Daily Thought 3/14/12: Culture and Client Trust

Whew, it has been quite a since I last shared some thoughts here. Some times life gets really busy, but it is good to be back.

As I am sure some of you have seen, the New York Times printed quite the thought provoking OpEd piece today. This piece is a reflection by a former executive director at Goldman Sachs about why he has decided to leave the firm.

The writer, Greg Smith, proposes two amazing thoughts. The first is that internal culture has the most impact on the way a business operates. The second is that without creating and maintaining trust, your clients will only do business with you for so long. He goes on to say that because the leadership has done nothing to lead by example in either area, the company is now full of individuals who are “morally bankrupt”.

It is a great read and shares some great insights about the impact of culture and the importance of leading by example. When you are a leader everyone looks at you and mirrors what you do, whether it is right or wrong.

It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don’t trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are. -Greg Smith

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Daily Thought 2/3/12: Corporate Responsibility

This morning I saw a great piece in Fast Company that discusses the relationship between corporate responsibility and profit. At first thought, these two business concepts seem completely at odds with each other. When your role as a business leader is to ultimately drive profitability, how can it be reasonable to devote money to corporate responsibility? The article suggests that informed consumers appreciate corporate responsibility.

It is one thing for a consumer to appreciate corporate responsibility and another thing entirely for them to chose a brand because of it. However, I will argue, that as leaders (as individuals AND as corporations) people watch you. Whether you desire to be or not, people watch you and they model their behavior after you, thus you are a role model in some fashion. As a role model, I think you have must act responsibly. In a corporate setting this can be something as little as decreasing your waste (Coca-cola’s new PlantBottle) or going so far as to cut ties with vendors who, despite being more affordable, may have some unethical practices (McDonalds with Sparboe Egg Farms). The key take away here is to remember that people are watching, and like it or not, as a leader you are charged with behaving responsibly.

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Daily Thought 2/2/12: Generation Y in the Workforce

Generation Y, the millenials, are the crop of new workers for the world’s economy. I recently read an interesting article that analyzed some trends within GenY. It is important to take note of these as you either are a GenY’er like me, or you probably have to work with/lead people in this generation.

While the article breaks down a study that has some flaws (no comparative analysis), it does raise several intriguing points about Generation Y and their preferences as employees:

  • Millenials avoid working for large Fortune 500 companies for a variety of reasons, chiefly among them lack of flexibility and personal touch.
  • GenY prefers to work in small organizations, especially start-ups, because they provide the opportunity to make an impact as an individual
  • GenY workers are extremely focused on themselves in terms of achievements, career goals, and even entrepreneurial endeavors

“The report urges employers of all sizes to encourage Gen-Y’s entrepreneurial attitude.

What does that mean? I’ve worked with young employees for years and I’ve come to my own conclusions. This generation craves freedom and independence, kind of like teenagers preparing to leave the nest. But they also want your feedback and guidance.

The solution is to let them be “intrapreneurs” within your company. Put them in charge of their time by offering flextime and remote work schedules. Give them a challenge and let them figure out how to handle it. Then, give them both positive and negative feedback on how they did.”

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Daily Thought 1/30/12: Transitioning from Peer to Manager

First off, my apologies for yet another slow week on the blog. I have been bogged down with a lot of work recently and I wasn’t able to devote the time needed to make a few quality blog posts. Here’s to a new week.

This morning, I was sent a piece that my VP wrote regarding promotions. It takes an in-depth look at the changes one will face when “going from one of the gang to the boss.” This break down is a look at how the relationships with your colleagues are affected by your promotion and what you can do to keep those relationships intact, professional, and most of all productive.

1.     Be confident in your own abilities. When you are promoted from a group of peers, it is easy for others to question the decision or harbor resentment.   The best way to overcome these sentiments and garner respect is to take the reins and lead with conviction.  Your new reports will need this in order for the team as a whole to succeed.  Be confident in your abilities to handle the management duties expected of you.

2.     Clearly communicate your new role and expectations. Don’t be afraid to sit down and talk with your team members. Understand that your new role is not just challenging for you, but for them, too.  Make sure you clearly communicate your new responsibilities and the metrics by which you will be evaluated; setting clear expectations of what is required of you, and what you need from them, is critical from the very beginning.

3.     Draw boundaries and stick to them. While there is nothing wrong with remaining friends with your former peers, by going out for the occasional lunch for example, you will need to set a new, professional tone and create boundaries among your relationships.  Perhaps for the first time, the company’s needs and interests take priority, and you may well encounter some rule-breaking that will require you to discipline or terminate a friend.  If you draw appropriate lines ahead of time, you’ll be much better off when such situations arise.

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Daily Thought 1/24/12: To Err is Human…

Over the weekend, the college football world lost its winningest coach, Joe Paterno. Paterno was the head coach at Penn State until he was removed from his position this fall by university administrators in the midst a scandal involving a former assistant coach. This post is not about who is right and who is wrong, but rather the lesson learned in the career of JoePa.

In a great article in the Washington Post, we are reminded to remember all of the great things Paterno accomplished as a coach. He stuck to his guns, truly coached STUDENT athletes, created a football powerhouse out of nothing in State College, and won two national championships. However, even the greatest coach in college football was not immune to making a mistake.

Had that perspective gotten lost? Did Paterno feel that somewhere along the line, football had become too important — and somehow allowed a real tragedy to go overlooked?

“Well, I don’t think it got lost,” he said. “I just think there was a series of situations that maybe people, a little bit, maybe they neglected something, and maybe they got a little bit frustrated. Whether they had good intentions or not, you’d have to ask them.”

His record will show that he was a great, indomitable champion who amassed a record 409 victories, as well as an intelligent advocate who worked tirelessly for poor and minority athletes his whole career. It will show that he was utterly devoted to his players, regularly graduated more than 75 percent of them, and had 47 academic all-Americans. It will show that he made mistakes and omissions, one of them possibly truly costly. It will show that he mostly maintained his perspective and remained true to himself.

“He didn’t preach one thing and live a different way,” Sue said.

It will show that he was not a statue made of bronze, and that he was defined as much by what he failed to do and say, as by what he did. Which merely made him, in the end, human.

It is important for leaders to keep prospective. And while human error is always part of the equation, it is necessary to be aware of everything under your leadership to avoid irreversible errors that can end your career. As for Paterno, at least for now, an error has led one of the greatest leaders in his chosen profession to a legacy marred by the scandal under his leadership. And that is a shame.

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Daily Thought 1/20/12: Keeping Up Appearances

While pondering Wednesday’s post about admitting “I don’t know” I thought more about taking that candid approach and when it may not be the best idea. When meeting with a team of peers, it is perfectly acceptable to admit “I don’t know” and seek insight from others, however when you are asked to lead it is not always in your best interest to take this route. A leader must instill faith and encouragement in their followers and thus confidence is often an extremely highly rated leadership trait desired by followers.

Think about a leadership team. When you are meeting behind closed doors, there may often be discourse and plenty of opportunities to say “I don’t know.” Once the team is put in front of your followers, you must demonstrate a unified front for your cause. Again, exhibiting confidence will drive your followers towards your goals. I think we can all agree that there is value in saying “I don’t know,” but that value depends on the situation. As a leader it is important to remember that people look to you as an example and a source of faith and encouragement, so you must play to these desires as well.

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Daily Thought 1/18/12: Admitting “I Don’t Know”

The other day, Forbes published an interesting blog post: 4 Things I’ve Gained from Admitting “I Don’t Know.” This is a really interesting insight about when it is appropriate to stay guarded and when it is time to be candid. I personally have a tendency to be candid, almost to a fault, and have often been taught to be a little more guarded and use “the party line” as the article suggests.

There certainly is value in admitting you don’t know something as suggested by the 4 benefits in the article: Ideas, Direction, Space, and Confidence. However, I would argue that a good leader should use discretion when saying “I don’t know.” I agree that there is a lot of inherent value in sharing this candid response, and most of the time it is the correct thought to share. There are also times when it may be beneficial to remain a little tight-lipped before spilling all of the beans. This is certainly an interesting thought. When do you think it is appropriate to admit “I don’t know” and when should you avoid that statement?

I’ve come to recognize that it’s far more important to be confident in my ability to make good decisions than it is for me to be confident in any one answer or solution. So now, instead about worrying whether any given initiative is a the best answer or a “home run,” I instead trust that I will know when to invest more or when it’s time to pull the plug, once I have more information. And recognizing this has made it a whole lot easier to talk with others about an initiative or project I’m not sure about yet.

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