Leadership

A quick word on how to Know Yourself

Ethan Hawke breaks down something pretty cool in this short Ted Talk and in the interest of time I’ll pull out the quote that stunned me.

“We’re here to help each other, but first we have to survive, and then we have to thrive.

To thrive, to express ourselves, we have to know ourselves. What do you love?

If you get close to what you love who you are is revealed to yourself and it expands.”

And there it is.

I don’t see enough people embracing what they love. Maybe they don’t know what they love because they’re afraid to get close to it because it may not be cool.

Maybe they avoided it earlier in life because it didn’t fit into who they thought they were or the mold they were trying to fill.

The happiest people we’ve ever met, whether wildly successful or not, knew exactly what they loved and let that love reveal themselves to themselves. It’s far easier to say no and to say yes when you know who you are and you’re sure of it.

What do you love? How did it reveal yourself to you?

The Test of a Leader

Retired USMC LtGen George Flynn

Retired USMC LtGen George Flynn has a test for leaders and it’s insanely
simple.

“If they ask you how you’re doing they actually care about the
answer.”

How many people above you have asked how you were and not cared a whiff? How
many haven’t even asked how you were doing? In my experience, it’s most. And I
think that’s why we’re so passionate about the leaders we’ve had in our lives
that have truly cared about the answer to that question. 

 

In another quote, LtGen Flynn says “The cost of leadership is
self-interest.” I don’t think you cease to have self-interest, but you check
it at the door when thinking about the well-being of your people.

Who was the last person you asked about their day? Did you care? 

Why do you do what you do?

When I work on a new spreadsheet build I’ll throw on a TED Talk or speech in the background. This week I reheard a classic by Simon Sinek – a primer for his book of the same name: “Start with Why.”

This may be the twelfth time I’ve heard it and I enjoy it as much as I did the first time nearly a decade ago. If you’ve been reading me for several years you’ll notice I’ve mentioned Sinek before in this blog; he’s a charismatic story teller and I like telling stories. I also tend to believe what he believes.

I think leaders eat last. I think a leader should take care of their team before anything else, especially the customer. I think trust is the most powerful force and we should be free with it to create more of it.

Not everyone believes those things and that’s ok. We only need to find the people that do believe what we believe and we can do amazing things. And I don’t mean “amazing” as in world-altering; I don’t need to pry up a mountain or convert all of Mongolia to veganism. I mean doing something remarkable that positively impacts people.

When you’re aiming for that – better, faster, stronger – in whatever you’re doing, and you hit it?! And it makes the lives of those you work with better? That’s it for me; that’s as good as it gets.

Right now we’re making our first hiring decisions and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m also spending a decent amount of mental RAM thinking about our mission.

What is our “Why” and how do we articulate that to effectively attract people that share that why?

Can I even create that before we’re a “we?” How many people do we need to have before we can decide on it?

How is our Why separate from my Why? What is my Why?

I’ve done this enough times to know that if you’re asking a lot of questions you’re doing well. The answers to those questions will form the bricks that pave the way to the future you’re trying to create. We’re going to need a vast number so the questions are going to need to keep coming quickly now.

What is my Why?

I like systems, elegant ones designed to last and to grow. I like beginning with the end in mind. I like having a great time with the people I work with. I notice those times come most frequently when we’re not battling monsters. I notice monsters are scarce when things work as or better than expected. To get there we have to solve or prevent problems. I like solving and preventing problems.

That doesn’t feel like a “Why” though, does it? It’s certainly not clean enough but it’ll have to do for a start.

Push Decision Making Down

Captain David Marquet of the USS Santa Fe turned his ship from worst to first by pushing decision making – and with it, commitment, innovation, passion – down the org chart.

As I’ve written about before, the default position of most in charge is “no.” There’s precious little upside to saying yes, especially if you’re not completely versed in the scenario or stakes. And who has time to get versed in the scenario? So, the response is silence; static at the other end of the line. “No” wins the game by default.

In this video, Captain Marquet discusses how he went from a “permission-based” system to an “intentions-based” one and the results that came with it.

The captain decided to reverse the polarity of the decision-making. In a conventional organization, the top gathers data from the people closest to the product/service, mull it over, and then dictates back what is to happen next. They are always reactive, and usually reacting later than needed to be of much use. Most of the time management didn’t know a problem existed until it had already been solved by the front lines, or at least a patch had been created that allowed the mission to continue.

I watched my former mentor, Nathan Collier, wrestle with this first hand. He lamented early in my career that as we continued to grow as an organization we’d face new challenges in communication and decision making. How could we react swiftly and competently if we decision-makers in the organization couldn’t or wouldn’t make timely decisions? The first time I heard this was in 2004 and it became a theme that ran for years and haunted most conversations with general managers and up. Few had good answers.

In one moment of quiet introspection with 35 or more stuffed into a conference room someone slammed the table and shouted “Get ‘er done!” The room was silent for all of twenty seconds before this interruption and that was enough to kill the mood. They didn’t get it – this wasn’t something to be muscled through.

What got you here won’t get you there.

Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

Nathan liked that quote and I understood why he’d employ it week after week. The acumen and systems that built the backbone of a local company were all but useless for managing a decentralized company that would span cities and states. He found Captain Marquet’s book inspirational and the era of “I intend to” (or “IIT”) was launched around 2008.

Now, all a GM needed was to send an email to their Regional Manager with IIT in the subject line and their proposed course of action. They’d flesh out their reasoning in the body, but that was it. If not responded to 48 hours later they were free to proceed.

And then it ended as quickly as it began.

There were 4-5 Regional Managers inundated with “IIT” emails from 25-30 GMs declaring their intent to do everything from approve capital repairs to changing marketing campaigns. Regionals had 48 hours to respond with a reason not to do whatever that thing was or the GM was free to carry it out. Regionals couldn’t keep up as a backlog of delayed projects suddenly sprang back to life. Someone had to pull the plug and a massive financial crisis was the hard yank needed.

I think the problem was due to two issues:

  1. There was such a backlog of things that were ignored/delayed that it was too much all at once. Especially for too few people to vet in any meaningful way. People that were still responsible for the outcomes of these decisions.
  2. The GMs were young. The vast majority of us were under 30 and experience was in short supply. One of the perks about the early days of working for the Collier Companies was that one could gain a ton of experience very early in one’s career. It wasn’t uncommon for PT leasing agents to become a GM within 12 months if they were bright and motivated. What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. That lack of experience fell on the Regional Managers who were very experienced, most having worked in the industry for at least ten years at that point. Put simply, the system was unbalanced.

I write all this now as our new venture has me pondering the right approach to leadership, culture, and how we want to build our new enterprise for success. What got me here won’t get me there. I can’t be the guy in the room solving problems. I can’t take every phone call, create the daily agenda, or decide what’s best for every moving piece of what I’m sure will become a sprawling empire in the coming years.

As we hire our first GM, how do we build a culture that will keep decision-making close to those affected by the decisions? What areas do we focus on controlling and what do we encourage the site staff to innovate and create? 

I have some ideas and I’m realizing that not knowing is pretty exciting. I’m ready to be surprised by what we find and what we decide to do as an organization going forward.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” or Coach Taylor meets Sun Tzu

Everyone loves a good motivational speech and there are few better than the ones from our favorite movies. The one where Rocky says that’s how winning is done. The one where Al Pacino talks about the game being one of inches and the inches are all around us. The one in Independence Day where President Bill Pullman says they won’t go quietly into that good night. Stellar stuff, all.

As much as I love them, I can’t use them every day. What I can use is a mantra, and not from a movie but a TV show – the long canceled Friday Night Lights. It’s simple and startlingly prescient. I can’t stop seeing it everywhere.

“Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose”

I think of this when we get something wrong because we allowed ourselves to become easily swayed by the information we didn’t bother to interrogate. I find myself muttering it when someone makes a stunning reversal and course corrects after allowing the truth of the situation to come to them.

All that, and honestly, I’m a sucker for six words. There’s music to that number, arriving in two-word pairs. Hemmingway once won a contest by penning a compelling story with only six words: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.” My first Mission Statement at CVI was only six words: “Be professional, Solve problems, Create value.” Distilling something meaningful into six words is an art and I’m its favorite patron.

Clear Eyes

The ability to see. The ability to identify what is happening all around you and not deluding yourself about the conditions on the ground, in the air, or in your own heart. You can see it all and you need that ability if you’re going to do anything meaningful.

Any idiot can make decrees or decisions while not knowing what’s happening; that’s most of life. What an effective agent of change needs is the ability to discern what the hell is happening; both inside and outside themselves.

Sun Tzu says any winning General must master the Five Factors:

  • The Purpose
  • The Weather
  • The Terrain
  • The Leadership
  • The System

You can’t master anything if you can’t see it. And not just with your eyes. You need to see it with every part of your understanding. You especially need to see that which you’re inclined or incentivized not to see. Clear Eyes is of supreme importance and so it comes first. As mantras go, this one is fire.

  • The Purpose is the cause, the morality; what are we fighting for? Is this who we are? Do we know?
  • The Weather is the conditions. If not the rain or wind then the market forces at work.
  • The Terrain is the ground, the topography. If not a battlefield then the shelf or the venue the sales battle will be fought.
  • The Leadership is not only those in charge but those whose influence exceeds their titles. How capable are your leaders to produce and adapt on the fly?
  • The System is my favorite. It’s the thing that accounts and adapts (or should) for all the strengths and weaknesses of the others on this list. It’s what we have the most control over if we’d only recognize it and give it its due.

The General who masters the Five Factors will win every engagement, even if they don’t. Clear Eyes reminds us that we should never lie to ourselves. Self-awareness is one of our most powerful weapons if we’ll develop it properly.

How many times have you seen a person, organization, or company, fail because they couldn’t see clearly; because they refused to see clearly? Too many.

Full Hearts

Are you in to it? Do you believe in what you’re saying? Do you believe and trust in what you’re doing? Does what you do each day, right now, resonate with your core beliefs?

Can you stay focused and dedicated when things get tough and your path gets blocked? Can you fight through self-doubt, stumbles, and the hellish unknown? Can you manage to lose a battle without losing yourself?

Can’t Lose

There are two types of losses; the one on the scoreboard and the one in your mind. You can’t fully control the first kind of loss. You can plan, scrap, and brawl with all your might and you may still lose when the points are tallied. The second kind though? That’s all you.

Keep your vision clear. Don’t lie to yourself, ever, about anything.
Walk your talk. Believe in what you’re doing and be prepared for the way to get rough. Don’t lose yourself.

Do those two things and you’ll never lose.

“I Intend To”

Bureaucracy is a bitch.

What few people realize is that as an upper level exec, in a lot of too many organizations, there’s virtually no natural incentive to approve… well, anything. If you don’t approve requests or initiatives, what can go wrong? You don’t get some (rare) praise for accomplishing something – big deal. But if you approve something and it goes wrong??

As a young Community Manager, if I had a broken hot tub that needed a $1.6k repair and it was over my $500 spending limit, I’d need express written approval.  No biggie, right? I’ll just email my boss and get an answer.

After multiple follow ups, weeks later, there’s no answer beyond the yawning chasm of silence. Why wouldn’t they just tell me ‘no’ if that’s what they wanted? Because not answering the question meant they were the safest they could be.

See, there’s risk in saying yes to things. What if someone comes along later and says you screwed up by approving that thing which could have been done cheaper, better, differently, etc…? What if I get yelled at? What if… something something bad feeling?

I wasn’t alone. A LOT of my cohorts’ bosses did the same thing. Ignore, brush off, delay, deflect, slow roll, forget – anything to not have to take a stand on something that should be easy because the fear was always at their neck that they’d get ripped for it. They wanted express permission from the owner before they’d be ok saying yes. What point was there for their existence then? We could just get the permission from the owner if that’s all it was.

When the issue finally reached crisis level, the owner had the foresight to implement the system that Simon mentions at the 33 minute mark in this video: “I Intend To.”

The way it worked was, if we needed to do something and couldn’t get an answer, we’d fire off an email with “IIT:” in the subject line. If we weren’t told NO within 48 hours, we were free to do it. It changed the onus from getting approval to bosses having to say NO if they felt something shouldn’t be done.

As you can imagine, things improved immediately. Bosses who didn’t have good reasons to say no, besides their personal fear, could tacitly approve something without lifting a finger. Oh happy day!

And don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean to say there shouldn’t be checks and balances and proper vetting of capital requests. By all means, I’d include how many bids I’d received, what the nature of the issue was, what the repair proposed was, why that was a rational way to proceed and what the timeline would be. I’d proactively try to answer every question I could get to make sure it was in line with our company’s values and goals.

Bottom line or TL;DR: There’s all kinds of benefit in empowering your people as opposed to teaching them to subsist on compliance. Your people aren’t the problem, your environment, your culture are the problem.

Eliminate bureaucracy, breed commitment by increasing your team’s involvement.

 

Show Up. Or, Why Omelets Don’t Matter.

Note: this is a classic post from July 2012, hope you enjoy.

We’re all presented with a thousand decisions in a day – even the ones we don’t make are technically decisions – and I observed a few today and I thought I would share as I feel they are:

1. Completely random – so a good example of our lives.

2. Indicative of a theme I’d like to touch on – but let’s not spoil the fun just yet.

First, we have a Bistro at work which serves between 4 and 12 thousand meals a week. No biggie there, we’re getting quite good at it. One of our front line people is the best – totally awesome. She makes remarkable omelets with the deft precision of a Samurai, that happens to hold a personal grudge against unborn chickens.

Mmmmmm Omelet

 

 

 

 

On this particular morning we’re hosting a large sports camp which features 120 kids and assorted coaches. Towards the end of breakfast this omelet samurai asks me if she can make one of her famous omelets for the Head Coach (it’s his camp) as she wasn’t sure if he paid or not. This concern was voiced directly in front of said Coach whose business we’re eager to retain – omelets are never extra with breakfast.

Second: I’m told that we reportedly rebuffed a new Resident who relayed that their AC was not in working order on Saturday. As it didn’t constitute an “extreme emergency” we told them to wait for Monday. For those not familiar with Florida in late July, allow me to put down rumors about the unending cold front we experience during this time of year. In fact, we have Emergency Maintenance defined as “No AC when the temp outside is over 85 degrees.” I believe it was 99 on this particular day, though it could have been 93.

Third: A Senior Associate informs me that a parent is on the phone and wishes to renew their kid’s lease under an old offer letter we sent out weeks ago. The current offer is a much better deal for the Resident/Parent and we always offer unsigned leases the current deal.

It's that easy

So, what do all these have in common? This question haunted my entire day.

 

 

At my old place of work, we had these portraits of all the employees on the wall and each had a quote that supposedly the person lived by. The majority said some fluff like “Seize the day” though one stood out to me for its simplicity and eloquence. It read simply “SHOW UP.”

I thought “Is this good?” and let it marinate. Then, after a half hour, I grilled it up with some delicious business acumen and served it with a glass of “OH YEAH.” The words were from a new friend named Dan O’Connor and I couldn’t help but roll around in their brilliance. SHOW UP! How deep did those words go?

The decisions I cited all shared a lack of “showing up” – not in the physical sense, but in the other, deeper sense. Of being mentally “there” where things really happen. I’ve come to appreciate that the big difference between getting it done and saying we gave it our best, is the belief that by simply standing our post, that we’ve managed to “show up.”

Not by a long shot.

It’s not stupidity or ignorance of lack of experience – these three individuals are all some of our best. Seriously, I tout their drive and desire constantly. This was a case of not being there mentally, in a moment, and that’s all there is.

Make the omelet! Paid or not, who cares!? I’ve never beaten or punished someone for giving away three eggs and some veggies! Take a chance! On the guy you KNOW is the “The GUY” we’re trying to impress. Don’t call him a cheapskate in front of his face!

What, exactly is “an extreme emergency” pray tell? As opposed to a regular emergency? Which we don’t care about? If Weather.com tells you it’s 83.5 degrees outside and they’re not happy, call it in!

They want to renew and you want to pick a fight? Over someone giving you their hard-earned money? TAKE IT! By any means! Make it EASY for them! Fall all over yourself to accommodate them and make them happy! That’s what we do!

I felt failure today. Failure in transmitting the message. I often state that “It’s the spirit of the law that matters, not the letter” though I recognize not everyone hears this message. That is my fault and it’s my charge to make sure it’s known, and known well. Not with bigger bull horns, but with a better plan – not more regulation, but with more discussion. Conversations build empires and right now? I have a fiefdom.

“The single biggest misconception about communication is the belief that it has occurred.”

Be A Super Ethical Leader in 3 Easy Steps

 

Immanuel Kant is a boss. Like, the boss of bosses.

As far as philosophers go, he’s like the RZA of this here ethics game. He’s the one that really summed it up nicely, and gave everyone the central cornerstone of modern ethics: The Categorical Imperative!

categorical

Put simply: Act so that the maxim of your actions should be made universal and necessary. 

Ok, put even simpler: In whatever you do, act in such a way that you’re advocating that all people, everywhere, should always act in the same way, in that same situation.

So, if you shoplift, you’re saying by your actions that it’s in the best interest of all people everywhere to do the same. If you disagree, and think all people shouldn’t shoplift, neither should you – so don’t do it. Duh.

If you hold the door for people walking 10 steps behind you and let them in first, you’re saying everyone else should do the same. Also a good idea.

Boom. Lawyered.

Or, philosophized? Whatever. 

literallykant

Kant’s other central points were:

  1. People are an ends in and of themselves, not a means to an end – so treat them that way. Don’t intentionally harm them.
  2. A good act is a good thing in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Even if you failed, a good act is its own reward.

Taken altogether, if practiced, you have the lion’s share of what it takes to be a good leader – or at least not a giant-garbage-person.

My take away?

  • Love people. At the very least, respect their humanity. Every one of them. Treat them decently, even if you don’t like them.
  • Do a good thing because it’s a good thing to do. That means being honest, keeping promises, give your best effort, learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, you did the right thing and that’s all it needs to be. Success received for doing the wrong thing isn’t any success at all.
  • Be a model for what you think is right – make sure you agree with what your actions say you believe in.

I wish I had another Kant pun to throw in here to close this thing out with, but I Kant think of one.

Waitaminute… I see what I did there.  I just Kant get enough of these puns.

Business Culture, Prime Directives, and killing John Connor

I got sent this email yesterday, which was one I’d sent some three years ago while at CVI-Orlando. At the time we were six months into a $2 million renovation, and working concertedly to establish a new culture.

When you’re trying to build culture, it’s important to be honest and authentically one’s self. People loathe artifice and inherently move away from it. This email happens to be “me” in written form, and I think it was evident of something that’s worked for me over the years. People know it’s not just some corporate policy I’m being forced to endorse while a concealed derringer burrows into the small of my back, but something I full-throatily support.

I offer it here at as an unedited look, an example, of how I believe in communicating with my teams. Also, I just really crack myself up and I can’t get enough of my choice of analogy here. How great is that hipster John Connor meme?

Big thanks to Larry for 1. Having kept this all these years, and 2. For thinking of me enough to send it to me now. It was a nice laugh during a really busy time and a great glimpse of some of the most fun I’ve had during my career.

Ourmission

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