Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Leaderhship Principles: Before Amazon...There was Dad


Over the past 15 years of my career I have focused on leadership, team building, business acumen, and emotional intelligence. I made this decision after being in primarily technical roles for the previous 15 years. It was spurred by a conversation with a respected peer. The conversation was about how information technology was changing and that soon the "technology generalist" would become obsolete as technology would advance so far that no one could fully grasp every aspect of it. We chatted about how eventually there will be technology workers who support daily operations to "keep the lights on" and IT strategists who support the business by achieving goals and objectives using technology. I've been in the field long enough to remember the days when the "IT Guy" was the go to do it all guy for anything technology related. Need a phone...IT Guy. Need a power strip...IT Guy. Need printer paper...IT Guy. The IT Guy did everything related to just about anything that plugged into the wall. I've held those jobs, and I always loved being the hero. Nothing I liked more than having to solve a tough technical problem and the awesome feeling you get walking out of the office in the wee hours of the morning exhausted, knowing you just saved the day for hundreds if not thousands of people who depend on the systems you support.

My Dad owned his own business and from the time I was old enough to have any recollection, he was grooming me to run his business. I remember being a kid and going with him to work in the summers. I'd stuff envelopes, do filing, get the mail, make coffee, clean coffee mugs, empty the trash, etc. But I'd also be asked to sit in meetings, go to business lunches, and go on sales calls. I learned that PEOPLE are the most valuable asset a business has. Not only the internal staff, but the customers and the relationships you build with them. Dad used to say, "I don't know what I'm going to be selling, but I know who I'm going to be selling it to". He loved his job. He loved his customers. They were like family to him. So when I decided to make the move into IT leadership, I took all those lessons my Dad taught me and carried them with me. It was tough at first. Most companies weren't used to the "IT Guy" talking about customers, business objectives, process improvement, and team leadership. They expected the talk of speeds and feeds, gigabytes, and gigabits.....but leave the business talk to the grown ups please. Over the past decade I've seen a tremendous shift. Even Jack Welch, the well known leader of General Electric once said that GE used to be an appliance company that used technology, but now they were a technology company that also make appliances.

One of the giants in business is Amazon. Recently Amazon announced they were going to have a large presence here in Nashville. Of course, I've been an Amazon customer for many years, and I've been a member of the Nashville IT community for over 30 years. IT in Nashville used to be a pretty tight knit group, and to some extent it still is. I know people who work for big and small companies alike. It's not as close a group as it used to be, but some of the old crew is still around. So when Amazon made its announcement  I was curious how it would impact the IT community in Nashville.

I can't count the number of cassette tapes, seminars, and books my dad gave me or dragged me to including paying for me to attend the Dale Carnegie Course, which was the last thing he ever bought for me before passing away in 1995. I was exposed to people such as Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, Lee Iacocca, Brian Tracy, and Napoleon Hill. So when I started doing my due diligence on Amazon, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Amazon's Leadership Principles. While Amazon says these principles make them "peculiar", they are in fact tried and proven techniques which Amazon has leveraged to become a spectacular success and one of the largest companies in the world.

Let's take a look at these principles and apply some of my Dad's teachings to them. Each one of them I read I can hear a Dad telling me a story or teaching me something.

Customer Obsession
As mentioned above, Dad loved his customers. He told me "regardless of what you sell, you're #1 product is yourself. You're always in the relationship business". Most of Dad's customers knew him as "Coach". He's been gone 25 years this year and when I run into any of his customers, they all tell me how much they miss him. He really cherished his relationships.

Ownership
One of Dad's favorite sayings was, "When you commit to it, you should be tied to it and made do it!". He was a huge advocate of personal responsibility and integrity. If you had the ball on something, it was up to you to deliver on your commitments. This is something so many companies struggle with because they only allow "leadership" to own things. According to Amazon's principles, everyone is expected to be an owner and act accordingly.

Invent and Simplify
Dad never graduated college thanks to the Korean War dragging him away, but he wasn't lacking in common sense and logic. When I was younger, I was in love with technology and always wanted the latest and greatest gizmos. I constantly tried to convince him to buy into the world of technology. Dad managed to get by just fine without a computer, a hand held cell phone, or any technology other than his notebook....which he wrote down ever phone call, every meeting, every idea. Many successes and many more failures were launched from that simple notebook. This proved to me the only think hold me back is my ability to think and cut through the noise. The KISS principle has always been a guiding force for me. If you can't explain your process, simply, then it's probably broken.

Are Right, A Lot
One quote stands out here...Dad used to say, "I'm paid to be right".

Learn and Be Curious
Continual learning was always impressed on me. As mentioned above, Dad continually read books or listened to motivational or training cassettes. One time I asked why and he told me, "You have to keep getting better everyday because your competition is".

Hire and Develop the Best
I could write an entire blog post on just this one point. Dad had a way of breaking you down, and building you up stronger than you were before. He could crush you with a look....never saying a word. He knew how to motivate people. It's one of the reasons people called him "Coach". He did coach basketball for a few years back in the 50's...but he never stopped developing his teams. He always had the heart of a teacher.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Wow..this one. I can hear Dad saying, "Do it right or don't do it". So many times I did "good enough" in my eyes, but to him it was just "getting by". He wanted me to excel and live up to my potential.

Think Big
Dad always had big ideas. Many of them were brilliant, many weren't. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he didn't, but he never stopped thinking about that next big move.

Bias for Action
Pardon the language, but I can hear Dad saying, "Shit, or get off the pot". Excuses, waiting on ____, etc. were not something he tolerated. "Do what I told you to do son". Just get it done!

Frugality
Dad was born in 1931, smack dab in the middle of the Great Depression.  He seldom ever spent loose change. I remember nights as a family rolling coins to take the the bank. He collected them in big coffee cans. Being the son of a sharecropper, my Dad embodied doing more with less.

Dive Deep
As with any small business, Dad had an accountant, lawyer, banker, etc. But he always double checked what they did. Not that he didn't trust them, he just wanted to know what was going on. "Trust but verify" as the Russian proverb (and Ronald Reagan) says. There wasn't a fact or a figure he couldn't spout off without thinking. It was his company. He owned it.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Backbone was something Dad had is spades. He was one of those rare individuals who would own a room when he entered it. He had gravitas. A true presence. When he disagreed with you, you knew it. But there were times when he would tell you, "I don't agree with you, but we can disagree without being disagreeable".

Deliver Results
At the end of the day, results are all that matters. Did you get the job done? Did you meet your goal? There were never excuses, only "why". Why did it happen and how do we fix it. I remember a phrase from some of his marketing material..."Results oriented, service driven".

If Dad were alive today, I don't think he'd think much of the Amazon website. He'd rather keep his business local and do it with a handshake and a smile. But when it comes to running a company, I think he'd enjoy reading about how Amazon does it. He might even read about Jeff Bezos to see if he can learn something.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

What is your deepest fear?

It's a new year, a new decade, and I'm sure many people are making those annual resolutions to better themselves in one way or another. Why people wait until a new year to make these changes has always been a bit of a mystery to me. We all have shortcomings. We all fail from time to time. We all experience seasons in our lives where things aren't going the way we would like them to go. Why wait to change these things? One of the things I adopted years ago was a continuous improvement strategy. I'm always looking for ways to better myself. Improvement comes in may forms. It may be in the form of education, health, wealth, career advancement, or helping others (which is HIGHLY beneficial both people).

So what drives my desire to be a better person? What makes me want to be successful in all that I do? That's easy....fear. Now...it's not the sort of fear you're thinking of. It's not like a fear of heights, or a fear of the dark, or a fear of being hurt. No, the fear I'm talking about is different.

I am a huge basketball fan and I love teaching. If I were to win the lottery, I'd find a position teaching business and technology in high school and coach the basketball team. Why? Because I absolutely love help people succeed. Helping people solve problems, set goals, and achieve their objectives. There was a movie that came out several years ago called Coach Carter starring Samuel L. Jackson. The movie is about a successful business man who becomes the basketball coach of an inner city school. The kids are failing their classes, lack respect for each other or authority, and are on a path to becoming career criminals. Coach Carter sees the potential in these young men and sets high expectations for them. He teaches them to respect each other and authority. He sets goals for them and establishes consequences for not achieving the goals. He cares about them and gives them a sense of self worth and self pride. There is a point in the movie where he asks one of the players what his greatest fear is. The boy laughs it off, but later in the movie the student understands the question and quotes a passage from a book called A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles written by Marianne Williamson. The quote he cited was:


"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

This is the fear I feel. The fear that I am not being the best I can be. The fear that the next great idea, the next great invention, the next great accomplish is in me...but I can't produce it. The statement in bold above is more commonly where I find myself. I play small as to not appear like a "know it all". I temper myself as to not alienate those around me. If you are regular reader of this blog, or my vlog It's All About People, then you know my thoughts, beliefs, and passions. Every day I get one day closer to the end of my life. One more day gone that I cannot get back. So what is my plan for harnessing my power?

  1. Build A People Network
    Being a hermit in a cubicle makes it very difficult to accomplish greatness. Everyone needs help from time to time. Successful people who say they are "self made" are fooling themselves. Someone at some point gave them a shot, a helping hand, advice, etc. It's very, very difficult to achieve success without some help. My Dad told me, The four most powerful words in the English language are "I need your help". He was absolutely spot on. Find opportunities to be around people who are at the level you want to be at. Listen and learn.
  2. Be a Lifelong Learner
    I remember when I was a kid thinking about how happy I would be when I didn't have to go to school anymore. Little did I know that I'd be taking classes almost continually my entire life. Working in the technology field, things change rapidly. I am always keeping abreast of what's on the horizon, but also sharpening my business skills and emotional intelligence. In addition to work related things, I've also learned to play an instrument and even held a provisional motorcycle racing license at one point. Keeping your mind sharp while setting and achieving goals will help develop success habits. 
  3. Never "Done"
    I once heard a speaker say, the key to happiness is not getting what you want, but wanting what you get. I wholeheartedly disagree. If I find myself down and out, homeless, jobless, and living under a bridge...you mean I'm supposed to "want" that and be happy? I don't think so. I have a career goal. That goal is to become the CIO of a large IT organization. It's been my goal since I was a teenager, when many companies didn't even have a CIO. I will always be setting new goals and working to achieve them...personal and business. I will never sit back and say, "I'm done", because that will only happen on the day I draw my final breath. 
  4. Help Others
    One of the greatest things in life is helping others succeed. That's why my "win the lottery" dream is to coach and teach. Seeing kids begin to think differently, to realize their potential, set goals, and ultimately either achieve success or learn through failure. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we all go through seasons of life. There have been times in my life where people I have helped, given a chance, mentored, coached, or lended a hand to ended up in a position to help me. That's not to say I only help people in the event they can help me sometime. That's not the case at all, but it's a wonderful side benefit. Through serving others, you end up with a #1 on this list...a big network of people you can call on and who can call on you.
It's a new year and if you're the type to declare a new year means a new you, give the four things above a try. It requires commitment, time, and a sincere attitude but if you do the things above you will eventually be in a better situation. It won't happen immediately, but one day you will eventually find yourself in a situation that shows you are powerful beyond measure.


"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

Monday, December 9, 2019

Hiring Technology Leaders



If you have read my other blog posts, you know that I'm a huge proponent of servant leadership. The days of top down authoritative leadership are quickly becoming bygone. We live in the information age, where knowledge of anything is a few clicks away. I remember back in 1987 when I started my IT career there was two ways of learning new technology. You either read a book about 3" thick and memorized as much of it as you could (keeping it on a shelf for reference), or you installed the hardware or software and figured things out through trial and error. This was in the days before everything was GUI driven. You got a blinking prompt, and you had to know what to type. The beauty thing is, nearly every operating system performed similarly, so you simply had to look up the equivalent command from an OS you were familiar with. Logic skills were paramount. Tenacity, patience, and a strong desire to succeed were mandatory traits. There were many times I worked on something for hours...even days...only to have it not work and have to start over again. I did not see these setbacks as failure (because that wasn't an option), I saw them as learning. The more I failed, the more I learned, and the better I got at my job.

As my career developed and I moved from one job to another, my technical skill set grew exponentially. In 2004 I found myself working for a large multinational corporation where I rose to IT Manager for the continental United States. The title was really a misnomer. I was leading 15 direct reports and managing a multi-million budget. This was no entry level manager job. It was really more of a director or assistant VP role. Finding myself in this new position where I had to manage people and money versus just managing machines, was more than a little intimidating. I made some mistakes. Luckily I had a boss who believed in servant leadership. He had a conversation with me that changed my career. He asked me if I wanted to be a network engineer or a manager. Of course I replied "manager". That's when he told me that I needed to start putting the needs of my team first. He taught me that mentoring people, helping them succeed, putting a plan together for their professional growth, and making sure they were listed to (and heard!) was more important that configuring servers and routers. Over the years since, I have focused on learning business and leadership. My technical skills are there. My logic skills are there. But laying on top of all of those skills is my heart, my passion, and my love for seeing people succeed and delivering excellence.

One of the things I enjoy doing is looking at job postings for senior IT leadership positions. As I read them, I see line after line of technical requirements. But very little mention of leadership skill. There may be a bullet point that reads, "Manage team", or "Manage staff". I always shake my head in disbelief. Leadership isn't about technology. One of the best bosses I ever had was not technical at all, but was an awesome servant leader who was humble and helped me and my team succeed. I'd have walked over hot coals and broken glass for her and still would till this day. I do think having a strong technical background is important in many IT leadership roles because you need to have an idea of what you're tasking your team to do. You need to have been in the trenches at some point and know what it's like to sleep on a data center floor or a lobby couch. You need to know what it's like to work nights, holidays, weekends, and how much it impacts someone's family when you take them away on special occasions. You need to be logical and have strong problem solving skills. But the need for strong technical knowledge on particular hardware and software is no longer a big need for senior IT leaders. With a simple search, you can find the answer to just about any questions. You may be able to find a instruction video which walks you through whatever you need to know. The information is available at your fingertips. What most organizations need in a leader isn't a walking wiki of technical knowledge, but someone with a heart. Someone who can focus a team on "why we do the work". Someone who has emotional intelligence and knows how to provide the right coaching at the right time. They need someone who is a relationship builder and a great listener. Someone who cares about the customer and what the mission of the company is.

Now don't get me wrong, you still need to focus on the profit motive. You still need to make the most efficient use of resources. You have to have metrics and key performance indicators. But you need to be able to translate those things into a "what's in it for me" (WIIFM) for your team. Get them engaged. Show them the hard work they put in is actually moving the needle. Give them a sense of pride in the work they do versus them feeling like they are trading their life for money.

I once applied for a leadership role where I met or exceeded every job requirement. A few days later, I received an email asking me to fill out a questionnaire to help them understand more about me as a leader. My excitement level hit the roof! I've spent time at many organizations in leadership roles, but this was the first time any employer had ever asked me to detail my leadership style and philosophy.

If you're hiring for a leadership position, or if you're a technical recruiter who is searching for leadership candidates to pitch to your clients, be sure to focus on the traits that make great leaders. You can teach technology, but you can't teach personality. As young people enter the workforce, who have never known life without constant access to information, they are less impressed with what you know and more impressed with how you make them feel. Building a strong technical team starts with a leader who wants to engage, empower, and mentor their team members and humble themselves to be a servant to their team.

The greatest accomplishment of a leader is not telling people what to do, it's getting them to do things without having to ask them. Having them perform at a high level because they are proud of their work and their contribution to the good of the organization. The greatest leaders sacrifice their pride and privilege for the good of their team. They lead with humility and empathy. They serve the organization, and approach each day as an opportunity to help their team, and the organization become more successful.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Rest if you must, but don't you quit



When I was in 5th grade we had a talent show. My talent at that age was more or less the same as it is today...being a ham. I signed up and listed my talent as "stand up comedian". Over the next few weeks we had rehearsal for everyone performing in the talent show. Some danced, some sang, some played guitar, etc. One girl recited a poem. We all performed our acts in front of each other multiple times and that poem stuck with me and I have applied its wisdom throughout my career. That poem was called Don't Quit by John Greenleaf Whittier. She only recited the first verse, but what a verse it was.





John Greenleaf Whittier







Don't Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit—
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.







As I age and gain wisdom and experience, the meaning of this poem changes. Initially I took it to mean no matter how bad something is, stick it out. Don't quit. Quitting is failure. But that's not what the poem means to me now. Sometimes quitting IS "hanging in there". Accepting a less than optimal situation because you fear what making a leap might entail. Playing it safe and not having the courage to step out of a bad situation in order to find a better one. That's "quitting" to me. That's giving up. Having a pessimistic attitude of "it will be the same wherever I go"...that's quitting. Not having confidence and a keen sense of your self worth...that's quitting. Trading your life for a paycheck at a job that provides you no joy and satisfaction...that's quitting. This poem no longer means quitting "things" to me...it means quitting on myself. I will never, ever, quit on myself.

All of us have had a difficult time in our lives at some point. I know I have so many tales of woe I could easily write a book on them. Making the decision to change your life is a tough one. People often fear life outside of their comfort zones. But folks, that's where life begins! Let's look at the dark side for a minute. Let's say you make the leap to change your life, your career, your marriage...whatever...and you fail. At the time, it's devastating. This is the point where most people feel hopeless. Just keep in mind that 3, 4, 5...10 years down the road...this will be just a story in your life. That's what our past is, a series of stories. Each story, if used correctly, can teach us and motivate us to become better. To do greater things!

My inspiration for this blog post is a former team of mine. Truly the best team I've ever been a part of, and I've been on some great teams. As of this writing, each of those guys are now enduring a difficult time. They are writing a story in their life. I think about them every day. I want to help them any way I can, but I'm not in a position to do much for them. A a leader, a big part of your job is making sure your team is motivated, empowered, and engaged. I want to share this poem with them. Let them know to not quit on themselves. To never lose that drive for excellence I saw in each of them. I want them to know that they have immense value and are among the most rounded, skilled professionals I've ever had the honor of working with.

Gentlemen, rest if you must, but don't you quit!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Compression: Controlling Team Dynamics

Besides my love of business, leadership, motivation, and mentoring....I am also an avid music lover. So much so that 9 years ago I decided to learn to play bass guitar. Over the years I have learned that it's not just the notes you play, but how you play the notes, when you play the notes, and how those notes sound. This wasn't something foreign to me as this is the same lesson I learned as a communication major when I was in college. It's not just the words you say, but how you say them, when you say them, who says them, and how they sound. In the music industry, we call this "tone". Musicians spend untold time and money on developing their signature sound or mimicking the sound of their favorite artists. One of the effects often used in music is called compression. Compression is a complicated subject that unless you are a music geek or recording engineer you won't care much about. Basically, compression sets a threshold and any notes you play louder than the threshold are reduced in volume making them closer in volume to the quieter notes. 




Above is an example of a compressed audio stream. The notes above the threshold are reduced, but they are still heard...just not as loudly. So what does this have to do with leadership? Quite a lot actually. If you lead a team, chances are you have a group dynamic. You have individuals who are quiet and individuals who are never shy about sharing their opinions and ideas. While the more extroverted individuals on your team are doing all the talking....everyone else is listening and thinking. As a team leader, you have to act as the compressor. You still want your loudest team members to be heard, but you want to dial them down a bit and make them more equal to the quieter members.  There are a number of ways to do this. In musical compression there is a term called the "Knee". Compressors are either "hard knee" or "soft knee". A hard knee means when the threshold is reached the note is dramatically reduced in volume. Soft knee reduces the note volume progressively the closer it gets to the threshold.
 As a team leader, you obviously don't want to use a hard knee approach. Setting time limits or simply telling someone to "shut up" is not a good tactic. Neither is not allowing your more vocal team members to speak. Remember, we still want to hear those notes...just not as loudly.  As a leader, one of your main jobs is to make sure everyone on your team is heard and knows that their input is valued. Does that mean all input is valuable? No. There is a difference in valuing something, and something being valuable. An old t-shirt that belonged to a family member who has passed on may be valued by its owner, but if he tried to sell the shirt it wouldn't bring much money, so it is not valuable. All input from your team members must be valued, but it may not always be valuable. When my teams began collaborating on something I try to remind them that in the early stages it is about quantity of ideas...not quality. Why is this? Because you never know when some hair brained idea will jar something loose in someone else's head. When your team doesn't have to focus on the quality of their suggestions, they are more likely to speak up. Especially in an environment that values all input. This is how you achieve some soft knee compression. Instead of quieting down the loud notes, we've made the quieter notes a little louder by fostering an environment where they are willing to speak. On the flip side, if they are talking, that means your "loud note" people are listening and thinking. This gives them time to construct more valuable ideas which they normally wouldn't have time to do as they were too busy talking. This "soft knee" approach feels more organic and will generally give you a better outcome than squelching the loud people and calling out the quite people. Most folks don't enjoy being put on the spot. 

Compression can be turned up to such a high level that it does indeed ruin the dynamics of the music. Giving it a constrained, flat, lifeless tone. This is sometimes called "limiting" and it's aptly named.  The same can happen with teams. If you lead a team, you must actively focus on LISTENING to your team. Not only in a group, but individually. Let them know that you value their input and that their participation on your team is VALUABLE. Celebrate their diversity and find ways to leverage it.


The above quote is the outcome of  "limiting" your team. When people's input is ignored or worse yet, not even heard, there will be no more loud notes.  This is death for a supervisor. Notice I didn't say "leader"...I said supervisor. Maybe boss or manager is a good word too. A leader would never let their team stop talking. Being an effective leader isn't about making decisions and achieving personal success. It's about empowering others to make decisions, removing obstacles, and being a part of the team's success. As a leader, are you providing the right amount of compression to allow you team to function optimally, or are you limiting them by making unilateral decisions and telling them "how it's gonna be"?

Friday, June 14, 2019

Opportunity For Delayed Success

Chained to fear

There are very few things in this world that I'm scared of. I have horrible "needlephobia". Having endured spinal meningitis when I was 5yo and being held down while doctors performed spinal taps left me with an indelible phobia for those evil little pieces of hypodermic horror. As a rational adult, I understand that needles won't hurt me, yet I still suffer anxiety when I have to get a shot or have blood drawn. Our minds are exceedingly powerful, and we have a tremendous internal struggle for conscious thought to overcome unconscious thought. The struggle between rational and irrational.

The other thing I am horribly afraid of is failure. I'm not talking about losing a game or something inconsequential. I'm talking about big failings. Failing as a parent, failing as a leader, failing as a person. My entire life I have put a great deal of pressure on myself to be successful and to avoid failure. In 2001 I learned a very valuable lesson on failure. I became a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and began teaching people how to ride a motorcycle. I'll give you the straight skinny...there are some folks who should NEVER ride a motorcycle. But it's this teaching experience that taught me about fear and failure. I'd see a perfectly able bodied person get on the motorcycle for the first time and be absolutely paralyzed by fear. Their motor skills were impaired, their decision making skills were impaired, and they became their own worst enemy. Fear wrecked their ability to perform even the simplest of tasks on the motorcycle. Then there was failure. I watched several students crash, some sustaining injuries, who would get up bleeding and jump right back on the bike. Some would quit, but some would insist they could do it and they'd keep trying and failing until I'd have to make a judgement call and remove them from the course before they seriously hurt themselves or others. I was taught during my training to become an instructor to never tell anyone they "failed". When a student failed the course, I'd ask them, "How do you think you did?". They would usually respond with "I guess I failed". I'd tell them, "No, you have been given then opportunity for delayed success". Most of the time they knew what I meant as I explained to them that they could retake the class again and I discussed their areas for improvement. Some felt patronized and got angry. One student even paced back and forth in the parking lot after class. I was fearful he was going to retaliate against me for honestly assessing his lack of skill development.

As humans, we're imperfect. We make mistakes. If you've read my other blog posts, you'll know I talk a great deal about servant leadership and how a great leader should always be the person who helps their team and individual team members succeed. They should be the biggest cheerleader. The master motivator. Failure in and of itself isn't bad, but the fear of it can be crippling. In my career, I have stayed in roles I hated and worked for bosses who were less than optimal out of fear that I wouldn't be able to pay my bills if I left. But I've also taken the leap of faith and found something better on the other side. Far too often we find ourselves trading our life for a paycheck. We spend the bulk of our waking hours working. Some are content to just "do their time" and trade their most valuable asset...time...for money. Once that minute is gone, you can't get it back. There are no more "opportunities for success" for that moment. It's gone. No redos. No mulligans. I've always been the type person who sees my job as validation for who I am. When you meet someone, they ask, "What do you do?" and I proudly tell them about the work that I do. I have a great deal of passion, drive, and desire for excellence. I believe that's the quality that separates someone who just goes to work to "turn the crank and punch the time clock" and someone who enjoys success and achieving goals.

I recently read Marshall Goldsmith's book, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There". Through that reading I discovered I'm what he calls a "success addict".  While this might be a good thing in some contexts, it feeds that fear of failure. I always want to be my best and deliver success. But there are many things I'd like to accomplish but don't attempt out of the fear of failure. The old syndrome of, "If I can't win, I won't play". This is totally detrimental to success. Our failures are our best teachers. They humble us. They educate us. They make us wise. I watched an interview with Valentino Rossi, one of the greatest motorcycle racers to ever live, in which he discussed that crashing is how you become a better rider. You don't know where the limit is until you cross it. Then you learn. John Calipari, coach of the University of Kentucky basketball team once said, "We win or we learn, but we never lose".

If you find yourself in a position where you feel you've failed. Keep an open mind and try to find the good in the situation. Our lives are filled with ups and downs, and we should be thankful for the down times as they teach us and help us enjoy the good times that much more. If you feel you have failed, or that you are experiencing a setback, don't just accept it. Be determined, tenacious, passionate, and positive...you may have been given "an opportunity for delayed success".

Friday, June 7, 2019

Caring About People - The Most Important Skill

I've studied leadership and leaders for years. My dad was insistent that I read books such as "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, "Success Is a Choice" by Rick Pitino, and "Iacocca" by Lee Iacocca. I'd spend hours in his car on trips listening to audio tapes of Brian Tracy, Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, and the great Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. When I graduated college, my Dad said he wanted to provide one last piece of education to me, something that changed his life and helped him build a successful business. He always spoke with high regard for the writings of Dale Carnegie and the completion of the well known Dale Carnegie Course. Dad proudly displayed his certificate of completion from the course in his office and often pointed out how valuable the experience was to him. I graduated college in May 1995, and enrolled in the 12 week Dale Carnegie Course in August 1995. Each week Dad would ask me about the class and he would share experiences he still vividly remembered about his class. The course features some content focused on getting people out of their comfort zone, and I excelled in this area winning a class award for my passionate speech which saw all 6'5" of me stand on a classroom table and hit ceiling tiles. I received a rousing round of applause. Before the course was completed, my Dad passed away suddenly of a heart attack. He never got to see me complete the course, and it was the last thing my Dad ever bought for me. We all called my Dad "Coach", because he coached high school basketball early in his career after playing at the collegiate level at Murray State University. If you've ever played sports, you know a great coach is hard on you, he works you, he expects a lot from you...but he loves you and wants to make you the best version of you so you can be a winner. So being called "Coach" was an honor.


Dad's 1962 Class Number 250 certificate next to my 1995 Class Number 634. The gold emblem on the top left corner of my certificate indicates perfect attendance. Dad passed on a Wednesday, class was on Thursdays. I attended out of respect for my Dad. Never missing a class even though we were in the midst of planning an unexpected funeral.
So why am I writing this blog post about a personal achievement and a tragedy in my life? It's because one of Dad's favorite books is "How To Win Friends and Influence People" written by Dale Carnegie. He taught me from the time I was a little boy, that people are what matters. That no matter what job title you have, your #1 business is the relationship business. I saw him practice this all my life. Hiring guys unqualified for the job because they had a good attitude. More often than not, the gamble was a successful one. Dad was a master motivator and always preaching about "PMA"...Positive Mental Attitude. If he suspected you were down, he'd ask "how's your PMA?". 

Every job description for a leadership role I've ever seen lists something similar to "Must have XX years experience in leadership". I'd like to see that changed to "Must have the heart of a servant. Must be a coach. Must be a mentor. Must be able to develop your employees to take your job. Must give a damn.". Smart organizations know that skill is a commodity, especially in the technology realm. If you need a specific skill set, that's easy to obtain temporarily or have staff trained. Technology is more about business, compliance, risk, etc. Skills can be taught, but personality cannot. 
If your organization is hiring people, focus on the proverbial "soft" skills more than the tech skills. Obviously there needs to be a level of competency in anyone you hire. They have to have the skill to do the job. But the most highly skilled individuals aren't always the best employees. You should always seek employees with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ). The subject of EQ would fill up too much space to cover here, but here's a quick one pager on what EQ is.


If you are an employee seeking a new opportunity, look for companies that value your EQ. Statistics show that companies who hire people with high EQ are more successful. The numbers also reveal that employees with a high EQ are more successful as well. 



These figures support what my Dad told me years ago. No matter what your job is, you're in the relationship business. This becomes even more critical as companies begin implementing alternative workspace solutions (aka. work from home) as well as distributed locations. When you see someone face to face, you can read their body language, but when you're on a phone call or web based meeting, you have to learn to read vocal inflections, pauses, and also know that lack of any response is in and of itself a powerful response. 

Living in Nashville and being a amateur musician, I know a lot of music industry professionals. All of them have told me in some way or another this statement, "In Nashville, it's assumed you can play, that's not an issue...but do I want to be on a tour bus with you for 10 months?". One of my friends in the business calls it being a "good dude". Even at my level of playing, I could be a functional bass player in most bands. I'm not the most prolific player, and never will be, but I fancy myself to be a pretty "good dude" and have gotten some gigs simply because I get along with people well, I come prepared, and I do my best to help the other guys in the band. For example, I won't leave until everyone's gear has been loaded and everyone paid. As part of the band, you're a member of that team. 

There is always a flip side to every opinion. And there are plenty of examples where being a not so nice guy has created lots of success. Steve Jobs was notoriously difficult to work with. History is packed with examples of military leaders who shouted and ordered their way to victory. Leading through fear and intimidation has proven effective. A former co-worker of mine grew up in China and told an account of when the Chinese military came in with machine guns and demanded data be turned over to the government. Obviously, that got the job done. But ultimately, my co-worker moved to the United States.

If you can change your corporate culture to one of caring and concern for your fellow co-workers...at all levels...your organization will be more successful. Corporate culture is not having a game room, or free lunch Fridays...those are "perks". Culture is having a true concern for the humans who work there. Knowing who they are. Knowing their families, hobbies, etc. Being invested in them outside of the work they do. A friend of mine carries two cell phones as do a number of my co-workers. When I asked him why he said, "I don't want to mix my work and personal lives". HUH? My work IS my personal life. I spend a great deal of time at work with my colleagues every day. More time than I spend with my family. That's why it's so important to work at a company where you are cared about, listened to, and invested in.

Leaderhship Principles: Before Amazon...There was Dad

Over the past 15 years of my career I have focused on leadership, team building, business acumen, and emotional intelligence. I made thi...