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.