Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

A long time ago I was in South Carolina for a hunting trip. I was 14 years old. While I was down there, I had my first deep fried turkey... in fact the host was nice enough to make 2 (they didn't last long). It is a fantastic way to cook a bird...

However, there are several wrong ways to do it. If the turkey isn't properly thawed (as one example), the result actually looks like it belongs on MythBusters:

Like so many other things in this world, without proper preparation or knowledge, the results can be catastrophic. A leader knows the possible outcomes and is prepared for them in advance (hopefully before the house burns down.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Taking Care of Your People on the Holidays

Last week I shared my most memorable Thanksgiving. Today I want to talk about another Thanksgiving tradition I have (unfortunately, I didn't get to partake in this year).

Every year I invite people to my house for Thanksgiving dinner who don't have others to celebrate with. It can be a co-worker who isn't able to travel, or a soldier that drew the short straw and had duty during Thanksgiving. The point is that I invited people into my home to share a meal on a day where we give thanks for so many things.

Why do I feel this is important? Because I talked before about making sure your people know you care. This is a BIG step in doing that. After all, who wants to have a small microwave Thanksgiving dinner by themselves? Even if you barely know the people, wouldn't you rather spend time with them?

When you have a team who knows you care, they will work harder for you and are less likely to leave for "greener pastures." The team appreciates the extra effort (and to be honest, when was the last time you were invited to a Thanksgiving Dinner by your boss at his house?). Of course you should consider what the politics are, and whether or not your team will feel it is a "work" function rather than a thank you.

Of course, one important thing to mention, make sure your spouse is okay with the plan BEFORE you enact it. I am not sure how my wife would react if I suddenly told her 3 extra people were coming to Thanksgiving dinner the day of (I know there would be significant pain involved, however).

Now, if I had a large team (or was in charge of a plant), I would approach things a little differently. I would probably hold a raffle (anynomous, with people having to decide whether they want in or not; hey, some people travel) for my workers to attend Thanksgiving at my house (and I would invite the middle managers, with the expectation that they bring something). Additional prizes would be a couple of turkeys, and maybe an additional paid day off. That is a lot of good will that your team will appreciate (and hopefully other leaders will learn from).

In the end, don't take your team for granted, and realize that not everyone is as fortunate as others. Your generosity will not go unnoticed, and you will reap the benefits in loyalty and moral.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 8

Organizations don't really accomplish anything. Plans don't accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don't much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds.

Jim Collins talks about "getting the right people on the bus." You need the right people around you if you are going to succeed. The phrase "people are our most valuable asset" has become cliche, however it is true, when they are treated properly. Procedures do not execute themselves, and even if a computer program can do the job, at some point it needs to be programmed, and the right people need to give it the information.

So, how do you make sure your people are the best. The first is to hire the right people, and to move or fire the people who are not the best. After you have the right people "on the bus" then you can find the proper seat for them. Work with their strengths, and they will appreciate you for it.

Beyond that, you need to show your team you care. In a previous blog I mentioned taking a different team member out to lunch each week. That way you can learn about him/her. Once you do, make sure to "remember" it any way you can. If you learn about a birthday, send him/her a card when it arrives. If he/she is about to go on vacation, ask them how it went. And when he or she does something worth praising, you praise them in public for it. Your team will know that you appreciate them.

Reward them for initiative and innovation, so that you can unleash them (another blog entry). Absorb the blame from higher, but distribute the praise. Be aware that your best will be tempted to stray, so never count on someone as the sole person for that position. The military talks about training up and down, so everyone knows the mission. If you don't cross-train, when one of your best is tempted away, your team can fall apart.

Finally, and this might be the hardest part, pay them what they are worth, not what you can get away with. Honor your agreements with them and don't change the rules without advising them about why the change is necessary. People will stick through a lot of things, but at some point money does matter, and if the market rate is higher than the pay you are offering, how can you be surprised that people leave or won't join the team in the first place.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I have a lot of memories of Thanksgivings at my Grandparent's place in Vermont, but they all seem to mesh together. Same relatives, same discussions (okay, okay arguments) and the same dinner every year. God I miss those days.

BUT, the most memorable Thanksgiving I had was in 2003. I was in Iraq with my platoon and we were out guarding a radio tower that was pretty remote. We were out there for a week, which had its' bad and good points.

Bad Points:
- Hot food only came out once a day (if we were lucky with the supply convoy).

- It was GUARD DUTY, which meant our primary focus was long hours of boredom.

- Support was at best 20 minutes away.

Good Points:
- Had Internet access. This at a time when the home base was just getting wired and the computers had a mile long waiting list; and we'd gone months without phones, let alone email. There were 3 computers and we each rotated through them during the night to chat (Instant Message) with our friends and family back home (a rare treat!).

- Had AC and Heat in the rooms we were staying in. At the time, the base was still fairly open and there was no good way to heat/cool the individual rooms. This was largely the result of the place being stripped by the local populace before we showed up. And I mean STRIPPED. Even windows and sinks were removed from their fittings (so, you could say they even took the kitchen sink. Hey, my blog, my choice!). AC/Heat was a luxury to a bunch of tankers who lived in building shells or on vehicles for the last 8 months.

- We were 20 minutes away from the command structure. This meant we could basically run our own show. We even had about a 2 mile line of sight, so command couldn't sneak up on us for a surprise visit.

Why was this one memorable (aside from the whole, being in Iraq thing)? Because each of my soldiers got to IM with someone back home, and the convoy arrived with still warm food for our Thanksgiving Dinner (something I was willing to bet we weren't going to get at all, based on the track record). Plates were run out to the guard points and the rest of us got to enjoy a warm meal with people whom were brothers (not by blood, but by fire).

The best thing of all... NOTHING HAPPENED during our time out at the guard point (well, except for the company 1SGT collapsing a bunk under his own weight while shoveling down his turkey dinner. That's funny, I don't care who you are). When you go a week without bullets or bombs in Iraq, you are thankful.

It's a great memory I still hold to, and I just wanted to say to anyone reading this Happy Thanksgiving. To any veterans that might be reading this, THANK YOU. And to anybody still in the service (or over there right now) keep your head down, and come home safe.

(I'm the blonde on the right hand side, middle)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Keep your cool.

A task that many leaders strive for, but we don't always achieve. It is amazing to watch people panic. If the leader is calm, then his people are calm (usually). If the leader freaks... well, I think you can figure it out. 

Below is a video of a man who kept his cool. I think he deserves to be recognized, too bad I don't know his name...

I received this as an email, but thought I should share.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Whatever You Do...

Keep Calm!

I recall a particular night in Iraq. It was only a couple of months in country and most of the Battalion was exhausted. We were still acclimating to the climbing heat and the constant missions. That night we slept on top of a 2 story building, cooler to the night air, but more exposed. Thankfully, it had been a quite night...

Except for three large explosions around 1:00 AM. It was a VERY rude awakening. People falling out of beds, scrambling into uniforms and armor, grabbing weapons, and a lot of screaming (typically "WTF was that?" and "What do we do? What do we do?"). One person even screamed "My mask, where's my NBC mask?"

Above it all, one voice rang out "F^%K the mask! Get the Hell off this floor!" Suddenly, with that shout of guidance, everybody ran for the stairs and to their vehicles. We loaded up on our vehicles and headed out the gate on another patrol. We didn't find anything.

The three large explosions were 120mm rounds lobbed at our base (thankfully, they fell outside the wall). Everybody panicked because it was the largest explosion we had up to that point and most people didn't know how to react. It only took one voice of certainty to cut through the panic and get people moving in a single direction (any guesses to who had the loud voice?).

So what is a leader, but the one person who needs to remain calm when others are screaming and terrified? Confidence and calm can make the difference between a nightmare and an event that turns a risk into an opportunity. If your team sees you panicking, then they will panic. If you as a leader avoid panic, your confidence will instill confidence in them.

I think this can be summed up by Nelsen Mandela "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquest that fear." or perhaps the from Gillette Company  "Never let them see you sweat."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Colin Powell's Lessons in Leadership - 7

Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink form doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.

This for some reason seems to be one of the most difficult leadership lessons to actually follow. A lot of the time, people look at something and since it is working, they don't bother to check on it, or do the required maintenance to keep it working well. This statement leads people to assume what works today will work tomorrow, when it never is the case, especially in this day and age. 

The case in point would be the previous blog entry I made about the Tale of Two Companies. The enemy adapted and learned. So the same old tactics (staying on top of the checkpoint) were not preventing the roadside bombs along the convoy route. The enemy adapted so we needed to look beyond the surface appearance (nothing happened while I was there, so we did it right). The solution in this case was to detail a tank wing to sit at the checkpoint for 2-3 hours, then they would move off. The difference in this approach was that the second wing of the platoon would stay behind in the over-watch position. That way, the enemy thought that we were gone and would attempt to plant the bomb, only to find us waiting for them.

Now, we needed to look beyond the surface to reach that plan. The second company wasn't happy that we had to do it, but in the long run we protected lives by doing it. 

In the business world, that comes back to the fact that information is expanding exponentially, and new ideas, processes and products are hitting the market at a similar rate. People that say "We've always done it this way" are dinosaurs, and a company with them is on the way to extinction unless they recognize the flaw and fix it. Look at Motorola and Nokia. When the iPhone came out, those companies were caught flat-footed, because they thought they knew the market (or worse, look at RIM, which SHOULD have owned the smartphone market).
Yet another example of a company that didn't look beyond the surface, and answered the call to non-action was Circuit City. It was one of the strongest brands for electronic sales in the nineties, was featured in a book called Built to Last, and didn't as Best Buy and Walmart stole its' market share.

Do not let anyway so "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Too often that statement hides a process that works for now, but is losing its' effectiveness and can cause the loss of your position or company.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wacky Wednesday

Because my last post was about meetings, I thought this would be a good one to share. I think that most of you have seen this before, but... oh well.

Pulled from Life After Coffee 

Perhaps you should print it out for your desk?