Friday, February 27, 2009

Semper Fi & The Challenge of Leadership

Over the past few weeks at ExecuNet we have been having a lot of fun with an event called the Bill George Challenge.

Reading that sentence again, it occurs to me that beginning a post by saying something about "fun" in light of the current environment is probably not the best choice of words, so let me rephrase it by saying over the past few weeks we have been both fascinated with and excited by the response to an event called the Bill George Challenge.

If you are a member of ExecuNet you are probably familiar with what's been going on, but for those who aren't, Bill George is he former Medtronic CEO, Harvard professor, and best-selling author and someone who is very interested one of today's thought-provoking leadership topics — "leading from behind."

With that in mind, ExecuNet, together with Bill and the World Business Forum, the largest business event in the United States, partnered to offer our members the connect with the world's influential business leaders by participating in the following:

Background: During his inauguration address, President Obama ushered in a "new era of responsibility" suggesting that every citizen should accept responsibility and be held accountable for his or her role in ensuring America's recovery and renewed prosperity. With a "leading from behind" style, Obama is solidifying his position as a leader for the "we" generation (also known as the Millennials).

The Challenge: Tell Bill what you would have to change about your leadership style to adapt to a more participatory management practice. What role models would you reference? How would you measure the result to assess whether the effort to make such a change was worthwhile for you and your organization — would specific behaviors or aspects of the culture also change?

The prize: The ExecuNet member with the best response (to be chosen by Bill himself) will be invited as our guest to the World Business Forum 2009, to be held October 6-7 at Radio City Music Hall® in New York City.

Having read a number of the submissions over the past couple of weeks, I'm glad I am not Bill. It is going to be a very tough call and I know that those members of our Roundtable discussion groups who have been following the responses would agree.

All that said, I came across one response that particularly touched a chord with me, and I thought it worth sharing. If you take the time to read it too, maybe it will resonate with you as well. It needs no further setup from me other than to thank Lynn for allowing me to use it. The rest speaks for itself.

Mr. George,

In regards to your Bill George Challenge, I have put together a few notes which I would like to submit for your review and consideration.

I have had the unique opportunity to have been taught by the best leaders in the world, the United States Marine Corps. I learned as a young Private that a true leader leads from the rear. A true leader can lead from the right or left, but never from the front. Having one's employees/subordinates/whatever you call your employees, have them empowered enough to want to lead with you no matter where you lead from.

I spent 14 years in the USMC, and then entered the civilian lifestyle and work in the Human Resources field by choice. I train, focus, teach and lead from where ever necessary, but never out front like I have to be in seen to be in charge. The best leaders look just like you or I, we blend in and just lead.

I have found in my years since the military that civilian leaders without that military background feel they always have to be upfront and noticed. They have problems when everyone is not looking or paying attention to them in a group situation. I have kept my moral grounding from all the years of experience during my tours of duty, and I lead as my leaders lead....from any place necessary. Please remember, when a platoon or group of individuals are running in a formation, the leader runs on the side leading cadence/chants, not in the front, but on the side. The same way one marches into battle....

When I was a Drill Instructor in the USMC, I told my recruits that once they leave basic training, they will always hear my voice. I may not be there in the building, location, state or even country, but the good things I have taught you will always be in your head and I will be whispering direction from afar. Leading from afar.

So I guess in short, leading from anywhere but the front, is not new. It is the way of our Nation's leaders in the Military. Great to see someone is really interested in showing our civilian leaders that there really is another way.

I am fortunate to work in manufacturing in Southern California and have a great team of 17 in 4 states. I have to lead from afar, I can't be in PA, FL, TX and CA all at once. It is just good solid leadership.

Thank you for your time,

Lynn M. Gomez, SPHR

Well said, Lynn, well said.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pain and Rescue

Listen to your Dad they say, and I do. Indeed, I am one of the multitude who listens to "Dad" GL Hoffman over at What Would Dad Say. If you follow these postings you will know that this not the first time you have seen him referred to in this space and I am sure it won't be the last.

Part of my admiration comes from the fact that more often than not Hoffman says what I've been thinking only faster, better and with more impact. Other than that he is nothing special.

Nonetheless, if you are not a follower, check out his recent post Pain and Rescue. He makes, as usual, a very good point.

While for sure much of the doom and gloom to which we are subjected 24/7 is very real, it is also true that attitude plays a big role in the mix and certainly has a good deal to do with how we all respond.

I am in no way suggesting that the "pain" isn't real - it is all too real. On the other hand I can't help but be reminded of the old and well-known quote attributed to everyone from Vince Lombardi to Billy Ocean: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

While the lion's share of membership here at ExecuNet is made up of executives who are currently working, for sure, and as you might expect, we have seen a significant influx of those who through no fault of their own, aren't.

Having been there a couple of times myself, and while I can't speak for how anyone else might feel or react, I would like to think that at least I can empathize based on personal experience.

As GL's post points out, the media in particular works overtime sharing all the bad news with us and very little, if any, of the "wins." Maybe the "wins" aren't happening as fast as any of us would like, but they are happening.

It is easy for us all to look behind us and wring our hands and kick the dog. In some cases that might be easier than facing an unknown future because bad as it might be at least with the past we are dealing with known vs. the unknown. On the other hand, the energy we invest in backward looks is energy that is not getting us to our future.

When I talk to our members about things like this, I keep trying to remind them that as tough as things might be right now, they need to remember that the skills that made them successful in their former lives were not driven by what the economy was or wasn't doing so much as what they as individuals brought to the enterprise.

Your expertise travels with you and while it certainly is not easy, the challenge and opportunity now is simply one of their deciding how and where you are going to take it and making sure that in the process you don't forget to bring along the positive attitude that helped you and others get there in the first place.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't Feel Like The Lone Ranger

So I'm sitting there minding my own business a couple of days ago and up pops the following email from someone who found their way to me I know not how.

"Hi Dave, I am a weary 10-year veteran of commercial banking, seeking a new career opportunity in Jacksonville. Do you have any suggestions?"
At first I thought it might be from an ExecuNet member, but when I checked out the name and email address nothing rang a bell. What did ring a bell however was the fact that the issue of specific geography was something that comes up a lot, and when I talk or correspond with members it is certainly understandable as to why it would.

First of all, most of us by the time we're 10 or 20+ years into a career are usually reasonably "settled" in a lot of facets of our lives and unless we were born with an overdoes of a wanderlust gene picking up and moving doesn't top the list of things we most want to do.

In fact and while I don't remember where I first saw it, I somehow recall that on the list of things that cause the highest degree of emotional trauma for us, moving was like fourth and only preceded by death of a spouse, divorce, and loss of a job.

Given that list, it is even more understandable why none of us would be really psyched to combine #3 and #4, so to put it mildly, I could relate profoundly to the issue.

So for whatever it's worth and to those who might in some way be in the same boat, here is what I tried to convey to this person when I responded:

The process of making a change is, more often than not, about connections [particularly at senior levels] - some call it networking, the term really isn't important. What is important is if and when you see or hear about opportunities for which you know you are really qualified and save for the location or compensation or whatever would otherwise be of keen interest to you, I would urge you to raise your hand. Here's why:

1. No one has asked you to move anywhere yet, take a lower salary, etc. and you can always say no. Job specs are written in the abstract. Once you put two people in a room, all kinds of things can and do change.

2. If it is a search firm, they are often working on other assignments, and these could well be at the level you want or with the type of company in which you would be interested, only you'll never know because you didn't respond in the first place.

3. Even if the foregoing doesn't happen immediately, if they do a lot of work in the industry segment in which your background is very strong (and many do)then they may well contact you down the road on something else.

At ExecuNet, our members have had any or all of these things happen all the time, but if you don't take the first step, everything else that might have happened as a result of that first "link" will go by the boards.

Said differently, there is a line attributed to Wayne Gretzky that says it all: "You miss 100% of the shots you never take."

Am I saying blanket the world? Absolutely not. What I am saying is put on your executive decision maker hat. Examine the spec and say to yourself if I saw this resume in response to this spec is this someone I would want to know more about? If the answer is yes, go for it. If the answer is no, then move on.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Feedback from the Real World

Even when you have been around as long as ExecuNet has (21 years and counting) and over that time have gotten more than your fair share of kudos for whatever, it still makes you feel good when they keep coming. If nothing else, it reminds the organization that consistency is critical.

I am happy to say that we were reminded of this yet once again when we got notice that we were once again a WEDDLE's User's Choice winner. What WEDDLE's does is to post a ballot of 114 sites (not counting write ins) and allows "users" roughly a year to vote for their favorites.

Scientific? Probably not, but when you end up on a list that includes scores of sites that spend beaucoup bucks on advertising it gives you a David vs. Goliath kind of feeling. Even more comforting is knowing that it probably isn't a fluke if your company has been there each and every year since the inception of the awards.

So, are we pleased? For sure. Are we aware that reputations are hard to earn? For sure. Are we aware that reputations can be easily lost? For sure. Are we incented to continue to merit this sort of recognition? You bet.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Hot, Flat & Crowded

I am a Tom Friedman groupie which to understate the case, hardly makes me unique.

He has millions of them for lots of good reasons not the least of which is that he speaks in terms that most of us can understand, relate to, and most importantly are thoughtful. So whether you happen to agree with his point of view or not, it's hard to say that he doesn't make for logical arguments. At the very least he makes you think.

I am sure that many of us have read scores of his columns and many more his books. What I am not so sure of other than catching him from time to time on Meet the Press, The News Hour on PBS or maybe short segments on TODAY or GMA is how many have had the chance to hear him at a speaking engagement.

If you are like me and have not had that opportunity, here is the link to a talk that he gave on his newest book Hot, Flat, and Crowded which he gave at an organization called Sixth&I in Washington.

If you are a Friedman fan, you might want to check it out, and even if you are not a fan, you still might want to check it out.