Archive for 2011

Becoming a Courageous Leader

Friday, December 16th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

Courage is one of the primary characteristics we need to possess to be an effective leader.  It is an attitude that helps us deal with anything we recognize as difficult or possibly dangerous without withdrawing from it. Possessing this skill is especially important during times of uncertainty or adversity when fear of the unknown can hold us back or immobilize us. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in spite of it.

As I reflect on this statement and think about business leaders in the 21st century, Steve Jobs comes to mind. Jobs exemplified courageous leadership. He was a visionary; he was passionate about his dream and he pursued it every day. He overcame great personal and professional adversity during his career, but never lost sight of his goal to make the world’s best PC. Jobs dreamed big, took lots of risks, inspired others to follow him, overcame obstacles, and delivered a new way to work and play to millions of people around the world. He demonstrated courageous leadership!

Following are some lessons taken from Jobs’ example that can assist you in honing this skill:
1.  Dare to dream big dreams. Believe in your ideas. Embrace your values and vision and let them be your guide.
2.  Persevere, never give up!
3.  Define who you want to be as a leader and commit yourself to doing the things necessary to achieve that reality.
4.  Develop skills that enable you to act quickly and deliberately.
5. Develop a plan, but remember, a good plan is not enough; it requires action. Execution produces sustainable results.
6.  Take calculated risks. Accept failures or setbacks as learning opportunities. Mistakes are our greatest teacher.
7.  Keep pursuing your dream.
8.  Deliver results.

Stephen Covey said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Courage isn’t a characteristic that you are born with. It is one that has to be developed or created through experience. As you develop as a leader, mastering this trait will help you define your way.


In 100 Words: Crisis Mode

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

Crises can be great sources of motivation.  They demand focus, prioritization, and energy, and perhaps nothing is more effective in quickly creating alignment around a common purpose.

Thus, some leaders deliberately create crises in their organizations.  This can be productive, but beware: you can only do it so often.  The intensity of a crisis demands a lot of energy.  People have physical, mental, and psychological limitations.  Too many crises can run the risk of burning out employees and quickly diminishing the benefits of this tactic.  People eventually get numb to danger.

Crisis mode can be powerful, but choose your spots.

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

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Great By Choice and Strategy Execution

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

I recently read Great By Choice, the latest book by Jim Collins.  I have enjoyed all of Collins’s previous work, and this one did not disappoint.  As usual, Collins began with a question: “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”  His thorough research uncovered a short list of simple, but powerful principles that are easy to remember thanks to Collins’s typically vivid labels.  A few examples:

  • 10Xer: an enterprise that, despite particularly turbulent conditions, sustains truly spectacular results relative to the general stock market and its industry (beats them by at least 10 times).
  • 20 Mile March: a clearly-defined performance standard that includes a lower bound (the ambition to achieve) and an upper bound (the self-control to hold back even when it seems easy to exceed the goal).  Conventional wisdom says to accomplish as much as possible when the going is easy, but Collins shares convincing evidence that doing so expends resources that will be sorely needed when the going gets rough.
  • Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs: Favoring empiricism as the foundation for decisive action, 10Xers first fire bullets (low cost, low risk, low distraction) to figure out what will work.  Once the bullets consistently find the target, they fire a cannonball (the full resources of the organization).
  • Return on Luck: the measure of an organization’s ability to glean value from any circumstance.  Do you measure Return on Luck? 

Collins’s research also busts a few commonly-held myths about what makes a great company: Boldness, risk taking, and ability to predict the future are not distinguishing factors of the greatest companies.

  • 10X companies are not more innovative than their counterparts.  (Sometimes, they are less innovative.)
  • Speed is not the key to navigating threats.
  • Change is not always good (in fact, it should be rare).
  • Good luck does not explain 10X success.

Overall, what struck me most in Great By Choice was the relentless focus on strategic process and execution.  The 10Xers didn’t know what was coming, but regardless, they took full responsibility for their own fate.  (They “reject the idea that forces outside their control will determine their results,” Collins writes.)  So what did they do?  They started with values, purpose, long-term goals, and high performance standards, then applied a “fanatic discipline” to adhere to them.  It was their effective action (i.e., strategy execution) that separated them from the pack.

As we enter a new year, you and your organization have an opportunity to choose to be great.  Do you have a disciplined strategy execution process in place to help you get there?


Happy 90th Birthday, Dorothy Zehnder!

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 by Troy Schrock

How would you feel if you knew today that you would still be working at 90?  If Dorothy Zehnder is your model, it should excite you.

In 1950, Dorothy and her husband (along with her husband’s family) bought a small hotel in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  Sixty-one years later, their Bavarian Inn is the cornerstone of Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” one of Michigan’s most popular family attractions.

Dorothy turns 90 today.  She still runs the kitchen, still uses many of her original recipes, and still works six days per week.  Her motto is: “if you don’t feel well, go to work and pretty soon you’ll feel better.”

Speaking with Paul W. Smith on Detroit’s WJR-AM this morning, Dorothy described her ten-hour days as “fun.”  She had a similar theme when we interviewed her for upcoming edition of The CEO Advantage Journal.  “I like to cook,” she told us.  “It’s satisfying to make a good product and get it on the market.  I like the fact that people enjoy my recipes.  Retirement never crossed my mind.  I love what I’m doing.  I would rather [stay] right here visiting with people and making recipes that thousands ask for.”

She’s right.  Productive work is fun!  Take a moment today to step back from the daily grind of your operations.  Look away from your financial numbers.  Lay aside your worries about future customer orders.  Just think about the purpose of your business.  Who do you serve?  How do you improve the life of your customers?  What is your role in that?  What do you enjoy most about it?

Isn’t business fun?  Why would you not want to work at 90?!

Thanks for your example, Dorothy.  Happy 90th birthday and best wishes for continued success.


Are You Operating Your Company on Autopilot?

Monday, November 28th, 2011 by Ellen Bryson

Do you ever wonder what your company would look like if you had to start over from scratch? As year-end approaches, this is a healthy question for you and your team to consider. The world is in a constant state of flux. The U.S. economy has slowed, global markets are in chaos, financial requirements are more stringent and debt is harder to secure; employees are seeking more work/life balance and costs are rising. All of these things have an impact on your business. If, you are not continually evaluating the landscape and reengineering your business to meet the needs of your customers, you run the risk of losing market share to your competitors.

As part of your annual planning process, consider devoting time to research your customer’s needs and perceptions about your products and services. Evaluate your market position. Is it appropriate? What actions are your competitors taking to strengthen their value proposition with your customers? Are you providing the products and services your customers desire? Do you have the right people with the right skill sets on board? Is your organizational structure aligned with your business strategy/financial plan?

Uncovering answers to these questions requires time and effort and should be supported by data and fact, not gut feeling or people’s perceptions. Assign specific research to each team member. Expect that time will be spent prior to the planning session to gather data, summarize and evaluate results. Expect recommendations for consideration based on the findings. Only after this information is known and understood are you in a position to utilize it in the development of your strategy.

In addition to providing a solid foundation for strategy development, this exercise provides an opportunity for employee development by strengthening the leadership skills of those involved in the activity. It provides an opportunity for employees to challenge the status quo and enables teams to bring an innovative and fresh approach to the business which should substantially enhance the company’s position in the market.

Disengage your autopilot today. Challenge your leadership team to become active participants in the process and watch your company soar through 2012!


Business Strategy: Choosing the Right Metrics

Monday, November 21st, 2011 by Troy Schrock

Strategic plans should always be linked to metrics.  Which metrics are best for your organization?  Those that are consistent with your specific strategy.  An organization whose business model depends on being the low-cost provider, for example, should track metrics that directly help them do that (e.g., on-time delivery, transaction costs).  An organization that focuses on providing highly customized solutions for customers might track metrics like share of customer or customer satisfaction.  Each of these metric examples might be applicable to either type of strategy, but each organization must select a few that are the most meaningful.  The strategy determines that.

Perhaps you have heard of the Balanced Scorecard approach.  The general idea behind the Balanced Scorecard is that an organization needs to view data from across four key domains: customers,
employees, operations, and financials.  Following is a short list of some key metrics in each of these domains:

  • Customer – delivery against the value proposition, responsiveness, delivery, market, and product profitability
  • Employees – employee engagement, teamwork, health of the culture, knowledge, and career development
  • Operations – performance of the key operations, efficiency, and productivity
  • Financial – historical financial performance, ratios, risk, forecasting, and value management

Most organization’s metrics are heavily oriented toward measures from the operational and financial domains and, accordingly, light on the customer and employee domains.  Perhaps your business is guilty of this.  Regardless, the specific metrics you choose should align with your strategy.  In fact, someone ought to be able to discern your strategy just by looking at your metrics.