On two very recent occasions, I’ve had some leaders relay information that in their mind, were really great achievements. In most of these cases, I am either a stakeholder or a part of the board so my question in return is “Compared to what?”
After they want to pick something up to throw at me I just explain that when we’re measuring success, achievement, completion or whatever that we choose, we need to make sure that we’ve got the right benchmark to start off with.
A benchmark is a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed. It’s in some people’s nature to use a lower benchmark or in the case of government speak, a skewed benchmark to show progress. If someone says “We are excited we met budget this year or that we did better than the other division”, my initial response is “are you sure you want to be comparing with that benchmark?”
It’s like my son telling me “Dad, at least I’m not like Steve. He got two DWI’s, and a 2.0 last semester”. Ok, so maybe we should talk about who you benchmark against. I’ve got a friend who likes to say “I’m average at best”. I’ve always held the opinion we’re made in the image of God, so although I’m certainly not perfect, I would never call God average. I think His benchmark is a little higher than that.
Baseball…God’s sport. It all started in Genesis, “In the Big Inning…” After thirteen years coaching the kids, I think I gained as much or more than they did. Made a ton of friends, and some enemies unfortunately. Some lessons to be learned
* Always be coachable
* Learn to deal with failure, it’s part of the game
* Always adjust to the current game
* Never give up until the game’s over, then apply lessons learned
*Always want the ball!
On several occasions, when President Bush made his trips to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Colonel Tillman, would visit our hang out at The Ballpark at Arlington to watch some Ranger Baseball. Colonel Tillman was the Commander of the Presidential Airlift Group and was in charge of Air Force One for three sitting Presidents.
What struck me was his incredible calm. As a former commercial pilot myself, we had a saying that “flying was hours and hours of boredom occasionally interspersed with moments of sheer panic”. I’ve lost engines on takeoff, landed with power off, blown tires on landing, flown into thunderstorms inadvertently (before I had radar), taken on rime ice over mountains and lost electrical power over the roughest mountains in central Mexico.
Nothing that I’ve done or experienced has come close to the life of the Commander of the airplane of the most powerful man in the world. Using what Peter Drucker calls the “art of provocative questioning” I asked Colonel Tillman on one of these occasions, “What was the most memorable experience flying as Commander of Air Force One?”
Colonel Tillman actually gave me two memorable times. Obviously, taking the helm of Air Force One during the height of the terrorist attacks on America on 9/11. The other being the secret flight to Baghdad, landing in total darkness in the thick of Arab aggression.
I once heard that to qualify as a Presidential Airlift pilot, they would place a wine glass, full to the brim with water on top of the flat center console. From push back to lift-off to landing, you couldn’t spill a drop. Probably urban legend but I’m sure it wasn’t far off.
I believe Colonel Tillman would be the starting pitcher on his baseball team, and I don’t doubt that given the opportunity, he would prefer to stay on the mound, and always want the ball.
Last night, Gloria emceed the Miss Texas Pageant, I think for the 27th time. Yeah, it’s been a long time. She’s that good and yes I’m very biased. Usually, most everything is predictable except for the winner and what Judge Gloria will decide to unmercifully roast for thinking too highly of their bio.
Yesterday was a watershed moment though in the history of the Pageant. About halfway through, she announced that tonight was a special night because they would fulfill a wish for a little girl who’s dream was to be crowned Miss Texas, but cancer had gotten in the way.
Make-A-Wish had contacted Pageant officials and explained that this precious little girl had undergone 46 chemo treatments, suffered nerve damage to her face but held out that one day, she could walk down the runway with a crown on her head.
Fortunately, they had brought her back to the dressing room for Gloria to visit with before she was announced on stage. Gloria told me she spoke through the pain of her stoke like symptoms how she had watched her on stage perform and dreamed of wearing the crown.
Nobody in the audience was ready for her as they parted the curtains and this frail, courageous child, in her beautiful evening gown strolled down the runway. I’ve watched Gloria over a thousand times in unpredictable situations, in telecasts, with unruly audience participants, with just about every disruption an entertainer could imagine. I honestly didn’t think she was gong to make it through her narrative, as she walked down the aisle.
As a member of the audience, collectively we were moved and speechless. The contradiction of the moment was obvious. Not ten minutes earlier, some of the most incredibly ripped, drop dead gorgeous women Texas had to offer strolled that same runway.
There are moments in life that deserve to be preserved for our sake and others. This particular moment will forever have quotations around it labeled “unforgettable”. A moment to remind us that we are blessed beyond measure and that beauty lies mostly in the heart.
In a question and answer session, Dimon asked Barnanke if anyone at the Fed had ever “studied” the implications from the increased bank regulations that controlled the administration and approval of loans, mortgages and bank products. Dimon pointed out that, “In addition to higher capital requirements (just increased by the World Bank), more than 300 new rules are coming and just maybe it will continue to have the opposite effect of the stimulus that we need”.
Bernanke’s response was, “It’s complicated!” His vague answer was that “He can’t pretend that anybody knows what the right balance of regulation and capital is going to be”. For me, I find this similar to occasions when my kids would ask me “why Daddy?” If I didn’t have a good answer, I replied “just because!” Works well for adults that can play the parent trump card. Not so sure it works well from the top Treasury man in the free world.
Personally, I believe that the Fed is simply baffled that all the money printed hasn’t worked. If history and other nations response to this type of credit crisis is any indicator, here’s what we can expect. When people borrow too much, they stop borrowing almost inversely to the degree that they did before. Then, because there’s no demand for money, and what money is available is hard to get, interest rates stay low for a VERY long time.
One of my favorite financial writers, Liaquet Ahamed, former official of the World Bank and author of “Lords of Finance” notes that rates in Japan have essentially been zero since 1995 and that during the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve cut the discount rate to below 2% in 1934 and it held those levels until the mid 1950’s!
Carmen Reinhart of the Peterson Institute said that historically, with deep financial credit issues like we’ve been experiencing, it takes approximately seven years to “unwind” debt if the government has ferociously printed money for the sake of bailing out or stimulating the economy. Last count, we are in year four of the seven. Guess we have three to go. Just because, it’s complicated!
Provocative questions. The statement almost sounds dirty or a shade dark. Actually it’s a term used by one of the greatest management gurus of our generation, Peter Drucker. Mr. Drucker says that the most powerful tool in our possession is the power to ask provocative questions to gain understanding and develop relationships.
I was thinking back on three separate occasions where the question was the icebreaker for conversation. The three conversations that I had with three of the most interesting people I’ve ever been around…Harriet Miers, Colonel Tillman and Nolan Ryan.
My cousin is a big shot attorney from Memphis, one of the funniest people I know and is used to having opportunities with political figures. As different as our opinions are in politics and religion, we do share a passion for baseball and great debate. One weekend during the baseball season, he and his wife Claudia were coming down to watch a baseball game with Gloria and I and it just so happened he was having dinner with the former White House Counsel and failed Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.
Now if you know anything about Ms. Miers, you know she spent a lot of time with President Bush in the Oval Office and she also spent an equal amount of time in the limelight of political controversy for her beliefs. I was thrilled to have dinner with her; just the five of us, so after our main course and idle conversation had settled I decided to ask her a provocative question. “What was the most memorable moment you had while serving President Bush at the White House?”
She thought for a moment and then leaned back, smiled as if she were re-living the moment and said, “That’s actually pretty easy. The most memorable moment was traveling to Romania with President Bush the afternoon he spoke to Romanians about their admission into NATO”. She went on to describe how a massive crowd awaited the President of the largest country in the free world. Upon arrival, a thick cloud cover was present over the square where the stage had been set up for this address. It was misting all day, very damp and dreary. President Bush’s speech was designed to congratulate the Romanians on their perseverance for democracy and entrance into the elite NATO group of countries.
Ms. Miers seemed to drift into another emotional state and I could actually see her normally intense face soften as she looked up to describe the event. She said that as the President was announced and he was making his way up the stairs to the podium, the clouds actually seemed to part giving way to a rainbow above the crowd. What happened next was a departure from the prepared words from President Bush. He seized the moment to compare the rainbow over the crowd to a new dawn of the Romanian people, a new era of freedom and democracy. President Bush said “God is smiling on us!”. She explained in almost a reverent tone how incredible the “moment” was, one she will never forget.
She turned to me and said she was seldom asked that question. I then had the opportunity to tell her I had asked Colonel Tillman the same question while he had the command of the Air Force One fleet under three sitting Presidents.
Ms. Miers seemed to inch forward in her seat when I told her that over a couple of layovers when Colonel Tillman had delivered the President to his ranch in Crawford, he visited our hangout at The Ballpark and watched some Ranger baseball with my partner, Jamie Adams, my boys and myself. Being a pilot, I was mesmerized with his stories. Especially the one….well, I’ll wait until another Blog to describe how that provocative question was answered.
Some of the most intuitive people I know excel at the art of asking the right question. Normally, people go away and say, “They were a great listener” or “What a good conversationalist they were”. Actually, they just knew how to be a provocative questioner.
One of my favorite new authors is Tony Schwartz. This guy has the ability to summarize what we really already know into workable exercises. Here’s a recent blog that appeared on his website…..
Change is hard. New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. But at The Energy Project, we have developed a way of making changes that has proved remarkably powerful and enduring, both in my own life and for the corporate clients to whom we teach it.
Our method is grounded in the recognition that human being are creatures of habit. Fully 95 percent of our behaviors are habitual, or occur in response to a strong external stimulus. Only 5 percent of our choices are consciously self-selected.
In 1911, the mathematician Alfred North Whitehead intuited what researchers would confirm nearly a century later. “It is a profoundly erroneous truism,” he wrote, “that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”
Most of us wildly overvalue our will and discipline. Ingenious research by Roy Baumeister and others has demonstrated that our self-control is a severely limited resource that gets progressively depleted by every act of conscious self-regulation.
In order to make change that lasts, we must rely less on our prefrontal cortex, and more on co-opting the primitive parts of our brain in which habits are formed.
Put simply, the more behaviors are ritualized and routinized — in the form of a deliberate practice — the less energy they require to launch, and the more they recur automatically
What follows are our six key steps to making change that lasts:
1. Be Highly Precise and Specific. Imagine a typical New Year’s resolution to “exercise regularly.” It’s a prescription for failure. You have a vastly higher chance for success if you decide in advance the days and times, and precisely what you’re going to do on each of them.
Say instead that you commit to do a cardiovascular work out Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 a.m., for 30 minutes. If something beyond your control forces you to miss one of those days, you automatically default to doing that workout instead on Saturday at 9 a.m.
Researchers call those “implementation intentions” and they dramatically increase your odds of success.
2. Take on one new challenge at a time. Over the years, I’ve established a broad range of routines and practices, ranging from ones for weight training and running, to doing the most important thing first every morning without interruption for 90 minutes and then taking a break to spending 90 minutes talking with my wife about the previous week on Saturday mornings.
In each case, I gave the new practice I was launching my sole focus. Even then, in some cases, it’s taken several tries before I was able to stay at the behavior long enough for it to become essentially automatic.
Computers can run several programs simultaneously. Human beings operate best when we take on one thing at a time, sequentially.
3. Not too much, not too little. The most obvious mistake we make when we try to change something in our lives is that we bite off more than it turns out we can chew. Imagine that after doing no exercise at all for the past year, for example, you get inspired and launch a regimen of jogging for 30 minutes, five days a week. Chances are high that you’ll find exercising that much so painful you’ll quit after a few sessions.
It’s also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little. So you launch a 10-minute walk at lunchtime three days a week and stay at it. The problem is that you don’t feel any better for it after several weeks, and your motivation fades.
The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.
4. What we resist persists.
Think about sitting in front of a plate of fragrant chocolate chip cookies over an extended period of time. Diets fail the vast majority of time because they’re typically built around regularly resisting food we enjoy eating. Eventually, we run up against our limited reservoir of self control.
The same is true of trying to ignore the Pavlovian ping of incoming emails while you’re working on an important project that deserves your full attention.
The only reasonable answer is to avoid the temptation. With email, the more effective practice is turn it off entirely at designated times, and then answer it in chunks at others. For dieters, it’s to keep food you don’t want to eat out of sight, and focus your diet instead on what you are going to eat, at which times, and in what portion sizes. The less you have to think about what to do, the more successful you’re likely to be.
5. Competing Commitments.
We all derive a sense of comfort and safety from doing what we’ve always done, even if it isn’t ultimately serving us well. Researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call this “immunity to change.” Even the most passionate commitment to change, they’ve shown, is invariably counterbalanced by an equally powerful but often unseen “competing” commitment not to change.
Here’s a very simple way to surface your competing commitment. Think about a change you really want to make. Now ask yourself what you’re currently doing or not doing to undermine that primary commitment. If you are trying to get more focused on important priorities, for example, your competing commitment might be the desire to be highly responsive and available to those emailing you.
For any change effort you launch, it’s key to surface your competing commitment and then ask yourself “How can I design this practice so I get the desired benefits but also minimize the costs I fear it will prompt?”
6. Keep the faith.
Change is hard. It is painful. And you will experience failure at times. The average person launches a change effort six separate times before it finally takes. But follow the steps above, and I can tell you from my own experience and that of thousands of clients that you will succeed, and probably without multiple failures.
Here’s some sobering questions for the leader:
1. Would the organization flourish with someone else?
2. Has the organization constricted or stayed the same in recent years?
3. Do you have a biased board around you that is afraid to speak truth? (Unbiased would mean not too close emotionally or financially connected).
4. Does the organization continually revisit the same challenges with the same solutions?
5. Are you insulated from criticism?
6. Is vision and strategy stagnant or non-existent?
The problem and challenge with any entrepreneurial growth is we tend to be overly optimistic of our abilities to change. Our strength is our weakness in thinking clearly about our abilities to lead. Most leaders in this stage of growth only have a “bottom up” view of what things should look like. That’s when brutal honesty must take over to ever grow.
I’ve got this saying that you really only know how to get where you’ve been, not where your going if you’ve never been there before. Having someone who’s been there before, who knows what it looks like is saying they have a “top down” view. These individuals can cure the ills of the questions above.
The other alternative of course is to “learn” your way into the new stage of growth either by hiring someone to teach you or fumbling through the failures. Being taught is less expensive and many times doesn’t carry with it the threats that can take you out.
There is a great article by Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles called “Second in Command”. This article is a must read for those leaders that are now at the maturity cycle of their own skill set. The battle is recognizing that history isn’t on your side to affectively ramp out of the stagnant phase of maturity and once again into fresh growth. Hiring or counseling with a “Second in Command” who’s been where you want to go becomes essential.
Lastly, if you’ve insulated yourself from the risk of criticism, you probably don’t employ a group of Advisors or working Board either. Let me spare you the pain and go ahead and send you that nail for the coffin now. At some point, you will realize your organization is getting the same results because your doing what you’ve always done. Just figure on getting what what you’ve always got in the past…the same results.
There’s this scene in “Legends of the Fall” where the stoic Father Colonel Ludlow addresses Tristan, played by Brad Pitt, when he comes home from the war. All the brothers went to war together, Tristan went because he felt obligated to protect his younger brother Samuel…in his mind, he failed because he became a casualty on the front line…
Tristan: You know when Samuel died… when Samuel died, I cursed God. Did I damn everybody around me as well as myself?
Colonel Ludlow: No. You are not damned, Tristan… I won’t allow that.
Having three boys…20, 18, and 14, I understand fully the emotions running through Colonel Ludlows veins. The balance that it takes to raise these boys to become men. The balance to allow them to make decisions, even if you know they’ll fail because you made the same decisions and crashed and burned in the process. Fatherhood isn’t these grand sprints where you push your chest across the finish line, barely beating the next guy. It’s more like a Baja race. Gritty, tough, long, bumpy.
That’s why I love to connect with guys that have a strategy for their boys. Men like Beau Glenn. He runs a program called Pure Adventure or like my buddy Scott McClellan who can hit a nickel from 70 feet with a compound bow but with the same precision and strategy, lead his son into manhood.
This blog is a shout out to all those guys who have determined to be the man of one woman, the strategic leader of their boys (and girls). Finish strong.
There’s been a lot of management articles, books and school of thought on how to “wow” the customer. Do the unexpected, create some kind of “delight” that takes their breath away. I was listening to an owner today though on the HBR Podcast that made some sense.
Basically he said that in this environment, the customer doesn’t really want to be “wowed”. What the customer really wants is for you to do the little things right, most all the time. Seems as though customer loyalty isn’t gained through the breathtaking experiences, it’s gained through the daily vanilla and just doing things right, doing what we’re engaged to do.
Loyalty is a funny thing too. I learned at “B” school that most owners won’t tell you that you provide really poor service, that they’re frustrated with one of your managers or that they really question your quality of performance, teaching, service or product. What they’ll do is just quit buying your services, attending or in many cases, communicating at all, regardless of how you’ve created a “wow” experience in the past. That’s why you need to ask on a consistent basis, “how are we doing?”. Consistent to our company means on a monthly basis. This continual feedback allows us to monitor the pulse instead of stopping the bleeding.
There are those people who are very bold, who will send the email, write the letter and blast you. Most though, as focus groups have shown, will just fade away. If you notice they’re not around anymore, it’s probably too late to ask how your doing.
Raymond Bickson, CEO of the global Taj Hotel and Resorts is a fellow Harvard Business School Alum. Raymond came to visit one of our classes on Marketing but it should have been on Leadership. Blake, my son and I were in the lobby of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai exactly five days before the famed terroist attack took over 75 lives in Mumbai the following Wednesday. I was on a humanitarian trip, with my favorite Missionary friend, Dwayne Weehunt.
Raymond presented “The Rest of the Story” to our class and unfolded the drama of those days. What struck me was their commitment to the guest, even at the expense of their own lives. The employees of the hotel actually went back into the fire to help rescue the trapped customers. Even the General Managers wife and kids were killed that day.
When we asked “why?”, Raymond said that the time honored centerpiece of customer service was “We Treat the Customer Like God”. They really didn’t have to think about it…it was ingrained as their core value.