Wisdom from a Great Chief—The Soul of Money

Lynne Twist will be a featured speaker at the TEDxWallStreet Conference on October 30, 2013. If you get the chance to see her live, or later on YouTube, you are in for a treat. I still remember the first time I heard Lynne speak at a conference focused on the future of business. Like the rest of the audience that day in La Jolla, I was struck by her experiences and her wisdom. Unlike those who use the term Chief to refer to people of a particular level or title, I use the term Chief to refer to anyone who is accountable for their choices and who is able to help others bring out the best in themselves. It was clear that I was listening to a great Chief that day.

As a veteran global activist and speaker, Lynne regularly shares stories from her work with leaders ranging from Mother Theresa to her mentor Buckminster Fuller. Lynne has spent decades on the front line working on world hunger, women’s rights, civil rights, and her current environmental focus working with the Panchamama Alliance. One common theme throughout her many diverse assignments has been her fundraising work. Lynne has developed an insightful view of money and of the business community that generates so much of it. She shares many of these lessons in her seminal book The Soul of Money.

Whether listening to Lynne speak or reading her book, Lynne will challenge your assumptions. Here’s an excerpt from The Soul of Money:

When we believe there is not enough, that resources are scarce, then we accept that some will have what they need and some will not. We rationalize that someone is destined to end up with the short end of the stick. When we believe that more is better, and equate having more with being more—more smart and more able—then people on the short end of that resource stick are assumed to be less smart, less able, even less valuable as human beings. We feel we have permission to discount them. When we believe that’s just the way things are, then we assume a posture of helplessness. We believe that a problem is unsolvable.

We often philosophize about the great, unanswered questions in life. It’s time we looked instead at … our relationship with money. It is there that we keep alive—at a high cost—the flame and mythology of scarcity. We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. Sufficiency isn’t about amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and we are enough.

Over the years … I have witnessed the phenomenal success of businesses where sufficiency is embraced as the guiding principle, making creative, efficient use of resources, and combining social responsibility with a deep commitment to service and quality. They haven’t abandoned the pursuit of profit or the commitment to increase market share. They have simply pursued their goals with conscious attention to integrity.

If you believe that money is the “root of all evil,” the definition of success, or anywhere in between, I encourage you to learn more about Lynne and her insights. We can all learn something from the wisdom of a great Chief.

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Greed on Wall Street—Time for Chiefs to Step Up!

An excellent article recently published in the New York Times outlined alarming news. Specifically, the law firm of Labaton Sucharow sent a questionnaire to 250 Wall Street industry insiders from dozens of financial companies. Respondents included traders, portfolio managers, investment bankers, hedge fund professionals, financial analysts, and investment advisers among others. While not claiming scientific survey status, the questionnaire results are telling. Highlights include:

  • 24% of respondents would engage in insider trading to make $10 million if they could get away with it.
  • 38% of those with less than 10 years’ experience would commit insider trading for $10 million if they wouldn’t be caught.
  • 15% doubted that their leadership, upon learning of a top performer’s crime, would report it to the authorities.

The article also references several studies to offer a potential explanation as to what led to these sobering results. According to one controversial study titled “Economics Education and Greed” published in 2011 by professors at Harvard and Northwestern, an education in economics surprisingly may be making the problem worse. “The results show that economics education is consistently associated with positive attitudes towards greed,” the authors wrote.

In order to reverse this trend of Wall Street community members seemingly more willing to engage in unethical behavior, Chiefs at all levels must be ready, willing, and able to step up! While the New York Times article references the whistleblower fund of taxpayer money set up to encourage reporting of known violations, I propose another way.

I believe Chiefs inside Wall Street institutions can wield sledgehammers, so to speak, and solve a lot of these issues from the inside. The large majority of Wall Street Chiefs are hard-working, ethical, and trustworthy individuals who need to increase their focus on eliminating this blemish on their collective reputation. They must demonstrate consistent actions to ensure that a culture of ethical behavior is the most visible attribute in an organization.

In addition to good hiring and strong internal audit practices, robust training programs and constant reinforcement can help companies of all sizes support good choices. From a cost/benefit perspective, focusing on ethical behavior may be the only area where it makes sense to “kill a flea with a sledgehammer.”

I believe regulation is necessary because with the amount of money involved, human beings are open to human frailties, but it’s time for Wall Street Chiefs at all levels to step up to self-policing. Bring out the sledgehammers.

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A True CFO is a Chief Fundamentals Officer

In my experience, the best CFOs take responsibility for far more than just “the numbers” in an organization. They also take a hands-on approach, and work the fundamentals of the business to drive its success.

I’ve had the opportunity to support several great financial leaders as a confidant over the past five years, but my view on what it takes to be a great CFO comes from what I learned from four strong individuals I worked with during my thirty years on the inside running businesses ranging from startups to multinationals.

My first job out of college was selling for technology company Sperry Corporation, which later became Unisys. My first exposure to a true business CFO came when I met Joe LaPilusa, who partnered with then Regional VP (and current EMC CEO) Joe Tucci, to lead the Eastern Region. In addition to traditional roles, Joe LaPilusa chose to involve himself in all aspects of operations, including sales strategies and customer relationships. Nobody was surprised when he was later promoted to lead the region as VP.

My next corporate assignment brought me to AT&T where CFO Rick Miller (not a typo—no relation) partnered with CEO Bob Allen to drive growth at Ma Bell. Rick came to AT&T from Wang Laboratories where he served as President, CEO, and Chairman. Rick began his career at General Electric where he earned a reputation as an aggressive business leader focused on details and execution. At AT&T, Rick’s deep and broad operational strength was invaluable running the $75B juggernaut.

In 2000, I left the world of (really) big business to serve as President and COO at the other end of the spectrum—at an internet startup. When I arrived, Opus360 was typical at that time—long on big dreams and short on operational excellence. One of our first moves was to strengthen the senior management team. We were fortunate to hire Pete Schwartz from Computer Associates. A former Marine Corp jet pilot, Pete brought deep operational expertise and experience that helped us grow our business when competitors were going out of business.

Later when I joined Lucent Technologies, I met then CFO (and current Pfizer CFO) Frank D’Amelio at a time when many were predicting bankruptcy for a company that had generated over $30B in revenue just two years earlier. Inheriting a disaster, CEO Pat Russo relied heavily on Frank to lead the charge. Frank ran the business like a cash business. He met with customers, supported people, and set the standard for transparency that became the bar for other companies to reach. In my mind at the time—Lucent wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Frank.

Joe, Rick, Pete, and Frank are role models of great Chief Fundamentals Officers. If you work with similar professionals, you know how fortunate you are. Thanks guys.

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There are Marketers and Chief Marketers: Which are You?

Rick Miller featured in CommPro Marketing online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smBeing a Chief Marketer has nothing to do with level or title. Instead, it has everything to do with choices. Like Chiefs in other areas, Chief Marketers are leaders. They set the pace for others. They consistently make choices that demonstrate their value as they increase the value of those around them. They can be found in any part of any organization. So what choices can you make to earn your Chief stripes?

Research has confirmed that leaders (Chiefs) can create and sustain strong performance by focusing on a specific set of actions and personal attributes. Using these studies and adding a reality check from my experience as a senior operating executive, I have developed a simple set of choices to help you operate as a Chief Marketer. I refer to this set of choices as the All-In Roadmap.

The critical parts of the All-In Roadmap include actions (discipline and support), attributes (creativity and insight) and values.

Discipline is an orderly pattern of behavior that increases the likelihood of a desired outcome. Whether you are managing a team or simply managing your own projects, good discipline is always the right starting point. You must plan your work and then work your plan, while also developing effective dashboards with leading and lagging indicators. Success requires that you be able to quickly adjust your plans as needed while focusing on the many moving parts involved in marketing—strategy, competition, research, budget, endless details, etc. Do you maximize the probability of your team’s success with strong discipline?

Support is the act or process of promoting the interests or causes of another. Truly successful leaders offer great support by being the example. You can inspire team members with the consistency of your actions as a way to teach everyone more about who you are. Support also includes the practice of being curious. Ask questions to guide less experienced staff toward new ways of thinking. Also, formal and informal recognition of reserved staff members can help encourage risk taking. Finally, you can take responsibility to “set others up” for success. Do you do all you can to support your team?

Creativity has always been critical in the field of marketing, but I am offering you an unconventional definition of creativity. I believe creativity is actually the ability to manifest, or create, the future. To be successful in marketing, there are five ways to be creative: Listen to your gut feelings, choose to manage your thoughts, speak your words carefully, write deliberately, and act in a way that will align each of these. Acknowledge your own accountability to create internally (through feelings and thoughts) and externally (in talking, writing, and acting). Do you create fully and consciously?

Insight is the power or act of seeing intuitively that comes with self-understanding. You are at your most effective when you engage in actions that are consistent with who you are. Insight requires you to slow down at times to learn how to truly listen to your inner voice. There are five ways you can learn more about yourself. You can choose to be present (focused on the task at hand), still (in touch with the voice inside your own head), accepting (not fighting), generous, and grateful. These acts will open up your insight, which will have far-reaching beneficial effects for you, professionally and personally. Do you regularly invest time to quiet your mind to hear your own voice?

Values are the foundation of great relationships. Great relationships can be characterized by a number of values including compassion, forgiveness, respect, and kindness. Each of us has the choice to bring positive values to all our relationships—with team members, customers, owners, and partners. As you perform your marketing activities, can team members clearly see your values in how you speak, write, and act?

Taken together, discipline, insight, support, creativity, and values comprise the parts of the All-In Roadmap. At a time when so many organizations need great marketers, you have an opportunity to be your best. I urge you to consider choices proven to unlock your leadership potential. It really doesn’t matter if you are on top of an organization or somewhere below the top. Independent of level or title, you can operate as a Chief. The choice is yours.

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BEING CHIEF Beyond Business—per Reverend Taylor

The following is a review of my upcoming book, BEING CHIEF, by Reverend Dr. Donald F. Taylor, Sr.:

START_QUOTE_30t_smIt has been my pleasure to read the book, BEING CHIEF, by Rick Miller. In my estimation, it is one of the very best that I have read. The theme of the book includes several very important points that will keep the reader involved and interested in the development of the concept being put forth.

Miller shares his All-In Leadership approach to deal with a very challenging topic—how can we be our best and help others do the same? He has come upon a very unique way of integrating sound principles of leadership with a thorough review of our own personality, motives, and desired outcomes. Among other recommendations, he proposes integration, rather than separation, of our personal and professional lives based upon a “common set of values.”

Miller states that his successful All-In Leadership and All-In Living concepts require that leaders make “… good choices involving families, communities, governments, social agencies, and educational institutions, as well as business.” I could not help but reflect on how pertinent his advice is to those leaders who also have responsibility in the religious realm. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book might be on the required reading list for those who anticipate a life of service connected very directly with the cleric.

This book truly transcends culture. Among the books of this nature to which I have been exposed, I consider BEING CHIEF a classic. The book is about more than how to reach a leadership position in an organization; rather, it shows how everyone profits when sound leadership practices are put into place. It follows so very closely the dictum, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” To follow the All-In Roadmap outlined in the book is a win-win situation for everyone.

I am also impressed with BEING CHIEF because of the subliminal implications for minorities, women, and the unconnected talent in our society. These groups often find that encouragement and “normal” pathways are muted or non-existent.

I read the book with the presumption that it probably didn’t refer too much to me or to folk like me. However, before I got too far into the document, I began to feel that the document was, indeed, speaking to me.

The All-In Roadmap is based on five important questions and choices designed to “… help you create an adaptive culture in your group or company, where people will excel and growth will be the result.” This approach presents five basic choices that include in-depth discussion on discipline, the development of insight, demonstration of support, the use of creativity, and a call to actually visibly live our values.

Miller does not presume to preach but instead believes that a “roadmap” can help you and your team get from wherever you are today to wherever you want to go. All along the way, you are given choices. Your driving preferences, he states, may change along the way and his roadmap will lay out alternative routes in response. Sometimes the most direct way may not be the best way for you to go. At times you may want to slow down, speed up, or travel in a different direction in order to reach your destination. There are times you may need to make certain stops along the way. Rick provides discussions on these alternatives.

Probably the most remarkable thing about the book that Miller so elegantly writes about and teaches is that he knows how to think humanely. During this time of great transition our nation is experiencing, when so many are searching for ways to be more meaningful professionally and to reap the benefits of advancement for themselves and others, such a book is sorely needed.

I unequivocally endorse BEING CHIEF by Rick Miller. It is a powerful book.

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—Reverend Dr. Donald F. Taylor, Sr.

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Business Schools Implement a New Selection Criteria

A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that many business schools nationwide are adding personality tests to the traditional application process. I applaud this move because it will require applicants to not only demonstrate intelligence and aptitude, but also what it takes to relate to others (and themselves) in the real world, a concept otherwise known as emotional intelligence (EQ).

Since 2010, the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business has required applicants to fill out a 206-question Personal Characteristics Inventory. “Companies select for top talent with assessments like this,” stated Andrew Sama, senior associate director of their MBA admissions. “If we are selecting for future business leaders, why shouldn’t we be [using] similar tools?”

Personally, I have had success using my own tool to evaluate people. Specifically, I have focused on i3K—intelligence, intensity, integrity, and kindness. I developed this tool early in my career at Sperry Corporation and have used it ever since. This tool looks at both IQ as well as EQ. I learned early on that EQ is critical to building high-performance teams.

When I later arrived at AT&T, I wanted to get an early read on my senior team. I found no shortage of data from the human resources department, but unfortunately it was of no value to me. According to the files, everyone was doing a terrific job and always had. That’s when I put i3K to work. I was able to get a much more complete picture of my team.

Notre Dame is not the only school to assess emotional intelligence. Yale School of Management has also begun testing volunteer applicants in order to gather data on what traits will predict future success. Even University of Ottawa’s medical school applicants are now assessed for EQ qualities. I expect many more schools, business or otherwise, to follow suit.

At the very core of being Chief we discover that a Chief must not only dictate orders, make decisions, and put plans into action, but must also be the example. In order to achieve this, emotional intelligence is required. Fortunately, EQ can be learned. Not only will business schools be testing for emotional intelligence, but I’m sure they will also be teaching it in the years to come. I look forward to the positive results of these changes.

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Millennials—How We Can Help Them Save Us

Working with Chiefs across many industries today, I am struck by the consistency of the number one issue facing companies: how to unlock the potential of a changing workforce (namely, the Millennial Generation.) In its May 20th issue, Time Magazine writer Joel Stein offers his view of what he calls “The New Greatest Generation.” Joel concludes that Millennials will save us all. In my view and experience, we can make choices today to help them do it sooner rather than later.

According to sources like Forbes, Millennials will make up 36% of the US employee base next year, 50% by 2020, and 75% globally by 2030. Stein’s characterization of this group includes terms like business friendly, innovative, sharing, confident, and nice. This group has huge expectations, feels entitled to choices, and they are “going after what they want.” In short, Millennials offer plenty of potential. In my personal experience, concrete steps can be taken to unleash this potential. Here’s an example.

On February 1, 2000 I joined the Internet start-up Opus360 as President and Chief Operating Officer. Just one month later, NASDAQ peaked and the market began a slide that would wipe out 70% of its value. While many will remember that period as the time the market bubble burst, others will mark it as the first year the Millennials entered the workforce.

At Opus, a majority of our employees were Millennials. Thank goodness! There is no question that this group made many important contributions at a critical period in our young life as a company. In addition, the game plan we used to support this group worked particularly well and offers a potential blueprint for others. I call my five-part plan the All-In Roadmap.

Millennials Apply All-In Roadmap Elements

The roadmap starts with discipline, and Millennials have no problem with it. Although their methods of carrying out discipline may look different than those of past generations, at the end of the day Millennials get the job done.

Millennials crave support. They appreciate recognition and expect fair compensation. They need to know they can pave a path within their organization that allows them to do their best work. And when they deliver, commending their work will ensure continued successful collaboration.

They are very creative. Millennials are well equipped to think outside the box, and willing to act on their instincts: both critical when an organization is faced with new challenges.

They are insightful. As a group, Millennials are amazingly self-aware. They know what they want and are aggressive at pursuing it. Organizations that want to attract and retain these talented individuals need to involve them deeply, seek their feedback and act on it.

They support values-based organizations. Millennials seek meaning. It’s not all about money anymore. Millennials want to connect with organizations that stand for the same things they do.

The bottom line: Many Millennials are now ready to lead and the All-In Roadmap is the right tool for the right time. Good luck!

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The Power of Vulnerability

Recently, I watched Dr. Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. It was insightful. It also reminded me that the toughest job I ever had was also the same one that taught me about the power of vulnerability.

It was 1999 and I had just been named as President at AT&T’s Global Services Division. I was ecstatic

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…for a short time. I had joined AT&T three years earlier as an outside recruit to help a great team turn around the Eastern Region at Global Services. Our team had tripled the growth rate to fifteen percent and maintained that growth rate for three years to build a strong $5B unit, all while improving employee and customer satisfaction.

After I was promoted, I thought my biggest priority was to quickly introduce myself to the great team that comprised the Central and Western Regions and get started expanding on the approach that had worked in the East. It quickly became evident, however, that things were brewing both inside and outside the company that created a set of challenges I had never encountered, and it brought me to a place I had never been before.

Inside the company, thirty days into the new assignment I got a new boss. He was not a fan of mine. Thirty days later I learned that due to budget cuts I needed to lay off fifty percent of my work force using a voluntary program with no exclusions. The best producers could leave. Shortly after, I learned that forty percent of my accounts would be shifted to other business units at year end.

Outside the company, we faced a competitor who was operating illegally. Specifically, Worldcom was reporting overstated revenue and profit growth at the same time they were waging a price war in our market. (CEO Bernie Ebers subsequently went to jail.) Our business targets had been set to match the competitor’s growth claims.

Employees were shaken and so was I. But I was able to rely on a roadmap that had served me well in other difficult situations. I had experience using discipline, support, creativity, and values to align our team. I also had experience with insight to keep me balanced in the face of the lunacy. The challenge was to find a way to connect our nationwide workforce in order to pull together and raise their game in spite of all that was going on around them.

The answer came as the senior leadership team continued our practice of open dialogue yet added a willingness to acknowledge and share our own feelings of concern for the future. Personally, I openly shared my concerns and my vulnerability. I made it clear that I was not sure what senior management’s plans for me would be in the future. I was not looking for sympathy but rather simply trying to model straight talk. This was not typical of senior leaders at AT&T. Then, at one particular all-hands meeting I decided to go even further.

At the meeting, I was asked by an employee about the health care coverage options available for those who voluntarily left the company. He went on to explain that his wife was recovering from cancer surgery. I chose that time to share a secret I had held for over ten years—that I too had battled cancer. You could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium as I shared my news. News about my disclosure spread quickly—I was surprised by how many times it came up in later discussions with employees. In hindsight, I may have actually “joined” the workforce at AT&T that day. While some might question the wisdom of this level of openness, for me it was the right decision and made a huge, positive difference. My vulnerability allowed me to connect to the team at AT&T. Brene Brown explains this very phenomenon in her talk.

Amazingly to some and in spite of all the challenges we faced, the Global Services team actually doubled our revenue growth rate that year, although we did not reach our plan. We also set record levels for customer satisfaction. Perhaps most significant was our record-setting employee satisfaction improvement. Employees—who saw half their peer group leave during the year including those who were being transferred out of our unit—reported a huge increase in their confidence in unit leadership.

There is no doubt that our team worked hard and smart that year. For me, however, the breakthrough that enabled this amazing performance was the level of teamwork prompted in part by our choice to be open, honest, and vulnerable.

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Startups and Multinationals: Swapping Lessons

Why are startups so attractive and why do so many of them fail? Why do multinationals continue to expand yet find it a challenge to attract and retain the best talent? The answers to these questions may be found in lessons each can learn from the other.

Let’s start with startups. The author of Drive, Daniel Pink, would argue these young companies offer three key elements of motivation that help them attract talent.

First, startups offer autonomy. With few resources everyone has a key role and a divide-and-conquer mentality. People enjoy the ability to set their own plan and work it. They are clear on their individual scope and they enjoy it.

Second, start-ups offer a great opportunity for mastery. People love to learn new things and experience increased confidence as they improve in new areas.

Third, start-ups often begin with a strong sense of mission. Early employees are attracted to the thought of being part of something bigger than them.

In my experience, too many large companies miss the opportunity to focus on these important attributes. However, larger companies could keep these elements if they remained committed to decentralization wherever possible, continual employee education and training, and a focus on objectives beyond an all-consuming attention to the bottom line.

So where do the lessons go the other way? In my experience there are at least three areas where well-run multinationals have something to offer start-ups.

First, strong multinationals can handle complexity. While change is a constant everywhere, the ability to stay responsive to massive change is a learned behavior and requires a healthy dose of discipline.

Next, strong multinationals are excellent at planning and adjusting. They develop detailed plans with associated dashboards of metrics and measures, including leading indicators to let them know when plans need to be adjusted.

Finally, strong multinationals utilize a well-understood set of values that are consistently communicated to unify their workforce.

In my experience, start-ups can learn from these practices even though it is common to eschew anything that looks too “corporate.” However, startups could benefit if they remained committed to regularly scheduled planning sessions, accountability reviews, dashboards (with leading indicators), and an agreed-to set of values available for everyone to see.

Both the best startups and multinationals excel when they share a practice of encouraging leadership at all levels. By swapping these best practices, each could be more successful.

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Leading in a Storm

Rick Miller featured in Empower Me Magazine online publication:

START_QUOTE_30t_smAs an entrepreneur or senior leader in a small business, you have never had an easy job. Among lots of other tasks, you must envision, strategize, and plan tactics for your company after you have researched the market for your products or services. Of course, you do all of these things with limited resources. Assuming you have developed an appropriate financial plan for your company, and have kept your competitive profiles updated, you must also flawlessly implement your plans and measure with quality and speed to produce results. You are accountable to align your employees by communicating direction throughout the organization by being confident, clear, concise, convincing, and compelling (5 C’s).

Attempted together, these tasks can seem daunting. Yet in tough times, even these practices alone are not enough. In fact, when things get difficult the MOST IMPORTANT part of your job might be that while you are communicating with the 5 C’s, you also need to be truly OPEN to input and opinions from key stake holders in and around the organization.

With today’s unprecedented turbulence, the most successful leaders are those who can confidently set the direction for their group while actively seeking, and intently listening to, input from employees and customers for much needed innovative ideas.

In Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf describes the approach required of a leader who truly understands that game-changing insight can come at any time, from anyone. “One must make choices. Perhaps one

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chooses the same aim or hypothesis again and again. But is always with a fresh and open choice, and it is always under a shadow of doubt”. Leaders open to fresh perspectives are more likely make critical adjustments ahead of others. In today’s “stormy” business climate, this ability is critical.

Greenleaf also offers a perspective on how a leader can create true communication and engagement. He emphasizes both the exercise of authority and the inner quality of humility that characterize a true servant leader. With a commitment to serve first, a leader is more likely to truly listen. With an underlying belief in equality and respect for every individual, successful leaders appreciate the necessity to learn from anyone and everyone.

With the economic, political, social, and environmental challenges we are now facing, pressure to perform is higher than ever. You will always be looked to for future direction. Your due diligence and the quality of your strategies and plans will continue to be an important starting point of your business. You will continue to need to display confidence in your organizations. In light of today’s complexities and uncertainties, however, your long-term success may hinge far more on your ability to find the right balance of confidence and the humility that comes with a healthy dose of doubt.

I suggest you add a big “O” to the 5C’s. The O is a reminder to be OPEN. You’ll get better ideas and employee engagement will stay high, just when you need it most.END_QUOTE_30t_sm

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Being Chief—What Does It Mean to Be Chief?

A new advertising campaign from IBM asserts that a successful CFO should be viewed as a Chief Future Officer. I smiled when I saw the ad because I thought businesses had exhausted all possible Chief Officer titles. Today, it seems most companies have shifted from various combinations of Vice President titles (VP, SVP, EVP) to Chief titles as a way to identify who is in charge. As companies named endless vice presidents in times past, lately it seems Chief titles are taking over.

This practice has not been limited to business. The same seems to hold true in government where one finds Chief titles of all makes and models, including Chief, Senior Chief, Deputy Chief, Administrative Chief, and Assistant Chief. Recently, I also noticed a shift to Chief titles outside the workforce altogether.

Specifically, a new Lincoln Financial Group advertising campaign advocates that everyone view themselves as a Chief Life Officer®. Their award-winning promotion resonates with a segment of the population that connects a title with authority. But with so many Chief titles out there, do we really know what it means to be Chief?

Thinking back to when I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing or reading the term “Chief” all that often. Certainly there was Commander-in-Chief, and closer to home there was the Chief of Police. (I also recall watching the original television portrayal of Superman where Jimmy Olson invariably referred to Perry White, editor of the fictional Daily Planet newspaper, as Chief.) The term was reserved for those who were in charge at the very top level.

I also remember the stories my Dad told us when he came home from work about what it really took to be Chief.

It’s a Matter of Choice

My Dad was a mid-level personnel manager (human resources) working at the only non-union machine tool shop in central Massachusetts. Dad would tell me and my brothers about grievances, pay and benefit issues, and his challenge of connecting the managers at Heald Machine to the workers so the company could grow. In twenty-seven years at Heald, there was never even a single union vote. Why? Because my Dad treated everyone with respect and led without any positional authority.

Dad taught me that being Chief had more to do with choice than title or level. I have benefited greatly throughout my career from the foundational lessons my Dad taught me.

In the first phase of my career, I worked in one organization at a time. Over thirty years, I served in many roles in five organizations in five different industries. Early on I found myself consistently thrust into turnaround situations. Later, I sought them out. Success in each was due in large part to a specific roadmap that I used to enable Chiefs at all levels to unlock their potential.

Five years ago, I made a personal decision to change my life-work balance. The nature of my turnaround assignments in phase one had taken a toll on the time I was able to spend with my wife Diane and our two children. As my oldest was entering high school, I decided not to pursue another big job until both kids graduated. I founded my own company, Choices & Success LLC, as part of phase two. I began working as a Chief, supporting a limited number of Chiefs in different organizations. It was rewarding to serve others who could use my roadmap and guidance to help them grow as their organizations grew.

BEING CHIEF—Taking It to the Next Phase

I am excited to announce the beginning of phase three with the launch of BEING CHIEF LLC. I will expand my service as a confidant and advisor, supporting select clients’ business and personal growth. In addition, I will be expanding my speaking schedule and my advocacy for Chiefs at all levels. The lessons that started with my Dad are now research-based, broadly road-tested and simplified to help Chiefs and companies grow. In 2014, my new book BEING CHIEF…the CHOICE is YOURS will be published to serve a larger audience.

As we build a community, I am grateful for the opportunity to engage with so many others who believe it’s not about title or level, but choice.

Thank you. I look forward to our continuing conversation.

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Listening to the Quiet Ones

Can you realize the full potential in a group if members don’t choose to openly share their thoughts? The answer is no. If team members are unwilling to speak their mind for any reason, good leaders must find a way to convince members to share their ideas in a way that works for them. I was reminded of this challenge recently when I had the opportunity to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. The book makes a compelling case for the increased innovation and productivity available to organizations when firms find ways to ensure contribution from everyone, including introverts.

The book brought me back to my arrival at AT&T in 1995 as the first outsider in 100 years recruited to lead a unit of “long lines” as a corporate officer. At the time, the $3B organization included 2,000 professionals and was under-performing in a number of areas. On arriving, my initial goal was to set up a series of town hall meetings to listen to employee thoughts, questions, and suggestions. When I did not get the level of interaction I had hoped, I asked a peer if she had any guidance. She told me to review the Employee Satisfaction Survey results.

The survey results were alarming. One particular question told me all I needed to know. The specific questions asked: Do you think it is safe to say what you think at AT&T? The prior year results for our unit showed that only 39% said yes. I learned that results across AT&T were similar for that particular question. Translation: on average, 6 out of 10 people would not tell you the full truth.

Whether these results were due to introversion or lack of trust, the simple truth was that I needed to confront this issue straight on if we were going to turn around performance. I needed to find a way for people to express their feelings and thoughts in a safe way.

I decided to get creative to set up a safe way to get employee input. Specifically, I actually signed a contract with our major competitor MCI for a toll-free 1-800-SAFE-2-SAY number that my employees could call at any time. MCI would transcribe employee comments and send me a written weekly report. Nobody’s voice could be recognized. My employees were amazed; while I am sure some in upper management were flabbergasted.

On my regular all-associates conference calls I would regularly pull from the prior week’s MCI report the “toughest” questions and answer them openly and honestly. At first people were surprised that no comment or question was over the line. Over time, more and more employees felt comfortable asking tougher questions in open forums. I am sure that many talented introverts continued to use this tool to communicate.

We also made progress on the safe to say question on the Employee Satisfaction Survey, becoming one of the only units to break the 50% mark. Perhaps not surprisingly, overall employee satisfaction hit record levels and customer satisfaction levels did the same. Our revenue growth rate TRIPLED from 5 to 15% and we grew to $5B over three years.

Question: What are you doing to ensure you are “hearing” from the quiet members of your team?

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Ethics and Sledgehammers

A recent Wall Street Journal article outlines the increasing efforts at a number of B-schools to beef up their focus on ethics. While the article also points out the challenge of measuring the return for this investment, there is no doubting the havoc created when ethical behavior is not followed.

Increasing ethics training in school is a good start, but from my experience leaders must double-down on the job as well, with consistent actions to ensure that a culture of ethical behavior is the most visible attribute in an organization. From a cost/benefit perspective, focusing on ethical behavior may be the only area where it makes sense to “kill a flee with a sledgehammer.”

Personally, as an undergraduate I was fortunate to attend Bentley University which started its Center of Business Ethics in 1976. Bentley’s focus on ethics helped me translate what I had learned growing up into the world of business.

At my very first job as a computer sales rep, I was assigned to the local government market in Massachusetts. There I learned quickly that ethics were a really big deal and the different rules in the public and private sectors. I remember making sure we had a clearly identified “cash cup” next to the coffee machine for government prospects to deposit their 25 cents. Since I was prohibited from any social contact with prospects or customers, my golf game never improved. I was well aware that violating the rules could cause disbarment from all government prospects in Massachusetts.

Later serving as President at AT&T’s Global Services Division, I made sure we mandated training for our global work force to ensure they understood every detail of behavior expected of them as part of a US company doing work abroad as laid out in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). We required annual training certification including an understanding that violations could result in jail time, and ensured leaders at all levels regularly included related topics in monthly agendas.

In another assignment, I served as President at an internet start-up and did not have access to the resources of an AT&T to build formal ethics training programs. Our management team met regularly to discuss how we could include integrity as part of our daily discussions with our young workforce.

In my last corporate assignment, I served as President of Lucent’s Government Solutions Division. Serving the Federal Government involves a whole new level of rules and regulations. We set up a Compliance Office to ensure we took every step possible to set the right tone in our organization that ethics was our top priority. We used mandatory training, monthly newsletters, and regularly included compliance as a meeting agenda topic to ensure appropriate attention on ethics.

The (WSJ) article points out that everyone likely knows the meaning of right and wrong, but business has run under an axiom for a long time: if it is important, then you measure it. Measuring the implications of culture is not well understood. Harvard researchers Jim Heskett & John Kotter provide just such a study in their book Corporate Culture and Performance. Their research proves a values-based, change adaptive culture drives sustainable, measurable growth.

Some still believe ethics, like culture, is “soft.” Legendary management guru Peter Drucker said “what’s soft is hard and what’s hard is soft.” Translation: this stuff matters… a lot.

In my view, an organization has nothing more important than its reputation and leaders must make ethical behavior Job #1 and an active part of their objectives. In addition to good hiring and strong internal audit practices, robust training programs and constant reinforcement can help companies of all sizes support good choices. Ethical behavior is the key to long-term success with customers, employees, suppliers, partners, and the community at large.

My recommendation: educate and reinforce the importance of ethics early and often…and bring out the sledgehammer.

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A View on Two Great CEO’s: Steve and Sam

Recently I had discussions with several C-suite clients about a comparison between the legacies of two great CEO’s: Steve and Sam.

Steve became CEO in 1996 of a company he and a friend founded 20 years earlier and created the most visible company in the world. Today, Company A has the most valuable brand in the world. With its consumer focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company A has dominated the world in its chosen markets to the tune of $108B in FY 2011. Company A is also the most valuable company in the world based on market valuation.

In a different situation, Sam took over as CEO in 2002 of a company founded in 1911. Through its long history, Company _B_ has created the 2nd most visible brand in the world. With its business focus, an amazing strength an innovation and product design, and world-class execution, Company B has dominated the world in its chosen marketplace to the tune of $107B in FY 2011. Company B is also 1 of the top 5 most valuable companies in the world based on market valuation. In fact, last year an investor named Warren bought almost $11B worth of company B stock citing the company’s long history of excellence.

FY 2012 brought CEO changes at both organizations for different reasons.

Tragically, Steve passed away after illness just as the new fiscal year is starting leaving the company in Tim’s hands. Much has been written about Steve’s legacy and leadership choices. Some have voiced concern about the future of Company A without Steve since he seemed to make himself indispensable. Externally, he was the visible face of Company A. Internally, projects that Steve was personally involved in got fast tracked while others languished.

At the same time, Sam retired from Company B and handed the CEO reins to Ginni. Little fanfare accompanied Sam’s departure. Some news outlets did cover the powerfully simple framework of questions Sam had used to lead the company’s world-wide employee group of over 350,000. Here they are:

Why would someone spend their money with you — so what is unique about you?

Why would somebody work for you?

Why would society allow you to operate in their defined geography — their country?

And why would somebody invest their money with you?

My C-suite clients and I were talking about the probability of future success of both organizations. We discussed the insight offered by author Jim Collins in his book How The Mighty Fall. In particular, we considered the results of Collins’ research on successfully resilient organizations and his advice for CEOs: utilize rigorous discipline, question relentlessly, be humble and avoid arrogance, watch for risk denial, be wary of silver-bullets.

In the end, our conversations return to the choices made by Steve and Sam. Choices around customers, competitors, costs, capital, and communities are very different between companies focused on consumers and businesses. At the same time, choices around discipline, insight, creativity, support, and values do not need to be different. Steve and Sam made very different choices yet were both been remarkably successful. Their legacies have yet to be written and will become clearer with time.

We did agree that Sam did not receive the notoriety he deserved.

What do you think?

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Zappos Great Model Can Work 4 U2!

I am over 50. I did not go to Harvard. I did not start my own business at age 22 and sell it 2 years later for hundreds of millions to Microsoft or Google. I am not a Twitter expert. Some could say I have little in common with Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

I am, however, a business leader. I have a broad range of experience leading companies, both large and small. I am also a huge supporter and practitioner of Zappos path to success:

1. focus primarily on employee culture and values, to

2. deliver the best possible customer service

Tony points to research on Happiness and how he applied it to run a better business. I point to research provided by John Kotter and James Heskett twenty years ago in Corporate Culture and Performance that leads to the same conclusion, and one offered by legendary management guru Peter Drucker – “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

In businesses ranging from a start-up with $1M in revenue to a global organization with revenues exceeding $12B, I can point to many examples over 20 years where we used a Zappos-like focus to drive consistent growth. Further, I developed my own roadmap to establish strong, positive cultures in each of these situations. The roadmap is called All-In Leadership.

Critical parts of the All-In Leadership roadmap include a balance of Discipline, Insight, Support, Creativity, and Values that enable employees to excel and achieve the organization’s goals. Each of those choices can be further broken down into specific areas that help unlock the potential in others.

Access the free summary of All-In Leadership on this site that includes a specific case study of where we tripled the growth rate of a $3B global business and sustained that growth for three years.

I remain a fan and customer of Tony Hsieh and Zappos. Hopefully, many more companies will follow what has become known as a Zappos approach. It can work 4 U2!

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