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Year: 2010

Leadership Cuisine

All his life he wanted to be a banker. While in college, he took a job in a New Jersey restaurant and “fell addicted to the adrenal rush that happens during a dinner service.” Twenty-five years after that fateful day, Mario Batali now operates and owns 14 top-tier Italian restaurants renowned for simple, elegant, authentic cuisine. Recently, he was asked how he, a person with little formal training in management, built this thriving enterprise and maintained such high consistency and quality. He said, “It was mainly by trial and error.”

Batali is a man with many excellent food recipes, but he proposes no recipe for his success. His joyful demeanor expresses an understated respectful giggle at the possibility that a formula for being a leader could exist. He did, however, drop some delicious crumbs of wisdom about his lessons of experience in this intensely competitive industry.

  1. Follow your passion. Your calling may not be your plan A.
  2. Recruit within. When asked about how he found top talent executive chefs he said, “We don’t. we bring them up from the team. The highest levels we hire are line cooks.”
  3. Staying on the same page takes extra energy. “I work personally with all executive chefs weekly so they never have to guess where the organization is headed.”
  4. How has he managed to avoid burn out? “No matter what, my kids and family come first, then the restaurant, then everything else.”
  5. My objective as a manager, of course, is to remove the obstacles that prohibit greatness in the people I hire.” His off-the-cuff remark may be worth adding to your and your managers’ leadership competency list; or, you could just rephrase it as a reminder of how you can support the people in your life.

Journal Entry: Which of these five morsels of understanding will help you improve service to those important people in your leadership and life? What action will you take today? To read the full article about Mario Batali, visit www.hbr.org/batali

Life Sentences

In 1962, Clare Boothe Luce, one of the first women to serve in the U.S. Congress, offered some practical counsel to President John. F. Kennedy. “A great president,” she told him, “is one sentence. Abraham Lincoln’s one sentence was, He preserved the union and freed the slaves. Franklin Roosevelt’s was, He lifted us out of a great depression and helped us win the war.” Luce feared that the young Kennedy’s attention was wavering among such different priorities and that his sentence risked becoming a muddled paragraph.

These wise words about career clarity probably made a different in President Kennedy’s success and are worthy to be heeded by all. However, neither Lincoln, FDR nor JFK could have pre-planned how their great career sentence would read in the end. A study of these men will show that their career sentence became what it became, because of the underpinning sentences they had created years before about faith, family and a fulfilling life.

Data from national surveys continue to imply that a large majority of highly talented, young professionals feel a burden to write their big career sentence in a short time. They jump from job to job in search of their ideal next level position. At this same time baby boomers are trying to understand how to alter their career sentence as they face retirement age. Unlike their younger colleagues many freeze like a nervous kid standing on a high-dive board for the first time. With white-knuckled hold on the hand rails of indecision he or she looks back and sees an empty ladder. The top notch people, who once stood there, waiting their turn to lead, left for a better looking opportunity. And the wheels of the truck go round and round. Another muddled paragraph is written.

Journal Entry: If you are continually concerned about your career sentence, I have a suggestion: forget about it for the next 30-40 days. Use this time to work on your other life sentences. Most people find when they do this their career sentence will almost write itself. Then decisions get much easier in leadership and life.

Reference (inspiration for this edition): Drive, the new book by Daniel H. Pink; How will you measure your life, the HBR July 2010 article by Clayton M. Christensen; Mark 6:38 The Bible.

H.R. or H.B.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
— Albert Einstein

Both Ted and Ed are CEO’s. Each man runs his business in a very different manner.

Teds’ company is well positioned and could be an industry leader, but whenever business gets off track Ted’s reaction is to make derogatory remarks about his staff’s level on the food chain. Then he institutes a new “carrot or stick” incentive plan to try to improve performance. The problem is that this tactic is based on the assumption that people are resources that can easily be externally motivated to perform. So the company rides high and low waves headed for a certain crash. Finally the program lands belly up on the big beach of bad ideas. After several attempts to resuscitate, it dies along with morale. Then Ted grabs another quick fix technique, pushes people to work harder and begins all over again.

Ed, on the other hand, met with his employees several years ago and said, “Starting today we will build this business on three things: faith, family, and fortitude.” At that time this small company was double digit millions in debt and credit was scarce. The new CEO put a simple plan in place then began holding employee meetings each week. He taught them about the business, talked about the three things, got to know their strengths and solicited their ideas on how to build a brighter future. Today this organization is healthy, the board is pleased, and morale is high – even though not all employees or board members made it through the turnaround. When I walked around his facility recently I learned about the eight employees that Ed is mentoring this year. Next year he will begin all over again.

Writing about these two not-their-real-names executives and reflecting on the Einstein quote helped me crystallize one of my key beliefs: “There are only two ways to work with people. One is as though people are human resources. The other is as though people are human beings.”

Journal Entry: Take some time this week examine your day-to-day interactions and see what your actions say about how you work with people. What you decide could impact your success this year and begin building your legacy in leadership and life.

Conflict & Leadership Strategy

A Dilbert cartoon about succession planning was in last week’s newspaper. The big-haired Vice President said to her balding boss, “So, this means if something horrible happens to you, I’d get a promotion!” Next frame: a this-was-a-bad-idea thought bubble appears above his head. He never sits with his back to his office door again.

Succession planning began to show up on our clients’ strategic plans back in 2003. It is still listed on most of those plans today, because it hasn’t been addressed. At the mention of the S word, an image of impending personal conflict is often conjured up. As you know, conflict can either be avoided or managed. One effective conflict management technique is to offer several viable options for consideration, instead of declaring one right answer. Succession planning offers the opportunity to apply this approach since is consists of three parts.

1. Emergency Succession planning ensures that key leadership and administrative functions can continue without disruption in the event of an unplanned, temporary absence of a key executive.
2. Departure-Defined Succession planning is recommended when a long-term leader has announced their departure date two or more years in advance. It includes identifying the key goals going forward, determining the tools and skill set a successor will need to achieve those goals, and building the capacity of the board, managers, and systems beyond the current executive’s tenure.
3. Leadership Strategy Succession Planning is the ongoing practice of identifying the characteristics and skills necessary to carry out an organization’s vision and putting in place a process that attracts and retains an abundance of talented individuals who have or who can develop those talents and attributes.

So next time succession planning pops up, have your team look over the three parts above and determine which would be the best place to begin. Making part 1 the starting place, as Dilbert illustrated, is laden with high conflict potential. However, if part 3 is implemented first, the other two parts are often more easily resolved. Of course, there are no guarantees, but if your Leadership Strategy is facilitated effectively, you may experience a benefit or two, like: a few less bad-idea bubbles and a lot more time with your chair facing the window.

Journal Entry: Which succession step would make sense for you to take so the managers in your organization can move forward with more confidence in their leadership and life?

Bugs, Dolls & Engaging Work

Stars were bright when my granddaughter and her friend wound down a successful lightning bug hunt. The two girls put their florescent treasures in an orange and green bug holder with a two-way magnified viewer for easy and thorough bug inspections. (When I was a kid we used a quart-size Ball jar, anyways- back to the story.)

We sat in the family room that night. My granddaughter’s eyes were wide with excitement. She verbally examined each bug: “what makes it glow, why do the lights go on and off, why is this one, where do you think they go during the day?” all the while she was making big bug plans for tomorrow. Her friend was settled on the couch considering her diagnosis of her doll’s recurring health issues. She carefully covered the hard plastic body with a soft blue blanket, “Sarah needs her rest. She will be better tomorrow” she said quite seriously. The next day, both were fully engaged in more good kid work.

You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation,
You have only to watch his eyes: a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, a clerk completing a bill of lading,
All wear the same rapt expression, forgetting themselves in a function.
How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look.

W.H. Auden

Page 57 of the May 2010 edition of the Harvard Business Review reports that the number of employees described as “highly disengaged” and looking for other employment opportunities has more than doubled – from 8% in 2007 to 21% at the end of 2009. This excellent article on retention recommended several actions an employer could take to re-engage their high performers, such as: more money, more big projects and more personal attention. However, one idea that seemed to be missing was the need for disengaged star employees to take some personal responsibility for their happiness.

Some professionals today may need to stop looking outside for career fulfillment and start looking inside a little more. In doing so, you might discover the kind of projects and people that make you feel most alive and regain that wonder filled eye-on-the-firefly, eye-on-the-doll, eye-on-the-object look from which no one can disengage you, but you.

Journal Entry: This weekend answer this question: “If you could spend a full day next week working on any creative project with any people you desire, with whom and what would you work on?” Write for five minutes. Don’t edit as you go. Open a clean page and answer this question again differently. Set your writing out of sight for a couple of days. Then read it aloud – alone . You may begin to see what you can do to become more beautifully engaged, where you are today, in your leadership and life.

ReCulturing – The Other Solution

There is always an easy solution to every human problem – neat, plausible, and wrong. H.L. Mencken.

The future of the Club Aluminum Company looked like an uphill race on a mud slick road with bald tires. The market was depressed. Capital was scarce. The production systems and equipment were in dire need of repair. Unhappy employees toiled to turn out inferior products. Salesmen used high pressure sales tactics. The management team had rightly earned their rotten reputation.

A new President was hired. His well intentioned colleagues and consultants probably recommended that he restructure, hire better managers, and get new equipment; but that required cash he didn’t have. He knew he needed to reorganize the business, but he also knew that no matter how much he invested in restructuring; unless he could reform the culture all his efforts would be wasted.

He decided to develop a document of principles to encourage more productive and honest behavior. Inspired by his vision, he wrote page after page, but it was too long and unclear. So he whittled it down to two pages. It was too wordy for busy people to use. Being a person of faith he prayed for guidance and four questions came to him. He wrote them on a small white card and placed it under the glass on top on his desk. Over the next few months, whenever confronted with a difficult business decision he used the four questions as a guide to come to a better answer faster and with less stress.

This simple routine benefited him so much that he shared the four questions with his managers. They applied them as he had and experienced the same positive outcomes. The managers then taught what is now called the 4 Way Test to all the workers. Attitudes and actions changed. Employees gained self respect and respect for the character of their supervisors. They started pulling together. The business began to work. The company soon prospered.

Hubert J. Taylor was the new president of The Club Aluminum Company. In 1932, the heart of the great depression, he took over this company which was $400,000 in debt. In 1936 it was solvent. In four more years it paid $1million in dividends to the investors.

A March 2010 report in Forbes stated that 75% of corporate reorganizations and restructuring failed to produce the expected financial return and left the remaining workforce demoralized. Again and again it is proven that the right structure without a healthy culture is like running a high performance race car without the proper grade of oil. It will run fast for a few laps, but will likely breakdown before the checkered flag.

Journal Entry: When things are depressed in your business, team, career, or family, do you tend to: restructure or reculture? Could you get better results with a new approach in your leadership and life?

Best Execution

Folklore has it that when Henry Kissinger began as Secretary of State, people didn’t know quite how to deal with him. They buried him in impressive reports about all their projects including many pet projects. One man turned in a thick report and received it back from Dr. Kissinger with a note, “Is this your best work?” About 10 days later, he sent the report to Kissinger and received another note, “Can you do any better than this?” Such efforts went on for a couple more times and finally the man wrote a note saying, “Dr. Kissinger, this is absolutely the best work I am capable of doing.” He received a note from Kissinger saying, “Good. Now I’ll read it.” ( From Jerry McNellis, a nationally renowned meeting expert, in his new book , The Executive Decision Making System.)

I attend some of my client’s annual planning meetings and staff meetings. In those meetings many people make reports like the Kissinger staffer. They regurgitate numbers and detail the details about sales, projects, expenses, as if to justify their existence by the volume of their activities, complications of their world or cleverness of their PowerPoint.

Thank goodness there are a few people in each meeting who do the best they are capable of doing. You can’t help but notice them. They give a brief snapshot of the past. Then say something like this, “based on trends in the market, a current innovation, a competitor’s move , a weakness in my area, I recommended this plan”. A breathless stillness holds the room at full attention. The CEO grants a tell-me-more nod; finally an executable action instead of a lot of dull data and a few half baked ideas.

Several years ago Michael Dell said “Ideas are a commodity. Execution is not.” Execution has always been important, but rarely has it been a mandate for the survival of a business or career. In today’s world it is.

Journal Entry: Are you doing your best in your: Business, Career, Family, Faith? What one thing could you do in each area today that might make a real difference for the many tomorrows in your leadership and life?

Every Morning Leader

People are under extreme pressure today. Businesses, careers, families, and lives are being threatened by turbulent forces. We need more leaders who respond like the one I encountered last December.

After spending 16 days in intensive care, a mentor of mine, who everyone calls Coach, was transferred to the skilled care/Medicare section of the hospital. In the early morning of the 17th day, his cardiologist rushed into his room. Coachs wife was sitting on the small sofa. I was standing by the window. The doctor said, I hate to tell you this, but I am no longer in control of the quality of your care, the government is. He had everyones attention.

Thankfully the physician didnt end with his entry statement. He nodded to Coachs wife and gestured to the nurse. They instinctively drew near the doctor. He pulled the big green guest chair close to the bedside and said, So lets all talk about a plan to work around this crazy system so you can go home and get better. In just a few minutes they agreed on a step-by-step plan. The doctor went on to finish his rounds. Coach went home before Christmas.

I dont know how long Coachs health turnaround will last, but one thing I do know is this physician was a leader that day. He told the hard truth, but he didnt stop there, which would have been easy to do. Instead he transformed an oppressing problem into a powerful partnership which inspired a patient to participate in living again.

I thanked the cardiologist. Then I asked him how he was able stop, in middle of his hectic schedule, and do what he did for us. He smiled, shrugged and scooted on to complete his rounds. I was left standing in the hallway with the nurse, who apparently overheard my inquiry. She said He would never tell you but I think know the answer. His first appointment each morning is not with one of his patients. The night janitor told me she sees him, kneeled in our chapel, almost every morning.

Journal Entry: What pressures are you dealing with? Where is your first daily appointment in your leadership and life?

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