Friday, December 31, 2010

Leadership Philosophy

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Stephen Covey

Have you ever had a boss who asked you to oversee a project or perform a task without giving you much, if any, information on what they wanted?  How about a boss you thought would respond a certain way to a given situation, but they caught you off guard and responded totally differently to what you expected?   Did you enjoy working for them?  Do you know what their leadership philosophy is?   I would guess not.  However, you could probably make an educated guess as to what it is based on how you were treated.

How about you?  Do you have a leadership philosophy? Have you even thought about a leadership philosophy? Until recently, I had never really thought about it.  I knew what I believed about leadership and the values that I subscribed to, but it was never written down.  A business coach that worked with me while at Owens Corning sent me a book titled the The Leader's Compass published by Academy Leadership. It's probably one of the best books I have read on leadership.  It focused on the development of a leader’s personal leadership philosophy and is told in the form of a story.

After reading the book, I was motivated to sit down and write my leadership philosophy.  Why is a leadership philosophy important?  A well written philosophy gives you clarity on what you stand for as a leader.  It will also bring consistency to your leadership that your team can trust. Your leadership philosophy affects your behavior and ultimately your leadership effectiveness. 

In developing your leadership philosophy it should describe these key beliefs:

  • What do I believe about people and about life?
  • What are the principles by which I will operate as a leader?
  • What are do you believe about groups that make organizations effective?
Drafting your philosophy will require time and considerable thought, but once it has been developed it will serve as your road map to your success as a leader. Everything you do will be filtered through you philosophy, so be honest with yourself.  Don't write it if you don't believe it.

Your philosophy should consist of the following:

  • Your purpose: Why are you here?  What are you most passionate about?
  • Your vision: Where are you going and how are you going to get there?
  • Your values/principles:  What do you believe in.  A set of guiding principles which influence the way you live and lead.

One last important thing, your philosophy should be published and shared with your team.  It is amazing that so many leaders will not develop or publish their philosophy because they do not want to be held accountable for living by it.

I challenge you to be a different kind of leader, one that is willing to be held strictly accountable and will not compromise on the things you say you believe in.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

There is Iron in your Words

A promise kept is invaluable to the person to which it was made.

n the Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, two men in Josey Wales’ traveling party are captured by Sioux Indians.  Josey Wales meets with Ten Bears, the leader of the Sioux Nation, to negotiate their release.  During the conversation Ten Bears speaks about the white man (U.S. Government) not keeping their word.  After hearing Josey’s reply, Ten Bears utters a strong statement, “There is iron in your words.”  They make an agreement that is sealed with blood as the two men cut their palms and then shake hands.  The two prisoners are released and a peace is forged.

Do you keep your word?  Is there “iron in your words?”  In a world where many leaders make promises that they do not keep, it is nearly impossible to believe what they say.  When asked why they back-tracked on a promise, they immediately go into spin mode, deflecting blame and never really answering the question.

“You  lie” was shouted out in many of the town hall meetings across the country by Americans wanting to hold their elected officials accountable to the promises they made.  The words “politician” and “liar” have become synonymous. 

In times past a man’s word was his bond.  Before written contracts, many deals were sealed with a handshake.  No more.  It must be in writing with addendums and exhibits to the contract.  Trust is out the window.  Even when contracts are binding, they only ensure an offended party has recourse if the contract is broken—Ten Bears had it right when he said, No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men.”

What happened?  Why are we as a people so untrustworthy?  I believe greed, deception, self-preservation and a lack of character has led us to a place I don’t know if we can ever come back from.

So many people say character does not matter, “can he or she do the job?” is all that matters.  To many, even marriage vows don’t mean anything.  Divorce rates are in excess of 50% and are not getting any lower.  Keeping your word is important only if it is convenient.  

In a small church in Oakland, CA, twenty-two years ago I made a promise to my wife to be her husband for life.  It was one not taken lightly, and after all of these years I am still committed for life.  A promise does not have an expiration date.

Leadership is about saying what you are going to do and doing what you say.  When people can believe what you say a trust is built that will be hard to tear down.   Keeping your commitments and being held accountable for what you have committed to is the hallmark of true leadership.

Real leaders always speak with “iron in their words.” 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leadership Is About Influence

"Leadership is influence" John Maxwell

During a recent talk I gave I asked the attendees how many of them thought they were a leader.  Only a few raised their hands.  I shared with them that I believed that all of them were leaders.  The question was what kind of leader were they?

Leadership is not just about leading people to accomplish a specific business result or leading a sports team.  It’s about influence.  If you have an influence on someone’s thinking or the decisions they make, you are a leader.  That means if you have children, belong to a club, church, neighborhood group, you are most likely influencing others.

The influence you have over others should not be taken lightly. How you communicate with others who look up to you can be the difference between succeeding and failing.  I believe there are so many leaders who are not aware of the impact their leadership has on others.

As a parent what kind of leadership are you displaying to your family?  How do you communicate with your spouse?  Are you short?  Dismissive? If you have children, you are modeling a behavior that can have a lasting effect on their lives.  Young men that see verbal and emotional abuse from father to mother can take that as the proper way to communicate with their future wife.  Young girls can take away the thought that it is normal for a man to abuse them emotionally or physically.  Conversely, are you loving to your wife or husband?  Are you respectful?

Leadership is not just about the behaviors you project at work, but in every area of your life.  How do you lead in your community and what do your friends say about you?  Authentic leadership then is representative of who you are in every aspect of your life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Does Character Matter?

Authentic character is not turned off and turned on when it suits you. It’s who you are deep inside, and is revealed in everything you do.

Yesterday the Heisman organization voted on the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” On the morning of the vote two sports commentators were discussing Heisman finalist Cam Newton, quarterback of the Auburn University Tigers. Over the past year Cam has been under investigation for possible NCAA violations. The two commentators were in an intense debate over whether Cam should win the award in light of these allegations and other off field issues.

One commentator stated that if the mission of the Heisman organization was to select an athlete who exhibits and pursues excellence with integrity, then clearly Cam should not be selected. The other commentator said that the award should be based solely on what is done on the football field and the off field allegations should not factor in the Heisman’s decision.

For me the question then becomes DOES CHARACTER MATTER?

In this post-modern day era many people have redefined the meaning of character. For those of us who were around at the time of President Clinton, many people thought that his infidelity with an intern had nothing to do with being President of the United States of America. His supporters said it was his personal business and being President was separate from his personal life. Even today he is very well thought of in both political and private circles for his work as President.  In their minds a leader could live by two sets of standards.

For the record, I believe that one cannot be a true leader and live by two sets of standards, one at home and one at work. If you are unethical at home, you will be unethical at work. I do not see how you can turn it on and off.

What happens when character is not valued?  Presidential candidate John Edwards' infidelity cost him his family and a promising political career.  Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme bilked billions from investors that cost not only the investors, but this week his son apparently committed suicide under the weight of ongoing allegations of his possible involvement in the scheme.  The choices made by these two men revealed their true character. 

My question to you is does character matter?  The answer for me is a resounding yes!  How about you?  Are you willing to live by a set of positive standards that you will not compromise? 

Below are few of the character traits that I most admire in leaders:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Self-control
  • Respect
If we are going to get better, we must demand better from our leaders.  When men and women possess positive character traits, the result is trust.  You know you can count on them to not only do what they say, but to live their lives in a manner consistent with the things they believe in.  Character is the essence of authentic leadership.

What are some of the positive character traits that you most admire?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Demanding Leadership

True leaders demand excellence from themselves, before they ask it of others.

Before you can demand something from others, you must demand it from yourself.  You have to practice what you preach.  If you are going to ask someone to be on time for a meeting, you have to be on time.  Leadership that is demanding is not about being a dictatorship, it is about excellence.  It is about eliminating mediocrity and pursuing excellence in everything you do. 

During a conversation with the CEO of a fortune 500 company he was talking about his commitment to safety.  He stated that if he was going to demand that his team practice safe work habits that he needed to make the same demand of himself.  This is a critical element missing in many leaders today.  “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be the mantra of the day.

As a leader how can you demand anything from anyone if you do not hold yourself to a higher standard of conduct?  Have you ever had a boss tell you to do something they have never done before?  And yet, they assign you a task that may not have ever been done.  I remember a quote that a former supervisor told me and I will never forget it:  “nothing is impossible to those who do not have to do it.”  I remember sitting down with one of my billing clerks to learn more about the billing process.  My reason for doing it was to gain a better understanding of what they were doing and how they did it.  This allowed me to set more realistic goals for my clerks because I now knew what it took to get the job done.

Our job as leaders is to create an environment that fosters trust, integrity, credibility, and a successful work team.  If you set the right example by serving as a role model and having your actions speak loader than words, you will be a better leader. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Credit Crisis

”There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
— Ronald Reagan

Now that the mid-term elections are over, the real fun begins, (can you hear my sarcasm?).  The past few weeks since the elections, the Democrats and Republicans have started in on each other once again to pass blame and to criticize the ideas and direction that each side believes is the best way for the country to move forward.  They talk about the “lame duck” session of congress and what they will try to push through.  Will they be able to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”  Although this issue may be important to some, its resolution is not essential to turning the economy around.  

During the many interviews and face to face debates on the network and cable news stations, the phrases “The American People” and “The Future of our Children” come up often. Each time they do, my head feels like it wants to EXPLODE! With all of the talk about their concern about the American People it is quite apparent that they care very little about our current and future state.

While they bicker with each other, many Americans struggle to make ends meet.  They’re concerned about the cost of health care, about the economy, about high and burdensome tax rates, and the never ending spending of our financial resources on things that do not keep our people safe or enhance the quality of our lives.

Last week I was walking in our downtown area where I met two men sitting on a bench drinking coffee.  As I began to speak with them they said that this is the worst they have ever seen in terms of the economy.  They spoke of the struggle to find work, to pay bills and to get ahead.  This is what is on the minds of the American people.

Please hear me when I say that I am not expecting the government to take care of me or my family, I can do that myself.  What I am saying is that our elected leaders continue to miss the mark on what is truly important to us. For many of them it is about winning and losing the party fight.  It is about their personal agenda and making the other side look bad.  We must demand from our elected officials to put away partisan political games and get this country back on track, together.

We can accomplish great things when we “don’t care who gets the credit.”  

Sunday, November 21, 2010

“No Thought, Just Action”

"It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor. Live bravely and present a brave front to adversity." Horace

As he stood with his back to President Obama, Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta faced away with the cameras in his face and his wife in attendance to accept the Medal of Honor from his Commander in Chief.  Giunta is the first living service member to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan to be given the nation's highest honor.

As I looked at his face he did not have a big smile as I would have expected, but a stoic one.  Even after the President placed the medal around his neck, his expression did not change.  Why?  In an interview on 60 Minutes, he was asked about his feelings on receiving the award?  He simply said that he did not do anything his fellow soldiers would not have done.  He did what he was trained to do, “No thought, just action.”

What did he do?  The paratrooper and rifle team leader saved at least two comrades during combat on Oct. 25, 2007, in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.  An insurgent ambush separated his team and he went into the open to pull one comrade to safety and then fought to free a dying friend who was being dragged away by Taliban fighters.

In another interview, he talked about not being an extraordinary soldier, but mediocre, and that there are a lot of soldiers fighting and engaged in the protection of the country that are better than he was, and who are more deserving of the award.”  That is exactly why he is deserving of the award!  True heroes don’t seek acclaim and recognition, they act.  It’s who they are, compassionate and self-sacrificing.

When he carried his friend’s body out of enemy territory he did not do so thinking that he would receive an award, “No Thought, Just Action.”

There is an important lesson to learn here.  Serving others is never about us, but about those we serve.  When faced with an opportunity to help someone else, take no thought, just act!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Leadership is more than a Title

During a Senatorial hearing on the Iraq war, a general was responding to one of our senators.  In answering her questions, he followed his military training and showed respect by always referring to her as ”ma’am.”  At one point during the hearing she stopped him and said, “Do me a favor.  Can you say ‘senator’ instead of ‘ma’am?’  It’s just a thing—I worked so hard to get that title.”  

Just because you have a leadership title does not make you a leader.  You may have the title and the responsibilities of a leader, but unless you recognize the importance of setting the proper example for those you lead, good luck with achieving real success.  Whether you are leading a business, a home or working in the community, setting the proper example instills the right behaviors.

While talking with a business owner who is struggling to maintain his business, he explained to me that he has lost his staff.  The primary reason for the loss is due to the fact that he did not know how to effectively lead people.  His past success came as an individual contributor and his lack of leadership skills has put his business in jeopardy.  Most of his problems come from his lack of setting the proper example for his team.  He is an owner, but not a leader.

As a leader you need to make sure that your team sees you effectively handling the affairs of the business.  Are you at work on time?  How do you communicate? How do you carry out your work?  Do you say what you are going to do and then do it?  These activities and character traits are the building blocks of respect and leadership.  In the end, if you have to remind people of your title, you may not be living up to it.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

My Tribute

"...and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:27 NIV

Imagine seeing a small bald man with a large white beard running around a dining room with an energy that belies his 68 years.  I had never met a man with such energy at his age until I met Hendrik. Now, imagine all this in spite of the fact that he had been up since 1:00 am making breakfast for over 250 inner city residents of Oakland, CA. Many people half his age aren’t that energetic after a full night’s sleep!

This small-framed man with the great big heart has made a tremendous impact in his community.  It’s been more than 10 years since he started a small bible study of 10-12 residents, which turned into breakfast for hundreds of residents every Saturday.  He is quick to tell you that he did very little to cause the changes in the neighborhood.  That may be true, but as a result of his decision to accept the challenge to start a Bible study in the mean inner city streets of Oakland, a transformation has occurred.  The drug dealers that once stood on the corners surrounding the resource center he helped to establish are no longer there.  This is a huge accomplishment due to the fact that a contract was placed on his life as a result of his commitment to move the drug activity from the neighborhood.  His love for God and his love for the people of West Oakland have touched the lives of thousands all over Northern California.  As a leader he has shown extraordinary character. 

Traits that I most admire:

·       Strength
·       Integrity
·       Humility
·       Love for service
·       Unselfishness
·       Dedication and committment to the inner city residents of Oakland
·       NO Fear.

After 10 years he is now leaving for another opportunity to serve people in the mountains of Colorado.  He will surely be missed by so many.  He leaves a legacy of Love, Service, and Commitment behind that will last a lifetime for all those who knew him.

As a leader there is no greater accomplishment than to know that lives have been changed for the better because of your leadership.

Thanks Hendrik!  God bless you and your family.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Transformational Leadership

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.  What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? 
To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?  Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain.  Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”  Isaiah 10:1-4 NIV 

With the elections around the corner we hear from so many of the candidates who promise that if they are elected they are going to do so and so.  Once elected, we will soon discover that many of them will go back on their promises.  When questioned about why they have not kept their promises, they will say things like:  It will take time, I am working on it or they will go into spin mode.  For those candidates wanting to be re-elected, they too make promises.  My question has always been why you don’t do what you are promising to do now while you are in office?  Why wait until after the elections?  

What the American people really need is transformational leadership, leadership that makes a difference in the communities in which they serve.  Whether you are Republican or Democrat we continue to see poverty, crime, and poor public education.  It is not getting, and has not gotten any better and things go on as they have for decades.  We need leaders that will stand up for what is right for all Americans not just the ones that agree with them.  Our country needs leaders that can make a real and sustainable difference in the lives of its people.  

Our leaders need to be mindful that the leadership is not about their special interests, or lining their pockets.  It is about the greater good for all citizens of this country.  Every leader must know that they will be held accountable for the decisions they make, both good and bad.  

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Underground Leadership

"Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them".  Unknown

With underground temperatures in excess of 90°, thirty-three miners endure tremendous hardship for over 69 days.  During this time they had to fight an assortment of feelings and fears.  Would they make it out alive?  Would they see their families again?  For many of the men their true character was revealed to those underground with them.

One man’s character and leadership emerged, foreman Luis Urzua, as the group’s leader took charge from the start and was instrumental in their survival. This was especially true in the traumatic 17 days before they were discovered.

Immediately after the collapse, Urzua took charge. He began to draw up the orderly rules that would serve as guide in their underground existence, including rationing the small amount of tuna fish and milk available so that it would last longer.  It was a hierarchy to which the men were already accustomed, and they responded to his leadership.

Have you ever been faced with adversity?  How did you respond?  Did panic set in?   Were you looking out for the well being of others or for yourself?   I will be honest I am not sure how I would have responded.  I would like to think that I would have been Luis, immediately mobilizing the men, encouraging them and letting them know that we would get through the ordeal.  His dedication to his fellow miners and his impeccable leadership was the difference between life and death.  It is also important to note that Luis was also the last person taken up from the group.  He saw the well-being of all those under his leadership before he considered his job done.  That's what leaderships is all about!

What are some of the characteristics displayed by Luis?
How would you like to implement those qualities in your own leadership?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Real People

Undercover Boss is one of my favorite shows on television.  It is about various CEO’s of major companies who go undercover in their own organizations to see how they operate at the field level.  

While undercover, they take on low level tasks to experience the work they are asking their employees to perform.  They often find that the job is harder than they thought.  In one of the last episodes, the CEO of an airline was trained to remove sewage from the plane’s septic system with unfortunate results.  The CEO’s not only experience hard work, but they come to hear personal stories from their employees.  They hear stories of loss and struggle.  They also hear stories of triumph and courage.

At the end of the episode they bring the employees to the company’s headquarters and reveal their true identity.  It is heartwarming to hear the CEO’s express their appreciation to the employees they have recognized as being integral to the company’s success.  The CEO’s will then acknowledge and reward each employee for their contribution to the company.  Sometimes it is with a promotion, a paid vacation or some other reward.

After viewing several episodes I observed that all of the employees were extremely grateful for the acknowledgement of their efforts.  It’s at this time I usually begin to tear up, especially when the employees express their surprise that anyone from leadership would care about them on a personal level.  “They do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Unknown

As a leader it is important that you never lose sight of the people whose “shoulders you stand on.”  Leadership is always about people.  Without people who will follow? 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Blame Game

A few years back our company was in a deep decline. Revenues were down and sales were extremely slow. The cause of the problem was poor decision making and a lack of understanding of our business. The general manager in charge of the largest division of our company made several decisions that accelerated the decline. As the Vice President, I was asked by the CEO if I would take over the division, and I gladly accepted the challenge.

I proceeded to implement a new strategy for the business and within several months we began to experience a significant turnaround. I made the best decisions I could, but not all of them proved to be successful—sometimes you learn through trial and error. When something I tried failed, I did not point to the prior leader as an excuse for my failure.

Leaders accept the blame when we fail and give the team the credit when we succeed.

As a nation we continue to endure an unemployment rate of 9.5%, crime, war, poor educational system, homelessness, foreclosures, etc. Politicians on both sides of the aisle claim to have all the answers. Meanwhile many Americans continue to suffer through one of the greatest downturns in our country’s history.

When asked why things are not turning around, our elected officials continually blame the prior administration’s policies and the mess they inherited. Even if there is truth in that position, it should not have come as a surprise. After all it was clearly evident that our nation was in trouble and none of our problems were hidden from those who said they had the answers to setting the country on a new course of prosperity. When it did not happen they merely blamed the prior administration. They were elected on the promise of “Change”.

If we are ever going to extricate ourselves from this morass, we as a nation need to come together and work through issues that continue to divide us. We must be willing to be held accountable for the actions we take and the decisions we make, not play the blame game.

True leaders hold themselves accountable for the results of the decisions they make, good and bad.

The lives of millions of Americans are at stake. Fear and anxiety continue to dominate the hearts and minds of those who do not see a future with much hope. If we continue to seek out our own interests and not those of all Americans, Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike, we will continue to decline. Remember, this economy is affecting us all.

Are you willing to be held accountable for the decisions you make?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Pancakes and Bacon

"Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Jesus Christ

To serve or not to serve, that is the question. Recently, I was reminiscing with one of my former employees about some of the good times we had working together. We talked about a lot of different subjects, but one was especially memorable . . . Breakfast. He recalled with fondness how I used to make breakfast for all of the employees.

I remember the first time I made breakfast. I did not announce it. I got to the office about 6:00 in the morning, and by 7:00 breakfast was laid out on the table, ready for the first one to arrive. It took them totally by surprise. Each employee arrived, pleasantly surprised to find the unexpected aroma of freshly cooked pancakes and bacon. “What is the occasion?” they would ask. I told them it was my opportunity to serve and to say thank you to all those who contributed so much to my professional success and the success of the company.

I was well aware that I would not have achieved half of what I was able to accomplish without the help of my team. To show them my appreciation, it was one of my greatest pleasures to cook and serve breakfast for everyone. After all was said and done I would have prepared 4-5 pounds of bacon and flipped 70-100 pancakes. It was not hard work, but a labor of love.

As a leader it is important to do whatever you can to serve your people. It’s not necessary to make them breakfast or take them to lunch, but just do what you are comfortable doing. Let them know how much their efforts are appreciated. It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway, don’t do it if it does not come from the heart. It is not a manipulative expression, but one that comes from really caring for those who do the day-to-day heavy lifting for your organization. It is amazing how little expressions of appreciation go a long way.

What are some of things you do as a leader to express your appreciation to those you lead?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Decisions, Decisions...

"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."

~Roy Disney

Our company is like many others, trying to keep our head above water. “Cash is king”. One Saturday I went into the office and found a stack of checks payable to our company. Each check was $180 and there were eleven of them. I was so happy to see all of those checks. However after a closer inspection of the checks I found they were duplicate payments that were for work we had already been paid for months ago.

What to do? Cash the checks knowing that at some point the customer would discover that they had already paid for the work? We could use the money and pay it back when they called, if they called. Well the decision was really easy, I called and emailed the customer to alert them of the erroneous payments, and we promptly refunded them the money. The next week I was given two large jobs from the same customer.

Knowing and doing what is right is one of the most gratifying things one can do. A clear conscience is invaluable.

Have you ever been faced with a decision where your perceived need was greater than doing what was right? I hope that you did the right thing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Humble Pie

Have you ever had this conversation with one of your children or with one of your parents? “I am the parent and you are the child. When I tell you to do something it should be, ‘Yes Dad,’ or ‘Yes Mom.’” Sometimes as a parent you may feel like you do not have to explain yourself to your child or that you have all of the answers.

I was engaged in a conversation with my son in which I knew I was right. I made sure that he understood that I was right and that no further discussion really was necessary. After a mild protest he finally gave in, (and not a minute too soon).

After he went upstairs to his room, my wife in her own motherly way and with wisdom and patience showed me the error in my position. As it turned out in this instance my son was right and I was wrong.

Have you ever eaten humble pie? The main ingredient is humility, but other critical ingredients are understanding, sincerity and love. It does not taste good going in, but once it settles in your stomach it gradually satisfies.

After letting the situation soak in a bit, I made the trek upstairs and knocked gently on my son’s door. He opened it and I said that I was sorry that I did not hear him out and asked for his forgiveness. He forgave and we hugged. What a great feeling!

As a leader you have to be willing to be held accountable for the things you both do and say to the people you lead, whether at work or at home. Simply saying, “I am the boss,” or “I am the parent is flawed leadership.

How you handle matters with the people you lead can have either a negative or positive long-term impact on your relationship. Admitting when you are wrong is not a sign of weakness, but respect and strength.

I don’t know about you, but I'd rather eat apple pie.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Come on In the Door is Open

I received a call from a recruiter that I worked with years ago. He reminded me of the time he and his staff flew out to our office for a meeting to discuss sourcing strategies for identifying and hiring new employees. He recalled that during our meeting a staff member interrupted to let me know that one of our employees was in my office and wanted to speak with me. (I have always had an open door policy, especially for my hourly staff.) He remembered that I excused myself from the meeting and met with the employee. Our conference room had a large glass window and while I was speaking with the employee, he was observing our conversation. Shortly thereafter the employee left and I returned to our meeting. He recalled that the employee was distraught and when he left I placed my arm around his shoulders, which resulted in a smile on his face.

The recruiter said that my brief exchange with my employee had a significant impact on him. He said in all of his travels across the country, and out of all of the managers he had met, he had never seen a manager interact with employees in that way. He said for me to excuse myself from a meeting to speak with an employee was very unusual, but admirable. It totally caught me off guard to hear of the lasting impression those few minutes had made on him.

Before I landed a leadership position I remember so many times when I wanted to speak with my boss and many times he seemed to be disinterested in speaking with me or his door stayed shut for long periods of time and you dare not interrupt him. When I had questions or just wanted his help with an issue he could be short with me. I never liked the way it made me feel, unimportant, in the way, or a bother.

In the movie Ever After, Danielle (played by Drew Barrymore) is having a conversation with Henry (played by Dougray Scott). During the interchange she reminded him of the importance of the people (peasants) he leads.

Danielle: The Prince has read Utopia?
Henry: I found it sentimental and dull. Honestly, the plight of the everyday rustic bores me.
Danielle: I... take it you do not converse with many peasants.
Henry: Ha, certainly not, no. Naturally.
Danielle: Forgive me, Your Highness, but there is nothing "natural" about it. A country's character is defined by its "everyday rustics," as you call them. They are the legs you stand on and that position demands respect,...”

“They are the legs you stand on and that position demands respect.” No leader ever accomplishes anything without the legs of an organization—those legs are its people. I am always cognizant of that fact and as a result, I will always take the time to speak with the people that work for me, and my door will always remain open.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Tool Check

Have you ever used the butt of a wrench for a hammer or a butter knife for a screwdriver? I am ashamed to admit it, but I have. Recently I was engaged in a conversation with a young lady who shared a story with me about her father and his love for his tools. She said while cleaning his tools one day that he explained to her that it is important to always keep your tools cleaned and well maintained. If you do, they will always serve you well.

That got me to thinking about employees in a company and how crucial it is to take care of them. Like tools, you need to make sure they are being maintained properly. Just like it is important to select the right tools for the job, it is also critical that you select the right employee for the job. Ensuring the right fit will go a long way to making sure the job is done correctly.

In today’s economy many companies are stretching their staffs to the brink. There is so much pressure to perform that many managers forget to manage their teams to accomplish realistic expectations. Here are just a few keys to remember when leading your team:

  • Employees should be able to do what they do best. Like selecting the right tool for the job, don’t force a wrench to do a hammer’s job. If the person’s strength is administration do not force them to be a sales person.
  • Treat your employees well by mentoring, coaching and checking in with them to insure that they will be productive in the future.
  • When you see that an employee is not performing well, don’t wait until they fail. This is the time to evaluate whether they should be in a different position to bring greater benefit to the company or whether some retraining would equip them to improve where they are.
In the current economy we are asking our employees to do more with less. It just happens to be the environment we are all living in. However, it can be counterproductive to place so much on someone who clearly does not have the capacity to do the work.

Effective leaders continue to check in regularly with members of their team to insure that that they are working to their strengths and accomplishing what they have been tasked to do. They treat their people the way they want to be treated.

Are you being used properly in your job? How many days a week do you have the opportunity to play to your strengths? Is there anyone under your leadership who may be misplaced in the job they are doing?

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Today my daughter and I served breakfast at an organization in Oakland called World Impact. Although the morning was grey and dreary there was a light that shone brightly in the smile of my daughter. Despite being tired from a long late night at a friend’s sleepover party, she said she still wanted to go with me. I asked her why she still wanted to go and she said with a smile, “I really love serving them.” (When you really have a passion for an activity it energizes you, even when you are tired.)

While serving coffee and juice she flashed her smile at one of the residents who said, with a smile in return, that she made his day! It’s amazing what a smile can do to raise the spirits of a person. My daughter did not fully know the overall impact she made in that person’s life, but in a neighborhood where many of the residents have little to smile about, her smile made a difference.

In today’s world where there is so much uncertainty, hopelessness and fear, many find it difficult to smile. As a leader there will be times when we need to give the people we lead a reason to smile. In the TV series Man vs. Wild, Bear Grylls, survivalist, often says that no matter how bad things get when you are lost in the wild, a fire brings warmth and a feeling of hope. I believe a genuine smile can have the same effect.

Leaders who can communicate a message of hope and encouragement with a smile will find that their teams will respond in a way that will keep them engaged even when things are going well.

Less than 15 minutes after returning home, my daughter was snuggled in her bed with a smile on her face, fast asleep.

"Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wasted Lives

"If I could get the ear of every young man but for one word, it would be this; make the most and best of yourself. There is no tragedy like a wasted life--a life failing of its true end, and turned to a false end." -T.T. Munger

I do a lot of work in some of the toughest areas of Richmond, San Pablo and Oakland, CA. Many times I have the opportunity to interact with the people who live in those cities. About a month ago I had an encounter with a young man who evidently felt I disrespected him in some way. I am still not sure what I did, but he was filled with so much hate and anger directed at me that if he had had a gun with him I probably would not be writing this blog. There are so many young black men that possess so much rage it doesn’t take much to set them off. My experience that day reminded me of a scene in the movie Tombstone when Wyatt Earp asked Doc Holiday what made Johnny Ringo do the horrible things he did:

Wyatt Earp: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?
Doc Holiday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it.
Wyatt Earp: What does he need?
Doc Holiday: Revenge.
Wyatt Earp: For what?
Doc Holiday: Bein' born.

I think there are a lot of angry young black men out there that are cut from the same cloth as Johnny Ringo. They are seeking revenge for “bein’ born.” They want revenge for not having an intact home, for not being loved, and for not having the life they only see in the movies. They take out their revenge on other blacks. They get involved in drugs to make quick money, and join gangs to find acceptance and protection. In an episode of the television series “American Gangster,” a gang member says that he expected to be dead by 25 years old and now that he is 35 he does not know what to do with the rest of his life. It is a sad commentary when people live their lives with the expectation that will be dead before their 25th birthday. This is the reality of many young blacks living in the ‘hood.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics Report offers a snapshot of racial disparities among violent crime victims. Black people represented an estimated 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2005, (the latest data available), but were the victims of 49 percent of all murders. Most of the black murder victims — 93 percent — were killed by other black people, the study found. In another study dated Aug. 9, 2007 the Federal Justice Department stated “49% of murder victims are black m and most are 17-29 years old, and their murder rate is going up.”

My question is where is the concern? Where are the protests? Young blacks are dying at such high rates and yet it doesn’t even garner a front page article. It’s like it’s old hat, like it doesn’t matter that one more young black man has died at the hands of another black. There are so many studies, books and articles of the plight of blacks in America, but no resolution. I applaud those who are trying to address the problems, but much more is needed.

What needs to be done? I believe we need to have more positive role models in the black community. We need to impress upon our young people the value of education. We need to value family. An unprecedented 70% of all babies born into black families are born into single parent households—we must reverse this trend if we are going to change the course of our current downward spiral. We need to focus on the lives of children and create an environment of learning and support that will begin to reverse the negative cycle. The problem will not be cured overnight, but we need to start now!

We need black leaders from all walks of life to exercise their influence to make a difference. Sports and movie stars, doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, business owners and the like have a very important part to play. They must be active in encouraging and inspiring our young people to break the chain of ignorance and the cycle of death and destruction by inspiring a sense of hope that will help change our communities.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Know What You Don't Know

“Know what you don't know . . .

. . . know what you know . . .

. . . know how to find out what you don't know . . .

. . . but don't act like you know when you don't.”

Tony Friday, July 2010

What do you do when you are faced with a problem for which you don’t have an answer? Most of us don’t like to admit when we don’t have an answer. It is not a sign of weakness or a lack of leadership ability to admit you don’t know everything. Finding answers sometimes may take the concerted effort of a team of well-informed and experienced individuals who can combine their skills to help resolve the issues facing an organization.

What about in your home? When your family is faced with problems that seem to overwhelm, how is the leadership role defined? In our home my wife and I work together to manage the day-to-day operations of our family life. Together we nurture and discipline our children. On issues and decisions where we may not totally agree on how they should be handled, she chooses to defer to me and my judgment. However, there are many times when I have to trust her knowledge on a given matter.

Recently, we were faced with a challenge that took us totally by surprise. I did not have an answer to the problem and I realized that I did not know how to handle it. With extraordinary calm and resolve my wife was able to masterfully address the issue.

As a leader you must be able to recognize when you do not have the answer and seek out resources that can bring a fresh perspective to a problem. It is important to know when to step back, define the problem and bring innovation and creativity to the problem-solving process.

Once I was able to step back from the problem and gain clarity, my wife and I were able to come up with a solution together. My wife’s strength is her patience, and my leadership has been enhanced because of it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Value of Engagement

People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

John Maxwell

I had the opportunity to visit the company of a friend who was the VP of a large service organization. During the visit we toured the warehouse and I was amazed to see how many of his employees responded to him as moved through the building. They all said hello and he acknowledged each of them by name. He told me how long some of them had been working with the company and special stories about their families. It was quite apparent that there was a lot of respect between them. He genuinely cared about his employees. As a result, he led a high performing team which year over year met performance goals.

During lunch we discussed his company and his philosophy on leadership. He expressed that no company can truly be successful without a fully committed and engaged work force. Part of cultivating the engagement is to treat everyone like you want to be treated and to value each employee personally. No one likes to work in anonymity. They want to know that they matter and that you care. They want to feel and be treated like they are genuinely important and that the work they do is important.

As a result of my experience, I have made a conscious effort to engage with every member of my team. I do not do it because I am trying to get more out of them, but because I want them to know that they are important to me and our company. It is about people and building solid working relationships. I am not saying we need to be best buddies with everyone that works with us, but an effort should be made to connect with them on a meaningful level. Above all else people are a company’s greatest asset.

Has there been a time in your career that you felt anonymous at work? How did it impact your performance? Did it leave you feeling disconnected? Maybe you feel like just another number.

Have you ever worked for a company where you felt valued?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Looking Back

"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others." Jack Welch

As a leader I sometimes wonder what kind of impact, other than profits, I have had on the people I have led. When I received this letter from one of my former hourly employees it encouraged me tremendously. Hearing this employee's observations confirmed that my principles of leadership were finding their mark, and it motivated me to continue to work to strengthen my leadership abilities even further:

Dear Tony,

I wanted to take a moment to say thank you for all of the guidance and encouragement you have given and taught me in the past.

You were and continue to be an inspiration to me and many others that are fortunate to know you.

Over the past few years you have shown me what it takes to be a respected leader. I originally thought it only took a loud voice and some organization to be successful. It couldn’t have been further from reality. You have shown me that it takes respect, encouragement and follow up to be a successful leader.

No matter how busy you were flying around the country or how many meetings you were tied up in you always managed to follow up and keep your word as if I was your only employee.

The greatest thing you taught me was to figure out a difficult situation on my own. You always encouraged me by asking me “what do you think we should do” rather than telling me how to handle it and making me feel rushed. With that type of leadership I felt encouraged and motivated.

Your knowledge and patience has earned the respect you have today from so many people you have affected throughout the country.

I make every effort possible to utilize the many techniques you have taught me and I can only hope that someday I will have just as much respect from my employees as you have from yours.

Many thanks.



It felt so good to know that I was able to play a small part in the development of an individual who is now is a leader in his community.

As a leader I want to encourage you to think about what kind of impact you are having on the people you lead. Are you motivating, inspiring, serving, and respecting the people on your team? I am sure there are individuals whom you have influenced that can say the same thing about your impact on them that my former employee said about my leadership. I hope sharing this letter will inspire you to always be mindful of how you are managing and supervising individuals who work for you as well as those who may be looking at you from afar.

Leadership Essential#2, Respect - check.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Honest Man

“I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
George Washington

My family and I went out for dinner at one of our favorite burrito places. With our meal we asked for water cups instead of sodas, much to the disappointment of our kids. After getting our food we went to fill our cups with water. When my son got to the table with his drink he noticed that he had, out of habit, filled his cup with coke. Without any prodding he quickly went back to the register and told the manager what had happened and that he wanted to pay for the drink. The manager had this stumped and surprised look on his face. He could not believe that this young man would be honest enough to voluntarily pay for something he did not order. A smile gradually appeared on the man’s face and he graciously said to my son, "Thank you for your honesty, the drink is on me."

My son could have easily hidden the fact that he was drinking a soda he had not paid for. The manager could have accepted payment and would have been justified for doing so. However, both responded in a way that exhibited character and a key attribute of a leader, honesty.

In today’s world many of our leaders lack character. They make promises they do not keep. They operate in the world of “quid pro quo.” They refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and the words they say. It’s amazing how we as a country continue to accept leaders with poor character. We must demand more from our leaders whether they are in politics or in business. Why? Because the decisions they make can have a significant negative impact on the people they lead. Wall Street is a prime example. Taking sweetheart mortgage deals, stashing money in freezers, and lying about sexual relationships must be challenged. Until we stop accepting mediocre leadership we will continue to underperform as a nation.

In our home my wife and I have tried to instill into our kids the importance of character. We are so proud of our son for doing what he knew was right and displaying the kind of character that is essential to good leadership. My son could not have enjoyed the coke had he not paid for it.

Leadership Essential #1, Honesty - check.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Oil and Water

After 75 days we do not appear to be any closer to “plugging up that hole.” Every day I watch the news and see the live video feed of the oil leak, I feel sick. People who live and work along the Gulf Coast continue to be on pins and needles as they contemplate their future. I heard one resident of the Gulf say “I go to bed every night thinking about what I am going to do if the problem is not resolved soon.”

Recently the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) closed approximately 90 thousand square miles of water from fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. This leak promises to be the greatest U.S. ecological disaster of our lifetime.

What is going on? Why is it that the leak is still spewing out thousands of gallons of oil with no end in sight? I believe it is due to a lack of leadership. When the leak first occurred there should have been a call for “all hands on deck.” We needed to make sure we had the best and brightest minds in the room. We know that did not happen. Nations with experience with major oil spills were rebuffed when they offered their help. The leak continues. The people of the United States of America are looking for leadership in the midst of this crisis.

Here is my idea of how to address the problem and inspire confidence;

Both BP and the government should develop a national communication plan.
As part of the communication plan, leaders need to outline the current and long-term strategy for addressing the crisis in detail.
They need to explain to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the disaster how they are going to be compensated for their losses.

All this seems to be a no brainer, but it seems as though when I listen to the news or read about the catastrophe in the Gulf there is no consistency in the communication.

This calamity must be resolved soon; I hate to think about what another 75 days of leaking oil will have on the Gulf and other waterways. To quote one of the Gulf coast residents “It’s not about the money; it’s about a way of life”.

If you were asked to provide a solution, what would it be?