Showing posts with label Learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Learning. Show all posts

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Sabbatical is...Over!


Well, the excuses are over. I can’t account for my negligence in writing any longer by saying, “I’m busy running a multi-billion dollar construction company” or that, “I’m busy fighting the Taliban.” My year in Afghanistan is complete and...I’m back! My little sabbatical is over! I’ve got a head-full of ideas, concepts, and data points that I can’t wait to share. It’s time to write. I am embarrassed to see that my last blog posting was….uhhhh….January 1st. Well, let’s change that right now!

I will use this first posting to update you all on several things before I start writing again. And yes, this shameless update will NOT be the last you hear from me for the NEXT 6 months! I promise!!!

So, about me. I am back from Afghanistan after the most amazing 12 months of my life. I lived the dream, running a multi-billion dollar construction company in combat conditions, where every decision, every single day, truly mattered. As strange as that might sound, it was the thrill of a lifetime and I would not have missed it for anything!

Now that I am back, it is time to work on some projects. First, I want to spend some time getting the word out about my book, Leader Business. This “best-seller” is a good read and (I hope!) worth your time understanding the cross-over appeal between the military which I have served for 26+ years and the rest of the world in which we ALL live! Would you consider picking up a copy HERE if you have not already? In fact, if you will simply email me and tell me you want a signed copy of Leader Business, I’m prepared to do so!

I am also working on speaking to a number of groups about the Business of Leaders. If I can come speak to your group, as I have booked engagements for a dozen (+) groups already, would you drop me a note and let me know of your interest? The working title of my presentation, "3 Cups of Tea, 2 Bags of Cement, and a Truckload of Leadership" highlights the mix of leadership lessons and great lessons from building in Afghanistan that I can't wait to share!

We have a lot of catching up to do. I’d like to talk to you about things like how we developed a strategic plan for a multi-billion dollar company; how we aligned people, processes, systems, and our communications with that strategy; how we executed to meet the ever-evolving demands from our customer and from the environment in which we operated; and how we conducted After Actions Reviews (AARs) to ensure that learning could be factored into subsequent plans to get continuous improvement. That is the “Leader Business Cycle” and something that I found to be the basic framework for how I approached my time during deployment to Afghanistan. It continues to be a good reference for me. I hope you agree.

So, for a preview, here are some of the upcoming topics you can find on these pages:

-- More on the Drumbeat. How to communicate a vision.
-- Metrics and why they matter?
-- Creating a sense of urgency in your organization.
-- Strategic planning in a combat environment.
-- Finding balance in a 24/7 environment.
-- Energy and why it matters to those we lead.
-- Stratcoms (Strategic communications).
-- Continuous learning when the stakes matter most

Well friends, I am looking forward to re-starting our dialogue. Despite my time away, I could not be more excited about the opportunities we have to re-connect. As I turn on my TV and see what is happening in our world, I am certainly aware of the lack of leadership in so many sectors of our world, especially right here in the United States. Is there something I can offer to help? Who knows. Let’s just open a discussion. You tell me when you’ve heard enough. I’m happy to be back! This is Leader Business! Hooah!

PS. Just so you know I am serious about writing again, I am finishing up this blog as I sit on the porch early Maui. The picture at the top is from last night's sunset from the beautiful Hula Grill. Nice!! Yes, a little post-deployment R&R! I'm not sure I'll ever leave this place but...I DO have a good internet connection! :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

(Un)Learning Leadership from "The Office" -- Part II

I shared with you previously my addiction to the NBC show, "The Office." It truly is like watching a leadership train wreck -- uncomfortable, inappropriate, and offensive. And yet...I can't look away. Not only is it funny, it offers insights into management issues faced by leaders everywhere.

Now this is not to suggest that the Office manager, Michael Scott, does a good job dealing with those issues. In fact, on most levels, he is an excellent example of everything one should NOT do as a leader. But I think many of us can acknowledge that we learn as much about leadership watching bad leaders as we do from good ones. Most of us have leadership qualities that are a combination of the former (things to avoid doing) and the latter (things to model). From the video above, you can guess in which category most of Michael Scott's behavior falls:

-- Leaders create the work environment. They are responsible for modeling appropriate behaviors, establishing a culture of tolerance and acceptance, and demand the highest ethics from themselves and the team. If you watch the show, everything Michael Scott does is wrong. He says inappropriate things ("That's what she says!"). He makes viewers wince with his off-color jokes and repeated episodes of intolerance. He allows bigotry from subordinates (Dwight) and never misses an opportunity to put people down for issues of weight, color, or religious and sexual preference. His behavior is clearly ALL WRONG. And this is probably the point. There is no mistaking his errors. And we squirm because we've all seen it. Leadership is clearly about creating a culture of acceptance and respect for all. It is about eliminating prejudice and crude actions that inhibit teamwork, trust, and performance. Leadership is about building people up, not putting them down.

-- Leaders focus on the mission. Many episodes of the show can pass without ever seeing any work get done. Sales are rare. Discussions about personal issues far outweigh talk of profit, performance, and best practices. And no one is more distracted than the leader of the DunderMifflin branch, Michael Scott. He is quick to rally the troops to talk about how to plan his own birthday party, while slow to talk about industry trends, competitor actions, or quarterly goals. There may be no greater time waster in the history of business than he. Constant meetings, games, off-sites, guest speakers, training, and internet surfing makes it hard to see how business gets done there in Scranton. Mission accomplishment starts with the leader. When he is focused, the team is focused. But when he is lost, the team is as well.

-- Leaders share the credit. Michael Scott may be the most selfish leader in history. He is content to be the only one on the team to have a parking space or to receive a bonus. He wants every success to be credited to him and every failure to be someone else's. True leadership is about focusing on the mission and the success of the team, without regard for personal success. Interestingly, most of us have seen that it is when we embrace this philosophy, we often have our brightest moments. Not Michael Scott. He finds new ways to put the "I" in "TEAM!"

-- Leaders know the business. While Michael Scott claims to know about sales, there is little evidence that he understands things like technology, accounting, marketing, or shipping...and probably not sales! Oh, and as for the business of leadership, he may have unwritten the book! One of my favorite scenes is when he tells Oscar from accounting to, "Pretend he doesn't know anything about the company's finances" in order to explain some very fundamental issues to him. It's funny because...he doesn't know anything about the company's finances! Leaders must be competent. If they don't know something, they should learn it -- before their incompetence hurts the team. While leaders don't have to know everything, they should have a basic understanding of the important things.

-- Leaders embrace change. Paper companies are ripe for efficiency. Customers should be able to make orders electronically. New products and services should be advertised on the company website. Sales managers must be equipped to operate virtually, not chained to the desk and the rotary phone. Michael Scott is old school -- to a fault. His methods of doing business likely make it difficult to compete with the "Big Box" companies. His failure to embrace emerging products and new opportunities makes it difficult to see how DunderMifflin remains in business. But it does make for good TV!

So while I admit to being an addict, I think I know why I watch. To an (hopefully small) extent -- I see myself. I have failed on occasion to establish the right culture and the necessary mission focus. I have hogged too much of the credit and have been too slow to adapt. I am reminded almost every day that I am not as smart as I think I am and am only successful because of the great people with whom I work. I think this show helps us all laugh -- at the Scranton Branch ourselves. Perhaps the more that I watch, the more about bad leadership I can unlearn. That double negative should hopefully make me a more positive, inspiring leader with my own team. That's Leader Business!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

LEED for Life!

Well...I did it! After months of studying (well...really two pretty intense weeks of cramming!), I took and passed my exam to become a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Accredited Professional. It was a lot of work and I wasn't ever totally sure I was going to pass. My hand was shaking as I clicked "Finish" and got my score. I passed!!! Sweet.

Why LEED? Here are my thoughts:

-- I like the first word -- Leadership.
-- We have to keep challenging ourselves. I enjoyed the battle! I was totally out of my element, yet appreciated the chance to push myself.
-- We never stop learning. I learned a ton about something that was completely foreign to me but increasingly relevant to all of us. So much of new construction (and all new construction in the military) is being done to new, "Green" standards. It was good to stretch. I first told you about this test in the concept of "Stretching" after watching how hard my daughter was working on her college prep work. She definitely inspired me. Right now, I'm a little tired from the workout but know I am stronger for it!
-- I like that once you are an Accredited Professional in LEED -- you are LEED for life. Like being an Airborne Ranger. They can't take it away from me! Hooah!

I have fallen behind on a lot of stuff. Time to get caught up there. But for now, I am going to take a minute and enjoy the feeling of competing...and winning!

What about you? What challenges are you taking on in you life? What new projects and big hairy goals are you striving for? That's what leaders do. And that's Leader Business!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Failing" Leaders

I had to call a senior official in Washington D.C. this week. You see, one of our projects was not turning out the way it should. People had been led to believe something that was no longer accurate. We had to correct the record. But instead of making a lot of excuses, blaming the system, or putting fault on my predecessors, I opened with a line I use way too often: "I screwed up."

I have a lot of company these days:

"I screwed up," said Olympic champion Michael Phelps for his poor judgement in using drugs.

"I screwed up," said baseball star Alex Rodriguez for his use of performance enhancing drugs during three years in Texas.

"I screwed up," said President Obama for suggesting that it was okay to not pay taxes by standing by some of his (non-tax paying) cabinet appointees.

And whether or not they will admit it, there is a lot of mea culpa to go around with the failings of so many businesses, banks, state governments, schools, etc. Occasionally (though not as often as they should), the leaders of those enterprises will let people know that they "screwed up."

No blog post of mine gets as many google search hits as my writings about "My Greatest Failures." I've screwed up plenty. And it looks like I have a lot of company out there based on all the searches on those words!

But there is no way to sugar coat it. Nor should we try. Start by acknowledging failure, by stepping up and accepting the burden of leadership and recognizing that the shortcomings of the team begin with the shortcomings of the leader. Step up and take it. Let people know you screwed up. Then learn from it, fix it, make corrections.

I appreciate the President's use of those words. That sort of refreshing candor is worthy of emulation by all leaders. It is good to see others following suit.

Now, let's see if the financial industry CEOs who testify before Congress today can do the same! Let's see if the people who got us into this mess (and there are many who share in this failure -- from people who overspent to governments and financial institutions who did the same) can step up and accept blame for their actions. Let's see who else can open with, "I screwed up!"

I know that's how I would start on the road to recovery. That's Leader Business!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Learning in the Jungle

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am off on an adventure with my brothers in Vietnam. As I write this, I am up early (I never have adjusted to the massive time difference and still get up every morning at 4:00) and getting ready for a run in the city of Tay Ninh.

We have had a blast. We started in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for a couple of days of food, culture, bartering at the shops, and just taking it all in. Every scene has made us wonder what our Dad and his fellow troopers must have experienced some 40 years ago. We then got a driver and headed off to the Northwest toward the Cambodian border. We saw the tunnels at Cu Chi, climbed a big mountain to visit a temple on the Ba Den mountain, and got the lay of the land here in Tay Ninh. Yesterday we found the battlefield that my Dad fought on during a catastrophic day in 1970 and saw a worship service at another temple for the Cao Dai religion. We have sampled some of the local food and drink all along the way. The people have been awesome and the scenery has been breathtaking. What a blast.

The picture above is me with my brothers sharing some tea after visiting the Cu Chi tunnels. It was an interesting tour. For some, it may have been uncomfortable hearing tales of how the rebels had such success against the Americans. For us, it was a chance to learn about the ingenuity of people and their willingness to sacrifice for a cause. There was also much to learn about "winning hearts and minds," something that has probably taken us too long to remember in our current engagements. There is always value in learning from our enemies -- current and past -- to help us prepare for the future. And as we have discussed before, there is no better way to learn than to learn from failure.

On this Veteran's Day, I'd like to salute the men and women who have served their country with such distinction, especially here in Vietnam. After only a few days we have certainly gained an appreciation of how difficult the conditions were here. No matter what one thinks about this particular war, or about warfare in general, we should be thankful that there are others who will serve, who will endure hardships, and who will make the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you Vets for all that you have done.

From Tay Ninh -- that's Leader Business!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Who Else Needs to Know?

As a trainer at the Army's National Training Center, I would experience this more times than I can remember: Information that could change the course of a battle would be reported to someone in the command post (the nerve center for a military unit). But instead of sharing this information with the commander or anyone else who might do something with this information, it was simply logged in, posted on a map, or otherwise disregarded by the recipient (usually some junior radioman with only a few months in the unit!). This information could have changed the course of the battle...if only someone else knew about it.

Walk into many command posts in the Army and you will see the following sign posted over the map, near the radio, and over the computers: "Who Else Needs To Know?" It is a reminder that someone, somewhere likely can find an advantage from knowing what you know. Perhaps the commander, an adjacent unit, or your higher headquarters would benefit from this information. Perhaps one of the subordinate units conducting missions would be able to do something with this piece of data. But it does no one any good simply entered into a log or sitting in an inbox. Telling just one person can be the difference between victory and defeat. Who else needs to know?

I have encouraged my own team to post this on the top of their computer monitors. It is a good reminder that we need to constantly be reminded of the importance of sharing information.

As I think about times where I have really had my butt chewed (usually rightly was the case recently...ouch!), it is for this shortcoming. We take action and fail to coordinate. We don't tell our partners, stakeholders, or higher headquarters what we are doing -- and it comes back to bite us. We fail to report, provide late or incomplete information, or miss a suspense without letting someone know -- and it may cost us the battle (or at least a couple of pounds off the backside)!

-- Airplanes not meeting inspection schedules? Who else needs to know?
-- Having problems with a supplier? Who else needs to know?
-- Not going to meet a quarterly goal? Who else needs to know?
-- Getting ready to make a major announcement or take an initiative? Who else needs to know?
-- Sitting on some bad news that may have impacts beyond just your project, or your little piece of the company? Who else needs to know?

As I indicated, I was reminded of this critical leadership lesson quite recently. It's probably worth sharing. This simple statement is the key to open, transparent, consistent communication and it produces the common operational picture that enables successful decision making. Who else needs to know? Up, down, left, right? This is how battles are won. This is Leader Business.
Image Courtesy of

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Learning from Failure

Have you ever found yourself too busy "fighting your tail off" that you can't take a few minutes to save your tail from falling off? This is the challenge we all face. How do we stop the execution train long enough to do the maintenance necessary to keep the train rolling? How do we learn as part of routine operations and turn failure into future success?

In the military we call them After Action Reviews, or AARs. These are the brief sessions that focus on what is going well (and should be sustained and formally incorporated into business processes) and what is not going well (and should be improved). They are non-threatening, rankless examinations that lead to continuous improvement. AARs are how good units learn from failure.

This week, my team and I are conducting an AAR regarding a project we've been struggling with for several years. We finally broke through a major milestone. Time to celebrate -- you bet. But before we get too full of ourselves, we need to ensure that we look at how we can do better. And we can always do better. I know that within my organization there were mistakes and missteps, failures to communicate, and policy and process issues that must be addressed to prevent future shortcomings.

I talked in a previous post about people who struggle answering the question in job interviews about their greatest failure. People who regularly conduct AARs have no such difficulty! They realize that they can do better, that perfection is the goal, that anything short of perfection is a degree of failure that demands improvement! This is not about Zero Defects but Infinite possibilities! There is always another level to which we should aspire.

So what do you need to be AARing? Have you reached a project milestone, completed an important event, or finished a critical component of your schedule? Would you do well to include AARs at the end of each day...or week? If so, get going! Make AARs a part of your routine. Learn from your failure -- in the way that has enabled so much of the success of our military.

That's Leader Business.

P.S. For details on the conduct of AARs, see the LB Newsletter on this topic. Drop me a note about any recent AAR successes...or let me know how I can help you turn your failures into future success with more information about After Action Reviews. Hooah!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Greatest Failure

I have been conducting a number of job interviews lately for senior leaders in my organization. One of the questions I use frequently is, "What is your greatest failure, and why?" I am interested in seeing how candidates think by identifying where they came up short, and what they learned from it. I'm looking for risk takers and people who understand that failure is so often an opportunity to learn and grow.

What I have been hearing far too frequently is something like this: "Wow...I didn't see that coming. I don't know that I've ever really failed at anything. I'm not sure how I'd answer that."

I have a big problem with this answer. Are they suggesting that they've never taken on a major challenge with significant risk? Do they think that they have performed as well as they can...every time, that there is not another level of performance. Do they really think that they can do no better? Are they not committed to constant improvement and continuous learning? Have they never put themselves in difficult positions or taken on big projects, some of which inevitably come up short?

I'd have no problem answering this problem. I've made plenty of mistakes. I've failed more often than I likely would have time to address were I asked this question. I'm not perfect. Ask my bosses, my subordinates, my family! I've had plenty of opportunities to learn from my shortcomings.

I've hired someone that I later regretted. I failed to keep superiors informed of looming problems -- that they later learned of from someone else. I failed to recognize excellence in my subordinates when they did well. I did not anticipate problems. I did not complete a mission on time, on budget, or with the quality that was expected of me. I have aimed high...and landed low!

Shall I go on? I have failed plenty. But I believe that each of these was an opportunity to learn. I'm better now because of these personal and professional setbacks. I have increased my leadership muscle density through multiple repetitions of trial and error. And now...I'm bigger, stronger, faster than I might have been had I never failed!

So how would you answer this question? If you think you've never failed, are you taking on big enough challenges? And if you are, either personally or as an organization, are you taking the time to learn (see After Action Reviews -- AARs), to identify how you can take your performance to the next level? Are you lifting heavy enough weights to take your leadership to the point of failure?

No leader should struggle identifying where they have came up short. It is clear that whether personally or professionally, failure is the seed of future greatness. That makes it Leader Business.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What Are You Reading?

At a recent Army training course that I attended, all the senior leaders who spoke to us mentioned a book that they were reading or had just completed. I wrote them all down and kept them on my "get right on it list" of things to do...and read. They were a mixture of business, military history, and leadership books in which each had found something inspiring or particularly relevant to what they were currently experiencing.

I do my best to expose myself to ideas from a variety of sources. In order to do must be reading. Books, magazines, blogs - all are potential sources of new ideas and learning for you and those you lead. Write down something interesting and share it with your team. If it sticks, you just benefited from the sort of exposure that reading affords.

I read the newspaper every day. All of it. Current events give you the situational awareness you need to anticipate problems and future issues. Sports, entertainment, and local news give you plenty of potential points of connection with customers and subordinates. I also try to subscribe to several magazines so now I get Texas Monthly, Fast Company, Inc, and the Army Engineer journal. Each one gives me something to think about. I don't agree with them all - but they each sharpen my mind in a different way.

As to books, I just finished "Made to Stick (a great book on communication that I will talk about more soon)," and a biography on S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a restaurants. I also have developed an interest in Real Estate and read two books from the "Rich Dad" series. And I'm reading a book by my friend Steve Harper, The Ripple Effect, on developing and maintaining meaningful connections, a great reminder that as leaders we are first and foremost in the relationship business!

So let me ask you this: What are you reading? What new idea have you picked up and how will you apply it in your personal or professional life? How can you share it with someone else? I'd like to hear about it.

Learning is a lifelong pursuit. And you must be constantly reading to stay fresh - and relevant. That's Leader Business.

Monday, June 25, 2007

After Action Reviews

Does your organization have a mechanism to honestly assess mission completion in a way that provides the sort of feedback that we all need to grow? when was your last session? If you can't remember (don't are not alone) then perhaps you might want to consider the Army approach to learning.

In the Air Force they are called debriefs. Some of you may know of them as huddles, close-outs, or post-game film analysis. In the Army they are know as After Action Reviews or AARs. They are no-hold's barred reviews of what happened and why. They capture what went well (and should be sustained) and what did not go well (and should be improved). They are rank-less, honest accountability sessions that lead to continuous improvement. Best practices are identified and shared. Shortcomings are identified and corrected on the spot.

They are a beautiful thing to behold. I know of no better mechanism of forcing growth in a team. Done correctly and promptly (after mission, milestone, or activity completion), they allow lessons to be learned and applied immediately to future operations. It took the military a little time to adjust the culture (post-Vietnam) to make AARs part of the military business processes but you can see them being done, at all levels, across the Army every day.

Are AARs part of your culture? If not, you may want to steal some of the details from my Leader Business newsletter on this subject (Leader Business, June 2007). And if you are doing AARs, and have some comments to share, let me hear from you.

AARs are a critical component of organizational and personal learning. And Leader Business!