Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is leadership and where did it go?

In general, leaders gather information run it through their filter or archive of personal experience and understanding then make a decision. Great leaders do this in a way that is inspiring to those that they lead. The decisions resonate and followers are inspired to take action to create the leaders vision through their own personal effort and sacrifice.

It is widely thought that charismatic or inspirational qualities possessed by these leaders play a critical role in their call to action and the outcomes they create. No one can argue that an idea or concept that is well communicated is more likely to succeed. However, a crummy idea is still a crummy idea even when it is expertly communicated. It is the quality of the thinking and the synthesis of the information into a sensible and inspiring solution that motivates a commitment to action.

So what is it that undermines our ability to take action to solve our most pressing problems. We have some smart and engaging elected leaders. Let's take just one issue, energy. Why is it that our "Leaders" are unable to gather the data, filter it and develop a solution that will inspire us to take action and solve the problem.

We have many alternatives available to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and be less harmful to the environment. With strong leadership we could begin a wide scale implementation of alternate energy sources. Our only need is for some one to create the vision and motivate the action. So what's the hold-up? Where are the leaders? There's a problem and it's called the Constitution.

I was listening to public radio a few days ago and the "evil" electric utility company in Florida wants to erect 6 or 8 wind turbine generating units on company property adjacent to a fossil fuel generating plant. I thought how great is this but then the story continued. It seems the environmentalists are attempting to block the plan. Let me run that by you again, the environmentalist are attempting to block the plan. It seems an environmental group fears the wind turbines will be harmful to wildlife in the area. Now I can see birds but they listed lots of other animals including nesting sea turtles. I have an idea, let add Santa's Reindeer just for good measure. So a really good idea has been side tracked and will probably be derailed because the wind turbines might hurt the animals. Has anyone thought about what the fossil fuel plant might be doing to the animals and on a wider scale our air and our water which we breath and drink. Would it perhaps occur to them that the wind mills might be a good interim step to cleaning things up? Take a minute to add-up how may solutions to our environment problems have been opposed by the environmentalist. Go figure, they can't even agree.

I can only suspect that this happens thousands of times in this country each month. This country has come to a screeching halt in finding meaningful solutions to serious problems because our Constitution gives voice and power to tinny little competing self interest groups. These freedoms are critical to our society but the resulting gridlock produced by all these competing voices is crippling our country. They certainly have the right to speak but do our leaders have to listen? Yes, yes they do and our electoral system makes it necessary.

Our leaders have become closely aligned with special interest groups and detached from their constituents or one reason, money. It costs lots and lots of money to get elected to any office in this land and the special interests are eager to contribute. Take all the people in special interest groups and add in all the people who are not in a special interest group and you have the constituents. For those of you who were taught the "new" math in school that totals up to all of us. All of us is the group our elected leaders are charged to serve and they are not doing it. They owe their office to a multitude of tinny special interest groups, their votes and their money. The rest of us don't have much influence. There is nothing new here so If you're looking for "new" news I'd suggest you check-out the CNN blog.

There are intelligent people in both political parties. They are brilliant at working out compromises, that's what politics is. But even these smart people cannot come together to find meaningful solutions to the tinny groups with the great big voice that have frozen our country problem. The result is been a limited freedom for our leaders to articulate meaningful ideas that would motivate us to become part of the solution and strengthen our country for the future. They can't be the leaders our country needs them to be because of the promises they have made. They can't serve their constituents (all of us). The system is broken and we're making very little progress for our children and grand children as a result.

There is an overriding good for all of us in this that must be found and articulated into a sensible and inspirational solution by our leaders. They are not getting it done and we are losing ground as a nation as a result.

This is about as idiotic as it gets in my opinion. It's like thinking we can get rich by borrowing money from foreign governments. Crap, we're doing that too. Keep reading I'll be offering other gross over simplifications of major problems and issues in the future. None of this is easy.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Art of Racing in the Rain

My daughter sent me a book for Fathers Day last week. I am a book person but it is always a risky venture to give a book as a gift. I know I used to do it all the time. Add, she had not read the book, instead taking the recommendation of a friend. I am thankful that she did.

The book is pictured here and titled The Art of Racing in the Rain, written by Garth Stein. This is a great story about life and all its challenges, pain, love and joys. There is an interesting twist the story is told by Enzo the family dog.

My hat's off to Mr. Stein it's been a long time since I've read a book that touched me so deeply and reminded me that the full fabric of life is what makes it all worthwhile.

I have two favorite thoughts from the book. The dog Enzo believes, from watching TV, that the best dogs are reincarnated as humans. So he is working very hard to be a great dog so he can become a human in his next life. At the end of the book we wonders if he as squandered his present moments as a dog trying so hard to become a human in his next life? And in the racing world the only losers are the people who don't race because they are afraid. Yep all this and more in a great really touching story.

I am so thankful that I gave all those books to my daughter which taught her to give this book. What goes around comes around for sure.

Thanks for reading.

Another week in the can

I wasn't actually in the can all week I went to work and did all the normal stuff like usual. I am always happy to see Friday arrive. There is a level of bone tiredness and emotional fatigue that I drag home with me on Friday and plant in my recliner hoping to shake by Monday morning. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't.

This week is a little different. The week was as challenging as ever and still emotionally draining but I still have something left. I'm not as bone tired. I have enough energy left to seriously consider doing some house work and having a little fun this weekend. Maybe some weeding, a little repair project or clean-up, I might even get my guitar out and do a little strumming. I only play for the dog and he is known to howl.

I came to this job a little more than two years ago. I replaced an executive who was terminated and my suspicions that I was entering a serious mess were quickly confirmed. If you are ever offered a VP or CEO position where a person has been terminated to make room for you get ready its going to be a bumpy ride. This is always a last ditch choice. It's an open admission of how desperate and hopeless the owners and leaders are feeling. The good part is if the product or service is viable the situation is probably not as desperate and hopeless as they think. Fresh eyes, patients and talent can bring it out. I've been through this twice now and in both cases this has been true.

I need to be perfectly honest though I will complain, I relish these experiences. I am a drama and adrenalin junkie who wants to make a difference. Becoming involved in a turn-around situation is a great way to meet these needs. Through this I have become well acquainted with variety of medical professionals and a wide assortment of pharmaceutical products. I call it better living through chemistry most of the time or simple survival at others. I have also come to understand how patient and understanding my family and friends have been through all of this. Some people bungee jump for the shot of adrenalin others do crossword puzzles for a mental challenge. I do business.

At some point in the turn-around process the environment changes. The panic and chaos yields to a sense of greater calm and order. A sense of greater focus and community starts to develop among the leaders and the job gets a lot easier. The balance between being reactive and proactive begins to shift to being more intentional. A greater sense of control begins to emerge. The emotional investment begins to subside and the intellectual challenge becomes less fragmented more focused.

I think we are moving into this phase which is a welcome change following a few years of disappointments and uncertainties. It won't be too long before things start to get a little boring and the adrenalin itch starts up again. Maybe this time bungee jumping would be a better choice.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

May be

When I feel I'm having a bad day or something doesn't turn out to my liking I try to remember the following story.

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

"May be," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"May be," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

"May be," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"May be," said the farmer.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Sales tools that work

I received the following post from one of my readers yesterday. He sent this out to his sales managers over the weekend. I'm thinking getting this first thing on Monday morning would brighten up my day considerably. I hope you enjoy this first ever guest writer post on Lester Sez.

Thanks for reading.


In our on-going quest to improve productivity we are always looking for ways to keep the sales people motivated. The photo below (above) will give you a little preview of our latest idea. I have to give Bob Johnson credit for this stroke of genus. Seven Eleven is using these chairs in Michigan to motivate the clerks to sell more slurpy’s and slim jim’s. Business is really tough up there. Try not to get too excited about this we are in the earliest planning stages. There is a lot that can happen to derail this idea so we are a long way from implementation. This is just a sneak preview.

The plan is to get new chairs for the sales people and wire them into the order entry and the phone system. IT is working on the interface. We’re going to program the daily goals for calls and sales into the system and if the rep starts to fall behind, a brief alert will sound warning people to clear the area then, BANG the ejector seat goes off, the system automatically calls 911, alerts local air traffic control and we send a search party out into the parking lot to find the under-performing rep.

We had originally planned to use a light explosive charge but then we realized there is one floor above the sales department so we need enough power to push through the ceiling, the floor above, the ceiling (again) then finally the roof. We’re thinking providing helmets for the rookies and more inconsistent performers is probably a good idea. I’m betting a rep only let’s this happen once then we don’t have to worry about them anymore. It's really too bad we don’t have time to install these before the slow summer selling season this year. One added benefit is I am pretty sure the copy machine repair guy can do the maintenance the tech support on these chairs. It can’t be that much different can it?

There are some budget concerns even with the ejector seat glut on the world market since the collapse of the Soviet Union these babies are still running about $30K each but really that’s just 15 J23098 unit sales when you think about it. The Chinese are making one for $25K but I am told they can activate randomly. We don’t need that distraction. I’m thinking once the chairs are in place we have an ROI of maybe 6 weeks. If a reps falls a little short and one happens to fire off in the first week or so the ROI could fall to 2 or 3 weeks. I know what you’re thinking and I’m not sure about the color either. We’ll see what happens with the funding then we’ll get into fabric and colors.

Talking about funding, I noticed someone left the light on in the men’s bathroom last Thursday at the end of the day. Come-on people everyone was gone and the light was on. Electricity costs money folks. Do you know how many Q430's we have to sell to cover that cost of the light being on all night?

As I said this idea may or may not work out for us. So try not to get your hopes up too high.

You can count on your senior executive team to continue to help and support you guys in every way we can. We know you're thankful that you can count on us to keep these kinds of great ideas coming. Have a great week.

I thought you guys might like starting your week off with a little laugh. Let’s have some fun this week. All things considered we’re doing very well in a difficult market keep up the great work. I am very happy all of you are on the team and I am pleased with your efforts. Let’s keep pushing and get as much in before the July 4th holiday as possible.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

There are people I experience in life sometimes face to face other times at a distance that strike me as being exceedingly gifted and special beings. Tim Russert is was one of those people. These are souls who are so clearly and affirmatively doing in life exactly what they were born to do. What a blessing it is to enjoy their glow and bask in their joyous energy so perfectly applied.

Thank you Tim and prayers for your family. We were all truly blessed.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hammer time

Keep the facts handy folks you never know when you're gonna get the chance to hit someone over the head with em.

I don't care who you are that there's fun!!

Yes indeed it was a good day today. The best part is she never saw it coming. The pure, honest, indisputable facts crushing long held and deeply ingrained false beliefs was greeted by a silent acknowledgment of the clearly apparent truth.

My delight is sourced in the fact that these miss conceptions have had a negative impact on some important people in our company for far too long. My pride and delight swell from the prospect that my intervention may result in these dedicated leaders being treated with more respected in the future. They deserve it.

Keep your facts handy folks you never know when you might need them..........to help somebody.

This message brought to you by Lester the made-up numbers and false belief avenger.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Questions Questions Questions

Do you have any questions for the great Lester? I have received an inquiry about questions, will I answer them if they are asked?

Yes, yes I will. As you can see from the above white space I will answer after giving careful thought and consideration to your question. Leave your question as a comment with your email address and I will gladly answer as quickly as possible. Just as a warning I will publish all questions and answers in my blog without the name or email address of the contributor unless you specifically ask me not to.

Here is the standard disclaimer. In order to be consistent with what I have told my children for all these many years understand that I do know a little bit about a lot of stuff. It is my personal rule and commitment that if I do not know the answer to your question I will probably just make something up.

OK the lawyers and happy now. I'm waiting.....................................................

Thanks for reading

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Made up numbers just as good as real ones #2

Business Week's June 9, 2008 edition page 66 has a great article by Jane Porter on Coach feeling the pinch in the luxury brands market. The esteemed Chairman & CEO of Coach, Lew Frankfort (that's Lew on the right) decided to change the revenue reporting. In the past the regular store and outlet store sales were reported separately. Makes sense to me. However, sweet Lew decided to combine the two numbers in his latest report. Hummm I wonder why he would do that just now? Is it possible there is something happening the shareholders may not be too pleased with?

This is one of those meetings that I would give my credit card debt to be a fly on the wall in that meeting. OK, I never claimed to be a great negotiator. Anyway, this reminds me of a great bit done by the British comedian Eddie Izzard where he imagines the meeting when record executives decided singer Jerry Dorsey's name should be changed to Engelberg Humperdinck. Eddie re-enacts his version of the brainstorming secession including Jerry's protests along the way. This is funny stuff. A link to the video clip is below.

I would love to see the trial list of reasons sweet Lew's team came up with to rationalize the change in Coach's revenue reporting. Bob in accounting was on vacation so we didn't have time to run the numbers separately. The satellite feed merged the numbers and we couldn't separate them. We decided to go "Green" and save paper by printing one less column on the reports. We're running Windows Vista, what can we do? We are selling a lot more in the outlet stores -- no, no, no, that will look very bad. My favorite and the one they finally settled on is, the combined number better represents the business. Is this really what they think? Probably not, I think they had very few choices.

Obviously things aren't looking all that good for Coach and sweet Lew and he knows it. This last little maneuver is probably just the latest in a litany of moves used to stem the tide, spin the data and control the message. The economy is tough and luxury goods companies like Coach that sold down the market will struggle while people who used credit cards and home equity loans to buy their products struggle to recover. Is it really Lew's fault? The shareholders wanted growth, he delivered growth with the retail and outlet store strategy. Can we blame him for holding on for dear life? Chairman and CEO at Coach has to be a great gig.

I think Lew should hang in there we never know what is going to happen. After the Bear Stearns deal Ben Bernanke may buy a few million Coach briefcases and give them away free to anyone who buys a house and takes out a mortgage in 2009. In which case Lew will look like a hero and comes out smelling like a rose.

Thanks for reading and enjoy Eddie.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Typical team personaltiy components

If you want a typical mix of personalities on your management team here's the formula.

Start with one descendant from a Nazi concentration camp guard who will follow and implement the rules and guidelines without question or regard for human life, respect or dignity. Next add a process freak who measures their banana slices for uniformity before adding them to their cereal in the morning. After that you need a wild idea person who knows no bounds and has no sense of limitations human or financial. For good entertainment and balance there must be the resident surfer dude or good time Charlie who never met a challenge that could not be delegated or avoided completely. Finally, to have a prayer of making any progress at all you must have one or two painful realist who are pretty sure everything you do will turn into crap before next Thursday. If you like paralyzing debate you will love hanging around with this group.

If you want to be wildly successful I would suggest you find a bunch of visionary, paranoid, optimists with an intense fear of failure who almost finished college. Then call the bank and tell them to get ready for a large deposit into your account. It will be hard to tell if they are running away from failure or towards success but who cares there will be intense movement in a positive direction.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sometimes out of formula is the formula,

We have an extraordinarily qualified and productive person in our department who is in need of a financial consideration for a reason that is directly related to their employment with our company. That's all I can tell you.

It's really a pretty simple decision. The process in making the decision and the communication required goes like this. First listen to the facts, then... Yep, that makes sense. Nope, we wouldn't want to lose him or her. No, we don't want to be unfair. Yes, no doubt about it we need to give em a raise. Who wants to put the paperwork through? That's it.

Why does it always degenerate to 25 emails, sent by 6 people, a geographic study of comparable wage rates, worrisome discussions about what Joe will do if he finds out, BUDGET!!!!, Blah, Blah, Blah. Why is it the living, breathing, productive, important, inspiring and profitable person in these discussions always becomes a commodity? We leaders behave as if there are perfectly qualified people waiting in the parking lot with resume in hand ready to start work on demand when we have openings. Better yet no training or orientation is required and an instant fit in the organization is guaranteed. Here's the kicker we find data indicating a new person will work for a wage in the lower 30% quartile of the random Smith slide wage scale or for cat food which is 1.7% less than we are paying the current person in the job. Hey, who approved the incumbents exorbitant rate of pay in the first place? We need to investigate. Someone didn't follow procedure here. Was HR in the loop? Was the attorney general consulted? Get the UN on the phone.....

Now I know what happened to my morning.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Here's a change of direction

This blogging thing is very new to me but its has been enormously satisfying. I've learned one big secret to blogging is it must be satisfying to the writer to have a prayer of being read or noticed by others. So if I stopped blogging right now I can say it has been a personally satisfying experience.

There are a number of things I like about blogging. First, I can go back and change any post I write anytime. How many times did you turn in a term paper keep a copy, re-read it and then find a thousand things you would like to change? I can change my blog anytime not that anyone would notice. It is a little embarrassing that even with this flexibility I still miss typo's and spelling errors. But, I'm more into thoughts and ideas than mechanics, my brain just doesn't work that way, I'm not detail oriented, blah, blah, blah. Here's the reason. My grade school teachers were not nun's, nuf said. I do love the ability to reconsider my thoughts and amend.

One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, "I wish to say what I think and feel today, with the proviso that tomorrow perhaps I shall contradict it all." I LOVE that. I love that quote and I love the person who turned me on to it.

But, there is one dynamic I can't get over. People actually read this crap. I vent my spleen disguised as learned business wisdom and people read it. Well......they also see through it and offer their own observations and wisdom in very insightful and instructive ways by commenting.

Thank you C. You got me. I think this will not end soon however. It will only change with lessons learned and the passage of time. As you well know already, I have a lot to say and it will only get better as it mellows. Oh yes, and I am trolling for teachers, caught one. Very glad you're there.

Thanks for reading.