Sunday, January 24, 2010

Message to Any Leader Anywhere: Neglect Retail Leadership at Your Peril

No bond, no trust
No trust, no credit
No credit, no progress
---Andrew Romano, (January 22, 2010). The Trouble with Barack. Newsweek.

Scott Brown brought retail leadership to Massachusetts. Despite her solid track record and capabilities, it appears that Martha Coakley did not. Legions of political scientists, pollsters and pundits know this well. So do employees everywhere who wish their managers would really connect with them at the visceral level.

A few years ago, I interacted with about 400 employees engaged in a merger. My role was to help the transition, build cultural bridges, get them talking with each other to kick start relationships. At every session, the voice and presence of a president past arose to haunt us. “Dave” was most beloved by all in one of the organizations. His kind of leadership was what they valued.

“What was it about Dave that you really liked?” I asked. The answer was always the same: “He cared”.

I continued probing: “What did that look like?”

“Well”, they replied, “every morning, he walked through the office and said hello, asked us about our families and work.”

“Tell me more”, I said. I wanted to better understand how Dave ticked. Almost in unison, they recited that he was not always in meetings, as was the case now with the new leaders. Furthermore, he listened to them and took action.

I don’t think it mattered that Dave could not act on every issue, every “whim” of employees. They knew that Dave had to consider many factors. But, they gave him a fair amount of slack on “substance” because he connected with them emotionally.

Ironically, if Dave had just connected and not taken action, he would not have been revered and missed. There are limits to “retail” leadership.

The expectations are high for Scott Brown, a newly minted Republican senator. So are they for Barack Obama to take lessons from Mr. Brown. Both, however, are in the same boat. People want to see and feel progress at the every day life level. In the end, substance does matter.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Allure of Twitter: At Least Three Reasons

Twitter has me wrapped around its little finger. I avoided venturing into its realm for at least a year and a half after one of my tech gurus urged me to do so. Twitter’s apparent silliness stopped me dead in my tracks. Who on earth would want to know what I am doing right now? So the conventional wisdom went in my circle of colleagues. No peer pressure there.

The hardest part of any new “thing” (writing the first few words of a report, trying a different technology, beginning a project…) is getting started. By chance while at a conference perusing the books for sale I discovered Twitter Power by Joel Comm. Just for me, I mused because I did not have a clue how to crack into the Twitter world. Once I delved into Twitter Power I knew “tweeting” was for me.

Tweeting is like an information stock exchange: The more I participate, the richer my own learning. It’s chaotic, for sure. But, I get to pick what I want when I want.

Tweeting is perfect for avid readers: I get to share ideas from my broad array of reading resources as they inspire me. On the run so to speak. I don’t have to write a report on the ideas or a coherent blog. Eventually I will but for anyone who is interested, there they are in raw form.

Tweeting is an easy way to be part of various communities: To belong and share is a primal human driver. We know ourselves through others. The Twitter community opens up the world literally much faster than any other means I have used to date.

Twitter is a cornucopia of swirling ideas and in the field experiences. As an academic at large, who values real data from the trenches, it couldn’t get better.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Welcome to Airport Prison: Who'd have Ever Thunk?

The impact of 9-11 continues to reverberate as in the wise saying by Deng Ming-Dao centuries ago: “A deviation of a hair’s breadth at the center leads to an error of a hundred miles at the rim”. Now we are down to debating the definition of a “small purse” to get through airport security and customs and being stripped of our belongings as carry-ons.

Four hours before my daughter’s flight out of Pearson International Airport before the New Year, we were trying to figure out the new rules of air travel. What is a small purse? Could she take her guitar (it was a musical instrument)? Was her back-pack within the guidelines as it contained her computer and music system peripherals? What about books or magazines to read during the flight? No simple answers were available from the airport website. We were left in a web of confusion.

Decisions made: her Prada-like purse (about 30 by 15 cm.) was probably in line with the criteria but we decided to bring a variety of purses just in case. Sure, computers and musical instruments were allowed. We therefore reasoned that she would check her guitar and have as carry-ons her purse and back-pack. But, as a back-up, we brought along another smaller suitcase on rollers to be checked in with whatever if need be. We also made sure we had some of those grocery store recyclable bags for stuff we might have to turf from her main luggage. Doesn’t this sound exhausting?

At the airport, we found relative calm and enormous frustration. Our betting average was 50:50. The airport personnel were enormously helpful and flexible. But our stress level reached an all time high as we scrambled to fit the vague criteria for getting through security and customs.

Can’t you picture the terrorists in celebratory overdrive dancing around in glee as we ratchet up our heart-rates permanently in this post-9-11 world? Health planners take note: add terrorism and our leaders woeful inability to plan strategically to the list of heart disease factors. Until our political leaders move beyond their “knee-jerk” reactions under the heading “one size fits all until it’s proven you are not a terrorist”, we cannot relax except in the comfort of our homes. Not good for business or personal development and well-being! A more inward world view will not help us evolve and prosper, according to evolutionary biologists and economists.

So, what did we have to do? The Prada-like purse was the only item my daughter could carry on the plane. If she had had her computer and peripherals in a regular computer bag (like a business person typically does), that would have been allowed too. And books? Well, we managed to stuff one into her purse. And, the extra piece of luggage came in handy for my daughter’s back-pack items as another check-in piece for which we were not charged. Very sympathetic airline personnel.

However, that wasn’t the end—stopped at the entry to security because daughter did not have a tag on her purse labeled “carry-on”. Back to the check-in counter for a tag!

Who’d have thunk we’d ever be in “airport prison”? I had images of what it must be like for first-time prisoners as they enter prison on day one. A slow reduction of freedom as one personal belonging after another is taken away and one size fits all clothing is issued. The world is getting smaller and more difficult to navigate. The principle of freedom, proudly the foundation of democracy, is in need of a heart transplant.

Where do we go from here? Short of a revolution akin to the French one in the 1800s or that which is occurring in Iran today, we need political leaders who embrace uncertainty proactively by planning with the long-view in mind and enacting policies as a result which target the right people, not all people. A strategically smart approach like collaborative scenario-planning and the sharing and adapting of relevant best practices would begin to rebuild our trust, confidence and freedom.

Ironically, the 9-11 issues remain: silos and partisan politics still rule the day. They are the biggest barriers to our freedom and prosperity.

On an encouraging note, history has proven that progressive change is often driven locally and at the edges. Millions of people tirelessly working everywhere do collectively change the world. It’s another way to view the “deviation of a hair’s breadth”.