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.

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!

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."

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...