Thursday, November 8, 2012

Continuous Improvement

As an athlete, I track my workouts in a binder.  I know what I have done:  the miles, the times, the weights, the repetitions.  I can see my progress on the page and in my body.  Data does not lie.  It inspires me to get another repetition; to lift a couple more pounds; or to shave off a few seconds from my time.

My work is like that, too.  But my work does not have a quantitative component.  I do not improve by doing "one more".  My work is qualitative.  I focus on doing things better.  Just like my clients.

I like the concept of kaizen or continuous improvement.  Once you reach a certain level of success in your career, there are not a lot of "Ah Ha!" moments left.  The real change comes gradually, by being honest with yourself and consistently working to be a little better every time.  Continuous improvement follows four steps.  This process is logical, so you may even be doing it without knowing it.
  1. Plan
  2. Act
  3. Check
  4. Adjust
Set your goal, work to achieve it, monitor progress, and tweak the process. 

As executives, smarts and expertise are assumed.  They are the ante that got you into the executive suite.  Once there, no good executive can rest on their laurels.  You have to always be improving. 

The world record time for running a marathon is 2:03:38.  It was set in 2011.  Experts predict the two-hour barrier will be broken eventually.  Even though a marathon is 26.2 miles, improvements in time mean shaving just seconds off.  Improvements take place on the margin, in small increments.  Yet, the change adds up.  It is only a 3% time decrease to break the barrier, but it represents daily training improvements.  The rewards for that cumulative improvement will be fame, glory, personal satisfaction and money.   

I do it as an athlete.  I do it in as a coach. 

Always be improving. 

What is Holding You Back - New Article

What is holding you back?  Read Tim's new Career Ladder article to learn about overcoming fears and obstacles to become the leader you want to be.

What is Holding You Back?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lunch for your Mind

I wrote a Career Ladder article “Why You Should Never Graduate” that was published in January about how learning is a lifelong pursuit.  Soon afterward I read an article on Brian Grazer in the Wall Street Journal Magazine that comes with the Saturday edition.  Mr. Grazer is a man arguably full of obsessions and compulsions, but what captured my attention was his lunch-time ritual.  Every day, he would invite an expert in some field to walk with him for half an hour and talk.  His guest would basically “download” their knowledge into Mr. Grazer.   

Here is a man at the top of his field.  He is a successful producer who has nothing to prove to anyone.  Yet, he spends his lunch walking around the block with scientists and artists.  He constantly feeds his interest in learning.  Granted, he does it in a way that is not attainable for the average person.  Jonas Salk is not going to schedule me in for a one-on-one chat as he did for Mr. Grazer. 

The point is less about getting the information in person from the best and brightest, but more about getting the learning at all.  I clipped an article from a 2010 Fortune magazine about Bill Gates’ favorite teacher.  Salman “Sal” Kahn produces You Tube tutorials on a huge variety of topics (over 1700) including algebra and biology.  They are free and they take only a short lunch break to watch. 

I bring up learning at lunch because it is hard to do your job while eating.  However, even if you are downing a sandwich at your desk, you can watch a 10 to 15 minute tutorial on your computer.  Or read a magazine.  Not one that is for your job, but one that contains information about other things in the world.  Some of my favorites include Discover, National Geographic, Mental Floss and The Economist.  One article will take only a few minutes to read. 

So give yourself something to chew on at lunch besides your sandwich.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Energy Consumers: Beware the Office Vampire

I am a big believer that having a firm command of your own physical, intellectual and emotional energy is imperative for everyone’s success.  As a leader, you need to make certain your team has positive emotional energy.  With that in mind, I thought I would share something interesting from April 9th’s Chicago Tribune.  I read Rex Huppke’s always amusing column “I Just Work Here”.  The column’s focus is the book Emotional Vampires by Al Bernstein, a Portland, Oregon-based clinical psychologist.  The book came out in 2000, but it is timeless – just like vampires. 

The premise of the book is there are people in the workplace whose actions and emotions suck the life out of fellow workers.  Instead of creating emotional energy, they are voracious consumers of it.  Bernstein sorts them into the following “vampire” types:

  •  Anti-social vampires:  the rules are for suckers (no pun intended), not them.
  •  Histrionic vampires:  no amount of unnecessary drama is too much.
  •  Narcissistic vampires:  it is all about them, even when it is not.
  •  Obsessive-compulsive vampires:  perfectionist who cannot see the forest for the trees.
  •  Paranoid vampires:  positive they are right and everyone else is wrong.
These archetypes are exaggerations to make a point.  However, the negative effect they can have is not exaggerated at all.  Al Bernstein provides an “antidote” for each, but these are to be used by co-workers.  As the leader, your role is different. 

You need to maintain your leadership brand.  It must be consistent.  Your role is to keep returning everyone’s focus to the goal in a way that energizes you and the team.  To this end, be sure to praise in public and critique in private—it keeps the team cohesive.

I will be covering Team Dynamics more in the coming blogs.  Watch this space.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Humble Warrior

Do you ever get the feeling that your sense of what is right is warring with your ego? Like when you make an embarrassing mistake.  You know you should admit it, but ignoring it is easier. Or when your peer has a major success but gloats about it.  You just don’t want to give her the additional satisfaction of your acknowledgment.  Maybe it is something as small as not wanting to give anyone else a platform to talk during a meeting because you are too busy describing your great idea.

We know the right thing to do, but it is hard.  Often, we think of leadership in very black and white terms:  the best leaders are always strong, always right, always in the lead.   Consequently, giving power to someone else, admitting errors and letting others shine can feel like weakness.

Mastering your sense of self is crucial to successful leadership.  You have to be comfortable enough with yourself to know that admitting error, giving praise and sharing do not diminish your standing.  On the contrary, these qualities enhance your standing.  Only someone well-rounded and comfortable in their own skin can do these things. 

It reminds me of a yoga pose my wife described.  I looked it up (see photo).  The pose is called Humble Warrior.  The strong warrior is placed in a submissive position of leaning forward and bowing almost to the ground.  But on closer inspection, you can see that entire body is strong.  The pose uses the entire body:  strong, lunged legs; hands clasped behind; arms straight, thrust overhead; body cantilevered over; shoulder next to--but not touching--the knee; head hovering over the ground.  There is power in the humble pose. 

We need to tap into our internal strength to do that which may seem weak, but which actually makes us strong. 

What is your Humble Warrior moment?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Larry Bossidy: an example of superior leadership

With Larry Bossidy (right) the former CEO and Chairman of Allied Signal Corporation (Honeywell) at the Leadership Panel for a global executives association in IrelandThe panel was comprised of diverse supply chain executives who spoke about what the hallmarks of exceptional leadership ability. The panel members shared leadership stories from "the front lines"--these were essentially real-life situations that were brought up for this panel discussion. 

I was honored to have had the chance to meet with and have Larry Bossidy as a special guest this unique panel. He is one of the foremost executive leaders of the 20th Century as well as the 21st Century. Prior to Allied Signal/Honeywell, he was a top executive at GE for over 34 years. Upon his scheduled retirement from Honeywell in April of 2000 (Honeywell merged with Allied Signal in December 1999), he stepped back into his role as CEO and Chairman when General Electric attempted to acquire Honeywell in 2001. He retired again in 2002. To date, Larry Bossidy is a Contributor for CNBC, busy writing books and speaking. He is also currently serving on the Board of Berkshire Hills Bancorp and is an advisor to the private equity firm, Aurora Capital Group. 

Larry Bossidy is the co-author of:

Confronting Reality: Doing What Matters to Get Things Right 

Execution:The Discipline of Getting Things Done


Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Flying V - a mutually beneficial relationship between leader and followers

Chicago finally received its first “real” snow of the season.  Snow gently sifted on us for 20 hours until we woke up today with bright sunshine and "8.”  I live in an urban setting, so it is a social imperative to get out first thing and shove the communal sidewalk.  The next order of business is to get the family dog out for a good run in the snow-covered park.   We were running mid-shin deep in snow when we first heard it.  We stopped and looked.  It was the flying V.

This is not a blog about the classic Gibson rock-n-roll electric guitar that originated in 1957 (  It is about a gaggle of geese.

These geese were flying south; something they probably regret not doing sooner than a 17° day in January.  What I found fascinating was the honking.  Geese fly in a V formation.  This allows one goose to expend more energy by being the leader at the tip of the V while each successive goose gets the benefit of drafting.  In return, all the following geese honk their encouragement to the leader, thus giving the leader more impetus to fly faster and farther.  It is a mutually beneficial relationship between leader and followers.

From the leader’s perspective, this is a classic example of what can be accomplished when you have encouragement.  Having an advocate can get you through those times when you are tired, stressed, or so deep in the thick of a problem that you cannot see the forest for the trees. We all have had the relief that comes after talking to someone who knows us and our work, who tells us about the success in the bigger picture.  Advocates, cheerleaders if you will, are also a benefit when they acknowledge and celebrate our successes.  They incent us to achieve again and again.  Cheerleaders can give us the extra push that gets us where we want to be. 

Just like the geese, there is a benefit for the cheerleader too.  In the January-February 2012 Harvard Business Review, Shawn Achor authored an article called Positive Intelligence.  In the article, he points out that his research shows that the employees who “score the highest in providing social support are 40% more likely to receive a promotion in the following year.”  In addition, they feel higher job satisfaction.  By being a cheerleader you are not only providing support for others but boosting your own tangible and intangible rewards. 

Whenever you come across an action that has win-win possibilities, try it out!  After all, what is good for the goose, is also good for the gander.