Tag Archives: pitfalls

Looking Through the Satirical Lense

Getting caught up in the day-to-day minutia that is life is just a fact.  We all find ourselves fighting the fires at hand, all too often taking the close in view and forgetting the big picture.  We make decisions based on what we see around us, what our environment demands.  We can find ourselves bombarded by messages of what is and what is not important.  Sometimes we lose sight of reality, of the things that truly matter.  And there in lies the value of satire.

A relatively unknown master of satire is back and has again provided a wonderful tongue in cheek look at much more than just the cycling community.  From the hipster to the hip hop culture, our marketing societies obsession with gear, brands, and “high-end” products, to our entertainment and music; everyone gets a turn in the barrel.

It is a gift really – the ability to bring a real, valuable, and sometimes uncomfortable message to what might be a less than receptive audience.  To make them laugh while opening their eyes – a wonderful skill.  Though the below are aimed at cyclist, the jabs apply to any group, in any situation.   Stop and think about it for a minute – is your car, your house, your hobby, the gear you demand, the gadgets you cannot do without, the labels on your clothes – are they really all that important?

Sometimes it is worth it to spend a few minutes and look at yourself, your surroundings, and your life through the satirical lens.  Who knows what you will see.

The latest offering from MC Spandex – “It’s Time to Get Dirty”

And for those who might not have seen the video that started it all, below is the 2009 classic “Performance”

In the interest of full disclosure – I do have a carbon frame.  It was so worth it…

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Filed under Coaching, leadership, Sports

Leadership – The Exterior View

Fodder, the stuff of bloggers and reporters, and thanks to BP and Afghanistan, we are awash in material.  It would be easy to pile-on with some witty observations thanks to the multitude of missteps flowing from the Gulf and Afghanistan.  However, BP CEO Tony Hayward and General Stanley McChrystal also offer a reminder that leadership is not just viewed from inside the organization.

Both men are very accomplished leaders – they have achieved great success within their respected organizations.  Though it is easy to bash someone when they stumble, there is no denying that both men possess a track record of superior performance.  One does not become a CEO or 4 Star General by accident.   The above said, both have stumbled recently; quite publically and quite badly.  There is no need to rehash the missteps – most are well-known to even the casual observer.  Let’s just leave it with the fact that both have not exactly made savvy public relations moves of late.

It is a phrase most have heard somewhere along the way – “would you want to see it on the front page of the New York Times”.  Maybe it is a little melodramatic, and it does seem so quaint, a newspaper reference, but the message is applicable to anyone in leadership.  There is more to being a leader than just taking care of your team.  There are stakeholders inside the organization, superiors, external customers, shareholders, and there is the greater community.  There is an exterior component to leadership and how you are viewed as a leader.

Taking care of your people, hitting the number, and following through on the deliverables are all important, but so is how you do it and how it is viewed from the outside.  It is easy to forget sometimes – especially when the pressure is on.  One has to wonder if Tony Hayward or General McChrystal would have acted differently if they would have considered the exterior view of leadership.

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Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, leadership, Politics

Of Titles, Authority and Wasted Effort

President, CEO, Director, VP, Manager.  It has been drilled into society that titles matter, and with titles comes more of everything.  More money, more prestige, and above all more power.  The power to impact, guide, direct, effect and above all make decisions.  As you move up the title chain you somehow become more and more important and above all more valuable – the critical person.

Then comes a blast like the below.  Another of the fine tomes from Finbar Taggit.

Just because someone is a CEO doesn’t mean they have any power or authority. In most cases, the more senior a person’s title is, the less influence they have over making decisions.

I learned this a long time ago. A first year Investment Banker is about 0% productive. After about 3 to 5 years, they are about 80% productive. When they realize meetings and PowerPoint is how you really get ahead, the productivity starts falling and once they reach MD status they spend 20% of their time making money and the other 80% playing politics. That is if they are still working in the industry. CEOs delegate everything to their senior managing directors and lawyers. I mean most of them cannot send emails without compliance signing them off.

And that is one way to look at the benefits of climbing the ladder – more is less.  Though dripping with sarcasm, it was ironic how reading the above did make me pause and smile at memories from both business and the military.  There might be a grain of truth to the above rant in more than just banking.

The real lesson and serious question lies in where any of us might be on that particular productivity curve.  Where are we putting our time?  Are we really doing the right behaviours, the behaviours that are “making money”?  Not just revenue, but are we making others around us better?  Are we making the business better, our friends better, our families better, and most of all are we making ourselves better?  As always, it is about return on investment – are you getting the most from your title and your time.

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Of GM, ND and Realistic Expectations

Head Football Coach at Notre Dame. CEO for GM.  Couple prestigious job opportunities have come open in the last few days.  Dare I say each will also bring a healthy compensation plan and just a few “additional benefits”.  However, just because the job sounds great, it does not mean it is the right next move for you, either professionally or personally.  Sometimes there is a great deal more to consider than just the title, the compensation and the prestige when evaluating the next step in your career.  Specifically, does the role entail realistic expectations?

Talk about situations in which realistic expectations are not exactly the norm.  Turning around the massive, floundering ship that is GM while satisfying the UAW and answering to the federal government, or meeting the incredibly lofty expectations of the Notre Dame football fans and alumni, NBC and every sports talk radio host in North America.  Certainly some tall orders.  While we all embrace challenges and thrive in the face of adversity, the realist must consider what is truly expected relative to what is truly achievable.  While we all have goals, make no mistake that in any situation there are other stakeholders and shareholders who influence and often set expectations regardless of how based in reality they or their expectations might be.  In the end they will determine your fate.

The corollary to the above is that as a leader you have to not only evaluate if you have realistic expectations set for you, but are you setting realistic expectations for your team and organization?  Ensuring you are putting yourself in a viable position for  professional success is critical.  Ensuring you have put others in viable situations with realistic expectations is equally important.  In the end, how can you attract and retain the best talent if you have set unrealistic expectations for their performance.

Lofty goals are wonderful. However, lofty AND achievable goals are mandatory. If expectations are not based in reality, success will never be achieved.  And just as success breeds success, so to the momentum of failure breeds its own sense of inevitability in an organiztion.  Fair or not, morale on all levels is undercut by the perception of failure.  Setting yourself or others up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is just plain silly.

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New Jobs – You Are Starting Over

As only John Lennon could put it so clearly, “it will be just like starting over…”

The sense of relief of having landed the new job is palpable.  Candidate’s are relieved to have weathered the interview and selection process, and are at times relieved to have landed on their feet professionally and financially.  Transitions, either seemless and of your choosing, or dynamic and forced upon you, are stressful evolutions.  However, that sense of relief must evaporate before the first day on the new job.  Much as graduation ceremonies are referred to as commencement, acceptance of an offer is not the end, but rather the beginning of a journey.

Realization that the hard work is ahead, not behind, is a tough pill to swallow for many.  What you did is in the past. It might have been a key component in getting you the new job, but rest assured, it is now squarely all about what you will do going forward. You were hired to perform, not to rest on your laurels.

Starting over is never fun, and it is never easy.  There is always uncertainty, possibly some bruising of the ego, and maybe a little crisis of confidence.  It will take time to hit your stride, to come up to speed.  It will also take work, effort, commitment, and good old fashioned sweat equity.  Knowing and accepting that you are starting over is half the battle.  Having the energy and will to fight the battle that is starting over is what ensures victory.

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Chicago 2016 – Reinforcing the Fundamentals

The announcement of Chicago, and really the United States, early exit from the 2016 Summer Olympic voting offers at least two immediate lessons. Both are timeless lessons in life and business. Fundamentals that seem to trip-up even the most veteran, experienced professionals. Simply put – know your audience and minimize your personal downside.

Clearly I am no expert when it comes to the International Olympic Committee, its members, its mode of operation, or its inner workings and decision making.  Nor am I professing to understand to any significant degree all that goes into bidding for and/or hosting an Olympic Games.  However, what I am very sure of is that there are lessons to be learned for all of us, especially when they are fundamental issues that have just been played out on a very public stage.

Knowing your target market is critical in business and in life.  Every sales presentation, product or service that is designed or marketed, every interview, every interaction is aimed at or positioned towards someone.  It is absolutely critical that the presentation be directed to the decision maker.  One must know who your target market or audience is, what their concerns are, what factors might play into their decision making.  Being sensitive to their paradigm is absolutely critical.  Simply stated, it is about them, not about you.

A great deal was made of the “Chicago delegation” that went to Copenhagen, with special attention given to the presence of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.  A country’s First Lady – makes perfect sense, she is an individual of consequence on the international stage.  There is great significance in her participation – it demonstrates national level commitment to the ultimate IOC decision makers.  Oprah Winfrey is clearly a powerful presence in American popular culture, of that there is no question.  However – does she impact these particular decision makers?  Is she tied to the Olympic movement, is she an Olympian, a member of their community, a person who holds sway within their world?  Doubtful at best.  To an American audience she matters, but the ultimate decision makers were not an American audience.

It is critical to remember that whenever any of us are debating a decision that involves spending our personal or professional capital, there is potential downside that must be considered.  There is risk in every decision, and taking risks is a necessary part of life and business.  Knowing and honestly evaluating the downside is crucial, arguably of greater importance than evaluating the upside potential.  Managing and minimizing your risk when spending your personal and professional capital is paramount.

Obviously it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that the presence and personal pitch of the President to the IOC was not a winning move.  Whether he should have gone to Copenhagen is open to debate and will be critiqued to exhaustion.  Was there upside to the President’s involvement – absolutely.  Was there downside – clearly.  Was there more risk than originally considered – only time will tell. Losing now and again is part of life, part of business – everyone knows and accepts it.  Setting yourself up for big, public, resounding, crushing defeats – never wise.

Though there will never be one simple, all encompassing answer to why the Chicago bid was rejected – was it just Rio’s time, was it a poor sales presentation, was it geographic voting blocks, was it anti-American backlash, IOC bribery issues ala Salt Lake City, or was it W’s fault still – no one will ever know, and in the end it really does not matter.  What is clear is that it is always about the fundamentals.  Life and business are always about the fundamentals. Know your audience and minimize risk.

Never ask the question unless you already know the answer goes the old adage.  The same goes for spending your own political, personal, or professional capital – you better be very sure of what the outcome will be before you throw that blue chip on the table.  Take risks – absolutely.  Calculated risks are even better.  But betting big when you have massive downside exposure is foolish.  In a sales presentation, in an interview, with whatever your product or service might be, whatever relationship scenario you can imagine, it is always about them, not about you.  Ask any Olympian – it is all about the fundamentals.

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Being Nice – A Competitive Advantage

A self serving, contradiction of a title? Possibly. However, is it true – absolutely. In the competitive world of business, as in life, to the victor goes the spoils. And to the person who is liked, goes the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, the benefit of the doubt is all it takes to tip the scales.

Certainly we can all attest to countless examples where the “popular kids”, the “teachers pet”, the “bosses favorite”, or the one who was simply “liked more” received some sort of apparent preferential treatment.  Is it fair?  Not our decision to make.  Is it a reality at every phase of life and in every situation?  Absolutely.  Fair or not, it is foolish to assume that likeability does not factor into any decision in which human relationships are involved.

Looking over the last week in popular culture, one only needs to consider the passing of Patrick Swayze and the NBA Hall of Fame acceptance speech of Michael Jordan.  The overwhelming popular and media sentiment upon the news of Patrick Swayze’s passing was extremely positive.  It was not because of his being regarded as the greatest actor of all time.  Rather it was for his work, his positive impact on others, his humility and by most accounts his being “a good guy”;  a nice guy.  There is no arguing that Michael Jordan is one of, if not the greatest basketball players and athletes of all time.  A true icon who crossed cultural, sport, business, and global boundaries.  An amazingly accomplished individual in a host of arenas.  However, over the years, and as his recent acceptance speech illustrated, he is often seen as self-centered, cold, and petty.  The perception is now more of a flawed person – one who is not known to be extremely nice.  Ultra competitive – absolutely.  Nice – not really.  Fair or not, there is no arguing that Michael Jordan has lost some of the media and public’s “benefit of the doubt” over the years.

In the final analysis, there are very few circumstances in today’s world (business, personal, or otherwise) where only data and facts are all that matters.  Relationships and human emotion do play a role.  How much of a factor is wide open to debate, but there is no denying it does play a role.  Therefore, why would anyone ever want to put up barriers?  There is no advantage or benefit to not being polite, respectful, empathetic, genuine and positive.  Or more simply stated, being nice will only help you.  Who knows, you might even make a friend or two along the way.


Filed under Current affairs, Interviewing, Sports

Premature Offer Negotiation

Everyone has goals, requirements, needs, and even wants when it comes to their career.  How, and more importantly when, we allow those concerns to enter into the interview process is a critical issue.  Of course the “reasonable man theory” does apply – we are assuming a degree of understanding in that we are talking about scenarios that are at least in the ballpark with respect to scope, responsibility, compensation, etc.  However, if you want a guaranteed way to ensure you do not get an offer, allow yourself to enter into premature offer negotiation – no doubt you will be out of the process before you know what hit.

Companies love it when candidates insist upon bringing up concerns with compensation, expense accounts, benefits, vacation time, and a host of other topics early in the interview process.  But what really excites them is when the candidate does it without prompting. Laying down your requirements upfront is something all companies treasure, for it makes their decision so much easier and it saves so much time.  More often than not they can and do  discount you right off – someone to pass on straight away.

Do all of those things matter in evaluating opportunities – of course they do – it is foolish and disingenuous to say they do not.  However, there is a time and place for everything, and your “requirements”, however justified you feel they might be, are not of any concern to the company until they decide they want to hire you.  Before they discover that you are the best candidate for their particular role, your “requirements” are nothing more than reasons not to move you forward.  Harsh – yes.  Reality – you better believe it.

Remember, every company is not out to say yes to every candidate.  In fact, by the very nature of interviewing and searching, they are looking for reasons to say no – especially in the early stages.  They are looking for that one right person and there will be casualties along the way.  A lot of casualties.  It is the nature of the game.

Your willingness to trust in the process, in the company, and in their culture is paramount.  If you are so focused on yourself, how can they ever believe you will become a true teammate?  The vast majority of the time when the role is right, the candidate is the right person, and the company is excited, the offers work themselves out.  At a minimum, at least there is a clear expectation set once everyone knows that there is a match – offers can then be constructed accordingly.

In the end, you gain nothing by putting up hurdles in the interview process.  You gain nothing and more than likely will find yourself out of the process before you ever have a chance.  Unless you are open to learning and then evaluating, you have nothing.  Who wants to hire anyone that comes into an organization or situations with preconceived notions?

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Stop worrying about the neighbor’s yard

“Don’t be angry, don’t be sad, and don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.”

Stephen Stills

We have heard it many times over the years, the all to common theme “there must be something better out there.”  At no time has it been more pronounced than in recent months.  Call it dissatisfaction with reduced income potential or earning, increased pressures and expectations, forced or preceived needs to change fields, firms or roles.  Many have felt that their current role is lacking, that there are better options.  However, these are anything but normal times, and maybe it is wise to remember that the grass is not always greener elsewhere, that the past might not have been that great – holding what you have and maximizing the opportunity at hand might just be the right move.

How much is missed by the never ending pursuit of what might be next?  Of course there is a time and place for moving on, for turning the page, for searching out “the next great job”.  Owning your career and professional growth is critical and something that you must always manage.  However, being in a constant state of wonder about what might have been, or what might be, is not a foundation on which success is built.

The time, energy, and above all opportunity cost of being in a constant state of interviewing demands payment.  In the end, that source of payment is drawn from either your current employer, your professional reputation, or from time with your family. There is only a finite amount of times one can go to the well – eventually the cost becomes unsustainable.

We have said it many times before – interviewing and finding the right opportunity is very similar to dating and getting married.  Eventually you have “played the field” too much, your reputation as a “player” preceeds you.  In the professionl world being a job hopper is still a flag.  In the good times being “diversivied” or “well rounded” were somewhat accepted.  Now it is all about minimizing risk, and a lack of consistency and sustained superior performance is a concern no matter how you might “explain” it.

In the final analysis maybe, just maybe it is worth knuckling down and giving your current job/career focused attention and commitment – they are paying you after all.  It might not be as bad as you think it is, the past might not have been as great as you remember, and everyone else might not have it quite as good now.  Some even say hard work and performance is still rewarded.  Give it a shot.  Stop worrying about everyone else’s yard and tend to your own – you might find things get better.

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Filed under Coaching, Interviewing

This is business – Failure is an option

In the ongoing theme of sharing strong interview questions and techniques, we wanted to share another great insight into a candidates way of thinking.

As you are chatting during the pre-interview banter, a slight reference to the idea of “no fail” grading systems might provide a very telling glimpse into the candidates true thought process.

In the final analysis, business is about winning. In a capitalist system there is no room for dead weight – a business either is or is not viable (profitable). A binary issue. Does anyone really want a leader of their business at any level to be an advocate of mediocrity?

As we are surrounded by stories of “bailouts”, “too large to fail”, and other stories of “debt forgiveness” and other examples of excusing failure, it is wise to remember that at its heart business is a matter of competing and winning.  Though in everything there is a balance, it is absolutely critical to the survival of a business that it remain a healthy, viable, winning organization.

Great people make wonderful neighbors and friends, but are they winners is the question.  Interviewing is about finding the competitors and winners, those special few who will make the company better, who will lead it to win.  It is those special few who are the ones who want to and do keep score.

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Filed under Current affairs, Interviewing, Uncategorized