Heroic Expectations

Don’t we all love a hero?  Don’t we want heroes to hold up as examples?  But the mistake we make with heroes is expecting that they’re better than the rest of us so when they show us that they’re not perfect, we sometimes desert them in disgust.  They let us down.

Superheroes Wanted

Superheroes Wanted

I love a quote from filmmaker Ken Burns:  “We demand perfection from our heroes but a true hero has weaknesses he strives to overcome with his strengths.  Inconsistency is a hallmark of all of us.”

Marcus Buckingham insists that we should concentrate on strengths so much that weakness becomes insignificant.

It’s been true in literature, true in history, and true today:  We’re all imperfect and, being human, incapable of perfection.  But we still strive and should still hold heroes high because of their strengths and the deeds that were evident of those strengths.

You suspect where this is going, don’t you?  Especially on November 22?

JFK was imperfect and certainly no saint, morally.  But he exuded a strength and optimism about America that we still prize over 50 years after he enunciated it in his inaugural address.  If he accomplished nothing else, his determination to create the manned space program and land on the moon would still stand as a landmark in world history.  Besides the obvious achievement of getting there and returning safely, the American space program demanded new technology and innovative thinking.  These in turn created economic, scientific, and technological breakthroughs that transcended the space program and sent the United States as well as the world into a new level of expectation and hope for the future.  We owe much to the US Space Program of the 1960s and John Kennedy’s vision for making it a priority.

We could use some of that determination and optimism now.

So my friends, let’s paraphrase the call to action that resonated from the inaugural podium in January of 1961 and took a big blow in November of 1963.  Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do to make life better for others:   For your family, your employer, your community, your country, your Earth.


Honesty in Leadership! Woo-Hoo!

Just when I thought that we had lost all honesty or accountability in leadership, both qualities show up in the last month:  Two corporate types ‘fessing up and telling it like it is.

Well Done

Well Done

Example #1:  Andrew Mason was CEO of Groupon until he was recently fired.  Two of my favorite bloggers, Bill Geist and Harvey Briggs, have referred to his final communique to employees as the “best farewell letter ever.” Here’s the link to it as provided by Harvey by way of Bill.

Among other things, Mr. Mason says to his former staff:  “You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance.”

And remember, kids, this wasn’t a resignation; he was fired.

Lessons From Bad Bosses

There are some great movies about working for bad bosses. Check out Horrible Bosses, Working Girl, or the great 9 to 5.

Staff on Chess Board

Staff on Chess Board

I’ve been a boss and I’ve been bossed. I liked being the boss better.

It wasn’t an ego thing. My father was President of one of the banks in the small town where I grew up. He naturally commanded respect and, of course, I wanted to be like my Dad. Through him, I saw both the rewards and the disadvantages of being in charge. And there are plenty of both.

I confess to being a better boss than an employee and got to be very “black & white” about people to whom I was subordinate. I could forgive and work hard for bosses who had plenty of drawbacks but who were people who deserve respect. But I had no time for managers who were out of their league being in charge.
Ultimately it came down to whether or not I sensed that they respected us as subordinates and that their enthusiasm was for the organization, of which staff plays a key role. I hated toadies and suck-ups and bosses who liked toadies and suck-ups.

But you learn valuable lessons from every boss. From the good ones, you learn what to do and from the bad ones you remember what do to avoid.

Here are 4 “worst practices” I learned to avoid from observing and working for bad bosses:

  • I’m in charge; I’ve arrived: Once I was competing with someone else for a managerial position. I asked him why he wanted the job and he told me: “I don’t know. The money and the position, I guess.” He lasted in that job for less than 4 years. I replaced him and stayed for 10.
  • Now they have to do what I say: Sure, you may have a title that gives you authority but there is such a thing as malicious obedience. Sure, sometimes you need to be firm but, if you’re a good manager, those times are rare. As Michael Hyatt said in a recent blog post: “If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.”
  • Why would I need advice from staff? I’ve got more experience than they do: Some managers feel that asking staff for ideas would weaken their own position, especially if you actually mean it and adopt the ideas. Wrong! Staff can have great ideas and will be even more motivated if you make the great ones happen.
  • You can’t trust employees: One of the worst bosses for whom I worked had this attitude. As a person he was shallow, narcissistic, and manipulative. In other words, poor managerial material. Sometimes employees will let you down or act dishonestly but I’ve always found those to be the exceptions.

Mutual respect and trust are essential to great manager/staff effectiveness and efficiency.

What have you learned from your bosses?

Who Killed The Strategic Plan?

Academic experts and business school professors in increasing numbers have been announcing the official “death” of strategic planning.
“The emerging doctrine suggests that a continuous process of evolution must be adopted – and encouraged.”
Karl Albrecht (Futurist & Strategist)


Mr. Albrecht now refers to the process as “Strategic Conversation” because too often, the outcome of strategic planning is SPLOTS: Strategic Plans Languishing On The Shelf.
That ain’t the way God planned it.

We’ve all seen it and some of us have participated in it:

  • A group of well-meaning folks get together to discuss the progress and future of the Big Whatever.
  • We hear about where we are and how we got there.
  • We throw up ideas on future betterment.
  • Everyone goes around and vote for the best ideas, sometimes using sticky paper dots to mark our choices.
  • Finally, the facilitator congratulates everyone and produces a hard copy or PDF of the planned outcomes.

And, if the plan isn’t regularly reread and revisited? SPLOTS!
Thus the Strategic Conversation.

In order to keep the process alive and worth the effort, the organization should adopt at least these 3 specific tactics to ensure vitality and relevance:

  1. Set specific dates in the future to revisit the ideas.
  2. Choose specific criteria to judge the progress of the outcomes
  3. Identify every major activity of the organization with its corresponding segment from the plan so that people aren’t tempted to stray from the path by things bright and shiny.

That doesn’t mean that the plan can’t be changed. Every plan changes. But it means that the organization must return to the strategy and consider what and why the changes should occur. Sometimes this means abandoning part of the original intention (see previous post on planned abandonment).

Otherwise they’re all just good intentions and as the philosopher said long ago, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Have you dusted off your strategic plan lately???? Hmm???

Organized Abandonment

“Every organization has to prepare for the abandonment of everything it does”
—Peter Drucker

Austrian-born Peter Drucker became the guru of modern American management. He was a consultant, author of 39 books, and educator who advocated a common-sense theory of management. He’s one of my favorite authors about business and the above is one of my favorite quotes because it’s so thought-provoking and, at least on the surface, radical.

Peter Drucker

“Radical” is only on the surface. In every professional endeavor, you have to be ready to do new things, but you also must be thinking of things that you will stop doing. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and sleep is a requirement.

Every business in every industry, must continue to change and virtually recreate itself. Every leader must constantly ask, as Drucker did, “What can we stop doing?” Because we all have limited resources and in order to “boldly go” forward, we need to recognize what might be holding us back and what practices either are or shortly will become, outdated.

I like to put it this way: Start, stop, continue.

  • What new thing should we try?
  • What is something we’re currently doing where we can cut back or eliminate?
  • What practices should we continue because they’re working now and we believe that they can keep working in the future.

Here’s an example. I recently rented a car. In the shuttle bus on the way to the cars, I received an email from the rental agency telling me which parking spot I would find my car. Going out of the lot, the attendant scanned the bar code on the windshield, verified my ID/drivers license, and the scanner spit out a brief rental agreement. It saved time, paper, and somewhere it saved them money.
They’re still renting cars but almost everything about the procedure has changed.

It means that you need to look at everything in the organization as temporary. Permanence is dead.

What’s something that you could stop doing?