Monday, July 28, 2008

Borrowers and Bankers: A Great Divide

I seriously doubt that there isn't anyone over the age of 13 in this country that isn't paying some level of attention to what is going on in our economy. And for those of us who are still paying not only our own bills, but still supporting our kids irrespective of age, to say that oil, housing, and the credit mess doesn't have our virtually undivided attention would probably be a serious understatement.

While this subject may well be consuming much of our waking hours, if you are like me, getting answers that seem to make sense is quite another story. It is for this reason that as a "public service" I would suggest that if you don't regularly read Gretchen Morgenson's column in the Sunday business section of the NY Times, I would take some time to check it out.

Her piece on July 20th called "Borrowers And Bankers: A Great Divide" I thought was pretty cool. The thrust of the column was directed at the notion of not just cleaning up messes such as the product of credit greed but rather preventing it in the first place.

I should confess that it wasn't just because I admire Morgenson's intellect and writing style, that this particular column had so much appeal. It was also because in it she devotes a fair amount of space to the "learnings" of John C. Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group. If you know anything about Bogle, he is one of the very few Wall St. types who actually seem to have ethics.
One of the key points that Bogle makes in this article is that the crisis that we currently face is driven as much or more by the problems we face as a society and an economy as it is simply by stock market forces. Specifically Bogle is, as he should be, concerned about the growing imbalances we have.

Bogle puts it this way:

While the Declaration of Independence assures us that 'all men are created equal', we'd best face the fact that we may be created equal but are born into a society where inequality of family, of education and, yes, even opportunity begins as soon as we are born."

"But the Constitution demands more," he adds. "we the people are enjoined to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, and to promote the general welfare and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. So it's up to each of us to summon our unique genius, our own power and our own personal magic to restore these values in today's imbalanced society."
Gretchen's comment:

"Not a bad idea, bringing a little 18th-century enlightenment to this moment of 21st-century gloom."
Think about it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Treo Triage

I have no idea what the percentage of Type A personality folks we have running around these days (pun intended) and when email came along clearly that was bad enough, but when they put it all on our hip and gave it names like Blackberry, Treo, and Smart Phones, stress meters had to change their scales and create a new one called 'For Heart Attack, Click Here.'

I don't know about you, but I have been trying for what seems like forever to figure out how to control the guilt I feel when I am not opening and responding to an email within a matter of minutes. Worse, I now find myself now trying to learn how to eat with my left hand so that I can respond while holding my Treo in my right hand while trying to thumb out a response while at the same time holding it up to serve as shield of sorts to ward off whatever it is that my wife is throwing at me at that particular moment.

Okay, maybe a bit overstated, but directionally, I'm closer to that description than (a) I would like to be and (b) than common sense says I ought to be.

It is for this reason that I was very pleased to get a note from my colleague Lauryn Franzoni, our Vice President and Executive Editor, pointing me toward a piece written by Stewart Friedman on the Harvard Business Publishing site called Master the Art of Interruptibility. Stew Friedman is the Wharton School professor who wrote the very popular book Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. A book by the way well worth reading if you can stay off your PDA long enough.

Anyway, if you haven't read Friedman's piece and you are in need of Treo therapy as I am, the suggestions he has to make a lot of sense.

So much so, that if you have any comments to make on this particular post, don't expect them to be published immediately as I am going to try and only go through my emails between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. so I may not get to it as soon as I normally would.

Don't laugh, it's a start!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Recognizing Richard Rabbit

I have to say that for someone of my age to be putting up a post with a title like this one and still use my real name takes a certain amount of something, I'm not sure what.

On the other hand, for someone with the reputation that Pete Weddle has won over the years to have written a book (booklet?) with this title and sign his real name to it - now that takes courage! But then again, courage is a good part of what this book is about in the first place.

The book jacket tells us that Richard is "A Fable about Being True to Yourself" and having known Pete for 20 years I can well understand that he would have written something like this for this is someone who could have (and for many years did) follow a career path that took him to well repected positions as a leader of a number of different ventures.

That said, however, the fact is that his true passion is writing and with his establishment of WEDDLEs (in 1996 I think) he chose to follow his passion to see where it would lead. You can read is bio for yourself to see how that turned out, but to say that he was once again very successful will hardly come as a surprise.

So, as I read through Pete's latest I was thinking to myself not only is anyone who reads this going to see a lot of themselves in it, but since I happen to know Pete, and what he's been up to over the past 10+ years it struck me as a bit autobiographical as well. I didn't ask him if it was, it just strikes me that way.

In fables, the "learnings" make sense and are not scary. In real life of course "learnings" (most especially about ourselves) are scary and even more so when it comes to doing something that requires change and therefore involves risk and especially the risk is one of following our "dreams" versus the "security" of the status quo.

All true of course but if you are like me and are one of those who liked things like Who Moved My Cheese you will want to check out young Richard.

Kudos Pete.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Circles of Change

Maybe it's a generational thing but I have to say that after having been interviewed so many times over the years be it TV, radio, face to face or via (would you believe) email, I really like radio the best. I think the reason why is primarily because it seems to give you the best shot at really being able to respond in some reasonable depth. In the sound bite world of TV, not to mention the editing that goes on, anything beyond 20 seconds seems to end up as they say on the cutting room floor or worse sometimes, on the air!

So why I liked radio so much surfaced again at the end of June when Zara Larsen who has not one but two radio programs that air on KJLL in Tucson, Arizona contacted me and asked if I could join her on her show called: Circles of Change: Conversations with Dr. Zara Larsen on Change Leadership and Career Fulfillment.

Five minutes on the phone was enough to see that clearly Zara had lots of experience in both the career management and radio show interviewing worlds and that was enough for me to immediately say be it a Sunday or not, sign me up.

After our initial conversation, I went to her website to find out a bit more of what I was getting myself into and specifically to see how Circles of Change was described so I could better understand. The short version was this:

“Circles of Change” refers to an arc on a trajectory, taking all of life’s experiences to bring us full circle to recognize and celebrate who we are as unique individuals. The goal of our weekly conversations is to help you take the right steps to make more of where you are in your current career and life, or how to discover, strive for and achieve “what’s next”.
When the show aired, we talked about a wide range of career related topics, and all in all it turned out to feel exactly as I felt it would after that first introductory conversation we had had - relaxed with an eye to trying to help those who were listening.

Her programs are also streamed to the web, so if you want to get a flavor for both the program and her style and think you might want to tune into future programs, the link to the June 29th show is here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Boundaries of Leadership

For sure FastCompany doesn't need me to flog their magazine. I have been a reader almost since day one and despite its going through some ups and downs (who hasn't?) I still like it.

I also should add that the fact that the guts of this post comes from their April 2004 issue is not the result of what you might think (i.e. that I'm a bit behind in my business reading - although there's some truth to that as well). No, I decided to post it because we just passed the half-way point of the year, and aside from eating too much and watching lots of fireworks, I also took some time to reflect on where things stood after the first six months, and more importantly, how I thought I was doing against my "to do" list for '08.

In thinking about this, I came across a list published as I said, in the April 2004 issue which they in turn got from Jeff Immelt,, GE's CEO. Maybe you too saw it, but if you didn't, I thought it a list well worth repeating.

For sure there are plenty such lists around, including all sorts of Letterman Top Ten's not to mention lots of others from various management consultants, Bschool professors, and all-round gurus of one kind or another. I still think this one is as good as any I have ever seen. See if you don't agree.

Things Leaders Do

1. Personal Responsibility.
"Enron and 9/11 marked the end of an era of individual freedom and the beginning of personal responsibility. You lead today by building teams and placing others first. It's not about you."

2. Simplify Constantly.
"I always use Jack [Welch] as my example here. Every leader needs to clarify explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can't, they you are not leading well."

3. Understand Breadth, Depth, and Context.
"the most important thing I've learned since becoming CEO is context. It's how your company fits in with the world and how you respond to it."

4. The importance of alignment and time management.
"There is no real magic to being a good leader. But at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them."

5. Leaders learn constantly and also have to learn how to teach.
"A leader's primary role is to teach. People who work with you don't have to agree with you, but they have to feel you're willing to share what you've learned."

6. Stay true to your own style.
"Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It's about being self-aware. Every morning, I look into the mirror and say 'I could have done three things better yesterday.'"

7. Manage by setting boundaries with freedom in the middle.
"The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there's plenty of freedom. But no one can cross those four boundaries."

8. Stay disciplined and detailed.

"Good leaders are never afraid to intervene personally on things that are important. Michael Dellcan tell you how many computers shipped from Singapore yesterday."

9. Leave a few things unsaid.
"I may know an answer, but I'll often let the team find its own way. Sometimes, being an active listener is much more effective than ending a meeting with me enumerating 17 actions."

10. Like people.
"Today, it's employment at will. Nobody's here who does not want to be here. So it's critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best in them. And when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal."

Pretty good list, no? Hold a gun to my head and tell me I could only pick one, I would frame #7 and maybe tattoo it to my forehead.