Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Leadership: The soft stuff is the hard stuff

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Leadership arrow clipart“Wise is the man who realizes early in life that what he can do by himself is relatively small. A man’s success is determined, in large measure, by what he is able to get other people to do.”

  • Lee S. Bickmore, Chairman of the Board, Nabisco

Leadership. It’s an essential component of success.

Yet in this day and age when everyone calls him/her-self a leader or a visionary, few have actually mastered the art of leadership.

Firstly, it’s important to distinguish “management” from “leadership.” John P. Kotter, Emeritus Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School, gives us these definitions:

  • Management: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
  • Leadership:  Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.
Colin Powell goes on to say, “Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

Leadership is about more than just having technical proficiency in various quantitative analytical methodologies and paradigms (the “hard” stuff). Those are important and necessary. But leadership is also about motivating and guiding people, and therefore involves relational, emotional and organizational dynamics (the “soft” stuff). And, in the final analysis, the soft stuff is always the hard (i.e. most difficult) stuff.

“You have to be a well-rounded leader… You have to be incredibly tough-minded about standards of performance, but you also have to be incredibly tenderhearted with the people you’re working with. They have to feel like you have their back. If they feel like a victim of your leadership, they’ll go elsewhere. The second principle is that the soft stuff is the hard stuff. Most people that derail as leaders in the corporate world, it’s not because they couldn’t do the math and calculate return on investment properly. The issues are communication and understanding. All of what typically would’ve been called the ‘soft stuff.’ You have to be authentic. You have to be dialed into the soft stuff. Your EQ [Emotional Quotient] has to keep up with your IQ.”

  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview of Douglas Conant, former chief executive of Campbell Soup (CPB).  When he became CEO of CPB, it was in trouble. Over the next decade, Conant reinvigorated both the corporate culture and the company’s iconic soups. Now Conant is author of Touchpoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments and is head of the new Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University’s management school.

“The soft stuff is always harder than the hard stuff.”

  • Roger Enrico, Vice Chairman, Pepsico

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

  • Dale Carnegie


“Sometimes in business people talk about being nice to people as a soft thing… and that you should not spend too much time doing this because you need to get on with the hard stuff of making more money, being more productive, getting the costs down, enforcing the rules, keeping the labor in line, keeping the place cleaned up, and all of that other so-called hard stuff in our business. Taking the time to be available for your team members might be classified as soft stuff, and it is kind of hard to measure what impact it has on the business anyway:

  • Making your team members feel special,
  • Treating them as individuals,
  • Showing complete and unconditional respect to them,
  • Spending time developing them and educating them…

“You could talk yourself into thinking that you don’t have time to do that soft stuff with all of the hard stuff you are faced with every day. The fact of the matter is that if you don’t do the so-called soft stuff exceptionally well, you will never achieve the potential payout in the hard-stuff category. At the end of the day I have learned—and it did take me a while to learn this—THE SOFT STUFF IS REALLY THE HARD STUFF.

“If we all spent more time figuring out how to do the so-called soft stuff really well:  We would not have much hard stuff to do… because when you do the soft stuff well, your team will take care of the hard stuff… because they know exactly how to do it, and they will do it if they want to do it… and they will want to do it if you do the SOFT stuff well.”

  • Lee Cockerell, former Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World® Resort. “As the Senior Operating Executive for ten years Lee led a team of 40,000 Cast Members and was responsible for the operations of 20 resort hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, a shopping & entertainment village and the ESPN sports and recreation complex in addition to the ancillary operations which supported the number one vacation destination in the world. One of Lee’s major and lasting legacies was the creation of Disney Great Leader Strategies which was used to train and develop the 7,000 leaders at Walt Disney World. Lee has held various executive positions in the hospitality and entertainment business with Hilton Hotels for 8 years and the Marriott Corporation for 17 years before joining Disney in 1990 to open the Disneyland Paris project. Lee has served as Chairman of the Board of Heart of Florida United Way, the Board of Trustees for The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the board of the Production and Operations Management Society and the board of Reptilia, a Canadian attractions and entertainment company.

“Here’s a secret that gives competitive edge to any leader who understands it: ‘The really hard stuff is the soft stuff…it’s building a culture around the feelings of your customers and your employees.’

“I heard that for the first time a few years ago listening to Tom Asacker speak about building a brand. For me, it was one of these “aha” moments that helped put into focus the power of emotions when it comes to our behavior.  I heard another memorable quote along those lines not long ago: “You may not remember what someone says or does, but you’ll never forget about how they made you feel.”

  • Mac Anderson, Founder and CEO of McCord Travel, the largest travel company in the Midwest. Part owner/VP of sales and marketing for Orval Kent Food Company, the country’s largest manufacturer of prepared salads.  Founder of Simple Truths and Successories, Inc., the leader in designing and marketing products for motivation and recognition.

“In my 35-year corporate journey and my 60-year life journey, I have consistently found that the thorniest problems I face each day are soft stuff — problems of intention, understanding, communication, and interpersonal effectiveness — not hard stuff such as return on investment and other quantitative challenges. Inevitably, I have found myself needing to step back from the problem, listen more carefully, and frame the conflict more thoughtfully, while still finding a way to advance the corporate agenda empathetically.  Most of the time, interestingly, this has led to a more promising path forward and a better relationship, which in turn has made the next conflict easier to deal with.”

  • Douglas R. Conant, coauthor of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments, in his introduction to an excerpt from The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems, by Stephen R. Covey.

In your journey to becoming an excellent leader, take the time to master the soft stuff.  Proficiency in those skills will yield meaningful results.

[Image © LuxMaxArt;
used with permission: CC BY-SA 2.0]

It’s All About Leadership

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

EVERY initiative, project, undertaking or achievement initially starts as a CONCEPT.  Anything of significance requires a TEAM to move from concept to reality.  To get a team to work together effectively requires mastery of the art of LEADERSHIP.

There are many different leadership styles.  There is a time and place for each leadership style, however in the long term, some styles are more effective than others.

John D. Halamka, MD emphasized 5 leadership characteristics in a blog post (which I have edited below).

  1. Informal authority – Build trust and mutual respect (vs. ruling by fiat).
  2. Loyalty – All for one and one for all
  3. Air cover – Be on the front line of the fight, not criticizing the troops from a distant hill.
  4. Good guys can finish first. (Work with integrity, honesty.   Don’t hurt your fellow humans to get ahead.)
  5. Ineffective emotion usually doesn’t work. (It diminishes you. Loudest is not right-est.)

It is also useful to think about MANAGEMENT and LEADERSHIP as being different constructs. Although we need to be proficient at both, the following definitions may help to distinguish between the two:

  • MANAGEMENT: Control mechanisms to compare system behavior with the plan and take action when a deviation is detected.
    LEADERSHIP: Achieving grand visions. Motivation and inspiration to energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do, but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one’s life, and the ability to live up to one’s ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.”
    John P. Kotter, Professor of organizational behavior at the Harvard Business School
  • LEADERSHIP is the art of accomplishing more than the science of MANAGEMENT says is possible.”
    Colin Powell

Mark Leslie (former CEO of Veritas Software) says, “…effective entrepreneurial leadership is the ability to create a workplace culture that enables the employees in the company to excel…  It is not about command-and-control.  You attract the best and the brightest people and create an environment where they can use their intelligence and judgment to act autonomously… You have to get great people. You have to respect them, give them freedom.  You have to provide the mission and vision: Who are we and where are we going?  Most important, you have to share the rewards.”

Getting great people (and avoiding Bozo’s) is vitally important. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg‘s stated approach is to hire smart people, independent of available job openings, and then help them identify their top talents. He also aspires to full transparency and communication across business and product organizations: Every Friday afternoon Zuckerberg (along with COO Sheryl Sandberg) chats with employees during an hour-long Q&A session.

Barbara Corcoran has indicated that her ability to create an enjoyable workplace is a keystone of her leadership style. “I found the more fun I created in the company, the more creative and innovative it became.  You got innovation.  You got loyalty.  You got people who would recruit for you.”

Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter and Square) says, “Everything we do is about getting people to be more open, more creative, more courageous.”

Paul Levy has championed the idea of leader as coach, a steward of purpose who secures collaboration and commitment through a culture of trust, who protects team members from organizational rain.  He also suggests that transparency trumps tribalism and that the blame game should be jettisoned in the quest for betterment.

Max Depree exemplified servant leadership during his CEO tenure at Herman Miller, and Laurie Beth Jones taught us that when people learn that a leader really cares about their well-being, they will follow that leader anywhere.

It is truly unfortunate that so many “leaders” don’t “get” these basic leadership tenets (resulting in high employee attrition rates and / or sub-optimal performance).   Even worse, some try to serve up an insincere counterfeit by parroting leadership truisms.   Mark Leslie again says, “Values are not what you write in a handbook. Values are expressed every day in the way the company makes decisions…  Authenticity is at the heart of a company’s culture.  If it’s inauthentic, if you say one set of things, but don’t feel and believe those things, it won’t work.”

What about you?  What do you see as the hallmarks of a great leader?

– Tony Parham

Addendum:  See these 8 Core Beliefs of Extraordinary Leaders from Inc. Magazine.

(Image from lumaxart, Creative Commons License)

Steve Jobs Was a Failure!

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Steve Jobs

Much was written last month regarding Steve Jobs’ resignation as CEO of Apple Computer.  Various articles chronicled the numerous contributions which Jobs made in technology, business, film and (global!) culture.

However, my favorite profile was penned by the Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray, who was quite vocal about the many failures which Jobs also experienced.  What was most enlightening about Bray’s profile was the way it pointed out that many of Jobs’ failures served as the foundation and starting point for future successes.  (Indeed, Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement ceremony speech had similar themes.)

Everyone who aspires to leave their mark on the world (and hopefully that is everyone), can learn valuable lessons regarding the inseparably intertwined roles of both success and failure as we strive to achieve our goals.

In fact, Google’s Don Dodge and others suggest that failure is a prerequisite for business success:

  • Walt Disney’s first animation company went bankrupt, and he endured numerous subsequent failures
  • Rovio produced 51 other games before hitting it big with Angry Birds
  • Harmonix had 9 failed games before succeeding with Guitar Hero
  • WD40 had 39 formulations which didn’t work
  • Formula 409 had 408 formulations which didn’t work
  • James Dyson needed 5,127 prototypes and 15 years of failure to launch his vacuums (now a $1B+ business)

So stay true to your vision / goals.  Persevere through (and learn from) your failures until your “success” finally arrives.

…and as you are setting goals, keep in mind, that — per Built to Last (affiliate link), which should be required reading for leaders in every sector — you should be targeting BHAGs.  Here are some thoughts about how to set BHAGs (here, here and here)and how to achieve BHAGs.


Steve Jobs image: © Featureflash |

Have you put in your 10,000 hours?

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Last night, my wife and I (and some friends) attended a live performance by Sinbad, the comedian.  It was the first time I had done that.

Yes, I went to a handful of comedy clubs years ago, and was usually entertained by the “hit or miss” collection of  comedic “hopefuls” who performed in those venues.   However, I have never seen a live performance by a comedian of Sinbad’s caliber.

As the audience waited for his appearance, there was no warm-up act.  Indeed, the starkly bare stage contained only a stool and a microphone stand.

However, once he came on stage, he spent 2.5 hours (with no break!) hilariously engaging a rapt audience with (seemingly) unscripted, ad-libbed observations; continually improvising off of questions he threw out to the audience.  I found it remarkable.

The list of top 10 fears for an average American includes “fear of public speaking” (glossophobia).  So, the average American would be deathly afraid of standing on such a stage.  Even a seasoned professional might cringe at the thought of facing several thousand unknown people with no podium, no script, no PowerPoint slides, no band, no backup, no props, no stage hands, no supporting actors, no Teleprompter, no orchestra, no press secretary, no staff.  However, Sinbad was clearly in his element, and owned the moment.

Afterward, I asked a friend if he thought that Sinbad spent any time preparing for each performance, or whether he just walked on stage and started rolling.  The ensuing conversation led us to remember observations from the book,  Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.   Outliers examines the stories told about extremely successful people.  Such stories typically focus on intelligence and ambition as the key success factors for these well known people.  However, in Outliers, the author probes the other (often unknown) contextual factors which contributed to the success of those individuals.

Gladwell points out that, even in a forest, “the tallest oak…is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured.”

Similarly, for successful people, there were situational contexts which  contributed to their successes:

  • In 1960, while the Beatles were still just a struggling high school rock band in Liverpool, they happened to be invited to play at some low-paying, low-life clubs in Hamburg, Germany.  In a typical club, they had to play for 5-8 hours a night, 7 days a week.  The sheer amount of performance time increased their skill and their confidence.  Indeed, in 1.5 years they performed 270 nights!  “By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964… they had performed live an estimated 1200 times; [whereas] most bands today don’t perform 1200 times in their entire careers.  The Hamburg crucible is one of the things that set the Beatles apart” and helped them hone their craft to a remarkable level.  The Beatles put in their time and were prepared to succeed, if an opportunity presented itself.  By the time they  launched in the United States, they had  spent over 10,000 hours honing their craft.  [Indeed, the legendary album “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was not released until 10 years after the Beatles were founded.]
  • In 1968, “as a precocious and easily bored eighth grader,” Bill Gates parents “sent him to Lakeside, a private school that catered to Seattle’s elite families.  Midway through Gates’ second year at Lakeside, the school started a computer club.” This was an amazing thing, because, in the 1960’s, most colleges did not even have computer clubs; let alone a high school! Even more amazing was the fact that Gates was given free (!), unlimited (!)  access to a time-sharing terminal with a direct link to a mainframe computer in downtown Seattle.  This was a remarkably-advanced setup for an era in which, even if you had access to a computer, you typically programmed by utilizing laborious computer punch cards! And time-share access was typically very expensive.  During the next five years, Gates lived in the computer club room, and did other computer-oriented commercial and academic activities.  “By the time Gates dropped out of Harvard after his sophomore year to try his hand at his own software company, he’d been programming practically nonstop for seven consecutive years,” logging, in the process, more than 10,000 hours honing his craft (before most of the world even knew that such a craft existed).
  • Other successful individuals mentioned by Gladwell include Bill Joy, Warren Buffett, Carlos Slim, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Cleopatra, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, etc.  Gladwell also explores: Why certain demographic groups became dominant in merger and acquisition law;  Cultural legacies which increased the incidence of jet plane crashes among certain airplane pilots; The lessons learned in rice paddies which increased one culture’s performance in math; Etc.

But the question I want to put to you is, Have you put in your 10,000 hours, yet?

You may have looked at folks like Sinbad, Gates, The Beatles, Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger, or whoever your heroes are, and envied them for their brilliance.  Yes, it is undeniable that they have fabulous levels of ability.  But what they also had was a series of experiences (and setbacks!) which allowed them to put in 10,000 hours (and more!) to hone their craft to a point where they were head-and-shoulders-above others in their field.  Even then, “success” did not appear until a variety of “happenstantial” circumstances created an opportunity for them to strut their stuff.

So get out there.  Do your thing.  Learn from your successes and failures.  Learn from the successes and failures of others.  Put in your 10,000 hours.   And become a successful Outlier in your field.

Additional contact info:
Webwww.TKGweb.comTwitter: @tonyparham

Learning from Corporate Flops

Monday, October 26th, 2009

In an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal, an associate professor at Columbia Business School described some of her research in regards to how corporations struggle with new ventures.

Interestingly, she indicated that many of the new ventures which she studied “were all, by and large, beautifully planned.  And yet, the way they were planned caused the decision makers to make erroneous choices” which resulted in their demise.

Some lessons:

  • Don’t treat untested assumptions as facts.
  • Create an assumption checklist which captures: the source of the data for the assumption, why you thought the assumption was sensible and the date when you last checked the assumption.
  • Tie testing of the assumptions to the unfolding of the business.  At each checkpoint, stop and evaluate assumptions.
  • Test assumptions early and cheaply (before you make significant investments, such as in a plant and/or equipment).

In addition to the above points mentioned in her article, it is also wise to:

  • Identify in advance the critical metrics and milestones which would indicate success or failure for your endeavor.
  • Track your metrics on an ongoing basis.
  • Identify in advance actions which will be taken if the venture is not favorably performing in regards to its metrics.
  • Identify worst-case scenarios, and make realistic plans which will be executed to minimize negative ramifications if a worst-case scenario occurs.  (Note: It is a mistake to assume that the worst-case scenario will never occur.)
  • Take action, fail fast.  Don’t procrastinate when the situation calls for change .

Since no one can completely predict the future, your goal is to minimize the cost of your venture-learning as you adapt to the real-life scenarios which unfold before you.

The complete WSJ article can be found here.

Additional contact info:
Webwww.TKGweb.comTwitter: @tonyparham

Fail Like You Mean It !

Monday, August 31st, 2009

All great effort involves striving — and sometimes falling short.

A few luminaries share their thoughts on this topic:

  • Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway PT and many other innovations) discusses how creative people fail frequently, rarely work linearly and never give up:
  • A Honda Motors video shares some of their insights regarding success (and failure) re: their racing cars:
  • A video profiles famous failures:
  • A book author reminds us that even successful celebrities had to endure some rain before they saw their rainbows:
  • Thomas Alva Edison famously said, “I haven’t failed, I’ve found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” and “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
    – Edison is considered the most famous American inventor, and has, singly or jointly, held a world record 1,093 patents.  In addition, he created the world’s first industrial research laboratory.
  • “You can’t let your failures define you. You must let your failures teach you. … The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, tried harder, who loved their country … too much to do anything less than their best. … So, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems will you solve? What will others say about you years from now?”
    – Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s address to America’s students
  • “You’ve lost your job but you have not lost your skills, talents, or expertise. Skills, talents, and expertise are transferable. … Knowledge is portable. … What you do does not define who you are. You have to separate your net worth from your self-worth. Your net worth is going to fluctuate… but your self-worth should only appreciate.”
    – Chris Gardner, former homeless person, now a millionaire, profiled in the book/movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and this Black Enterprise article.
  • “One of the things that I think is most valuable about sports is that you can play a great game and still not win.”
    – President Barack Obama, comments after losing bid to host the summer Olympics for 2016 in Chicago.  Not since 1976 had a US candidate been eliminated so early in the voting process.  — October 2009
  • “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again (because there is no effort without error or shortcoming), but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
    Excerpt from the “Citizenship in a Republic” speech which Theodore Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris, April 23, 1910.
  • “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson