Looking for the footprints of change

A critical skill in great leadership is regularly scanning the environment for the footprints of change. In 1987 I found that too many so-called “gurus” were making leadership rigid; I decided that a goal of mine would be to demystify and make less mysterious the leadership skills needed to change and grow. Growing requires scanning.
General Motors was my first client as an entrepreneur in the early 80’s ,and I remember asking about the huge giveaways in the contract The response was that GM received far more than they gave. Later as I looked at that footprint, I realized that GM received short-term benefits while committing to long-term obligations that appeared unsustainable. Scanning would have prepared us early for the impending disaster.
If you were scanning for footprints in 1991, you might have passed over the creation of the WWW and two years later could barely find the 50 websites on it. In fact in May, 1994, the First International Conference on the WWW was held in Geneva, Switzerland, and attended by only 380 people from all over the world. You probably receive more emails each day than the numbers attending that conference. Most of our lives are greatly changed by the WWW and we use often use it as a tool for growing our organizations.
An important footprint for me is found in this anonymous (at least to me) quote:
“Each generation has its own distinctive style and this particular generation of brainpower uses information in a different way than its predecessors”
The use of brainpower being vastly different from the past may put the social media frenzy in perspective but indicates to me that there is far more information innovation on the horizon and NOW is the time to look for those footprints. I urge all of my clients to be innovators and become scanners of the future.
Ask yourself every month:
1. What four footprints am I seeing that might have significance for us in the future?
2. What are the opportunities in these footprints?
3. What are the challenges?
Don’t wait for change to show up on your doorstep; go out and discover it!


Feedback makes you a stronger leader

I love my activities referred to as “work” and plan to continue until someone stops me and says, “Excuse me, but your body died and is waiting for your mind and spirit to join it.” As much as I am excited by new concepts, the reality of what helps us be most successful is still rooted in the “tried and true”. Feedback seems a challenge again for some of my clients. Not the instant feedback found in Instant Messaging, Facebook comments, Tweets, and texting in general, but the feedback that requires thoughtful face to face. interaction. Yes, people still do that everyday, everywhere. In our quick, abbreviated society, giving speedy, specific feedback is essential so I pulled off the bookshelves (some of us still have personal libraries with REAL books) a copy of Ken Blanchard’s THE ONE MINUTE MANAGER (1981, 2003)

Blanchard emphasizes the importance of catching someone doing something almost right and taking One Minute to praise the behavior you want to continue. Paraphrasing Blanchard’s suggestions:
1. Praise and give feedback immediately
2. Be specific in describing the behavior; (good job leaves one smiling but specifics help one repeat)
3. Speak about how that behavior helps the organization in achieving goals
4. Encourage him/her to do more of the same

One of my grandsons has been a varsity tennis player for four years, and I watch how the coach reinforces the specific techniques he wants continued and improved. While I say, “Good job”, his coach says, “Good job; that spin on the serve knocked your opponent off-balance and gave you the advantage.” As a doting grandmother, I get a smile (reward enough) but the coach gets consistent winning behavior resulting in championships.

If this is a new/forgotten leadership technique begin now:
1. Place on your daily To Do list to give someone (name) specific praise.
2. Don’t end the day until you find someone doing something almost right and give a one minute specific praising feedback.
3. DO NOT use that opportunity to give corrective feedback; save that for another time
4. Make genuine, reinforcing praise a habit.

This techniques works wonders at home too. Try specific praise for a week, let me know your success, and then make it a habit.

New waves bring new challenges

The last days of summer surged by last week, and I still can’t let go. What glorious weather we had in Michigan, the land of the changing temps. Being a beach person, I sometimes get a flash of insight with the sand and the waves. Recently, I watched a group of children attempt building a sand castle. They diligently put sand in the buckets, added water, mixed, and formed a mound on the sand. Huge waves repeatedly washed in and destroyed their work. Undaunted they reconstructed only to have the waves continuously wash away their work. Agitated, they seemed ready to give up until someone suggested they build in a new spot further from the water. Remember as kids we were willing to try someone’s suggestion? There was no meeting or debate but lots of enthusiasm for a new idea to meet their goal. It worked; the sand castle was built, and they joyfully celebrated!

How often do we adults just stay on the same path, trying harder in spite of all odds to struggle with what can no longer work? Peter Drucker wrote “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all?” Given our changing global economy, each of us as leaders MUST look at what we are doing and decide if it fits where our organization needs to be. Are you frantically trying to become more efficient at a process/product that should no longer be done? Are you really listening to those around you? Today’s leaders must be agile and create a product/service meeting the new needs of our customers. An agile leader repeatedly asks the questions:
1. Is what we are doing today leading to our stated ideal future or just following our comfort zone?
2. What footprints are being planted in the environment today that will likely impact our ideal future?

Like the children on the beach, we each must recognize what isn’t working, challenge our comfort zones, and change direction before our work is ultimately washed out to sea.

Dad always liked you best..family business dynamics

During a phone call with Sam last night, we were discussing the communication block between him (VP Operations) and his dad (CEO).  In great frustration, John bellowed, “How do I tell the man who literally gave me life, that if he does not change quickly, the retirement that he and Mom are planning is down the tubes?”  How indeed! While all businesses remain challenged in this economy, the additional challenge of family in business requires even  stronger skills moving forward.   DNA does not decide family business success but how well the family manages conflict is a survival tool.  There is comfort in knowing you are not alone. With family businesses representing 80-90% of all businesses in the US, and 60% of all public companies being family controlled, you are surrounded with great examples.  The good news is that family owned businesses represent about 50% of the GNP and 60%of the labor force while creating 78% of all new jobs;  however, the bad news is that only 40% of family businesses will survive into the second generation and only 12% of will survive into the third generation. Although several factors enter into survival,  resolving conflict enhances the others.  Creating both business success and family harmony requires the following foundation action steps:

  1. Reigning in the 1,000 ton invisible gorilla who attends all the family gatherings including business meetings
  2. Establishing rules of behavior for everyone to follow during conflict
  3. Separating business meetings from family gatherings

Action Step One: Recognize and tame the invisible family gorilla who wants to sabotage all meetings

Have you ever been in a meeting that you thought was going well but somehow  UPROAR reared its ugly head between family members and everything went downhill?  Well, the 1000 ton invisible gorilla appeared carrying all the family memories, jealousies, and slights simply growing stronger under stress.  While you are stressing the need to keep current clients on board,  this invisible gorilla is whispering about who got the biggest birthday party or even worse, smirks while remembering when you were an “unruly” child at the beach.  These are stressful times and under stress,  perception trumps reality.  When asked by the Wall Street Journal why he stepped down as CEO of Estee Lauder, William Lauder cited the constant stress of mediating family disputes.  “It isn’t easy to answer to board members who remember you as a child and then call you at home anytime.”  (Family Business 2008)


  1. Keep competence not DNA as the focus.  You can’t banish the 1000 ton gorilla, but you can tame it with the focus on today’s roles and responsibilities.
  2. When we worked together, a next generation member recognized that he could never become the oldest sibling, nor could he erase from his parent’s memory that unfortunate bad decision that the attorneys fixed.  He did, however, learn techniques not to get emotionally hooked and  focus on current successes and challenges.

Share with us those times that the “invisible gorilla” took over your meeting and techniques for banishing the beast.  Let’s talk more about family dynamics next week specifically rules of behavior in meetings or “Shouting is not good for the health of the business”

What you focus on you give power to–#2 Assumptions

Some of you emailed me this week and shared that you followed the suggestions in “What you Focus  on you give power to–#1” and discovered renewed energy for the long-term.  Surprising isn’t it that 40-50 minutes a week of quietness and focus will give both goal and outcome clarity.  Sarah was surprised that ten minutes a day of quiet attention accomplishing one task leading to a future outcome did decrease chasing the  daily “fires”.

This week,  let’s look at your assumptions–those taken for granted beliefs we have about our world and  how we live.  Assumptions are usually the rules of thumb that guide our daily actions.   I begin work with clients by investigating and challenging their assumptions knowing that those assumptions drive all decisions. Really!  Assumptions drive decisions.!! When in a meeting that isn’t  going well, ask yourself what are the underlying assumptions that are getting in the way of progress.
Take just a minute today and think of two assumptions you have about being a leader in your industry, business, community, etc.   i.e. “I assume I must__________  and ___________ to be a great leader and achieve my outcomes. ”  Now ask yourself  if those two assumptions are really necessary or is another belief  more critical to your success? I look forward to hearing  your challenges and successes.

What you focus on you give power to–#1

I just read an article in the New York Times “Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain.”  Yeh, I know that’s not the best way to begin a week. but I have a goal of reading for ten minutes before I check email, etc.  Five academic neuroscientists camped om the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah to understand the impact on the brain of increased use of technology by eliminating technology for five days .  i.e  Is constant texting affecting teenage concentration by overtaxing the brain?  Does an urban setting add to the challenge and, if so, does being in a more tranquil environment with fewer multitasks allow our brains to focus?

I definitely don’t need five days floating down the San Juan River (although that sounds delightful)  to convince me that YES a respite from background noise and intrusive technology helps me to focus better.

If you are finding that you are accomplishing less of what is necessary and jumping more into the most recent crisis then it is definitely time to recognize that what you focus on you give power to.  In my research a major difference between a hands on manager and a leader is the leader’s ability to step out of the flurry of activity and focus on the future as well as being present.  Most managers prefer the immediacy of problem solving and fire fighting.  The question you are asking yourself may be: “How do I take the time to focus on where I am heading when there are so many fires demanding my attention?”  Give this a try for one week:

1.  Close your office door for 10 minutes at the beginning of the day and THINK (remember when we did that!) of the importance of your future outcome and feel the excitement of achieving that goal

2.  Write down a task that MUST be accomplished today to move toward your outcome

3.  Midday revisit the goal and see if you are moving forward or caught in the maelström

4.  Notice the difference in energy level and concentration when you are on task and not drifting where others choose for you

I am in my 27th year as an entrepreneur so I definitely know those days when keeping on task feels impossible.  I also know that losing focus on my goal/outcome results in drifting and choosing necessary becomes very difficult.  Give these suggestions a try for a week and then share with us your successes/challenges.  We will continue this exchange next week with #2.

Drummer learns the value of family business

My grandson is the drummer in his high school band and is leaning toward a career in the music industry.  Rock star would be nice but other avenues may emerge.  Birthday or holiday gifts for him have switched from WII/Playstation to Zildjian cymbals and drumsticks.  The Grandma became the Guru when at our monthly burger dinner I shared the Zildjian family business history.   He was amazed to learn that Zildjian is the oldest family business in the US founded 14 generations ago in 1623, at Constantinople.  Connecting to his passion of percussion, the door opened to discuss the importance of family businesses to our economy and the music industry.  We also discussed how musicians  grow the economy by creating opportunities for businesses.  After Ringo Starr and the Beatles famous appearance on Ed Sullivan, Zildjian sales skyrocketed.  Synergy between family business and the music industry has many historical roots.

Sharing your passions  with the next generations of leaders helps them see real-time connections between commerce, passion, and legacy.   Appealing directly to the hearts of its customers  Zildjian”s Mission Statement reads “It takes so much more than merely crafting cymbals, drumsticks, and mallets to fulfill dreams and desires of drummers around the globe.  It takes passion and dedication.  Two things we have known for centuries.”   (www.zildjian.com)

Somehow every day take the time to weave into the conversation with your employees and other stakeholders these three concepts:

1.  What you deliver helps someone,  somewhere fulfill a dream

2.   Passion and purpose in what you do adds value to our product/service

3.  Each of you is helping create our legacy

Daily connect the link between passion and commerce in the organization to stimulate your definition of the proverbial bottom line.