Excerpts from: “They Can’t Take Away Your Birthday”

Courage in Leadership

Over the years I have been asked to disclose the identity of my role model for leadership.  If I had to indentify one person, it would have to be Andrew W. Loschiavo.  Even though I have been a student of leadership my entire life, most of what I live and believe about leadership was modeled for me from a very young age from my father. Being a small business owner (general contractor) afforded dad the opportunity to allow family to tag along as he traveled from jobsite to jobsite.  Whenever he would ask, “does anyone want to go for a ride” I was always the first (and usually the only) to volunteer.  The evening trips typically involved “measuring a job”, where he would determine the number of concrete forms, angles, hardware, and yards of concrete he would need to order for the next day.  The day trips usually involved traveling from jobsite to jobsite, providing direction, making sure the crew had the supplies needed, or talking with the customer.     For me, each trip was an adventure that couldn’t be missed.  I was like the firehouse dog that jumps into the front seat of the fire truck at the first sound of the firehouse bell.  I was never sure where we were going.  I just knew I wanted to be there.  Interestingly enough, thirty years later I was part of an elite team of executives in charge of the various lines of business for a technology services company that was changing the business model for computer services.  One day our boss referred to the team as firedogs.  The rest of the team struggled with the metaphor, but I knew exactly what he meant.

Dad didn’t exactly have a teaching style of leadership, but he was a leader, and man of action. Being in his presence provided an opportunity to observe, and boy, did I observe.  I used to watch every move he made.  Many of his actions are forever burned into my memory and subconsciously inform my leadership to this day.  Although dad never attended college, he was an entrepreneur and provider since the age of 12.  His instincts and common sense more than compensated for his lack of formal education.

In reality, my role model for leadership is a composite of all the leaders I have encountered.  Over the years, I have been blessed to work with a plethora of outstanding leaders, numerous enough to fill an entire book.  While only a very few are mentioned in this book, I am grateful to them all.

Upon completing my graduate degree from the University of Kentucky I found myself on assignment with Arthur Andersen & Co. in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a team of 100 people at a massive materials management installation for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Even though I had been working since the age of 15, including having the exclusive distributorship in the Greater Cincinnati Area for Aqua Queen, a manufacturer of the first automated swimming pool cleaner, I had never worked in a large organization.  My immediate supervisor on that assignment was Jim Barney.  Jim was a manager from our Chicago office who possessed a rare combination of humility and chutzpa.  The combination of his Midwest work ethic, subject matter expertise, quick wit, robust sense of humor and healthy irreverence toward authority made him a truly unique role model for a wet-behind-the-ears youngster fresh out of college, who had never worked in a corporate environment.

Starting with my first day on the job Jim constantly challenged me to push beyond my comfort zone to grow professionally.  Many of the lessons learned through Jim’s mentorship and example have stayed with me throughout my professional life, but two lessons deserve special mention.  The first lesson deals with balance and the second speaks to perspective.

The year we worked together consisted of frequent 80-hour weeks and intense pressure for results.  In the midst of fierce deadlines and unending demands, Jim always insisted we go to lunch each day.  While most of our colleagues would eat at their desks or sustain themselves with coffee and cigarettes throughout the day, our department would stop whatever we were doing around noon to go out for lunch and talk about anything but work.  His logic was simple; “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  Over the past three decades, the pressures and demands have only increased for me, but I can probably count on two hands the number of times I have missed lunch.  A lunch break may seem like an insignificant factor in the grand scheme of things, but for me it serves as a symbolic reminder for maintaining balance.

The second lesson learned from Jim Barney proved far more elusive for some time.  Whenever I was faced with a tough decision, where a misstep could prove painful or fatal, Jim would say, “They can’t take away your birthday”.  After about the 50th time of hearing this I finally asked, “What the hell does that mean?”

Jim shared a story that a few years earlier he was in a heated argument with a partner in the firm.  In the heat of the moment Jim asked the partner, “What can you do to me (I did mention that Jim had a healthy irreverence for authority)”?  The partner responded with, “I can take away your birthday!”  He said it with such conviction that, for a moment, Jim believed him.  Then Jim went on to explain that no matter how bad things get, they can never take away your birthday.  This is a sentiment I have carried throughout my entire professional career.  It gives me perspective, and the freedom to do the right thing even during the toughest times.

Strategic leadership requires courage.  If you choose to adopt some or all of the principles professed in the pages that follow I can promise you two things: 1) You will be a more effective leader, and 2) no matter how many times you get your helmet dinged (and you will get your helmet dinged), they can’t take away your birthday.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

Attributes of Effective Leaders

When considering the attributes of effective leaders, your list should at least include some or all of the following:

  • Vision
  • Symbolism
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Stamina
  • Intestinal Fortitude
  • Passion
  • Interpersonal Skill
  • Inspiration
  • Sincerity

Vision

At times elusive, and often difficult to articulate, vision is a critical component for great leaders.  Vision is the ability for a leader to understand the current state with all of its advantages and flaws, while at the same time constructing a mental picture of a desired state for the future.

Understanding the current state provides insights regarding the heartbeat or DNA of an organization.  It sheds light on a group’s strengths and areas of excellence.  It helps a leader articulate the personality or nature of the organization, stating, “who we are” as an organization.  When asked the DNA or heartbeat of Dell Computers, many would say that they are a computer products company.  I believe Michael Dell has a different view.  He does not view Dell as a technology company, or even a computer products company as much as a distribution company.  Because he sees the heartbeat of his company being the packaging, marketing and delivery of technology, he based his vision for the company around this concept.  In doing so he built a company that has taken the PC, notebook computer and server world by storm.  He built a business around the concept that, at the time, defied conventional wisdom and was diametrically opposed to everyone else in the industry.  While everyone else in the PC industry was relying on alternate sales and distribution channels to sell their products to businesses and consumers, Dell went with a Direct Marketing strategy, selling directly to customers via phone and the Internet.  While most of his competitors were applying their resources to technology enhancements or improvements in the manufacturing process, Dell focused on packaging its systems in such a way that customers could custom-configure systems to meet their needs.  While others were focused on differentiating their products with best-in-class service, Dell relied on partnering to gain that advantage.  In other words, he was able to visualize a vision and communicate it throughout the organization by making it clear what the heartbeat of the company was—marketing and packaging.[1]

Honda is another example of a company that has been successful in articulating a clear vision over the years because of the clear understanding of the company’s DNA.  While the big three US auto companies viewed themselves as automobile companies, Honda viewed its heartbeat to be engines.  Based on that understanding and conviction they built a company that has not only grabbed considerable market share in the auto industry, but they have become a household name for motorcycles, powered lawn products, and just about anything else that has an engine.[2] Because of this vision, it does not come as a surprise that they were one of the first companies to come out with an automobile utilizing a hybrid electric-combustion engine.  Because they knew who they are it became easier to understand where they wanted to go.

Integrity

Webster defines Integrity as 1. Rigid adherence to a code of behavior; probity, 2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness, 3. Completeness; unity.  Physical structures must have integrity or they will eventually become unsound and crumble.  Organizations must have integrity or they will eventually lose unity and come apart.  Leaders must have integrity or they will betray the trust of their followers and lose them.  A synonym for integrity is honesty.  Without it followers become suspicious of motives, and view the leader as unpredictable and volatile.  No one wants to follow an individual who can’t be trusted, and no one wants to do business with a company that is viewed as dishonest.  Former President William Jefferson Clinton provided an object lesson in honesty and integrity.  I do not think history will be kind to Bill Clinton.  He may be remembered as one of the most brilliant and knowledgeable leaders of the United States.  He may also be remembered for many of the good things he did while in office, but more than anything I believe Bill Clinton will be remembered for lying to a Grand Jury and to the American people regarding an affair with an Intern.  He will also be remembered for the countless pardons of individuals of questionable integrity hours before leaving office.  Some will remember him as the President who made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of articles upon vacating White House.  Why?  All these things bring his integrity into question.  As with all leaders, I am convinced that Bill Clinton was concerned about his legacy as President.  However, all the work he did to build a legacy for himself may be for naught because of his questionable integrity.  Never underestimate the power of integrity as a leader.

Stamina

The word stamina conjures images of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he uttered those immortal words “never, never, never give up.”[3] If you want to be a leader you better build stamina.  You will need it.  You will need it to keep your head up during the most trying times and your people will need to see it in you when they are about to falter.  It is through your stamina they will be able to endure.  By your example they will persevere.  It took stamina for Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery and it took stamina for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to work for peace in the Middle East.  It took stamina for Nelson Mandela to endure political imprisonment for so many years, but because of his stamina, apartheid in South Africa was defeated.

Passion

Passion can be one of a leader’s greatest tools.  Passion is what caused a small nation to rally around Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.  Passion is what caused the Palestinian people, and even the United Nations to acknowledge a once known terrorist and leader of the Palestinian Liberation Army—Yasir Arafat as the leader of the nation of Palestine.  Passion is what helped a nation in one of its darkest hours to follow a President confined to a wheelchair because of Polio—President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  If you do not demonstrate passion in your leadership you should not expect passion from your followers.  Passion about the right cause or purpose is contagious.  This brings us to inspiration.

Inspiration

The word inspiration is defined by Webster as “the stimulation of the faculties to a high level of feeling or activity.”  It also has a theological definition; “Divine guidance or influence exerted directly upon the mind and soul of a man.”  In a leader, the difference between passion and lunacy is often defined by inspiration.  There are plenty of homicidal maniacs walking the street that are passionate, but they are unlikely to inspire others with their passion.  The two definitions given are complementary.  Inspiration often comes when we talk of things larger than life—a purpose greater than the individual.  In September of 1980 Solidarity, the Polish independent trade union federation was formed.  It’s then leader, Lech Welesa, showed passion about something much greater than he.  He had a vision that inspired others to risk their livelihoods and their lives for a noble cause.  As a leader you must look to inspire others by the significance of a purpose greater than the individual.  The Hebrew people followed Moses through the wilderness for 40 years not because he was Moses, but because he inspired a vision that was greater than any one person.  You can do the same.

Symbolism:

Symbolism in leadership is often overlooked or dismissed as being too corny for the sophisticated followers of today.  Somebody forgot to tell that to Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel in the 1990s when he moved into a cubicle as his office—just like everyone else in the company.[4] In doing so he gave a simple message—what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  This symbolism extended beyond the boundaries of Intel to other major companies.  Somehow, it made it acceptable for a successful executive to have something other than the opulent trappings of a large office suite.  In a similar act of symbolism John Opel, former CEO of IBM was known to have a stand-up desk in his office—the kind of desk you work at while standing.  The message he imparted by this simple piece of office furniture was that he was a man of action—not one to sit down on the job.  What is interesting about these acts of symbolism is that the reality of the situation may have nothing to do with the message.  John Opel liked to stand when he worked at his desk because it was easier on this back.

In 1986, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to take over an elite team of individuals.  At about that time we were moving our offices to another location.  I was working remotely one week when I received a call from the team member I had given the responsibility for managing the move.  This team member wanted to inform me that there was a small problem—there were eight members of the team, but only seven window offices.  She also informed me that she was going to solve the problem by assigning herself to the interior office.  After all, she was the lowest level employee on the team.  I told her that I had a better idea.  I told her that I wanted the interior office for myself, leaving window offices for each of my team members.  I told her that I did not mind, since I would be spending most of my time in their offices anyhow.  What message do you think the members of my team received by that symbolic gesture—the new boss is an idiot?  I hoped not.  I was trying to send two messages to the team.  The first being that I did not see myself as superior to them in anyway other than in my role as leader, and the second being that I did not intend to spend too much time hiding away in my office.  I expected to be the leader, and I expected them to contribute to the work of the team regardless of their level, and I planned to be right there with them as we worked together to accomplish our goals.  There is an ironic twist to this story.  When I returned I found that, indeed, I had the only interior office, but that it was huge.  In fact it was twice the size of any other office.  When they tried to fit the furniture I inherited into a single interior office it simply would not fit, so they had to make two interior offices in to one big one.  When I first saw this I questioned why they did not just find smaller furniture for me.  The answer I received was priceless.  I was told that they took it upon themselves to go with the larger office, which would allow us to hold department meetings in my office—freeing up a conference room.  Isn’t it amazing what people will do when they feel empowered to make decisions for the good of the organization?  To paraphrase an old cliché, a symbol is worth a thousand words.

Loyalty

Over the last couple of decades loyalty has been sacrifice at the altar of earnings per share and short-term profits.  Several years ago a colleague of mine suffered a devastating personal blow when he learned that his wife of many years wanted a divorce.  To say it knocked the wind out of him would be an understatement.  As a result his work began to suffer.  Up to this point he had been a hard working, loyal contributor to the company and the department.  In the midst of his struggle, the leader of our department met with each member of the team individually to tell them that Russ was going through a difficult time and that he needed our help.  He told us that he expected each of us to take up any slack by pitching in and doing what was necessary to carry the department.  Then he told Russ to take whatever time necessary to get his affairs in order, and that his job would be waiting for him when he returned.  To a person, the department was more than willing to pitch in, working whatever hours necessary to cover for Russ.  We were all professionals, so there was no compensation for working the extra hours.  We were willing to give unselfishly for the department, because we valued the loyalty that was being shown to one of our colleagues.  What do you think happened to Russ?  He became more loyal, worked harder than ever, and became even a more significant contributor to the company.  What did it cost the company?  It cost the company very little.  What did the company and that leader gain by his loyalty?  That leader received a level of loyalty seven-fold what he exhibited, because there were seven of us in the department.  Before you are willing to sacrifice loyalty at the altar of profit taking, ask yourself what the real profit implications will be by your actions—you may be surprised.

Intestinal Fortitude

It takes courage to be a leader.  It is not for the faint hearted.  I became a manager in the early 1980s in IBM.  That was long before business casual was introduced, and a time when IBM was known for navy suits and white button-down shirts.  It was during that time that I was approached by some members of my team and asked why it was necessary to where suits and ties even on days when they would not be meeting with customers or other executives.  It was a planning organization—one that spent many days immersed in staff work absent of interaction with others outside of the department.  I listened to their request, devised a plan that the entire team agreed to that ensured we were prepared in the event we were called into an unexpected meeting with “outsiders” and headed to the executive suite.  As I made my way down the corridors for my meeting with the senior executive in charge my bowels became a bit watery.  After all, I was a new manager and I did not want to appear the fool.  I knew this was clearly a break from tradition but it had merit.  It certainly was not a cause important to me at the time, but it seemed important to the department I was leading.

After some amount of debate and consternation the request was approved—but only after I assured the executive in charge that I would not let it get out of hand.  Returning the victor—albeit the cautious victor—I informed the department of the decision.  It was a big hit.  Yet, interestingly enough only about half of the department stopped wearing suits every day.  Old habits die hard.  An interesting thing happened because of this action on my part.  Some of our sister departments chose to also adopt the new dress code—an action we fully expected.  Unfortunately, they did not bother to adopt the same plan of preparedness we had, and on one fateful day I was down in the executive suites meeting with some dignitaries when an employee from one of the other departments strolled past in all of his “business casual” splendor.  And to make matters worse he called out a big “Hi Mark” as he walked by, calling additional attention to himself and me.  As soon as he was out of ear shot the executive in charge pulled me aside and said, “No more business casual.  Fix it.”  Shortly thereafter I pulled the team together to let them know that our experiment in business casual met an untimely death.  Their response was surprising to me.  They said, “That’s OK.  We didn’t expect it to last.  We were just proud of you for having the guts to ask in the first place.”  If you want people to courageously follow you as their leader, you need to model courage.

Interpersonal Skills

This is one area that almost goes without saying.  Leadership is all about working with others.  In order to work with others effectively you need to excel at interpersonal relations.  There is an old saying in sales.  “People like to do business with people they like”.  The same goes for leadership.  People like to follow leaders that they like.

During the 1990s the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers were a disaster.  They had a lousy record and very little fan support.  But they had a very important asset in the President of the team—Pat Croce.  Pat Croce, who started out as a physical therapist and built a successful healthcare business called Novacare is a consummate marketer.  But more than anything he has built his career and his success on his interpersonal skills.  Because of his interpersonal skills and his charisma he took a team that was in the basement and moved them to the top floor.  In 2001 the 76ers, against all odds, made it into the NBA finals.  They did better than anyone expected, and won the love and adoration of sports fans everywhere—especially in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Much of this success came because of Larry Brown, the head coach and winner of the 2001 coach of the year award and Allen Iverson their star guard and winner of the NBA MVP award for 2001.  But if it had not been for the interpersonal skills of Pat Croce none of that would have mattered.  Early in the season Larry Brown wanted to get rid of the troublemaking Iverson because he felt he was bad for the team, and he did not want to put up with his antics.  It was only after Croce worked his charm and charisma did coach and star come together to develop a winning formula.  The young Iverson settled down, becoming a leader for the team, and Larry Brown took it as a personal challenge to mentor him.  Strong interpersonal skills will bring people, who would otherwise not associate with one another, together to work toward a common goal.  That is what leadership is all about.

Sincerity 

I once worked with a leader who said, “Sincerity is everything.  If you can fake that, you got it made.”  And he was right.  Sincerity is everything.  And Gary Bernstein did not fake it.  His people loved him and were willing to follow him during the most difficult times because he was sincere.  He was sincere in his concern for one of his top managers when she lost a child during childbirth.  He was sincere when another employee suffered the loss of her father, and he was sincere when he handed out praise for a job well done.

Sincerity shows people that you care about them, and that you care about the organization you are leading.  It demonstrates motive that moves beyond selfish ones, and it is hard to fake.  If you want to check yourself regarding your sincerity, ask yourself this question.  “When someone is talking to me about a problem, concern or issue, am I focused on the individual, the problem and the concern?  Or am I focused on how this is going to impact me?”  Or even worse, “Am I focusing on what to have for supper at the time someone is pouring out their troubles to me?”  If you are not fully engaged when dealing with your associates or followers you have some work to do in the area of sincerity.

Service

A common theme that I have seen over the years in great leaders is a willingness and desire to serve others.  It is at the root of many of the attributes described in this chapter.  It may seem like an odd juxtaposition to think of a leader as being a servant, but if you take time to reflect on some of the most highly esteemed leaders in history you will find that they often had a servant’s attitude.  Great world leaders should have as their first priority to serve the people they lead and to serve humanity.  Great CEOs should be ever-focused on serving the needs of their customers, stakeholders and employees.  It is an attitude of servant-hood that reflects praise and absorbs blame, and is willing to sacrifice personally for the good of the whole.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] Direct from Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry, Copyrightã Michael Dell

[2] Strategy Pure & Simple II: How Winning Companies Dominate Their Competitors

[3] In a speech to the Harrow School on October 29, 1941

[4] Industry Week: 1997 Technology Leader of the Year
Andy Grove: Building An Information Age Legacy By John H. Sheridan Dec. 15, 1997

Attributes of Effective Managers

Now let’s contrast the attributes of an effective leader with those of an effective manager.  Let me preface this chapter by stipulating that I make no judgments regarding the absolute merits of leaders or managers; only to point out that there is a difference.    In order to be an effective manager one needs to effectively accomplish the items put forth in the following pages.

Set objectives:

Effective managers tend to be very goal oriented.  The only way to understand if we are progressing toward the goal is to set a course with specific objectives along the way.  The quickest way to disorient an entire organization is to lack clear objectives for the organization.  This is important every step of the way.  In most cases it is not enough to set annual objectives.  Most organizations require at least quarterly objectives and some daily.  What distinguishes a great manager from a good one is the consistency of the objectives.  In order to be truly successful in this endeavor, these objectives must be clear, specific and actionable.  These objectives must be set in such a way that the members of the team know when they have or have not accomplished them.  They also need to be visible enough to stay at the forefront of the team’s attention and focus.  These objectives should be communicated and followed up in such a way that the team members are thinking about how to accomplish them when they first awake in the morning.

Build strategies to fulfill established objectives:

Occasionally a manager will come across an employee who is so self-motivated and clear-headed that the manager merely needs to provide the employee with the objectives and get out of the way.  I stress the word occasionally because in most cases it is not enough to merely state the objectives for your team.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is that very few of us are good enough communicators to state the objectives clearly enough that each member of the team understands them in the same way.  By building strategies to accomplish the objectives, the objectives themselves become more crystallized by the team.  The second and more obvious reason to build strategies is that without them you have only a slim chance of accomplishing them.  It is hard to get action without an action plan.

These strategies do not have to be developed solely by the manager.  In fact, I suggest that strategies should be developed with a team.  Depending on the size of the organization you might choose every member of your team to help develop the strategy or just a select few individuals.  By using a team approach you will find that it aids in helping you crystallize the objectives, and enables you to develop strategies that are actionable, aggressive and achievable.  In some instances, it is also helpful to enlist the help of others from outside your team to help you in this endeavor.  Sometimes your customers, suppliers or business partners have a very clear vantage point in this area and can be of great benefit.  Keep in mind, however, that these people will often have their own agenda regarding your business.  Outside consultants are another source of help.  Find one that is skilled in helping your team develop yourstrategies.  Beware of firms that offer “cookie cutter” strategies that are handed over to you in a nice, well-organized binder.  These are tempting because they require limited work on your part and they look good on the shelf.  They are useless.  You must resist the temptation to abdicate your responsibility for the establishment of these strategies.  As an effective manager, they are yours to develop with your team.

Put actions in motion to ensure strategies are played out:

Once strategies are clearly defined and communicated, there needs to be series of actions defined to execute on the strategy.  These actions can also be put together jointly with the team.  These actions must have dates and names associated with them.  What I have found most useful is to have someone on your team that is particularly effective in the area of project management.  If you cannot afford to have someone like that on your team, learn how to do it yourself.  There is nothing quite as effective at ensuring actions be put into motion than to have a clearly articulated project plan that everyone can see.  Today there are several software packages available to assist you in doing this.  What I am talking about, however, is more than putting the actions on a timeline with names and comments.  This process requires constant attention toward the progress in completing these actions.  I have found that this is one of the more tedious and unwelcome tasks in an organization, because we are being constantly reminded of what we have to do.  Nobody likes being told they are delinquent, but this effort is an essential ingredient in putting actions in motion to accomplish your strategies.

Set, communicate, and adjust priorities to meet objectives:

No matter how good you are at planning there will always be issues of priority to deal with.  There are only so many hours in the day and so many resources at your disposal.  A good manager must be able to clearly establish the priorities for the organization, and communicate them to everyone in the organization.  This is one area where managers sometimes fall short.  Often managers are quicker to understand and embrace change.  Some of this is the result of being closer to the decision process, and being involved in more facets of the organization.  Because they are able to more easily understand what needs to be done, they often presume that everyone in the organization has come along at the same pace.   This presumption causes them to neglect the need for constant and complete communication of objectives and priorities associated with the desired outcome.  Effectively they are projecting their attitudes and approach, not being sensitive to the differences of those around them.  In short they are not effective in this area because they cannot understand why people “just don’t get it”.  I have been associated with some fine managers and leaders over the years and this seems to be a very common fault in their technique.  The ones who have been able to overcome this technique have approached it in different ways.

One way good managers overcome this obstacle is by working very hard to see things through the eyes of their people.  They do this by putting themselves in situations with their team that allow them better to understand their world and the things that are likely to cause fear, uncertainty and doubt in their minds.  To do this effectively, it is important that you truly meet them in their world.  A popular technique in recent years has been a renewal of a very old approach—Town Meetings.  This is where the manager gets up in front of the entire team or a large subset of the team, gives and inspirational message, and then opens it up for questions.  While this technique can be very effective in communicating a message or letting people see you in a more intimate setting, it is unlikely to give you a true view into their world.  To get into their world you have to work beside them frequently enough that it does not require a command performance on their part or yours.  That type of exposure allows the walls of organizational hierarchy to come down long enough for you to get a real glimpse into their thinking.  I have no easy solution or fancy gimmick to sell you here, but I can tell you where to start: be around and be available.  Put yourself in situations where you have occasion to talk with your folks about business matters where they are expert and where you want to learn.  Notice that I did not suggest hanging around to be buddies with them.  Unless there is a natural chemistry in this area I would stay away from more personal discussion.  Often, delving into more personal matters can be viewed by some as “prying” and by others as a feeble attempt at appearing human.  I am talking about business. Specifically, business that temporarily takes you out of the “boss” role.   Trying to make this kind of contact with everyone in the organization can be a daunting task.  If you have an organization that is too large to effectively get to know all of them, find the handful of people on the team that have their finger on the pulse of the organization and effectively represent the world in which they live.  A word of caution here, be very careful not to select only those people who see things as you do, and make sure to have enough diversity in your selection to get a cross-section view.  This is hard work but the payoff can be enormous.

Another way good managers overcome the obstacle of not knowing how their people understand and accept change is to surround themselves with people who are more sensitive to the tenor of the organization.  Let’s face it, some people find it easier to “feel your pain”!  That can be a significant asset to have at your disposal when you are a very busy manager in a very busy world.  It is very important as a leader to understand your weaknesses and be humble enough to get help from people who have strengths in those areas.

Effectively and efficiently utilize resources:

Growing up in the United States it is easy to take for granted the abundance of natural resources we have.  All one has to do is spend time in a country that is not as rich in these natural resources to begin to appreciate our bounty.  The same holds true when it comes to leadership. Often managers in large organizations overlook the value the resources at their disposal because they are so plentiful.  On the contrary leaders in small organizations often relish the resources they have.  I have in the past recruited from some of the most prestigious business schools in the country.  Frequently, when reviewing various candidates’ resumes, I would learn many had run successful small businesses prior to earning an MBA.  When asked why they gave up a successful business, to spend $80,000 a year to get an MBA, so they could go to work for a multinational corporation, the response was often a surprise to me.  It wasn’t the candidates’ desire to see more of the world or to live in new places that motivated them to give up what they had and endure the pain associated with an advanced degree in a very rigorous environment.  It also was not the challenge to try something new and different.  More often it was to find a place where resources were more plentiful.   They were bright and energetic people who felt they were limited by the resources available to them.   With a large corporation they saw an opportunity to take their ideas further than they could ever take them with the limited resources they possessed.  One of the most commonly underestimated resources in a large organization is its people.  A former colleague of mine was once the CEO of an 18 million dollar company.  That company over the years was forced into reorganization and was sold.  When asked what could have made the difference in success and failure he did not hesitate.  He said that they were basically doing everything right as a company but were unable to take it to the next level to make it really thrive and grow.  He attributed their inability to take it to the next level to the quality of people he had on his team.  They were effective in their own right but none of them were exceptional in their ability to break the mold to help him move the business forward.  He indicated that the thing he most appreciated about a larger corporation was that, because of its size, there were a number of exceptional people within the organization available to be harvested to grow the business and make it thrive.   He also was amazed at how most leaders within those organizations did not recognize the significance of that resource.

As a leader, it is extremely important to seek out what resources you have at your disposal and utilize them efficiently and effectively.  Care for them.  Nurture them.  Utilize them.

Establish measures of success:

There is an old saying, “inspect what you expect”.  Over the years I have experimented with several schools of thought on management.  Some of them have dealt in the area of measurements.  The opinions in this area vary wildly.  They range from eliminating all but the most top-level measurements to measuring everything that moves.  Some argue that measuring too many things stifles creativity and drives the organization to not fully realize its potential.  I must admit that this is one area where my intuition has not served me well over the years, and my success has come through some pretty hard knocks.  Initially I leaned more toward the school of minimal measurements.  The reason—I personally found it very easy to draw a connection between my accomplishments or failures and the goals of the organization, and I was extremely motivated to be successful at contributing to those goals.

Over the years I have learned two things.  First, not everyone in the organization is self-motivated, and even those who are self-motivated will sometimes slack up when the pressure is off.  Secondly, the ability to understand the correlation between our role or contribution and the overarching goals of the organization is often elusive and requires an ability to think in the abstract.  Some people are very effective in the abstract.  Others are not.  This has nothing to do with knowledge or intelligence.  Some of the smartest people I know struggle in the abstract.  Maybe this is a left-brain, right-brain thing.  I don’t know.  But I do know that we have different capacities in this area.  If an individual has trouble dealing in the abstract, they may also have trouble “connecting the dots” between what they do on a daily basis and how it affects the achievement of the overarching goals of the organization.  If we want everyone in the organization paddling in the same direction with the same sense of urgency we better help him or her connect the dots, and continually remind them of how they are doing.

Connecting the Dots.

It is amazing to me today how many physical fitness programs are available to the public.  Most of them promise the same thing—lose weight, lose inches, feel great and look great.  Billions of dollars every year are spent on these programs because without them people have trouble connecting the dots.  The goal is straightforward and simple.  Why do we need programs to accomplish these?  Without them we either don’t understand or lose sight of the correlation between our behavior and our physical fitness.  Unless we are constantly reminded that aerobic exercise over an extended period burns calories and fat, or that strength training builds muscle mass, increases bone density, and increases the base metabolic rate, we lose sight of how to lose weight and inches.

It is no coincidence that marathon runners wear stopwatches and heart monitors.  They realize that if they are running too slow in the first couple of miles they can never make it up.  They also know that if they are running too fast at any point in the race they can hit the wall too quickly, blowing the race.  Most runners will tell you that their tendency is to start out too fast because of the excitement of the race.  Because of the adrenaline pumping through their bloodstream, they could operate in that mode for quite some time without noticing the ill effects on their bodies, but they won’t finish the marathon that way.  They need to have an objective monitoring system that allows them to continually check their progress along the way.  If not, they can easily be fooled into thinking all is well when they are actually heading for trouble.

Likewise, I have seen individuals in business become so caught up in the race to capture additional market share, close a deal, execute on an initiative or finish a project, they lose sight of the overarching objective of the organization.  As such, a lot of energy is expended, and work is accomplished, but it often ends up being at cross-purposes with the broader goals of the organization.

Track progress:

Typically when we speak of measuring success, we refer to pre-established measurements based on standards.  An example of this kind of measurement would be taking a resting heart rate or measuring someone’s blood pressure.  In a resting state, we know that a heart rate somewhere between 50 and 72 beats per minute is considered OK, depending on the individual’s age and the frequency of aerobic exercise they receive.  We also know that at blood pressure of 120 over 80 is about right.  If that same individual is going through some significant change these standards can be very misleading.  Suppose you measure someone’s heart rate and blood pressure immediately after they rescued a small child from a four-story building that is on fire, while under sniper attack. In this case a heart rate of 180, and a blood pressure of 160 over 110 might be considered quite normal.  If, however, you were to apply the “resting heart rate” measurements you would likely overmedicate the individual.

In today’s world we are constantly faced with the need to change, which means that we are often in some form of building or transition stage.  In those times merely looking at established measurements to monitor the organization’s health can be deceiving.  It is important to ensure there are also a series of milestones and checkpoints that are predetermined throughout the process to see how we are doing.  During these times we need to understand that the results may not appear “normal” to us.  Instead we need to predict how the transition or change that is occurring may temporarily affect them and track our progress along the way.  If two days after our hero’s incident occurred his blood pressure and heart rate has not declined, we may need to take some action.

Effective Managers Summary

While it is clearly helpful for an effective manager to possess some or all of the characteristics attributed to great leaders, it is more important that he or she focus on the execution of specific goals over a defined period of time.  To do that effectively it is important to rigorously execute on the items just mentioned.  In summary, it is important to:

  • Set Objectives
  • Build strategies to fulfill established objectives
  • Put actions in motion to ensure strategies are played out
  • Set, communicate, and adjust priorities to meet objectives
  • Effectively and efficiently utilize resources
  • Establish measures of success
  • Track progress

In order to accomplish the above, certain characteristics are required.  The following is the list of characteristics prevalent in strong managers.

  • Results Oriented Highly Disciplined
  • Highly Organized Detail Oriented
  • Good Listener Candid
  • Goals Driven vs Politically Driven Technically Sound
  • Organizationally focused

While this list is not necessarily comprehensive, it is meant to point out the differences between leaders and managers.  Being a good manager does not guarantee success as a leader, and being an inspired leader does not guarantee success as a manager.

Take me out to the ball game!

There are numerous professions we can draw from to illustrate the manager’s role.  I will pick an area that most people can relate to either as a participant or a spectator; the baseball manager. You may think that using a baseball manager is stretching the concept of manager, but there is a very valid reason they are called managers rather than coaches.  A coach in baseball is someone who works with a specific and predefined segment within the organization.  They are focused on getting the maximum output from that segment, while keeping them both physically and mentally healthy.  Take the example of the pitching coach.  They are in charge of a very specific skill set of the team – pitchers.  Therefore they spend little time focused on organizational goals.  If the cleanup hitter becomes injured, thus hurting the team’s offensive strength, the pitching coach is affected because he needs to do everything possible to help build the team’s defensive posture, by utilizing his pitchers in such a way to allow fewer runs to be scored by the opponent.  But, he will not be focused on making organizational adjustments to fix the problem of a damaged offense.  The manager on the other hand, needs to look at his total resources and organization for the answer.  In fact, he may very well change individual assignments within the organization to achieve the organizational objectives.  For instance, he might move his strongest hitter currently on the bench to left field, his left fielder to third base, his third baseman to shortstop, and put his shortstop on the bench.  In doing this, he is clearly sub-optimizing each of his individuals in their defensive positions.  If this were not the case, he would have had each of them in those positions to begin with.  But the manager needs to optimize at the organizational level, and that sometimes calls for sub-optimization at the individual level.  A baseball manager also spends a significant portion of his time and energies on setting team and individual objectives, developing season and game strategies, implementing those strategies, and reviewing the results (in detail) of those strategies the next day.  In fact they often receive the “benefit” of the fans and sportswriters evaluation of those strategies!

I could go on for much longer describing the specific differences between leaders and managers, but that is not the purpose of this book.  However, it is important to recognize that there is a clear difference between the two and viewing them as the same can be a serious mistake.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

Great Leaders

Take a moment and try to think of an example of a great leader.  This can be someone you know—or know about.  This can be an ancient historical figure or someone living today.  Once you have done this, what adjectives come to mind?  Specifically, what characteristics or attributes do you associate with them?  Now think of a great manager, and list the characteristics or attributes they possess?  Now put the two lists side by side.  Do you find many of the attributes are the same, or are they mostly different?  Let me introduce some specific examples.  I will start by describing four effective leaders.

Abraham and Martin

One of the first things that come to mind when I think of Abraham Lincoln is integrity and high ideals.  Inspired speeches like the Gettysburg Address float through my head, and I can almost sense the overcast skies under which he gave his address; his tired and haggard expression, combined with a booming voice filled with passion and conviction.  He had a vision, and he was able to inspire others to share that vision.

Or, how about Martin Luther King Jr.?  Once again, ideals, integrity and intestinal fortitude come to mind when I think of this great leader.  Even though he was utterly passionate in his feelings about the social injustices that were going on in the world, he had a vision, a dream of a better time and place when all people could live together in equality, peace and harmony.  He also knew this dream carried with it a price.  And he was unwilling to compromise on his ideal of nonviolent protest, even though he had a premonition that he would ultimately be a victim of such violence.  In an excerpt from his I See The Promised Land speech he said:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”[1]

At this point you may be saying, “Both of these examples are of leaders who were assassinated, causing their merits to be exaggerated”.  I will grant you that history tends to embellish the greatness of people who lose their lives fighting for a noble cause. What I am talking about is much more significant.  Let’s look at examples of two people who were not martyred.  The first will be another political figure and the second is anything but.

Ronald Reagan

Regardless of whether you agreed with his supply side economics, or felt he was not always close enough to the details surrounding the job of President of the United States, few can argue that Ronald Reagan was not an effective leader.  He was able to inspire Americans to once again believe in themselves as a great nation.  He was able to bring a sense of hope and optimism back to a country that suffered through two decades of guilt, shame and embarrassment.  Much of the guilt and shame came from a disastrous war in Southeast Asia, where, in the midst of a tragedy, where thousands of lives were lost, the debate was reduced to whether we were at war or involved in a conflict.   Debates of that nature occur only when we lose our vision and purpose as a people.  The embarrassment we suffered came from a different dynamic.  We were dealing with the onslaught of global competition, and were being thrummed soundly by the Japanese—a country that learned most of their management techniques from us!  In the midst of this, President Reagan brought a sense of purpose and vision back to the people.  And he was able to communicate it in such a way that it caught fire!  People started to believe once again.  They started to believe in the strength of their military.  They began believing in the strength of their economy and global competitiveness.  And they began believing in themselves; mostly because a former Hollywood actor had a vision, was able to communicate that vision, and had the intestinal fortitude and stamina to take a position that was viewed as naive, old fashion, and no longer relevant.  He became a symbol of integrity, enthusiasm and hope for the future. Unfortunately he was stricken with Alzheimer—a disease that attacks the brain.  It seems ironically sad to me that someone who had such a wonderful and fulfilled life did not enjoy the capacity to remember it in retirement.  I hope he had, at least, glimpses of his accomplishments.

Mother Teresa

My final example is someone, whose name may not roll off your tongue when asked to list a great leader, but is one just the same.  While you may not immediately think of Mother Teresa as a great leader, she possessed all the stuff of a great leader.  Most notably, she had a vision that she was able to communicate to people throughout the world.  If you are skeptical at this point, ask yourself this simple question.  “What did Mother Teresa do and stand for?”  Even the least informed individual can answer that question in three words; FEED THE POOR.  That may not sound significant at first, until we consider that few people in history have been able to communicate a vision in so few words.  In an interview shortly before her death when Mother Teresa was asked, rather critically, why she spent so much of her time and energy feeding the poor rather than treating the root cause of poverty, which the interviewer asserted was ignorance, she had this answer.  “If someone else hears a voice telling them that they need to educate the poor and hungry, they should put their energies into that.  The voice I hear is telling me to feed the hungry.”[2] This is a profoundly simple and powerful vision.  Not only has this great leader communicated her vision to the world, she has also provided the example that it can be accomplished.  No one believed that man could run a four-minute mile until it was accomplished—until we had an example (I still don’t believe it is really possible).  No one believed that we could put a person on the moon until someone had the courage to verbalize a vision in such a way that others could start to dream it with him.

Now that I have provided you with just a few examples, can you think of others?  What about the poignant symbolism General Norman Schwarzkopf exhibited during Desert Storm, as he led the US in the quick and decisive defeat over the Army of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.  Operating from his field headquarters, he stood in full view of the entire world—thanks to CNN.  For those of us who had the opportunity to see this real life drama unfold before our eyes we saw something that was an inspiration to every soldier under his command.  He wore his khakis.  That’s right, his fatigues.  Now why do you suppose something as simple as apparel would make a difference?  Many of us, when placed in a similar situation would have probably chosen to wear our best and finest military garb.  After all, this was being televised to the entire world, and isn’t it important to look the part of a general and a powerful leader?  Maybe it is, but it was not nearly as important as the need to show the people under his command that he was one of them!  That is exactly what he did, and it was a brilliant display of leadership.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] http://www.mlkonline.net/promised.html

[2] Story related to me from Chris Ware, Lexington Herald Leader, and old college friend.

Guided by Vision and Driven by a Purpose

There is something about leaders of old that may set them apart from many of the leaders that we encounter today.  Simply put, a sense of vision or purpose.  Let me break this down into six specific concepts.

  1. Desire to make a difference
  2. vision that transcends the “bottom line”
  3. A purpose greater than the individual
  4. A pride in results that demands accountability
  5. A love for reason
  6. In it for the long haul

1.  A desire to make a difference

When each of these leaders embarked upon their journey to greatness, they were driven by something more than greed.  They believed they could make a difference in the world with the products or services they were providing.  They believed they had something to offer to the world, not just to stockholders.  Tom Watson Sr. believed he could make companies run more efficiently through the use of his tabulating equipment.  Walt Disney believed he could make people’s lives brighter by providing them with different forms of entertainment that were uplifting.

2.  A vision that transcended the “Bottom Line”.

While these guys were clearly in it to make a profit, they were first driven by a vision that was far greater than a price/earnings ratio.  Today the world is far more technologically complex than during the industrial era.  This can sometimes cause vision to be a bit more elusive.  For that reason alone, the leader has a more difficult task today in communicating, and getting buy-in to that vision.  For that reason, I will devote an entire section of this book on communicating vision.

So what is the “Bottom Line”?

In order for a leader’s organization to achieve greatness, there needs to be a strong sense of purpose that is; easily communicated, something that the entire organization can relate to, and is bigger than any one individual.  In other words, it cannot be the “bottom line”!    The “bottom line” or financial strength of an organization is only a symptom of the organization’s strength.  Making a strong balance sheet the purpose or objective of the organization is about as effective as trying to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 degrees.

It is quite possible that an individual could make it their personal goal to ensure that their body temperature remains at 98.6 degrees.  After all, we know that if the human body moves away from that temperature for long it can be fatal.  What is interesting about that objective or purpose is that you could go for some time thinking that it is working just fine.  In fact, as long as there is no extended fever or hypothermia, you could be convinced that the purpose is serving you quite well.  However, if the body becomes diseased in some way that causes the body temperature to rise, things would get interesting.  You might be able to bring it back to normal through specific intervention for some period of time, but unless you treat the condition that is causing it to deviate, the body will eventually fail. The financial health of an organization is nothing more than an indicator of its overall health, yet many corporate executives today would tell you that at least one of their primary purposes, goals or objectives is profitability.  It is no wonder they are having difficulty inspiring a shared vision among their people! This realization came to me after many years in the computer technology industry as a financial executive.  While many of my colleagues still consider my point of view flawed and possibly heretical, I have seen many organizations wither and die by believing that financial health was a sufficient objective or purpose to ensure a thriving and growing business.  I have witnessed first hand that this approach will work only for a short period of time.  Ultimately an organization must have a purpose that transcends the financial results, and you can take that to the bank!  Unfortunately, this phenomenon is not limited to corporate America.  We are seeing it in government leaders, church leaders and families.  It is a disease that is reaching epidemic proportions.  It is a disease I refer to it as the no growth syndrome.

The No Growth Syndrome

The no growth syndrome is the antithesis of “build it and they will come”.  In the 1980s movie “Field of Dreams”, the main character, played by actor Kevin Costner, hears a voice that keeps telling him that if he will just build it they will come.  After a series of humorous events, our hero realizes that he is supposed to build a baseball park in the middle of his rural Iowa farm.  Inspired by that still small voice, he ignores a level of criticism from the town folk and family members similar to what Noah endured when he built the Ark, and destroys his primary source of income (his cornfield) to build the ballpark.  If he had followed conventional wisdom, listened to his peers and focused on protecting his investments, he would have rationalized the voice in his head as stemming from the result of a previous head injury.  After all, should not his primary objective be to “make a living”?  Not this guy.  His objective was to MAKE A DIFFERENCE!  The minute an organization shifts their focus from striving to “make a difference” to trying to “making a living” they are assured of experiencing the no growth syndrome.  If this sounds unlikely to you, think back to the example you selected as your great leader and ask yourself if their driving motivation was to make a living or to make a difference.  Ask yourself the following question: when I hear someone say, “I’m just trying to make a living” does it inspire in you a sense that you are in the presence of a great leader?  I think not.  In fact, it conjures in my mind someone who takes little pride in his or her work, which brings me to the fourth characteristic of a great leader.

Willing to Risk “Everything” for the Vision

Leaders are often so captivated by their vision, they are willing to risk everything to see it fulfilled.  In some cases these people are not, by nature, risk-takers.  In fact, many effective leaders I know are risk adverse in other areas of their lives.  The same individual who is willing to mortgage his home to invest in a vision he or she believes in is not willing to gamble in a casino.  How can this be?  It is simple.  When the vision is big enough, mortgaging the house to see it come to fruition is a small risk to take.  In fact, if a leader believes strongly enough in the vision, she becomes so convinced of its success that it is viewed as no risk at all.  Earlier in this book I gave the example of Martin Luther King Jr. as a leader who had a vision.  His vision was so strong that we were willing to risk everything—even his life—to communicate it and see it come about.

3.  A purpose greater than the individual.

This is an area that requires special attention, because I truly believe it is one of the main ingredients of a successful leader.  Earlier in this book we talked about Mother Teresa.  No matter how impressed you are with her, she is merely one person.  If that one person had defined a purpose that she alone could accomplish, the world would not know who she is.  Mother Teresa was able to describe a purpose simple enough, yet global enough to inspire many people to want to follow her.  Even though she, like many great leaders, started small, her vision was anything but small.  Her purpose extended beyond Calcutta to all of humankind, and it was a purpose with which people could relate no matter where they lived, or their station in life.  It was a purpose bigger than Mother Teresa.  In an interview with Edward Desmond from Time Magazine Mother Teresa had this to say when asked if she had special qualities.

“I don’t think so. I don’t claim anything of the work. It is his work. I am like a little pencil in his hand. That is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it.”[1]

Many contemporary business consultants would tell Mother Teresa that her objective was far too broad, and that she needed to target her purpose to a specific “niche” opportunity.  They would tell her that with this broad objective she and all those around her would become overwhelmed and quickly discouraged.  The first order of advice would be to “more clearly define your target opportunity, lay out a specific set of goals by quarter, and do not over-extend.”

The fundamental flaw in this logic is that it assumes that the leader executing the plan is more significant and influential than the purpose. It is a very common pitfall and it is as old as humankind is.  Jewish history tells us that when God gave Moses the assignment to lead the Israelites from captivity, Moses had the same reaction that contemporary leaders have today.  Moses was able to come up with an entire litany of reasons why the objective was bigger than he was.  What Moses was saying is that he believed that the success of the mission was solely dependent on Moses.  He neglected to recognize that God’s purpose was greater than any one individual.  An individual that believes that the purpose is no greater than his or her self is doomed to failure!  One of the best examples of this in this recent history is Adolph Hitler.

Regardless of his hideous actions, Adolph Hitler had many attributes of a great leader.  He was able to communicate a vision of hope and prosperity for Germany at a time in their history when they felt hopelessness and despair.  He had a passion for a New World order that extended far beyond the boundaries of Germany, and he was able to inspire a shared vision among his immediate followers, and a large part of an entire nation.  However, he had his flaws, and fortunately one proved fatal to his objective.  He began to believe that he was bigger than the purpose!  Once that occurred, the purpose became severely curtailed.  Said differently, instead of the purpose becoming bigger than life, Hitler fell under the illusion that he was bigger than life.  Truly great leaders are able to recognize that they are insignificant when compared to the purpose they were called to carry out.  That conjures a word that is not often associated with leaders in the 1990’s—humility!  As I am writing this book, Mother Teresa has passed on.  As she approached death, I would assert that she did not despair because she knew that her ministry would continue long after she is gone.  Why?  Because she never lost her perspective regarding the significance of her self versus that of her purpose.

4. A Pride that Demands Accountability

This characteristic is often misunderstood on two counts—pride and accountability.  In fact many of us view pride as something that is in direct conflict with humility.  I am not referring to the kind of “chest pounding” pride that comes from a sense that we are somehow better than our neighbor, opponent, or competitor.  That is a false self-centered pride that is often associated with folks who start believing some of their own “press”.  Instead, I am referring to the deep sense of personal pride that comes from hard-earned accomplishment.  With leaders, that deep sense of pride is more often directed toward their team than toward themselves.

If you have worked in an organization or been a part of a team or organization that has possessed this type of pride, you know exactly what I am talking about.  Another lesson I have learned in over 30 years of business experience is that there are really only two ways to effectively motivate good people over time.  One of those ways is through money and many would argue that money alone is ineffective.  One of the great baseball pitchers in modern times is Nolan Ryan.  In his book Miracle Man: Nolan Ryan the Autobiography, Ryan recounts his experience when playing for the Houston Astros, after leaving the California Angels.  Even though he was making more money and was very successful at Houston he left and went back to California for a very simple reason.  He felt that he was not being appreciated at Houston, and that he was being treated as a commodity rather than an athlete.  In his book he described how many of the owners and fans believe that since the ball players are making so much money to play a game, they should not require anything else to continue to be productive.  Ryan argues that money alone is not enough to motivate good people to continue to produce excellent results over the long run.  The second and more effective way to motivate people to continually produce excellent results is to make them believe they are a part of something very important, and that there is something very unique and special about them and the team to which they belong.  It is no wonder why the United States military refers to some of their organizations as Special Forcesor elite teams.  In those organizations the leaders continually ask ordinary individuals from “Small Town” America to do extraordinary things, and they repeatedly do them because they believe in themselves and their teammates.  I cannot over-emphasize the significance of being part of a very unique team.

Stop for a moment and reflect on the images that are conjured in your mind when you hear the following phrases:

  • The Marines
  • Navy Seals
  • Green Beret
  • Special Forces

Does it conjure up images of something special?  Do you think of highly trained, highly talented teams with very specialized skills that are in some ways bigger than life?  Most people will answer yes to those questions, and for some it even evokes an emotional response—a pride.  In reality, the teams that I have mentioned are mostly made up of young men, still below the legal drinking age from “Small Town” USA.  If we note the contrast between the two images it helps to answer the frequently asked question, “what’s in a name”?  However, the reason these names conjure a sense of pride is because they have repeatedly demonstrated results—a sense of accomplishment.  In order for this sense of accomplishment to be genuine, there must be accountability for the results throughout the entire organization.

Accountability must start with the leader and flow throughout the entire organization.  While it may be noble for a leader to accept total accountability for the results of the organization, it is ineffective.  Leaders do not need to be martyrs.  Many leaders feel that an effective way to instill loyalty and trust in their organization is to be “crucified” on their behalf.  It shows that the leader is one of them—willing to “take the bullet”.  There are two problems with this approach to leadership.  The first problem is painfully obvious only after it is too late; dead leaders are virtually useless!  Unless you think you will be risen from the dead, crucifixion has a certain finality to it. If you do happen to survive the crucifixion it can work to your benefit, by making you a hero, and meeting the desired objective of instilling loyalty and trust.   However, there is a major risk in this logic.  While you may be able to survive one of these events you will unlikely survive two.  The reason for this is quite simple.  Above all else, people follow those who demonstrate power and influence.  If you play the martyr too often, you become viewed as a victim.  While people may pity victims, and possibly even identify with them, they seldom want them as their leaders.  Victims are viewed as weak and helpless.  Would you want to follow someone like that?  Take a moment and try to think of a great leader in history that was a victim.  You might say that about people like Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa.  After all the governments of their countries imprisoned them.  Their followers might describe them as courageous or defiant but never victims. Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa stood strong in their leadership—even while imprisoned.  They were willing to be held accountable for their actions, but they also demanded responsibility and accountability from their followers.  The key then is that accountability can never hold a double standard.  It must be felt by the entire organization.  The minute it is not, it becomes nothing more than a search for a scapegoat. In order for accountability throughout the entire organization to be effective, it requires clearly communicated and understood objectives by everyone involved.  If the definition of success is not clearly understood by every member of the organization, it becomes impossible for team members to objectively evaluate their contribution to the results.  It is precisely this type of “disconnect” that often creates morale problems within the organization, resulting in the well-known, tongue-in-cheek, definition for the evaluation phase of a project—promote the guilty and punish the innocent.

5.  A Love for Reason

Leaders draw on an arsenal of cognitive tools to lead, which include instincts, passion, emotion, pride and reason.  Great leaders have a sense for when to utilize each of these tools.  However, the one tool that must be ever-present is reason.  One of the credos that I adopted early in my career is the following:  “reason rules”, and therefore it is important to persevere until you get to the “court of reason”.  In addition to believing in that principle, a leader must also clearly communicate that belief throughout his organization.  It is that belief that provides hope to individuals within the organization when things get caught up in bureaucracy, and things will inevitably get caught up in bureaucracy!  It is equally important that the leader, wherever possible, ensure that he or she is the “court of reason”.  A heavy dose of reason in a leader develops a consistency of style, logic and approach.  Leadership consistency helps to develop trust within the organization.  Said differently, leaders who do not rely primarily on reason and logic are often viewed as volatile.

Volatile leaders will create a sense of uncertainty within the organization regarding the definition of success.  Once that occurs the majority of the organizations energies are spent trying to read how the boss will react to a recommendation or action, rather than on whether it is the right thing to do.  The rest of the energy is spent covering your bases.  Anyone who has ever worked for a volatile leader knows that, at best, it can be humorous, and at worse fatal.  Unfortunately, many leaders feel it is to their advantage to maintain a certain level of unpredictability.  The argument they make is that it keeps people on their toes—keeps them from getting too comfortable or complacent.  While it is true that inconsistent and sometimes irrational behavior will keep people “on their toes”, that is not where a good leader wants their people.  Have you ever noticed how hard it is to do anything while on your toes?  On the other hand, leaders who exhibit a sense of logic, reason and consistency are bound to create loyalty within the organization.  This is because everyone in the organization understands the agenda, or game plan.

The best way to prepare anyone for success is to make it very clear to him or her what is required for success.  Being predictable about your expectations and logical in your approach does this.  Most professional athletes will tell you that they can only be successful when they are not flat-footed or on their toes, but on the balls of their feet ready for anything that comes their way.  While a great leader does not allow her folks to stand flat-footed, it is a myth to think she must keep them on their toes.  With a love for reason, a predictable response system, and an inspired sense of purpose, she will keep them on the balls of their feet.

6)  In it for the Long Haul

There is a phenomenon that is occurring within the United States that is starting to permeate every aspect of our society.  We see it in our homes, our churches, our schools and our businesses.  I call this phenomenon shortermitis.  There are many theories surrounding the cause of this disease, and I will address them later in the book.  First allow me to describe for you some of the more common symptoms associated with shortermitis.

High levels of personal bankruptcies

According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, there were 1,074,225 personal bankruptcies declared in 2008.[2] With the exception of the stock market crash in 1939 personal bankruptcy was virtually non-existent prior to WW II.  Can you guess what might have caused this changing dynamic?  If you guessed “the War” you would be half-right.  Prior to W.W.II the concept of personal credit was virtually non-existent.  There were situations where people would buy items “on account” at the local hardware, grocery or general store, it was an accommodation until the end of the week, or for those whose income was somewhat seasonal (waiting for the harvest).  However, if you needed a new refrigerator or washing machine, you waited until you had saved enough funds to buy one.  This all started to change when we brought “our boys” back from “over there”.  Since they gave of themselves so unselfishly and sacrificed so much, we felt that we owed them more than just a “thank you”.  As a result, the GI bill was enacted, which allowed many of them to get college degrees, preparing them to become productive, successful members of society.  In addition, we did not want to make them have to wait for the necessities in life until after they graduated, so we extended them credit to buy cars, appliances and housing.  Although this was the start of consumer credit in the US, it did not really start to take off until the advent of the credit card.  Once the credit card was introduced virtually anyone could buy virtually anything “on account”.

When I was about 7 years of age I used to spend my entire summers at the local swim club.  One Monday I approach the snack bar with my buddy, Troy.  I was surprised when he ordered a cheeseburger and no cash changed hands.  He used two simple words, “charge it”.  I was taken aback, and asked Troy about this new concept, and he explained it to me in detail.     On Friday evening I learned that Troy left out a few minor details when my father received a call from the owner of the club.  As he got off the phone he confronted me with the fact that I had charged incredible quantities of cheeseburgers, French Chews and Ice Cream Sandwiches during the week.  My response was “Yeah dad, isn’t it great?  All you have to is say charge it and it is free.”  Now you might think that I was very naive as a 7-year-old, but in 1961 the concept of credit was still somewhat new.  The sad truth is that many adults today, still believe that it is free if they just say, “charge it”.

The introduction of the credit card has allowed people to get what they want, when they want it, whether they have the money or not.  There is still a very small portion of the population that will hold off buying a new appliance or even an automobile until they have saved enough money to afford it, but they are a dying breed.  As a result of all of this we have seen a steady decline in savings in the US and an increase in bankruptcies.  In the October 5, 1998 issue of Forbes Magazine, Peter Drucker commented on this phenomenon.  In an article entitled Management’s New Paradigms, Drucker asserts the following:

“Now the fastest growing source of commercial credit is neither the commercial bank nor the investment bank.  It is the credit card.  A still fairly small but rapidly growing number of credit card customers have multiple credit cards – some as many as 25 to 30.  They use these cards to obtain and to maintain a level of credit far beyond their creditworthiness.

The fact that the interest rated is very high does not seem to bother them, since they do not have any intention of paying off these loans.  They regard their minimum monthly payments as the cost of maintaining a sizable credit they could not obtain by other means.  The credit card has become what the economists call Money One (M1), that is, what used to be called legal tender.”[3]

This may be one of the more significant events to occur in the 20th century, and will have far-reaching impacts on our lives, our economy and the lives of our children’s children.

High divorce rate

There have been a significant number of statistics quoted regarding the divorce rate in the United States, and the most recognized quote is that over 50% of marriages end in divorce.   Without understanding the way the data was captured, it can be somewhat misleading.  As an example these percentages represent the divorce rate within a particular age group, and do not take into consideration all living married couples.  As a result the information is somewhat biased toward the high side.  However, it probably is an accurate representation of the same population of individuals represented in the high personal bankruptcy rate; namely the “baby boomers” and “generation X” group.

There are a number of plausible explanations for this phenomenon.  Some believe that the increased mobility of our society and rapid changes in the job market have attributed to these staggering percentages.  They argue that the high degree of mobility have caused folks to lose their “root” system and support structure, therefore making it difficult to work through marital stresses.  In addition, the high turnover rate of jobs and careers only add to those marital stresses.  While it is difficult to reject these arguments, they are somewhat pompous and presumptuous, because they assume that this is the only generation that has suffered through such events.  Not so!  What about the Israelites that suffered through invasion of their land, exile into Babylon and slavery in 597 BC?  What about the Christian Church from its inception until about 313 AD? At that time an entire community of people were forced to be constantly on the move to survive.  What about the Russian Revolution, the American Revolution, Nazi Germany and others, where people’s lives were once again thrown into constant turmoil and uncertainty?  To think that this generation is going through more difficult and stressful times than those before us is absurd.  By its very nature, the argument depicts a philosophy that is narrow and self-centered.  However, there are a couple of things that the people in each of those eras had in common.  One was a deep sense of purpose that was bigger than the individual.  The second thing they had in common was a belief that they were in this thing for the long haul.  By contrast, we have developed a generation of adults that are of the opinion that if they do not like the way things are “going down”; they can just get out.  They are in essence saying, “if I don’t like what I am watching on TV, all I have to do is flick the remote control, and I can go to any one of hundreds of other channels.”  My wife, Jill, and I have had the good fortune of helping both of our parents celebrate a rare event – their 50th wedding anniversaries.  With the advances in modern medicine we would expect to see the incidences of 50th wedding anniversaries increase.  Given current course and speed, in which direction do you think that statistic will change?

High turnover of church memberships

Options, options and more options, best describe our nation today.  This is true in every aspect of our lives.  We have more options than ever in the history of humankind.  We have a wide variety of choices regarding the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the music we listen to, the entertainment we enjoy and the gadgets we buy.  For example, think back just a few decades ago to 1967.  Can you name for me how many choices of “sneakers” there were?  The two that come to mind immediately are Keds and Converse.  There were, in fact, one or two more choices available for the most serious of tennis players, but that was it.  Now think of the choices available to us today.  Aside from the multitude of brand names available, there is a different type of sneaker available for every conceivable physical activity known to humankind, except swimming and one other.  There are “sneakers” for walking, jogging, running, climbing, wrestling, tennis, basketball, racquetball, volleyball, soccer, “skateboarding”, weight lifting, boating, loafing, shopping and aerobics.  There is even a “sneaker” available for when we are totally confused about what we are or what we want to be.  It is called a “cross-trainer”.  It is no wonder that the word “choice” has become such a buzzword of politicians and others.  I personally think that the most historic and notable change has been the whole new array of Crayon colors now available!

Because of the multitude of options available to us today and because of our willingness to travel some distance to make our choice, more and more people are saying, “if this church does not meet my needs, I will just go to another one.”  On the surface, there is nothing wrong with this attitude, because it continues to force churches to ensure they are meeting the contemporary needs of individuals.  It also moves churches away from the Henry Ford motto of customer selection; “you can have it in any color you want, as long as it is black!”  However, under the surface there is something very insidious occurring.  It is causing each of us to become somewhat like the spoiled child that says, “I don’t like the way the game is turning out, so I am going to take my marbles and go home.”  Just thirty years ago if the average church member did not like the way things were being handled they tried to change it rather than walk away from it.  Today, people are “checking out” of churches by the droves because they want instant results and gratification.  I often wonder what would have happened if the forefathers of the major religions of the world had taken that attitude.

Increase in high school dropouts (both students and teachers)

One of the most startling phenomena taking place today in the United States is the alarming rate of high school dropouts in our major cities.[4] It is one thing to see a high level of high school dropout in an Agrarian society, where kids are leaving school to tend the farms.  It is even somewhat understandable in an industrial society to see teenagers opting for a seemingly high paying factory job over finishing school.  However, in a knowledge economy in which a higher, more complex skill set is required to compete, a high dropout rate makes absolutely no sense.  Once again, we have become a society of people who have been taught that we should not have to wait for anything.  That thought process also creates the attitude that it makes little sense to invest the time now for something that will only have a payoff later.

Some have argued that this “live for now” attitude came as a result of the threat of a nuclear war between the two super powers.  Interestingly enough, nations and civilizations have had their very existence threatened for time and memorial without losing sight of the long-term objective.   Even if you do subscribe to this theory it does not explain how the reduction in the threat of war between the two superpowers over recent decades has done little to change the “live for now” attitude.  So why is it that folks are not willing to stick it out to finish school?  Because they are not in it for the long haul.

High turnover of corporate employees and executives.

According to the United States Department of Labor, in December 2009 approximately 470,000 people each week entered the jobless ranks.[5] What makes that statistic even more interesting is the fact that in the last two decades a large percentage of those people losing their jobs are “white collar” workers.  For years we have been dealing with some amount of unemployment, which is quite natural in a free market economy.  In the 1970s and early 1980s the nation saw many factory workers lose their jobs as technology allowed for more production with fewer workers.  In addition to that, certain industries saw an increase in global competition that had previously been unparalleled.  As a result we saw “blue collar” workers losing their jobs in droves in steel mills, automobile plants, parts and subassembly plants, and in the manufacturing and process industry in general.

In the last two decades we have seen a significant increase in the number of layoffs of white-collar workers.  Global competition and technology improvements also cause this, but there are two other elements that are somewhat subtler, and seldom discussed.  The first is the increase in management and executive cuts that are often coming from the senior executives, boardrooms, and ultimately from the stakeholders of the company.  This may seem innocuous at first glance.  Management should certainly be held accountable for their actions, and if a manager is mismanaging, he or she should be taken out of that position.  However, that still does not explain why there has been such an increase in this behavior.  I contend that it is because the stakeholders of the company are looking for immediate results.  And if they do not get immediate results, they will just change the management team until they get one that will give them those results.

The second element that is driving the increase in management and executive turnover in the corporate world today is self-imposed.  Just check the business news on any given day and you will see an enormous number of executives exiting their company for bigger and better things.  It was not long ago that the average individual would retire from the company they started with many years before.  One or two job changes in a career were considered many.  Today, the average white-collar worker will change jobs several times in the period or their career.  Many of these folks are making these changes by choice, using the argument that the best way to maximize earnings in the short run is through “job hopping”.  Why?  Because they are looking for immediate gratification.

One Final Example

I will end this section with an example that was communicated to me.  A friend of mine has recently spent a good deal of his time on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.  While there, he observed a large population of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, with undergraduate and graduate degrees.  These people were holding jobs that were at or approaching minimum wage; jobs normally held by students or people without college education.  Curious, my friend began interviewing these people to find out why they were in such low paying jobs.  He expected to find that these folks were unable to find jobs in their areas of expertise.   Instead, he was surprised to find that these individuals selected these jobs because it provided them the time and freedom to enjoy life now, rather than wait until retirement.  This caused him to ask the obvious question of how they were going to manage financially during retirement.  Their answer – “we plan to live off the inheritance we receive from our parents!”

All of the situations described above indicate that there is a clear message being given by a large percentage of the population in the United States today.  That message is, “I’m not concerned or interested in the long haul.  I am suffering from shortermitis.  At this point you may think that I am under the delusion that the leaders of old were all wonderful, and the leaders today are not.  This is clearly not the case.  There were just as many poor leaders of old as there are today.  What I have tried to do is hold up examples of great leaders as a basis for us to learn.  I have also tried to describe some of the social and economic conditions that are facing leaders today, so we can begin to marry the two.

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] Time Interview:  A Pencil In God’s Hand, By Edward Desmond, December 4, 1989

[2] American Bankruptcy Institute | U.S. Bankruptcy Filings 1980-2008 (Business, Non-Business, Total) http://www.abiworld.org/AM/AMTemplate.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=57826

[3] Management’s New Paradigms, Peter F. Drucker, Copyright Peter F. Drucker 1998

[4] Associated Press: Tuesday, April 1, 2008: High School Graduation Rates Plummet Below 50 Percent in Some U.S. Cities– http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,344190,00.html

[5] ETA Press Release: Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report 12/26/09

Communicating Vision

Earlier I touched on the importance of effective leaders communicating a vision.  Whether you attempt to communicate it in three words, as Mother Teresa did, or in an entire series of meetings, slogans and advertisements, it must be done.  A vision that is not shared throughout an organization or group of people becomes little more than a pipe dream.  There have been numerous articles and books written on the subject of shared vision, which can be a study in itself.  I do not want to revisit all of these concepts and philosophies in this chapter.  It is, however, worthwhile to spend some time focused on the importance of creating and communicating a shared vision.  What I intend to do in the pages that follow is spend a bit of time on concept, then provide you some examples that will give you the essence of shared vision.  Along the way I will also describe some important principles that will help you make your vision one that is shared.

What sets us apart

Throughout our lives many different things motivate us.  In this 1943 paper, entitled A Theory Of Human Motivation, Abraham Maslow argued that motivation was largely driven by where an individual was situated along a hierarchy of needs; physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self actualization. [1]

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs certainly has its merits, like any theory, if taken out of context or to an extreme it has serious flaws.  First it presumes that humans are no different than animals regarding motivation.  It presumes motivation comes solely from how a stimulus directly affects them.  It is highly unlikely that a dog (unless it is Lassie) would enter a burning building to save a child that is trapped inside.  The minute Rover encounters the smoke and heat stimuli, his basic need for survival will take over and he will move away from the obvious danger.  On the contrary, there are countless accounts of humans putting themselves directly in harm’s way to save another.  We do this because there is something inside us that allows us to overcome the animal instinct of self-preservation in order to do something that is heroic and selfless.  Secondly, Maslow’s theory presumes that we are motivated only by the reality of what is immediately in front of us.  In other words, “if my basic needs are not being met I am not willing to invest time and energy on something that will have rewards much later”.  Put in more recent vernacular; “show me the money”!  If this were true all of the altruism in the world would be coming from the affluent members of our society who have moved well along Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  If you believe that, I suggest spend some time in your local soup kitchen or Salvation Army facility.  For as long as we have had recorded history we have seen accounts of people moving out of their comfort zone to take on a task regardless of where they have been on the “needs” hierarchy.  Once again I would like to take you back to the year 1440 BC when our friend Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  Even though these people were in slavery in Egypt their basic needs were provided for.  They had food, clothing, shelter and jobs.  In fact, I would argue that Moses was well along Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  He was given position and power in Egypt.  Yet there was something that motivated these people to give up all they had to move out of their comfort zone and into the desert.  These people were not stupid.  They understood the desert much better than you and me.  They had been there before, and they knew what they were leaving behind.  So what motivated them to follow Moses?  It was a VISION; a promise of a better future!  They were willing to endure suffering in order to claim the vision of a land promised but unseen.  The vision was so significant and real to them they referred to it as the “Promised Land”.

A vision can be a very powerful thing.  It transcends the here and now and projects us into a future that promises something much better.  It has the power to take us out of our comfort zone.  It has the power to motivate us to endure suffering.  In most extreme cases it has the power to cause us to lay down our life.  It has been proven time and again throughout history.  With a tool this powerful it is no wonder so much has been written about it.  Unfortunately, over the years the concept of vision has been abused to the point where people in organizations cringe when they hear the word vision or the phrase vision statement.  It conjures images of convoluted sentences that are ambiguous, flowery, and full of superlatives.  The reason vision statements have received such a bad rap in corporate America in recent years is because they are often relegated to nothing more than a group of sentences on a plaque, prominently displayed in the lobby of the corporate headquarters.  Some CEOs have tried to give it more prominence by including it in marketing and employee literature.  Even then it means little because it has little to do with what people in the organization work on every day, it is not easily understood, or because there is no clear correlation between company leaderships actions and the stated mission for the company.

A shared vision is the one common element that can motivate an entire group of people, regardless of their particular situation or needs.  So, how do effective leaders create a shared vision?

© Mark P. Loschiavo

[1] Maslow’s theory asserts that based on where an individual currently resides on his “Hierarchy of Needs”, he will respond differently to stimuli.  For example, if an individual does not have enough money to provide for his most basic needs—food and shelter—it is ineffective to try to motivate him with a big office or a fancy title. It is only after those basic needs are met that more intangible benefits become attractive to him. Maslow also argues that as an individual moves up the “needs” hierarchy he ultimately approach a point of being “self-actualized”. This is a point where he is at peace with himself and his surrounding, and is free to take on any opportunity or obstacle in a completely uninhibited manner. Because Maslow developed such a compelling argument with this concept it has become a cornerstone for many management theories.