Category Archives: Leadership Characteristics

Tenable qualities in corporate leaders, attainable and trainable for the most part.

Stay Hungry: Someone Is Always Moving the Cheese

While there are probably hundreds if not thousands of business axioms about the constancy of change, it is never more important than to an organization as it is to an individual to be flexible, to be hunting, chasing new opportunity. While this is especially true of sales leaders and the hunter roles in business development, it is certainly a necessary and desirable trait for every worker.

Heraclitus as a Herald for All Time
So many great quotes have reached us from antiquity and yet many more must have been lost through the ages, but one of the all time best is the phrase, “there is nothing permanent except change,” written by Heraclitus. This simple idea conveys more than an observation, it is also a message, almost a call to action. If you sit and wait, rigid and unready, the change that approaches will not only surprise you, it may overturn your whole situation, and it is very unlikely you may make the best of it as an opportunity so much as you will bemoan the very process, which was in itself completely predictable.

Staying Nimble to Get Nibbles
In his landmark 1998 business book, Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life, Spencer Johnson put into parable the concepts required of humans from the earliest mammoth hunters to the modern day workforce; that times change, opportunities which were once close by and easy to come by can suddenly become few and far between, and that the best, most flexible, hungry hunters will always be on the lookout for possibilities and payment (“the cheese”) regardless of sea change, allowing them ample ability to win and grow by staying nimble. The book was such a simple approach, and an easy read, that it reached all levels of business and average readers. I once met a 7 year old boy who told me it was his favorite storybook, taught to him by his father, my friend, a cobolt trader.

Staying Hungry
In an earlier post on this blog, I discussed the phenomenon that occurs when we plateau and how that is, in my opinion, a necessary part of the process, both physiologically demonstrable in fitness and exercise practice as well as from a psychological perspective both from a group and an individual level. What is important to remember, in the case of the soon-to-be-missing cheese (whether we like it or not), is the fact that those who keep in practice and are adaptable will always be the most likely to survive intact, and possibly thrive, in an environment that requires that adaptability. This is true on a career path as well as at department, division, and enterprise levels. Taken further, the concept can be applied to corporate and market forces, and even whole countries, regions, and market groups like the European Union or the North American Trade Agreement (even to military coalitions such as NATO now working with formerly diametrically opposed nations). The rule here is that by continuing the search for the next opportunity, we prevent the “fluster and bluster” that occurs when change comes. Winners will face that with a wry smile and a knowing grin, already having options at the ready or preparing quickly.

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When someone at my current company asked me to share a company-wide “Sales in 60 Minutes” presentation so that each employee had a more business development-oriented mindset, like our department’s sales hunters, I felt that everyone, every single person in our company needs to remember if we disappoint, we get fired. Maybe not that day, but definitely soon. And if that happens often enough, we are through.

Moved to a Sale
The heart of what every employee, regardless of duties or station, need to keep in mind first is that everything we do, we do for our customers. We are in business to solve their problems. They reward us for doing so. It really is that simple. So how we interact with them, and what they take away from every interaction, is what Jan Carlzon refers to as a “moment of truth”. It is up to us to make each of these moments both memorable, positive, and successful.

In a Nutshell
While there are hundreds of mantras out there, or ideologies to what a customer needs in any interaction, it boils down to:

  • Reliability – doing something when you say you will.
  • Emotion – being optimistic, helpful and under-promising to over-deliver.
  • Asking for help – bringing sales staff or customer service as soon as appropriate.
  • Continuity – ensuring what people see is the same across materials, websites, email, etc.
  • Tenacity – always asking how else we can help and exploring cross-sell opportunities.

More money is made through trust and connections than any outbound mail campaign, online ad, or sales call. It is of the utmost import that if, in the circle of your acquaintance, you find a person happy with your services, be particularly careful to ask for his or her recommendation, so the world at large convinced of our good works. One of the greatest lessons I learned in sales training from David Sandler was that the moment when someone is signing the contract or giving you the official go-ahead is the best time to ask for referrals. This turned out to be very, very true in my real estate practice and now, in global banking.

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Sure, We Know What Makes a Man, But What Can You Do About It?

Spies who don’t brag.

Players who don’t kiss and tell.

These are the fabric that make up our world of winners.

Anachronisms. People who matter. Those who follow the rules, not the nancypants playtime discussions of what we learned in school, whether you go to a strip club on someone’s bachelor(ette) party or not, whether you hold the door open for a little old lady. Let’s talk about the rules of the game, the rules of engagement, the rules of war. Remember all’s fair in love and war?

Bobby Green, Jr., was a guy living in Los Angeles when the 1992 riots erupted in the days after the Rodney King verdict was announced. He woke up that morning in a culture of violence, and like it didn’t matter to him, he found himself watching on television, on CNN no less, as down the street, an intersection he knew was on-camera. People were burning cars. Guys were hitting other guys with baseball bats. Somewhere in the distance, there were gunshots. Then, on TV, Bobby saw some white bread truck driver pulled from the cab of his rig. He saw, live on CNN, someone hitting the trucker, a guy it turns out was named Reginald Denny, with a cinder block. You know, a 40+ pound block made of concrete? They were hitting him with one. In the head. Bobby follows the rules. This doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t. He left the safety of his house and went down the street, in the chaos and the mayhem, raced to the corner and intervened. Stopped the madness. Took Reginald to the hospital. Because that’s what you do.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger the Third is a regular hero. He’s the pilot who got up on January 15, 2009, days before the Obama inauguration, the country still reeling from the financial meltdown, unsure of his pension, his paycheck, his future, but secure in the sense that he follows procedure and work gets done. This isn’t a Captain in the sense that he is in charge of the airplane when it’s in the air, and some flight attendant does a sloppy salute and calls him “Skipper”. This is a Captain who graduated from the US Air Force Academy when planes were dogfighting over Viet Nam. This is a Captain who flew F4 Phantoms and followed procedure, no matter how hot the spot got. He launched his US Airways passenger flight from La Guardia airport and didn’t wet his pants when an engine blew out, when the plane dropped in a way he later described as “the worst sickening, pit-of-your-stomach, falling-through-the-floor feeling,” it didn’t stop him from following the rules. He realized the plane wouldn’t make it to a runway in time, and he was over the planet’s most populous city. He did it right. He ditched the plane in the Hudson River and miraculously, everyone lived. Even the little children.

Narces Benoit is a story we are only just learning. The video speaks for itself, and the reality is something that will eke its way out in the trials to come. The man saw some loco gunfight happening in front of him in Miami, and it doesn’t matter if the police were justified to shoot a man. You already learned right from wrong and you know no one in America, not one person in the United States, has the right to hide the truth. So when the cops murder someone directly in front of you, and you capture the video on camera…. You are doing what is right. But when the cops point the gun at you, and demand you give up the footage? When the patrolmen take away everyone’s cell phones and stomp on them like a gang from some 1980s sci-fi movie, you already know the rules are blurring. Narces sat through an arrest. He sat through questioning. He had a policeman’s handgun pointed in his face. Through the whole of it, he had his SD memory card in his mouth to keep the truth safe from the machine. Was he rattled? Probably. Did he give up the chip; spit it out so they could crunch it like a mobile phone under a government-issue boot? No. Because them’s the rules.

Why are these men the triumvirate of heroes? Because each of these guys, they didn’t have to question right from wrong. They know the rules. They follow the rules. You know it too.

The reason you lump these three men together is simple.

It’s got nothing to do with honor; it’s got nothing to do with respect. They have that. They earned it, or maybe they always had it and by their actions they demonstrated the right. You put them in one group not because they are who you aim to be. You put them together because if you are ever, and I mean ever, in a bar, and any of them are in a bar with you? They don’t pay for shit. It’s not a medal, it’s not a salary. It’s not something they can take to the bank. But you know it’s right. You can feel these heroes are worthy, and you follow the rules. You pick up their check.

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Meeting Warren Avis

In an unassuming building on State Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I met
the head of the Avis Empire in 2001, the man who had built and sold Avis Rent A Car and all its innovations in the 1960s. His small staff buzzed productively from room to room as he announced, “Each worker for Avis is respected…”

   Why create the Shared Participation theory?
   I wanted to contribute something to the business culture.  I had been very successful, and had spent ten years at Harvard Business School and knew I wanted to do something people would benefit from.  When I look at the Newman’s Own salad dressing bottle, I see that $100 million has been donated to charity as a result of people buying that bottle.  It makes me feel good to do it.
   Team management is a buzzword in today’s business society, but if you include regular meetings, with truly anonymous comment systems, will work every time.  Blame the implementation, not the system if it fails.
   This was first an idea in the 1970s as a shared problem-solving process.  The growth of the system, and the books I wrote led to the formation of Shared Participation using team implementation.  By forming teams, with regular meetings and anonymous comments, people learn to respect the process, and most importantly, learn to respect each other. Using Shared Participation, you learn that every voice in your structure is important. This brings harmony by allowing two people in a conversation to really listen.  You cannot out think the system, you cannot out think a team of five people.  It simply is not possible.
   The Montgomery GI Bill made the United States the great nation it is today, because it changed the educational value system in this country.  Before, most families didn’t send children to college because of the cost, because they didn’t see the value in higher education and the ability to get it.  With the GI Bill, many families of all incomes suddenly had the ability. 
It has educated our nation like nothing could.

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I jumped at the chance to join eBusinessware

Winners aren’t perfect. 

I jumped at the chance to work with eBusinesswareBut in a career of sales, I’ve seen with my own eyes that the companies to survive and thrive are the ones that practice consistency. By showing up every single day, they deliver, even when it’s a slog through rough going. Those organizations make a name for themselves.

There are a lot of reasons I joined the eBusinessware team this summer: The most important isn’t the human face the company puts on global banking, or the enterprise solutions they offer in the financial marketplace. It wasn’t innovation in technology or doing business on Wall Street. It was a chance to play for performers.

There are a lot of buzzwords that come and go in business, and New York global operations aren’t shy to pump them into marketing communications. “Outperform the competition,” or “High performance platforms,” litter the landscape. This performance is different, and it’s better.

This week I ended a conference call with the due diligence team at a leading investment fund, and the VP we had spent our time with thanked us by saying, “you’ve managed to make one of the unglamorous parts of this industry more efficient.” Ed Hoofnagle, our CEO, looked me right in the eye and said, “we built our name on this work, from reference data architecture to wealth management.”

It was true. The most attractive quality of joining eBusinessware is that as they enter a third decade of work in financial services, the company’s focus continues to be making work easier for the organizations they serve, not niche-marketing to hot topics like hedge funds or foreign exchange markets. These are only pieces of the overall puzzle that CIOs and CCOs  work on every day.

Consistency demonstrates commitment. That means if you can perform every day, your clients keep coming back. You earn their trust because you’re consistent. They believe that you’re committed to them for the long haul. When problems arise, and they always do, if you’re focused on coming in daily and finding a way past the obstacles, what you offer is of far greater value than a “flavor of the month,” or worse, a fad. What you offer instead is innovation.

By showing up to get the job done in reference data architecture, or interior communication of wealth management firms, what you offer is unsexy, every single day. But that you can show up and make life easier for the people you serve, not just the organizations or institutions who are clients, will mean something to them because you get the job done, and that means they know that you are here for them.

Which really is valor, when you think about it. Not glamour.

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The Walt Disney Effect

Early sales lessons teach to ask a prospect what they need, and then find a way to offer it, at a price. The modern methods of selling haven’t lost this principle, making clear the leaders in dollar volume.

Walt Disney Montage   In my first position as an application specialist, I worked closely with software sales staff, performing demonstrations for current customers and often, brand new prospects. I will always remember the words one sales trainer shared with me, just moments before the client walked in, “No matter what they ask for, even if the software can’t currently do it, or it’s irrelevant, say yes,” he said, “we will find a way to make it do that, even if it costs extra, it is what they’re asking for.”

For years I felt this little episode in my life was a sad travesty to sales, a man selling ‘vaporware,’ desperate to close a deal any way possible.

I’ve learned better.

Disneyland, and Disney World, are clear examples. You rarely hear complaints about the experience they offer, only about the high price. These destinations make every opportunity in your vacation experience worthwhile, and they charge top dollar to do it. Today’s sales leaders can learn from the Late Great Walt Disney.

Questions to a prospect must be about them, not you, your product or it’s features. Start a conversation about their needs, and you will quickly identify that you can help, and make a sale, even out-of-the-box at a premium, or that there is no way to help from your options, and you both can move on to better things. Either choice is a win.

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On the Importance of Plateauing

Speaking with leaders in business, sales, and athletics has led to new confidence in understanding the phases of growth, and how we discern one portion of our life’s journey from the next.

Athletic Clip Image       While sitting serenely in the Jacuzzi at the local gym after a winning session of Les Mills Body Pump, I struck up a conversation with one of the usual suspects, a friend I’d never shared the workout with, but had often been in the hot tub at the end. He was on what must have been his third crash diet, failing his way through Atkins, South Beach, Master Cleanse, and what must now be some newer fad.

“I plateaued at 230,” he commented.

“Don’t worry,” I replied. “When I lost my weight, I got stuck at 230, then 210, then 200 before reaching my healthy weight.”

“That’s right,” said my girlfriend, joining us in the Jacuzzi, “your body needs to rest from time to time, just drink more water, add a little more exercise and you’ll see results again.”

This advice is simple, straight-forward and amazingly clear. Consulting for start-up companies in growth mode all the way to enterprise-level standards, I’ve seen many leaders beating themselves up or berating their employees for hitting a flat zone.

These periods aren’t just rests, they are signposts, the milestones along our travels to show us the way upward. Kudos to those losing weight, winning friends &  influencing people!

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