shells in meat sauce.  It was sublime.  And it was prepared completely by a nine and eight year old.  My daughters reminded me, perhaps even taught me, about the power of a legacy.  They demonstrated the impact a powerful leader can have on the world, in microcosm.

How do I make the leap from stuffed shells to leadership?  In a word, my wife.  As I prepared my plate, I expected a plate of maudlin food that I would nonetheless rave about.  Instead, what I tasted was honest, delicious stuffed shells, flavored with delicate spices, perfectly mixed cheeses and rich sauce.  If I had tasted this blind in a restaurant, I would gladly pay money to enjoy the rest of the plateful.

MOTHER AS LEADER

But the journey to this point is the real story here.  Their mother, my wife, has not only lavished these girls — and me — with love, but she has taught them skills that will prepare them for self-sufficiency later in life.  If you had to boil down a leader’s job to one sentence, is that not it?  To teach those you work with to perform competently and flourish even in your absence?

In short, she has demonstrated, in our home, leadership skills that have helped her in several demanding corporate management positions.  Every day, she quietly imparts upon them wisdom she has gleaned from her mentors — parents, grandmothers, teachers, pastors — and from her own journey.  Today, I realized that she has done it all in a way that has motivated, even excited, our daughters to do it for themselves.

So, it quickly became clear to me.  My wife, while holding down a full-time job, serving as the family CFO and COO, and balancing my ridiculous schedule with our other priorities, has also done an astounding job of motivating, educating, creating inspired vision, and building a commitment to high quality.  And she did it with two pre-adolescent girls who have not even figured out what they want to do in the morning, much less with their lives.

A LOVING TEACHER MAKES A GREAT LEADER

I wish I could bottle the constant, gentle pressure she has applied every day for the past nine years.  That is the level of commitment it took for both of us to enjoy a gourmet meal this evening.  It would be rather inaccurate to say she didn’t help prepare it.  Instead, I submit that she has been preparing tonight’s meal since 1998, when our oldest was born.  The preparation has included daily lessons on life, personal values, faith, and a thousand other things we want them to know when they finally depart this house and stand on their own two feet.

And even their preparation has been preceded by many years that her mother and grandmothers poured into her.  And generations past flavored this meal by virtue of the legacies they passed on to their successors: our forefathers.

So you can understand that as I helped myself to seconds, I tasted family reunions past, vacations of years gone by, the love of mothers teaching their children in front of ancient stoves.  Pinches of love, pounds of compassion, mounds of caring, and an undying commitment to preserving the pride of generations succeeding on the shoulders of our predecessors.  That is what I tasted.

LEADERSHIP IS AN EVERY-DAY, ALL-DAY PURSUIT

So as leaders, we must take my wife’s example.  We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of expedience and convenience.  We cannot be insistent on quality today, while allowing mediocrity to persist tomorrow.  We must believe with confidence that what we are teaching, and insisting on from ourselves and our peers and colleagues is based on righteous values.  It’s our job to tirelessly coax maximum accountability out of others, while remembering that what we are really doing is two-fold.  First, we are honoring the legacy that we inherited by giving our complete selves over to passing it on.  And second, we are living and teaching with the passion, values, motivations and commitment to quality needed to maintain and grow that legacy.

That is our job, and my wife taught an enormous life lesson to my kids, but she taught an even bigger one to me about leadership.

And so I close, ready to return to work from vacation, rested, sun-dried, and ready to recommit myself to growing the legacy I inherited both professionally and personally.  And that didn’t come from the beach or golf course, but from the woman who stands with me every day.  I am indeed blessed to have such a strong leader in my life.

INKspots

What do you think about a series of posts that deal with books I am reading? I am thinking it would be valuable for me, and interesting for a few readers, to cull the most entertaining and impactful points and note them here for discussion.

Some of the texts will be professional development types and others will be topical and based on novels. I will categorize them so you don’t have to scroll through irrelevant posts.

First up will be excerpts from the excellent business tome by NYC restaurateur Danny Meyer. The title, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, gives hardly a clue about the amazing business lessons couched in the exciting money and anxiety-drenched restaurant scene in America’s gustatory capital, the Big Apple.

These points will include nuggets including Meyers lessons on enlightened hospitality; gentle, constant pressure to achieve optimal team performance; and “trailing” as a way to get all members of his organization to buy in to hiring and staff morale issues. Check back Monday when you have a minute.