Friday, December 30, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 13

Powell's Rules for Picking People: Look for intelligence and judgement, and most critically, a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners. Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive, a balanced ego and the drive to get things done.

When I read this, I honestly thought that General Powell was looking for the impossible. How many people do you know that meet this description? I don't know how often you can find these attributes in the same person; but when you do, it does seem like a no-brainer to higher him or her. As Gen. Powell mentions, it isn't difficult to train a novice in the fundamentals, provided they meet the above criteria. 

Honestly, the concept isn't new. In Good to Great by James Collins, he stated that the first thing to do is get the "right people on the bus, " then you decide "where they sit." Find the right people, who have the qualities described above, then find the place for them to work. I would love to have more people with these attributes, and I think anyone who is a leader would say the same. They can learn the skills.

So how do you find them? Gen. Powell mentions some things to avoid, but how do you find the right people? You can rely on references for most of this, job history will tell you a little bit more about the loyalty. Lastly, you need to trust your own judgement. A lot of people are afraid that they don't have the people skills to make the call. Fortunately, or unfortunately, these skills get better with practice, which means that a couple of good or bad experiences will teach you a lot about people judgement, and possibly what questions to ask to determine if the person is someone you want on your team. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

If you've ever hated your job...

be thankful you aren't him!

Next time you have a bad day at work think of this guy... This is even funnier when you realize it's real.

Rob is a commercial saturation diver for Global Divers in Louisiana . He performs underwater repairs on offshore drilling rigs. Below is an E-mail he sent to his sister. She then sent it to radio station 103.2 FM in Ft. Wayne , Indiana , who was sponsoring a worst job experience contest. Needless to say, she won.

Hi Sue,
Just another note from your bottom-dwelling brother.

Last week I had a bad day at the office. I know you've been feeling down lately at work, so I thought I would share my dilemma with you to make you realize it's not so bad after all.
Before I can tell you what happened to me, I first must bore you with a few technicalities of my job.

As you know, my office lies at the bottom of the sea. I wear a suit to the office. It's a wet suit. This time of year the water is quite cool.
So what we do to keep warm is this: We have a diesel powered industrial water heater. This $20,000 piece of equipment sucks the water out of the sea. It heats it to a delightful temperature. It then pumps it down to the diver through a garden hose, which is taped to the air hose.

Now this sounds like a darn good plan, and I've used it several times with no complaints.

What I do, when I get to the bottom and start working, is take the hose
and stuff it down the back of my wet suit. This floods my whole suit with warm water. It's like working in a Jacuzzi.

Everything was going well until all of a sudden, my butt started to itch. So, of course, I scratched it. This only made things worse. Within a few seconds my butt started to burn. I pulled the hose out from my back, but the damage was done. In agony, I realized what had happened.

The hot water machine had sucked up a jellyfish and pumped it into my suit. Now, since I don't have any hair on my back, the jellyfish couldn't stick to it. However, the crack of my butt was not as fortunate.

When I scratched what I thought was an itch, I was actually grinding the jellyfish into the crack of my butt.

I informed the dive supervisor of my dilemma over the communicator. His instructions were unclear due to the fact that he, along with five other divers, were all laughing hysterically.

Needless to say I aborted the dive. I was instructed to make three agonizing in-water decompression stops totaling thirty-five minutes before I could reach the surface to begin my chamber dry decompression.

When I arrived at the surface, I was wearing nothing but my brass helmet. As I climbed out of the water, the medic, with tears of laughter running down his face, handed me a tube of cream and told me to rub it on my butt as soon as I got in the chamber.

The cream put the fire out, but I couldn't poop for two days because my butt was swollen shut.

So, next time you're having a bad day at work, think about how much worse it would be if you had a jellyfish shoved up your butt.

Now repeat to yourself, 'I love my job, I love my job, I love my job.'

Now whenever you have a bad day, ask yourself, is this a jellyfish bad day?

May you NEVER have a jellyfish bad day...!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 12

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

I think we've all realized that mood is contagious. If the most visible person in a group is happy, then the group starts becoming happy. If the most visible person is one who "whine and blame engender the same behaviors among their colleges:." 

In many cases it is all about perspective. I once was evaluated by my boss saying "Matt, you don't get stressed enough. This project is millions of dollars, and the problem is thousands." The bosses issue was that I wasn't freaking out from the delivery issues. In truth, I was working hard toward getting it done, and my attitude got other people to jump in, and we fixed the delivery issues before the last rig was delivered. 

But a large part of the reason I could do that was my background allowed me to look at the problem as a problem, rather than a crisis. My military background taught me that a crisis means bullets flying, bombs going off, and/or the potential for loss of life, limb, or senses. If that wasn't an issue, it wasn't a crisis. So I would take a look at the situation, identify how to move forward, and moved in that direction. Because I didn't get upset or panicky, my team worked with me and we got the job done.

Of course, not everyone has that perspective. The real trick is to get that "gung-ho" attitude and keep it. Remember a leader is about showing confidence and optimism... a lot of the time, even when you don't feel it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Okay, so on Monday I talked about a snowball rolling downhill. Today, I found a video to share.

Just notice what happens when a person tries to get in front of it and push it back on course. That is reactionary, rather than building a track to guide the snowball on. My Favorite moment though is when the guy jumps on top of it and almost gets rolled over. See what happens when you try and ride or guide momentum? You need to create the path for it (in this case, I would recommend hay bales), and try to keep it away from obstacles; but a lot of the time, these things have a life of their own.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Snowball Rolling Downhill

Jim Collins in Good To Great talks about momentum like it is a grinding stone in an old mill. A person/organization starts pushing on the millstone, and it moves a little. Push some more, it moves a little more. If you can keep up the continuous effort, the millstone moves faster and faster until you don't have to exert much effort at all to keep it moving.

The problem I have with this analogy is that the millstone literally moves in a circle. To be perfectly honest, you aren't going anywhere. On top of that, anything that gets thrown on the millstone gets ground down. To me, that isn't a moral boosting analogy.

Instead, I tend to lean toward another analogy: the snowball rolling downhill. Now, most people imagine a cartoon (probably loony toons) of a snowball that starts about the size of a marble and then gains speed as it rolls downhill. A cute picture, but not really true.

A snowball that rolls downhill takes a lot of effort to build up. Most of the time you need to pack a ball very tight and then push it slowly down the hill. It still takes effort to get the ball rolling, but at some point it starts rolling on its own. Then watch-out, because it goes where it wants to.

Unless, you can get ahead of the snowball and guide its' path. That means carving a trail, removing or avoiding obstacles, opening gates, and ensuring that the snowball moves in the direction you want it moving in; while still giving it the opportunities to gain mass and speed. Why do I say this. Well unlike the cartoons, most of the time, if a snowball hits a tree it stops and breaks apart. When it hits a fence, it piles against the posts and stays put. As a leader, you can pick the path that leads the ball past the trees and toward the open gate in the fence.

Of course that means you need to be far enough ahead of the ball to see the obstacles and deal with them. You can't stand there and look at the snowball rolling down the hill and think: "Well, we did it, now it's all on its' own."

So, leadership is continuous, and you have to mind the momentum. Your efforts help it grow, and keep it together, heading toward the destination you take it toward. Even when you leave, you need to make sure that the people who are taking over for you CAN take over the path clearing. Pick the right people, train them well, and ensure that your team knows the plan.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 11

Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's missions.

Leadership fads today are like band-aids. If you are lucky, it will take care of the issue. However, most times it is a only a cover. The underlying symptoms still exist, and the problems are most likely still there. As General Powell mentions, jumping from fad to fad causes immense issues and for that matter, reduces the credibility of the leader. 

One of the reasons I picked the title C-4 for my website, is that the explosive is mold-able to the different situations in which it is needed. Leadership is exactly like that. It needs to be molded to the situation, and can have very interesting (and explosive) results. 

A fad may have some actual benefits, so add it to your kit, but remember that it is a fad, and not a panacea. Find the right tactic for the situation, but keep your values in check. Your team will respect you for keeping your values, and for being flexible in your style.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Motivational Posters are found in almost every office in the United States. Of course, this caused an uprising of Demotivational Posters. Since Improvement was Monday's theme, I thought this would be appropriate:

The last 2 blog entries talk about improvement. However, if there is a lesson from the poster above, it would probably be to avoid improvement simply for improvements sake.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Continuous Improvement

Yesterday I posted one of Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons that talked about ego, but really it talked about continuous improvement. The old ways become obsolete, and if you can't change with the times, your skills become obsolete as well. Think about it the next time somebody argues that a process shouldn't be changed, because we've "always done it that way."

So, as a leader, how do you do it? You have established processes and procedures that work for you (or at least you think they do). Should you scrap everything and start over? No, because then all you would be doing is re-writing processes, and not getting any of your required work done. So what do you do?

First, you need to take a step back and look at your overall processes. Where are people spending the most time? Usually there is a bottleneck that can be identified and improved upon, because there is capacity available ahead of it, or behind it. If you can identify that bottleneck, you can either change to address the bottleneck, or you can plan your work based on that choke point.

Dr Eliyahu Goldratt wrote a book called The Goal, which is a novel designed to teach about his Theory of Constraints. Really it is about how to address bottlenecks, and the story talks about the turn-around of a manufacturing plant due to process improvement and proper planning. But what if you work in an office?

Well, bottleneck's exist there as well. An example from my life is a tool I created called the "Purchase Order Calculator (POC)." The reason I created the tool was that I identified a large time-suck in our office. The Project Managers and Order Managers were spending hours trying to determine the proper Purchase Order value. The complication was a company memo that specified the different PO values based off of what location was issuing the PO, what location the PO was going to, and in some cases the margin of the original sale of the item. Not only were hours lost on the math and research to figure out which rules applied, but invariably, the plants receiving the PO would argue the PO value, and a discussion would ensue to determine if the proper rule was used. Talk about wasted time!

Anyway, more can be found (here, here, here, and here; perhaps I should stop mentioning it?) about the POC. The point is that as a leader you need to look at where your people are spending time. If you find a process exists which takes significant time out of their schedule, and you think it should be a relatively quick process, then you have a prime candidate to look at for improvement.

Another thought would be to evaluate where your people spend the most time. Use the 80/20 rule. In this case the rule would mean 80% of your team's time is filled by 20% of the activities they should complete (how many versions of this rule are there?). That means the best place to look at for improvement is at those activities. Time is money, and hours can mean millions.

Once the process is identified, then you can build a group of subject matter experts and devise a plan to address the improvement. In some cases, it can be done quickly, but in others it will take time. I would suggest that you plan (as the leader) to improve one process a quarter (if it is a particularly big process, every 6 months). The first time or two, you should probably lead the group, however, these teams also provide a viable opportunity to develop the leaders within your organization. Identify the team, identify the issue, and place a leader in charge to address it. Just don't let it become an excuse to avoid the regular work that needs to be done.

In some cases, your existing process is the best solution. However, I am willing to bet in most cases there is a better way. And never let anyone end the discussion with the statement "because we've always done it that way."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 10

Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it. 

 When I read the italicized section of this quote, I had a different idea than what the description goes into. My original thought was strictly about ego, and the potential destruction of a leader when his "position" went, the ego bubble bursts and the leader loses confidence and in a manner of speaking, ability.

However, what General Powell is talking about is the need to change, which sometimes eliminates the positions that so many people rely on. People get so comfortable with what they are doing, that they forget that they need to "change with the times." The problem with this mentality is that no process is perfect, and with the every increasing pace of technology, a great process becomes good in a very short period of time. Good becomes passable, and passable becomes outright wrong. A lot of things survive on momentum, but at some point, the momentum wears down, and failure and collapse occur.

So, what are you to do? As a leader you should be looking for continuous improvement (yes it is an old business buzz phrase, but it is no less true, check out Monday's entry). General Powell states that "The proper response is to obsolete our activities before someone else does." So when you walk into work on Monday, take a look at your processes, and start figuring out how to improve, before the competition does.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Even West Pointers get to relax a little every now and then...

This is a talent show that happens at the end of Summer Training (known as Beast). The next day apparently the cadets get to march 13 miles back to the main campus. Does that sound like your kind of fun?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Military Academies and Leadership Training

In a previous blog, I wrote about the a specific instance that showcased differences between some West Point commissioned officers, and some ROTC/Mustang commissioned officers (found here). Looking back, I realize that this might not show my true opinion of the military academies.

Back in High School, I desperately wanted to go to West Point. So desperate, that even though I was already an Eagle Scout, Varsity Baseball player, Editor of the school Yearbook, a solid A to high B student, and thespian (or so I thought) for several school plays, I joined another sport (JV volleyball; I know, I know) simply because most West Point cadets participated in at least 2 sports.

My parents took me for a visit my Junior year of High School, and I fell in love with the pristine campus, with the order and discipline shown by the cadets. Every room was immaculate, the cadets were polite, well informed, and constantly challenged. I wanted to have that life so badly I could almost taste it.

Not to put all my eggs in one basket, I applied to the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy as well. Then, because I knew I wanted to be in the military, I applied for an Army and an Air Force ROTC scholarship. I think I went a little overboard.

 During the vetting process I saw a lot of the same candidates, going through information meetings, interviews, physicals, fitness tests. We got use to seeing each other. I interviewed with 1 Senator and 1 Representative (as well as the other Senator's representatives). I think I managed 15 pull-ups in one fitness test session (probably couldn't do that now), and flubbed the basketball throw because I practiced a technique that wasn't authorized. The whole process was an interesting experience (and in some ways very humbling when you start comparing yourself to other candidates).

In the end, I was wait listed for West Point; the admission slot taken by a world class female cellist (who didn't make it through the first summer training cycle, yet another blog entry).  I did receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy, as well as a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship and a 3-year Air Force ROTC scholarship. Apparently, as far as the Navy was concerned, they had issues with my not knowing the difference between a boat and ship (an actual interview question I got wrong... hey, at the time I was trying to be a Marine, don't judge).

In the end, I turned down the Air Force (why go to the Air Force if your eyesight precludes you from being a pilot?), took the 4-year Army ROTC scholarship and went to Syracuse University. 

Back to the Academies. They are a ready source of leaders. Young men and women go through tests and trials at those locations that few in the general populous can comprehend. From day one, they are molded to become leaders. I think it is a first class education and a wonderful environment.

However, after spending time in the Army, and the real world, there is a shortcoming to the Academies. Even though the cadets are tested beyond anything anyone else has, they don't have the true college experience. They don't know what it is like to get away with something, because it is incredibly hard to get away with anything in that environment, and the punishment is severe; so that you don't entertain the notion of trying. From the beginning, they are told, don't do it unless I give you permission, and as they move up the ranks, they do the same thing to the new class. Even as the cadets progress, they are still in an environment that frowns on self-expression and innovation (although I am sure there are inventive cadets out there).

Now some people need that type of structure. I can think of several people who would have done better in the Academies than in an ROTC program (but I am not sure they would meet the strict entry criteria). Looking back, I am not sure I am one of them. My regular college experience taught me time management and self reliance that wouldn't have been an issue at West Point. I also learned how to "get away" with solutions to issues, which I know wouldn't have been tolerated at West Point.

Bottom line, I cannot say I am a better leader because of my choices, but I do know I am a different one. The Academies produce leaders (without a doubt), some of the best in the world. For everyone who has gone through an Academy, I give you credit. You did more than 99.9% of the rest of the population, and I know you grew because of it. Thank you!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 9

Organization charts and fancy titles count for next to nothing.

My apologies for not posting sooner. It was a busy week. 
I trained in the military, which as many of you know, is a very hierarchical organization. People are given ranks and positions; then they have to execute the mission. I can recall many occasions where rank and position didn't provide the results required for the mission. 
So often, people place their worth in their title and position, when it really comes down to who can get the job done. Look for people with the attributes that General Powell describes. These are the real leaders of your organization. Hopefully they are prevalent at all levels of your organization, and in greater numbers than the former people. 

If you find yourself fixating on title, or Organization chart, ask yourself if you already have the capacity to influence and inspire. If you do, why do you need the title? If you don't, should you have the title?