Archive for October, 2010

Don’t Delay

Posted in Work on October 14th, 2010 by kjr – Comments Off on Don’t Delay

…delay is loss

The year was late 1998. I was part of the team leading the efforts to migrate systems into the new millennium. No doubt many of you will remember the famous (or infamous) Y2K.

We approached the CEO of the company I was working for and suggested we incorporate efforts to initiate development of systems and applications to take advantage of the emerging technology phenomenon called “The Internet”.

Here is a summary of his reaction as I remember it:

No!! This is nothing but a fad, a flash in the pan. We’ve just come off some of the best years in our history. We’re spending money now on refreshing systems and hardware for Y2K. We’re going to wait and see what happens with all this. I am not spending a dime on this thing now.

By March of 1999, the .Com bubble burst, and burst BIG. That burst convinced our CEO even more that the Internet was nothing but a “flash in the pan”.

In September of 1999 we lost one of our biggest customers- a large- very large technology firm. Believe me, you would know the name. Why?

Here again is my recollection of what they told us:

Your prices are the best, your customer service excellent, but we are a technology company; you have no Internet presence, you don’t even own a URL with your company name yet. We can’t be in that position. Think how that looks to our customers and employees when we are banking our future on online applications and technologies.

Our competitors started taking even more customers – not just the tech firms.

Things changed then.

Yet, it still took six months for us to hire knowledgeable people, ramp up, design, and implement systems to service customers and consumers (very different roles in the healthcare business) – via online sites and portals. It was almost another year before we had any Internet presence that was substantive.

Don’t be too hard on our CEO; his thought process was sound, he was charged with prudent stewardship of stockholder resources. The Internet seemed like a playground of games and seedy sites at this point, and those businesses based on the web were going under or losing money – fast. Amazon started up in 1994; its first quarter of profitability? 2002. And in 1998 & 1999 Amazon was losing money at a rate you could hardly comprehend as a CEO of a Fortune 500.

But when does “prudence and wisdom” morph to become “fear and over-caution” and how do we know when to move, spend, invest, or pull back and wait?

How do you make those decisions? How do you know the difference?

More on…

Posted in Leadership, Work on October 7th, 2010 by kjr – 1 Comment

“Core Books”

Authentic Leadership, by Bill George

Bill George, former CEO of Medtronics, has written a number of books following Authentic Leadership, published in 2003, however, this is still my favorite.

au·then·tic (ô-thntk) adj.

1. Conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust, reliance, or belief: an authentic account by an eyewitness. 2. Having a claimed and verifiable origin or authorship; not counterfeit or copied: an authentic medieval sword. 3. Law Executed with due process: an authentic deed.

Why?

In my page on Core Books I explain what I mean by this term. This book fits well into that definition for me. It articulates the essence of why leading is as personal as the color of our eyes. It is not simply a set of skills or diplomas, but rather a molding of our reactions with others, our organizations with our life’s experience and how we have or have not learned from them.

Mr. George reviews the crucibles in his own life in such a way that provokes reflections about what has been the forming experiences that have shaped us when faced with adversity or loneliness or disappointment.

He is able to communicate in a similar way when explaining what has happened to so many of America’s companies as they have one by one lost touch with fundamental values that have been replaced with servitude to the daily stock price and shareholder quarterly returns.

Customer service, servant leadership, and innovation for the good of others is lost to greed, situational ethics, and self servicing decisions.

I first came across Mr. Georges writings in a Wall Street Journal editorial just before or as this book was being released. Being in the healthcare insurance industry at the time his clearly stated challenge and close to indictment of the industry, insurer, practitioner, pharmaceutical, and device manufactures included was disturbing and liberating at the same time.

When an industry cares about those who are impacted by the product or service less than those who want returns by owning its stock, it is destined for trouble.

George writes in the preface of the book”

we need authentic leaders to run our organizations, leaders committed to stewardship or their assets and to making a difference in the lives of the people they serve.”

There are sections in the book on the balance of work and family as well as the delicate balance of power.

All of these messages are wrapped around George’s own experiences in life and work. He weaves the reader through the challenges faced by the companies George worked in as well as those he ended up running and how his own values and sense of ethics shaped his decisions and subsequently the lives of customers, employees, even public policy.

This is a book I go back to from time to time and when I pulled it off my book shelf recently and realized it had been 7 years since it was published, I had to ponder … it seems the need for authentic leaders is greater than ever. This book is a good place to begin the introspection needed for us as individuals to become that person.

Never Play Victim

Posted in Leadership on October 4th, 2010 by kjr – 2 Comments

Last evening I had the privilege to hear and then meet Brian Shul. As I listened I thought this speaker’s story captures the essence of the Axiom, Never Play Victim. Here is a very abbreviated version of his bio:

Near the end of the Vietnam conflict Brian was shot down close to the Cambodian border. Unable to eject, he was severely burned in the resulting fireball. Expected to die he was flown to a military hospital where for the next year he underwent 15 major operations, was told he would never fly again, and spent more months in painful physical therapy.

Refusing to accept what the experts said about him, he went on to fly the SR-71. Still considered the most sophisticated aircraft ever built, the SR-71 required a pilot to pass the physical qualifications of astronaut training before the US Air Force would allow him the drivers seat. Brain passed with some of the highest scores recorded.

He was still told due to scar tissue, and a left hand that didn’t completely close and grip, that he couldn’t fly that high and in a pressurized suit. Maybe other planes, but not this one. But he did and went on to be one of only 93 pilots ever to sit in the drivers seat of an SR-71.

Through it all Brian learned to never accept it when someone told him “you can’t” and he refused to allow what were at times mountainous odds to discourage him. He never played victim.

Consider the team of engineers charged with doing what was considered the impossible in the early 1960s when tasked with building the SR-71. It too is a story of a group of people refusing to play victim to the lack of know how, materials, technology, time schedules and more. They simply built it. They never played victim.

How often do the minor distractions, discouragements, or barriers of our business lives stop us?

We hear so many voices telling us things like: “this project won’t be successful”….” you don’t have enough experience, ….or money… or background to run that business, you can’t apply for that job, you’d never be considered”

Yet, if we are honest with ourselves what is worse than the voices saying all those things, is when we believe those things. It’s then we are playing victim. We start to play out in head thoughts like, “it’s not fair… this wouldn’t happened back when…. Wait til I get enough money, then I’ll …..”

Or perhaps the worse I’m a victim statement of all: “it’s not my fault that….”

A story like Brian’s is the extreme, but in the extreme victory of someone like Brian we can be pointedly reminded that we never have an excuse to play victim and blame circumstances or someone else for why we didn’t, or couldn’t do something. Do it well and do it with grace, integrity, and persistence.