Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

The Puzzle

One day this man’s daughter came to him and said, “These puzzles are no longer challenging enough for me. I want you to find for me a puzzle that is really difficult.” So dad purchased a three dimensional puzzle. While that presented a bit more of a challenge, the puzzle was quickly completed, and his daughter said, “Dad, you can do better than that!”

After searching to no avail for a more complex puzzle an idea came to him, and he said, I will find you a puzzle tomorrow with less than 100 pieces that you will not be able to put together.” She said, “Bring it on, dad.”

The next day, the daughter spent the entire time at school in great anticipation. When she got home she ran into the dining room, where she found what looked like a puzzle with relatively few pieces. This was a puzzle she knew she would be able to assemble before evening’s end. Under dad’s watchful eye, she smoothed the puzzle pieces out on the dining room table to begin. Then she said, “Dad, give me the box top so I can get going on this thing.” That’s the catch”, he said. “Your challenge is to put together this puzzle without a picture of what the finished product is supposed to look like.”

After giving him that look only a daughter in high school can master, she set out to assemble the puzzle. After several frustrating attempts over what seemed like an eternity she said, “Dad, how am I supposed to put together a puzzle without having any idea what the finished product is supposed to look like?” After giving her a look that only a dad with a daughter in high school can master he said, “You said you wanted a puzzle that would be tough for you to do.” Her response was, “This is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore.”

As leaders, how often do we give out similar assignments? We tell those we count on that we need better results. Maybe it is more revenue and profit. We tell them that they have to do better next year than the year before—that they have to be faster, smarter and more competitive than anyone else out there—but we do not articulate a clear plan for how to get there. A good business plan is much like the box top of a puzzle. With it, everyone on the team knows what success looks like when achieved, providing a clear guide along the way.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Staying in the Moment

During a trip to Italy I was reminded of a difference between Americans and Italians. While walking the streets of Rome I witnessed people engaged with one another in discussion and fellowship both day and night. I saw it in and around the restaurants, the squares, the fountains and on the sidewalks. Time seemed to take on a different meaning.

The Greek language has two different words to describe time. One provides the root for our word chronology, and describes time from the perspective of moving through time. The second refers to time as a moment—a good time was had by all. What struck me as I walked the streets of Rome is that Americans all too often view the things that happen to us on our way to our destinations as distractions or things we must endure along the way. To most Italians these distractions are what life is all about.

Upon further reflection I have come to believe that successful leaders have the ability to capitalize on both elements of time. The first is obvious. Through strong organization skills and the ability to prioritize, effective leaders are able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. While not as obvious, the second is even more important. By being in the moment, and remaining receptive to those we encounter along the way, we can gain a great deal. In addition to developing stronger relationships, being in the moment opens our minds to take advantage of the serendipity that surrounds us. By keeping our eyes open to the possibilities of our everyday encounters we might just find solutions to our toughest problems.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

Feed the Eagles and Starve the Turkeys

In a conversation with a colleague earlier today I was reminded of a phrase I have heard repeated over the years—feed the eagles and starve the turkeys.  At first glimpse this phrase may seem harsh and uncaring.  After all, aren’t we called to help those who are less competent?  Aren’t the strong supposed to help the weak?  Quite simply, no!  Not if it makes the strong weaker.  Not if doing so makes it more difficult for the strong to produce.

If the overachievers in an organization become hamstrung by blanket restrictions, budget cuts, or increased taxes, which are often the result of the mediocrity or failure of others in the organization, it stands to reason that total production will drop.

If this argument holds, why do organizations refuse to allow this logic to inform their decision-making during times of crisis?  An obvious answer is that it is much simpler to declare an across-the-board cut.  That way we can offer platitudes like, “everybody is being asked to tighten their belts.”  Sadly, I think the answer is more insidious than that.  I think it is based on the fallacy of CAN and WILL.

The fallacy of CAN and WILL is based in the faulty logic that because overachievers and high performing teams CAN produce more than others with the same resources, they WILL do even more with even less.  What makes this logic so dangerous is that it feeds the turkeys and starves the eagles.  In a backhanded way it rewards mediocrity by not holding it fully accountable.  Moreover, instead of rewarding overachievement it discourages it.  Why pull out all the stops to run a lean operation if it is not going to be recognized?  Why go to all that trouble only to be hamstrung?

Turkeys often store fat in preparation for a cold winter.  Eagles carry little, if any, fat.  If you are heading into a cold winter of crises, it would be wise to keep your eagles well fed!

© Mark Loschiavo

Can Music Promote Social Change?

When my son was in middle school he got involved in a program called Children’s International Summer Villages (http://www.cisv.org/about/history.html).  A woman who believed that if children could learn to relate to kids from other countries it would promote world peace started CISV shortly after WWII.

In my travels, I have found music to be a common denominator—the universal language.  Whether it was singing along to a Beatles tribute band at a table in Roppongi with two Koreans and six Japanese, jamming in a karaoke bar in Tokyo with musicians who spoke no English, or jamming with an outdoor market vendor in Bangkok for 45 minutes, playing a stringed instrument called a Thai Pin, that I picked up for the very first time that day, connections were made.  The Thai vendor and I couldn’t communicate with each other in any other way, but we became brothers that day.  When my business associates finally found me they were relieved to learn that I was NOT abducted–just distracted.

I am privileged to serve on the board of LiveConnections (http://liveconnections.org), an organization dedicated to providing innovative music education programs to build bridges and connect cultures.  It was started by a group of people who are passionate about music, but more passionate about making a difference in the world through music.  Now, that is something to sing about!

If this is something that resonates with you, please go to http://liveconnections.org to make a donation.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

In today’s Voices (Harvard Business Publishing), there is an article by Jeff Kehoe, entitled, When Do You Fire Your Four-Star General? Kehoe summarizes the reasoning behind the recent firing of Gen. David D. McKiernan, formerly the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Referencing an August 17, 2009 Washington post account, Pentagon Worries Led to Command Change, Kohoe writes, “The article gives a vivid sense of how Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, first worried, and then concluded, that McKiernan was not up to the urgent task at hand—that is, not only quickly turning the tide in the complex and treacherous 21st-century battlefield of Afghanistan, but also, simultaneously and continuously connecting and communicating with the Pentagon and Washington about developments on the ground and responsive strategy.”

While reading this article, a comment made to me by a senior IBM executive immediately came to mind.  ”Out of sight, out of mind.”

It was the summer of 1992, and I was the financial executive for a billion dollar profit center of IBM.

Two years earlier I was finishing up a groundbreaking assignment during a pivotal time in IBMs history, reporting to the aforementioned executive (we will call him Hank). As we were preparing to part ways and take on the challenges of our new assignments he said, “I just want you to know that we would have never accomplished so much without your leadership. If you ever need anything from me, just let me know. I owe you.” He had been promoted to a position at corporate headquarters and I was promoted to a CFO position in Philadelphia. Even though I had never before asked for help in that way, his words meant a great deal to me.

Two years later an opportunity to take on a more significant leadership role surfaced. While it would require another relocation, the position was going to be filled by someone with my experience. As luck would have it, Hank was going to be a key influencer in the selection process, so I decided to give him a call.

Hank was glad to hear from me, since we had only talked briefly a couple of times in the last two years. After a bit of chitchat, I asked Hank if, in fact, they were looking at candidates for this open position. Indeed they were, and they were down to the short list. When I asked Hank why my name was not included on the short list his response startled me. He simply stated, “out of sight, out of mind.”  Even though my accomplishments measured up nicely, my name hadn’t come up.

Following the call, which ended graciously, my initial reaction was a feeling of betrayal. What happened to that heartfelt IOU?

Upon further reflection, I realized I had nobody to blame but myself.  While I had accomplished a great deal over those two years, I didn’t bother to keep in touch with those who did not have an immediate role or stake in my endeavors. I was so involved in trying to make a difference that I completely ignored the politics that exists in any organization. It is not enough to do good work. It is imperative to simultaneously and continuously connect with and communicate with your stakeholders.  You must take every opportunity to keep them apprised of your current state, the progress you have made to-date, and your strategies to get to your desired state.  For those of you who like to operate autonomously this can feel confining, and it is time consuming.   Ultimately, we attain our goals only with the help of others who are invested in the outcome.  One of our chief responsibilities as leaders is to stay “top of mind” with those who will help us succeed.  Otherwise we may be reminded that “out of sight” equals “out of mind” at a very critical time.

©Mark P. Loschiavo

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