Consuming brevity

cell phone

Technology makes much of what we do in business easier and faster. But smart phones with their texts, tweets, emails, and Instagrams, have an unintended consequence. Shorter attention spans and constant urgency, which exacerbates stress.

Just about everything your can do on a smart phone is short and to the point – and fast. And after awhile, our brains become acclimated to constant interruptions and staccato replies. We think in short bursts and communicate in the same fashion. 

If saving time is your only goal, great. But if your business depends on effective communication, understanding new concepts, and connecting with shareholders, associates and customers – brevity does little to support those concepts.

Some solutions?

  • Cell phone/technology-free zones, perhaps for an hour or two during business hours. You’ll get way more work done without interruption.
  • Have meetings where cell phones are collected before each meeting begins (and retrieved on the way out).
  • Dedicate an evening a week to no cell phones and really connect with your partner and family. Enjoy working out or reading or meditating without interruption.

Speeding up everything we do does huge consequences for human interaction and meaningful dialog – especially with the self.



The ethics of good business

blogging paysGood ethics and good business go hand in hand. In theory, anyway. Folks used to say, if your business ‘did the right thing’ then you were sure to earn a profit.

In simpler days of simpler business dealings across town, this probably worked just fine. But in today’s competitive global environment, business theory often goes out the window as soon as pressure is felt to maximize profits. We either do work we are proud of, or we work to make the maximum amount of money.

So I wonder… is it still possible to have both good ethics AND maximize profits? And if so, what’s the new shiny adage for this theory?

Seth Godin addressed this issue not long ago, and he said something that hit home for me:

It comes down to this: only people can have ethics… I’d rather work with a company filled with ethical people than try to find a company that’s ethical. In fact, companies we think of as ethical got that way because ethical people made it so.”

He’s right. Corporations are composed of individuals, and, as leaders we should insist that those we work with do the right thing. Always. Make ethics a part of your day-to-day experience, leading by example, and expecting – insisting — on the best from people.

Business is too powerful for us to leave our humanity at the door. It’s not ‘business.’ It’s personal. All of it.


A plan for what doesn’t work


What’s your plan when things go wrong? If you are not expecting things to go wrong from time to time, you’re fooling yourself. Because stuff WILL go south. You can bank on that.

Having a plan in mind when catastrophes or minor stuff goes wrong just makes good sense. It’s good to have a basic program in place and share it – in advance – with your team. This doesn’t make you a doomsday-er. It makes you a rational, planning-ahead sort of leader.

Having a plan will improve morale and keep most problems that come up, short lived and infrequent. Here’s how:

  • At the first report of a problem, double check all associated work. Make sure that there are no additional problems that tag along with the first. If so, make sure you are clear on the full nature of the problem.
  • Document the issue. On paper. With as much information included as possible.
  • Report the problem to those who need to know up the chain. If it’s a problem with possible long-range effects (customers already in receipt of a product that may have the same problem, for instance), be sure not to hold information back from management.
  • Get feedback from those involved. Make sure you have the whole story.
  • Take responsibility. That means all along the chain of command. The person who built it, ordered it, checked it, and those that are responsible for managing it.

This is the part a lot of us get wrong. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean that anyone intentionally did something wrong. But it does mean that you know something went wrong, you’re unhappy about it, and you accept responsibility for letting it get by you.

  • Whatever happened, caused people up and down the chain time or money or upset. You are apologizing for others having to deal with the problem and accepting responsibility for making it right.
  • Now that you have the details, accepted responsibility and apologized, get a team together to iron out a way to improve the system so the issue won’t happen again.
  • Lastly, thank your team, your customers, your supply chain — and whomever else was involved for their patience and their help.

If everyone on your team knows that problems will occur and you have an honest plan, you will not have folks finding and then hiding problems. Or playing the blame game. You’ll nip issues in the bud and empower those you work with to do their best in fair weather and fowl.


Ode to joy

joy jump

True leadership is a rare quality. When you spot it, you know it. But it’s hard to define. Which – is why this column exists.

How do you know if you are truly a leader? Well, you may not know. It’s something that evolves over time, often after lots of tribulations, obstacles, and out-an-out failures.

If you are trying to be a leader, stop it. Forcing a mantle of pride won’t get you to where you want to be. Instead, lead with ideals, joy, dedication, and shared vision. Your team needs you to communicate where you are headed. Once they understand your mission and your drive to succeed with confidence and energy, they will help get you there.

Lead from within. Make sure you feel uplifted by the work you do. When you have joy in your work, and eagerly embrace the weight of your commitment to lead, you tend to be light on your feet and make better decisions.

Not only is that joy palpable to those around you, it’s contagious.



Are you a radical enough?


It takes a radical leader to create the sort of change that builds great new companies. Someone unflappable, with backbone and stamina that is not afraid to take an unpopular position.

The kind of change that generates new understanding, changes minds, organizations, and popular beliefs starts in an unruly, often unnerving way. It’s uppity, radical and inventive.

And awesome.

Radically different ideas or products attract attention because they are startlingly engaging and creative. But what we may not always see right away is that the person driving that vision has to be resolute, fearless and bold.

Is that you? Could that be you?

Give yourself and your team permission to create a stir. Better yet, don’t give anyone permission. Just begin coloring outside the lines with enthusiasm, get cozy with ‘edgy’ and be open to what doesn’t seem possible. Go!



Cutting back for growth


It’s up to you to set a pace and tone, set expectations and standards, and keep your organization running efficiently. It also falls to you to know where to make necessary cuts.

Cuts to staff when needed, sure. But perhaps more importantly – what areas of your business are getting bogged down in details, regulations, outdated formulas or codes, or no longer moving ahead of the competition?

A leader with her finger on the pulse of a business constantly checks in – and often knows which areas need pruning before the data confirms her suspicions.

Now is a natural time of year to gaze ahead and re-direct. What can be culled now to get the results you want next year?

Simple habits of success


What does it take to be a successful, wealthy and confident leader?

Although the most common answer is hard work, author Tom Corley writes in his book Rich Habits, that the real answer is actually more “lifestyle habits” and less “hard work.”

Here are the surprisingly simple habits to which Corley links great success:

  • Watch less than an hour of TV per day. In general, TV does nothing to improve your life.
  • Read more – at least 30 minutes a day. Always be on the lookout to educate yourself in new directions.
  • Live within or below your means. And save more than you think you can. It’s how the wealthy get to be – and stay – wealthy.
  • Maintain a positive outlook and manage your emotions. The two work together to promote a positive workplace and personal space. Volatile behavior can destroy work and home relationships.
  • Make time to give back and go above and beyond in some way, daily. Write articles. Network. Mentor. Join boards. Speak at functions. Create new companies.
  • Fanatically pursue your goals.

I admit, this list looks far too simplistic to work. Simple yes, but difficult to cultivate and maintain as habits. And that right there is the real secret to success; being able to stick to what works.

Failure & discomfort

bad luck

I’m interested in failure because I’m interested in courage and resilience.

What do those who rise quickly in management and business (and life) all have in common? According to best-selling author and professor of social work Brene Brown, “Those that are most capable of being uncomfortable, rise the fastest.”

If you’re like me, you re-read that sentence with a “huh?” But listen to this, it really does make sense:

“If you cannot manage discomfort,” continues Brown in her new book Rising Strong, “it will send you barreling into perfectionism, blame, and rationalizing – without taking away key learning.”

When something you are fostering or promoting fails, get curious quickly about why it failed without assigning blame.

Brown suggests that leaders give more than lip-service to failure. Failure hurts, and it’s best to own that without shame. Standing in front of a group and saying “We failed and this is what it feels like,” is a good way to start the exploration as to why the event/launch/product/goal didn’t do as expected.

Being comfortable with what is uncomfortable – owning it, experiencing it, and then dissecting it to learn how to cope and move forward in a new direction – that is true strength, resilience and leadership.


The 5% rule

business people in a series with a casual guy doing the headstand

I like the ‘rule of 5%.’ What it says, essentially, is that there will always be about five percent of the folks you meet, manage, deal with, or have to work with, that just won’t “get” or understand you.

These folks won’t understand your examples, get your shorthand approach, or find your jokes amusing. Your communication style or something about the way you communicate or lead will just leave them unmoved, or worse, unchallenged and unmotivated.

When you are a leader in an organization, it’s tempting to let these 5% drift, after all, you don’t want to bore the 95% who get your message. And chances are good that staff will pick up your intent from someone else.

But there will be times when it’s essential that you be 100% understood. New business negotiations and client meetings where something needs to be resolved come to mind.

When you sense an important client isn’t hearing you the way you want to be heard, don’t let that go, and don’t let ego get in the way. Bring someone else in that ‘speaks the same language’ – someone of the opposite sex, or younger, or someone you are mentoring with a very different communication style than your own.

Then step back and watch that new interaction with an open mind. It’s fascinating – and frankly, a little difficult — to hear your ideas communicated in a completely different way.

That said, you’ll learn a lot in that meeting, and it will have very little to do with your client’s business.

Attitude of gratitude


David Brooks recently wrote this in The New York Times:

“As most people get on in life and earn more status, they often get used to more respect and nicer treatment. But people with dispositional gratitude take nothing for granted. They take a beginner’s thrill at a word of praise, at another’s good performance or at each sunny day. These people are present-minded and hyper-responsive.”

Brooks called this “dispositional gratitude,” and it got me thinking. Many of us, including myself, believe that you get what you pay for and that you earn what you deserve. This thinking encourages individualism, ambition and pride. But if you’ve done well in this system, you are also setting yourself up disappointment, i.e.:

  • Your well-appointed hotel room has slow Wifi
  • That 4-star restaurant didn’t quite live up to its hype
  • Returns on your investments are not as high as you’d hoped

If you think that our system of business and living standards is good and powerful, you may be frustrated because these standards are expectations, and are frequently not achieved.

But, to quote Brooks again, “If you go through life believing that our reasoning is not that powerful, and individual skills are not that impressive, and our goodness is severely mottled, then you’re sort of amazed life has managed to be as sweet as it is.”

K. Chesterton wrote that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Those with grateful dispositions may think highly of their efforts — but not themselves. They are frequently surprised at the bounty and amazing intricacies of the world around them.

Be successful, by all means. But be grateful. It’s a pleasant place to reside with wonderful, enduring benefits.