Tag Archives: life

The “Too Valuable” Fallacy

“To every thing there is a season” or so said Pete Seeger and the Byrds, or the Book of Ecclesiastics in the King James Version of the Bible, depending on one’s preference.  And in keeping with the ends of the personal preference paradigm, Fox News has shared a classic business lesson.  No, not “those” kinds of lessons.  This is one of those timeless lessons of business, of life, of organizations and leadership.  Ford did it with Lee Iacocca.  The 49ers traded Montana and the Colts let Peyton go to Denver.  The Today Show let Katie go, ESPN has lost almost everyone, and even MJ and the Bulls came to an end.  And every company in history has parted ways with their top sales person.  Eventually, there comes a time when those “too valuable” are simply not that valuable.

Fox News as an organization has demonstrated that maxim that “no one person is more valuable than the overall organization”.  Everything else about Fox News aside, there is no denying, they have put the good of the organization above some of the most “valuable” personalities in the infotainment industry.  For various reasons, which we will not discuss or debate, Fox News has parted ways with two hugely successful personalities in Bill O’Reilly and Megan Kelly.  Vastly different scenarios, but the fundamental truth remains:  the organization was placed ahead of the individuals.

It is quite easy to fall into the leadership trap that the team, the organization, the business, the company, cannot survive without the “top performer”.  While it is true that great talents, performers, sales people, operations leaders, analysts, skilled craftsman, or the uncounted millions of committed team members are all special, there are some that just seem to have more of an impact.  They apparently are the one generating the lion’s share of the revenue, that are the driving force in innovation and change, that are the glue that holds the team together, that are simply “too valuable”.  Yet eventually, there comes a time.

It was a key component of military life, no one is indispensable; the mission and the team come before the individual…no matter whom it might be.  The same holds in sports, entertainment, and business.  Sure, those special “stars” can have an enormous impact, but the Bulls remained relevant without MJ, the Broncos have won after Elway (thanks Peyton), the Today Show is back on top, ESPN marches on, and Ford has continued to build cars.  And the country carries on regardless of who is in which office.  In fact, quite often organizations and individuals flourish after the split.  “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” as the lyric or verse reminds us.

It is challenging for leaders to take the long view when the decision is at hand, but while the temptation is there to make “just one exception” for that great talent; to retain and profit from that special person a little longer, let Fox News and Bill O’Reilly pass through your mind.  He was a ratings and revenue goldmine for the network, and while his particular scenario made for a relatively easy decision, most are more of the Megan Kelly variety – tough calls, but in the end no one is indispensable.  Ever.

 

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Filed under Business, Coaching, Current affairs, Hiring and Interviewing, leadership

Anonymous, Random Acts of Kindness

We have all read the stories, the tab paid by some stranger.  The super tip left behind.  However, it is the small ones that sometimes go unreported that can make all the difference.  This morning was one of those times you stumble upon one of those small things that just might make a difference…

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There were a dozen odd chalk messages scrolled on the neighborhood sidewalks.

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Some were whimsical and quite cliche, and others were straight to the point.

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But all were positive and uplifting, they brought a smile to your face, but above all were simply “just there” for everyone to read.

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The real beauty is that we will never really know who did it, and we are all better for it, the not knowing.  An all too aware adult or an innocent child?  It does not matter.  It is the message that matters, and I for one am better for it.

A thanks is owed to someone, and whomever they are, please know I am grateful and the message has been passed.

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Change and the “Too Long” Syndrome

Clichés*.  Though it is in vogue to see clichés as “silly”, I for one have always found them refreshing.  In our politically correct world, clichés are actually one of the few ways we are allowed to tell the truth without fear of offending.  “Change is never easy” is a classic, and it is one we hear and use frequently in our business.  Changing jobs, roles and careers.  Relocating.  Changes in family status, economic status, relationship status, or a host of other areas, change is, as the saying goes, “never easy”. Clichés exist because they are true.

Have had the good fortune to reconnect with quite a few old friends, long time business partners, and just a lot of folks who I had not seen in a while. Just been one of those months. And as always happens, the conversation always turns to the classic “how have things been” question.  Typically there is a “since…” lingering at the end of that question.  Since the move, since starting the new job, since whatever life event.  Not always, but certainly more often than not, the conversation ultimately includes the phrase “too long”.  It is absolutely amazing, the majority of the time, once the change has come, folks wish it had happened earlier.

Started jotting down some of the phrases we hear quite often when it comes to change:

– “I waited too long”

– “should have done it x years earlier”

– “I stayed too long”

– “it was long overdue”

– “so much happier”

– “was so comfortable with what I knew”

– “never realized how unhappy”

– “grown complacent”

– “in such a better place”

– “so much better off”

Change is never easy.  It is the question of unknowns, of “what ifs”, of starting over, of friction, of uncertainty, of “walking away from a good thing”, of “the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t know”.  It is scary.  It is emotionally draining.  It is challenging.  It is often physically hard.  It might be financially costly.  Change can come by choice, or it can be forced on you.  It can be expected or totally unexpected.  Regardless of what it is, how it comes, what it entails, or otherwise involves, it is never easy.

It is always great to see old friends, to renew old acquaintances, to just enjoy the company of others.  But it is absolutely reassuring to know that much more often than any of us realize, change brings about good.  New opportunities, new relationships, renewed purpose, energy and yes even fun.  It is cliché, but change is not something to fear, rather it is something to be embraced.  Easier said than done, but it has been nice to have that reminder.

* not sure the final count, but I know I used a lot…

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Pride, Professionalism and the Shoe Shine Guy

It really is amazing what we can learn from the people around us. From those close to us, those who teach, mentor and mold us. From family and friends, associates and co-workers, supervisors and subordinates, peers and colleagues. And yes, sometimes from those random strangers who briefly pass through our life and leave us better for the time and wisdom they shared.  Met a guy the other day who did just that…it was 15 minutes of wisdom and the reminder of fundamentals I needed to hear.

Though I am a pretty loyal DIY sort, one thing on which I do splurge is a shoe shine.  If there are two things I took from my Naval Service, it is a strong aversion to cruise ships and a healthy bias against shining my own dress shoes.  I do shine my shoes, but I know a professional blows away my feeble skills.  While between meetings, I spied the shoe shine stand and decided to stroll by.  I was a potential customer, but I was not necessarily going specifically to get a shine.  I would see what happened.

What happened was I got one heck of a shoe shine and one hell of a reminder of what really matters in business and in life.  All this from a 15 minute chat with the shoe shine guy.  What seemed to be general banter was really great insight and wisdom.

Here are a few things the shoe shine guy taught me about business:

1 – Ask for the Business.  He asked for my business.  He saw me in a suit, with shoes that needed attention.  I was a potential client.  He made the pitch.  Business 101…cannot make a sale without asking the question.

1A – Identify the need…to the client.  He saw my shoes needed attention and he pointed it out to me.  Did I want to hear the message – no.  I did however need to hear the message.  I had a deficiency that needed addressed.

2 – The initial “no” might not be the final answer.  He acknowledged my decline of service, but then he politely reminded me again that in fact I had a need that should be addressed.  No one likes to hear bad news, but sometimes we have to hear it.

3 – Close the deal.  Gaining interest is not closing the deal.  He ensured I did not slip away.  He quickly and skillfully built what we had rapidly established:  an identified need and the prospects acknowledgement that the need requied action.  He then gained my committment to buy.

4 – Service after the sale.  Not only did he do good work, he did it with pride and enthusiasm.  He made me feel special, as if I was the only reason his business existed.

Then there were the Life Lessons courtesy of the shoe shine guy:

1 – The Little Things Matter.  It is the little things that set us apart.  They are the differentiator.

2 – Attention to Detail…it tells you a lot about a person.

3 – Take Care of Things…they last longer.

4 – Appearances Matter.  It is not about being attractive, it is about wearing clean clothes, brushing your teeth, combing your hair and yes, shining your shoes.

5 – Values.  People will spend hundreds if not thousands on suits and ties, time pieces and jewelry yet will not take the time to polish their shoes?  As the man said, “what are they thinking?  If I notice it, what do their clients think?  Their boss?”  Guy was right.

I failed to get the gentleman’s name, but I will never forget him.  What really stuck with me is that he was not particularly old.  Actually he was 34, married with a young daughter.  He was clearly proud of his family and is striving to provide for them on a material level.  Shining shoes is a tough way to make a go of things.  Especially so in a city like Chicago.  However tight it might be for them on the material front, I am absolutely positive his family has an abundance of wisdom, pride and love.

Though he taught me so much, it was the fundamentals that really linger.  Strip all the above away, and the man was nice, warm and engaging.  On the business front, he was a professional.  He took pride in his work and he treated his craft, his clients and himself with respect and dignity.  I saw a ton of business people around me those two days in Chicago, most of whom I am sure are making much more than the guy at the shoe shine stand.  However, precious few were as polished and professional, or took the pride in their work, as the guy working the shoe shine stand at the Palmer House.

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No “Rest of the Story” Needed

It was the voice. For many that grew up in certain times and in certain areas, it is unmistakable. And at some point after the “power outage” but before the end of the game, I was stopped dead in my tracks as I was walking out of the room so I could watch a commercial.  It was all because I heard that voice.  However it was the message that made us all stop and think.

I grew up on Paul Harvey, 4H, FFA and the family farm culture of the Midwest. For me radio consisted of classic rock, Jack Buck calling Cardinal games and Paul Harvey doing his folksy news thing.  We would laugh at our parents for listening to “those stations”, yet you could not walk away when he was doing the news.  There was just something special there that worked…even for a kid.  Dodge tapped into that yesterday, and it was brilliant.

It was an interesting contrast, the personalities and characteristics of the celebrities, entertainers and athletes the entire event provided, and the message of that one simple commercial.  Actually it was nothing more than an edited speech from the late 1970’s layered over still photos.   All the flash and hype, hip vibe and cutting edge technology came to a halt for two minutes…it was an amazing contrast.

There really is nothing to expand upon. The message stands alone. That is the best example there is really…just a timeless message of fundamental behaviours and core character traits, delivered in a classic, timeless style.  No flashy production, no actors or celebrities, nothing but a message of values and traits.  Great reminder and brilliant marketing.

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Filed under Business, Coaching, Current affairs, leadership, Sports

The Katie Principle

Having spent quite a bit of time on travel the last several months, I have had the unique opportunity to see more than my share of daytime television.  I am far from a “regular” TV person, but I am somewhat aware of the major personalities and stories of the infotainment world.  Well, I know of Oprah, Katie, Regis, Matt, Meredith and the usual “one name only” crowd.  What I did learn is that Katie Couric has a daytime talk show…last I knew there was a kerfuffle about her being an evening news anchor…shows how up I am on things.  Point being, it might be time to add to the Dilbert Principle and Peter Principle; might I suggest the Katie Principle.

After a little google research and reflecting on what I had seen over the last decade of infotainment and evening news, the Katie Couric career arch serves as a great lesson.  By every standard, she was excellent on the Today Show.  She was the gold standard of morning TV journalists and “soft news”.  She had crossed into doing a bit of everything; journalism, entertainment, hosting, and was to a degree a pop culture icon.  Katie Couric had become just Katie.  When you can go by one name, you have made it.

Yet, in light of all the success, Katie Couric wanted to go one step further.  She wanted to anchor the evening news. She wanted to do “hard news”.  In television journalism, anchoring the evening news for one of the Big 3 networks is the pinnacle of the profession.  Credit to her, she went for it.  By all accounts and by any matrix of evaluation, it was a bad move for all.   In the end it was a classic case of poor job matching.  She was not right for the job, and the job was certainly not right for her.

All of this leads me to flipping through channels or wandering airports, and there she was, back on daytime television.  I have no idea what the ratings are or what the dollars are, but I do know that what I saw was someone in their element.  It was immediately clear, Katie is great in that environment.  I saw enough of the CBS Evening News over those two years to know she was not in the right spot.  But her new show – it works.

Realizing and embracing what it is you do really well is the key to success. Simple really, know what you are good at and do it to the best of your ability. However, the issue comes when our ego drives us to overreach. Absolutely we should all be driven to reach our fullest potential, but we should also have a sense of what that potential is.  It is a delicate balance, stretching vice over extending. And that is what I learned from flipping on the TV in one too many hotels over the last three months…I saw someone back to doing what they do best.  Well done Katie.

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Resolutionites and the Fiscal Cliff

The start of a new year, a time when we are encouraged to look both forward and back.  To reflect on what was and to embrace what could be, to wipe the slate clean and start anew.  Or, for those of us who find ourselves going to a gym occasionally, to wade through the herd of “resolutionites”.  It is that timeless January story – the locker room overrun, the fitness classes packed, lines for the cardio machines, and the weight room echoing with the sound of crashing plates and stacks.  Yep, it is a new year at the gym.  As hectic and frenzied as it is now, by early March it will be back to normal.

Not to get all political, but it was impossible to escape the “Fiscal Cliff” news over the holidays.  And with the start of the new year came the message that the crisis had been averted, an agreement reached, and action taken.  Yet, less than a week later, we hear more chatter of how politicians “kicked the can down the road”, that while a crisis was averted, massive issues remain.  As hectic and frenzied as things were, for all the drama and tension, we find ourselves right back where we were.  Nothing has really changed.

What the resolutionites at the gym and our political “leaders” have done is remind us that nothing really changes unless fundamental, underlying, core issues are truly addressed.  Going to a gym or working out are great behaviours, yet the real goal of fitness, weight loss or improved mental and physical health will not be achieved unless the underlying reasons behind an unhealthy lifestyle are addressed.  Similarly, the underlying reasons for the “Fiscal Cliff” were not addressed.  Some of the immediate symptoms were sort of addressed, but the reasons and behaviours that lead to this crisis remain.  In the end, the majority of New Year’s Resolutions fail because they target behaviours, not causes.

Thanks to the drone of the news and the lines in the gym, we are reminded that lasting change only comes when foundational causes are addressed.  It is true for the resolutionites in the gym, for political leaders, and for all of us.  A new year is a convenient, but an entirely arbitrary moment in time, but it is as good a time as any to really make a change…if you really want to.

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