Posted tagged ‘honesty’

Speed Racer

November 10, 2011

My daughter ran in the Grand Rapids Marathon a few weeks back.  She finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes, which I believe is a respectable time to run 26 miles if you’re not from Kenya.  One of the things I learned from her preparations is that you have to have a “plan” for your race.  Her plan, apparently, was to use her heart rate to determine how fast to run each mile, striving to keep a relatively steady beats per minute, which may lead to less buildup of lactic acid or other ‘cramp inducers.’  Near as I can tell, she ran the first half of the race just slightly slower than the last half, but kept a pretty steady pace throughout.  Good for her!

I have decided, though, that if I ever run a marathon, I will take a vastly different and obviously superior approach.  I will jog the first 16 miles of the race and then sprint the last ten.   I am pretty confident I can beat her time by doing that.  I can jog 16 miles briskly in about 3 hours, and then sprint the last ten at ten miles per hour, in another 60 minutes, finishing in 4 hours.  Take that!


I was committed to this plan until a few friends asked some probing questions like, “Bob, have you ever sprinted ten miles?”    Brutally, they followed up with, “Have you ever sprinted even two miles?”  And then, the coup de grace, “Have you ever sprinted even one mile after jogging 16??”

At that point, I realized the flaw in my plan.  Trying to go faster at the end of a long race is no strategy for success especially if:

a) you’re out of shape or

b) you’ve never done it before

So why do so many project teams and project managers think they can get to the halfway point of a project in six months and then finish the other half in two??

It’s gotta be the lactic acid buildup…


Big Fish, Little Fish, smells the same

November 4, 2011

Sometimes I worry about running out of things to blog about.   Then I caught a few news stories this week and that fear just melted away…

The first news story I heard, which I am sure many of you did as well, was about the CEO of Nabors Industries, Eugene Isenberg, who stepped down as CEO to remain as only the Chairman of the Board, as I understand it.  For this magnanimous gesture, he was paid a lump sum of $100 million dollars.   Dr. Evil would be proud.

The second got a bit less notoriety, but is eerily similar in many ways except for the size of the payout.   Turkia Mullin was the Chief Development Officer of Wayne County in Michigan.  She left that job to take over as CEO of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, which, no surprise, is in Wayne County.  For this shift in roles, she was paid a “severance” from her CDO job of $200,000.00.   As you can see from the article, once this payment came to light, she announced she would be returning the money.    Which only adds to the innate sense that the payment was completely unjustified in the first place.   Otherwise, you’d think she would have kept it.

imageI think we can all agree that executive compensation often feels completely out of line with performance, actual responsibilities, value to the company as a whole or other factors.  But it is even more disturbing to me that, now, executives are getting big payouts just to change jobs or titles within THE SAME COMPANY (or county, in Turkia’s case…)

CEO News flash:  Whether you support our current president or not, I think we’d all agree that Barack Obama probably makes more gut-wrenching decisions in a month than either of these folks made in their entire careers, including sending brave young women and men into harm’s way.   If you don’t believe me, do some reading about the marines in Dark Horse battalion.    I am pretty sure Barack’s salary is closer to Turkia’s “bonus” than to Eugene’s base pay, no less his “lump sum” payout.  So whatever contrived justification you CEO’s are creating inside your heads that help you believe you deserve this type of financial compensation for your efforts, I don’t think they have anything to do with leadership.

In the 1800’s, a term was coined for folks like this.  Robber barons.  Might be a good time to revive that catchy little label…

Worth Repeating

October 21, 2011

I really do enjoy the “Corner Office” pieces in the NY Times Sunday Business section.  A lot of no-nonsense and inspiration leadership from CEO’s doing Q and A with Adam Bryant or another reporter.  So October 9th’s piece was no exception.  And I know I’ve written about root causes and understanding the real motivations of your teams before but this anecdote is absolutely worth repeating…  And if you can’t relate to this, you have never run a sales team.

Joseph Jimenez, the CEO of Novartis, a BIG pharma company, was responding to the first question, right out of the gate.  The question was about important leadership lessons.  Allow me to summarize and paraphrase:

Joseph said he was appointed to head a division of another company and ‘turn it around.’   One serious problem was that the division missed their sales/revenue forecast every month.  He brought in a consultant and they concluded that they needed a better and more analytical sales process.

So they put the new process in place and the forecasts did not improve.  Hmmmm… 

Then he brought in a behavioral psychologist who reported, after several weeks of study, that the problem wasn’t process, it was “truth.”   Throughout the division, team members would assemble the forecast KNOWING they weren’t going to hit it and that it was, essentially, made up.  Joseph realized that, starting with him, the willingness to hear bad news as a means of getting to the truth was the right next step.


This week, at the Berlin SharePoint Conference, I had an opportunity to spend some ‘face time’ with the CEO of a successful software company that I admire quite a bit.  He told me they were getting ready to do business reviews, and he had decided that he was going to kick off the meetings by asking everyone to list two or three mistakes they’d made in the last year, and he was going to go first.  Brilliant.

In your organization, would you be comfortable standing up in front of your peers and listing your mistakes from the past twelve months?   Because if you can, you will take a big step toward creating a culture where mistakes are acknowledged as learning opportunities.  That’s the  one time when mistakes are worth repeating…


July 21, 2011

As many of you astute linguists know, Schadenfreude is a German word that basically means “taking pleasure in the misfortune of others…”  Germans have a more sophisticated word for this than we do because, well, first of all, they are more disciplined and sophisticated, and secondly, they like to create long, complex nouns for everything near as I can tell.  Our best options in English seem to be “I told you so” and “nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah…”

All in all, though, I’d say the whole concept is pretty childish and selfish.


So imagine my shock this week when I caught myself slipping into the world of Schaden.  I am working on a project with some pretty aggressive deadlines (read, virtually impossible to meet) and a team that, though dedicated, is quite novice at taking on such an intense project.  I feel like, as a good consultant should, I have pointed out these things to the stakeholders, but they have doggedly persisted in their approach and retained their timelines.  I suppose that’s their prerogative.

Then, all of a sudden, I was filled with anticipation of a day that might come when they have missed all their deadlines, and I could trot out, even if it was unspoken, with a gleeful “I told you so.”  Fess up – the reason there’s a word for this is German is because it’s pretty innate human behavior.  You’ve done it too, haven’t you?

But the reality is it’s not helpful to anyone to behave this way.  I caught myself and have renewed my determination to find ways to bring this thing to a positive outcome, or at least go down with the team.  Next time you find yourself in a similar situation, remember there’s no Schadenfreud in “team…”

Drinking lots of carrot juice and soaking up rays…

November 4, 2010


After listening to a bunch of concession and acceptance speeches yesterday, I’ll be brief…

I used to hear a phrase fairly often, said with sincerity and a relatively clear definition.  That phrase is “healthy debate.”  But between the recent and quite frankly embarrassing/shameful ad campaigns that virtually every candidate for election ran, and a few meetings I have attended in the last 6-12 months, I feel like that phrase is ready for the shelf right next to my VCR and cassette player.

I am not sure why that is.  Have we all lost our willingness or ability to listen with an open mind?  Do we all feel like we need to be “battle ready” before every meeting, with our strategy, tactics and desired outcomes neatly laid out before the first sip of coffee?  In the past year, how many times have you walked out of a meeting where you were supposed to discuss an issue, and left feeling more frustrated and “unheard” than when you walked in?  With your blood pressure up a few notches, and your enthusiasm to “collaborate” with your peers and yes, even your “boss" down a few pegs?

If your answer is “more than 3” that’s not healthy…

Flashing your brights?

August 18, 2010

I was driving back to the office the other day, more or less obeying the speed limit, gratefully, when I passed a state trooper’s car parked on a side road, obviously looking for speeders.  Almost without any thought, as the next two or three cars passed me headed in the other direction, I flashed my brights at them, which somehow has become the national symbol for “there’s a cop up ahead – slow down…”

For maybe the first time ever, though, I pondered why I did that.  Did I think that speed limits are unjust and should be abolished?  Did I think that a trooper lurking, semi-concealed, on a side road constitutes entrapment?  Do I feel some universal kindred spirit with other drivers?  Or since I have been pulled over once or twice in my driving career (not in the last five years, though, Farm Bureau Insurance!) did I recollect how easily that can ruin your day and your bank account balance and just try to help some other poor schlep avoid the same fate? 


It got me thinking about the three primary roles in any rule-based organization:  rule makers, rule enforcers and rule observers.  My purpose here is not to delve into the natural antagonistic relationships those roles create, but rather to simply note how easy it was for me to “side” with the observers against ‘the man.’

If you’re a rule maker or a rule enforcer (in many organizations, a common part of being a ‘leader’), how do you minimize the collusion that seems to come so naturally to observers?

It seems to me that  the simple answer is in the perception of whether a rule is genuinely part of a greater good, or just an imposition of one person’s somewhat arbitrary perspective on somebody else.    Like a 35 mph speed limit.  Really?  Are you sure that’s as fast as I should go?  And if I don’t, you’ll charge me $100 or more plus raise my insurance??

What about in your organization?  Take a look at your rules and try stack ranking them by how much they serve the greater good.  Do you like what you see?  If not, I bet some of your employees are flashing their brights for each other without you even knowing…

Joey had it right, sort of…

May 6, 2010

Only in this great country of ours can you write a blog post about leadership by quoting the Ramones.   Here’s what Joey said:

Warm whispering in my ear
Tell me all the things that I want to hear
‘Cause it’s true
That’s what I like about you

imageA quick show of hands…  How many of you like it when people who you work with, or who work FOR you, tell you what you want to hear?   My instantaneous telepathic blog polling service tells me that ALL OF YOU DO, except the liars…  And what’s worse, we dislike it just as much when people tell us things we don’t want to hear (or that we don’t agree with).  Don’t believe me?  Try this experiment.  Go find someone who you know has different views on a political issue from yours.  Ask them about the issue and then sit and listen attentively and quietly while they profess their views.  I bet after 10 minutes most of you would wish you were in a dentist chair on the set of Marathon Man.  It’s OK, it’s human nature.

In my current role, I have the pleasure of working occasionally with a senior executive who is very busy and yet seems to find the time to seek out as many viewpoints on an issue before he decides what to do.  And his style in doing it is quite admirable as well.  He will often schedule a meeting with you, toss out a relatively general topic as the agenda, and then ask you some questions.  He rarely, if ever, provides feedback about what he thinks and sometimes, unless you go out of your way to ask, you never hear about it again.

To be a good and balanced leader, you have to get some facts.  In this day and age of maximum spin, one of the few ways to do that is to seek lots of sources and remain objective as long as you can and don’t tip your hand.

Or, take pleasure in the “warm whispering” in your ear, crank up some tunes, and be sedated…