Ongoing Development or has your train left the station?

August 1st, 2013

I am just back from the annual convention for the National Speakers Assn. This is the trade association for experts who speak professionally. We have four key competencies – Ethics, Expertise, Enterprise, and Eloquence. On any day there are multiple sessions to choose from on each of these. To start the morning and at lunch we have general sessions with some of the most thought provoking people of the day in business and the arts. In short, it is a BIG booster shot for me and for the business.

I attended several sessions about online learning as I am making a big move there. As much as I love to come to your company and speak face to face with your leaders, I know that model is increasingly challenged because of tight margins and production demands. It is tough to take people off line for a day at a time and I understand that. So, not to replace face to face but to supplement it and make it more effective I am soon putting content online in an interactive virtual training system. More information on this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

The meeting was also an opportunity to reconnect with my friends in the business who live in other parts of the country. Great to share ideas and help each other get better at what we do. We cant do it alone.

It was a big investment to attend the convention and it was totally worth it. We must invest in ourselves or we will fall behind. Things are changing so much, so fast these days….You need not attend a convention but what books, or online courses.

If you don’t invest in you, who will? Don’t be left behind.

You are born, you live, you die…

June 27th, 2013

Someone once said that your life is the hyphen. The hyphen being the small dash on your headstone that connects the date of birth to date of death. I just received two emails from clients. One heralding the birth of a son. The other communicating the untimely passing of a manager with three children under the age of 11.

I have always strived to live life with no regrets. In fact, that is the reason I applied to flight school. I had one chance in my life to make that application and I am glad I did. The impacts of that decision on my life are many. From going to Japan and meeting my wife, to surviving a helicopter crash, to learning how to do something so few people get to do, to teaching young aviators who later flew into battle in Iraq and came home to thank me for what I taught them. and the list goes on. There are other decisions I have made that have similar importance on my life.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make. Mostly mundane, certainly, and seemingly not of importance in the grand scheme of things. And it is that thought that presents the biggest risk and challenge for all of us. When faced with the mundane day-to-day things that comprise life we reduce them to unimportant and in that unimportant moment comes complacency and in complacency we miss opportunities to be grateful, to be of service, to be a good person. We miss opportunities to engage with others. We miss opportunities to be alive.

We are told that familiarity breeds contempt. I don’t think so. I think it breeds complacency. It is complacency that breeds contempt. As we take relationships for granted we don’t tend to them as we should and as they wither and wane the contempt creeps in. Just as weeds creep into an unkept garden so too does contempt creep into those places we allow complacency to reign.  As we take our job and our current status for granted we get complacent and we lose gratitude. Our performance declines. We view ourselves as having arrived and worth of status rather than working to keep our edge. People look at us and wonder what happened to the fire in our belly?

Conversely, we cannot live every moment as if it were a peak experience nor can we live in overdrive but we must be alive to the wonder that life offers us. There are opportunities for wonder and engagement presented to you every day. For my leaders reading this consider it a challenge to work on those relationships that don’t get the attention they deserve. On those visits to the job site do you invest the extra few minutes to talk to the crew or do you simply wave (if that) as you get back in the car? What about that young accountant who spends her days poring over invoices and spreadsheets? Have you thanked her for her efforts or are you leaving that to her supervisor who has less people skills than you do?

Remember that those two emails to me were from clients. How rewarding and special for me that clients consider me part of the family. But that place at the table didn’t come without work. It came with sincere effort and a dedication to service and value that defines me. I aspire to be a better businessman, a better citizen, a better parent, a better father. etc etc.

When I no longer strive is when I know complacency has set in. Should you see that in me please kick me out of it. When I no longer strive the hyphen becomes merely a notch in marble.

Today I am faced with some decisions to make…How about you?

Work is wasted on the young.

June 12th, 2013

The Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania’s annual survey on the state of professionalism among entry-level employees, 2012 Professionalism in the Workplace Study, suggests some startling trends. Chief among them: 1) Managers indicate that younger employees most lack professionalism. 2) Levels of professionalism have declined over the past five years, according to HR respondents (33.1 percent) and managers (21.2 percent). 3) The worst problems noted by managers: a lack of urgency in getting a job done (32.6 percent), a sense of entitlement (27.2 percent), poor performance coupled with a mediocre work ethic (23 percent) and poor attendance (22.2 percent). Perhaps tellingly, less than half of the respondents indicated that they had programs in place to orient new employees to what is considered to be professional behaviors

Rather than lament the loss of work ethic etc in our society which this survey does quite well let’s talk about the under 50% of firms that are actually doing anything to remedy the problem. Wring your hands, complain, long for the good old days…but Lead? I guess not. What we are saying here is that this generation needs leadership. Yes, being a role model and setting an example is a fundamental leader behavior but it is not enough. People don’t always learn by osmosis and observation. Some do learn that way but we all can benefit from a mentor, from training and from an engaged leader. Blame who you will for youth being the way they are but only blame yourself in they work in your firm and you have not had the conversation about the way we do things here.

Are YOU That Person??

May 25th, 2013
Just in time for Father’s Day

I am a contributing author to the book, Am I That Man. The idea for this book grew from an article by Ron Scheidt for the book If I Knew Then: Warrior Reflections. The article was meant to honor the people in …his life who had been powerful role models and mentors. As he reflected on how they had impacted his life he asked himself the question: Am I That Man? Am I the man they wanted me to be, groomed me to be, hoped me to be and modeled for me to be? That article sparked interest in the importance of having positive role models, mentors and heroes in our life. It also brought the realization that many men today are lacking positive role models, mentors and heroes.

Ron and his co-author Brian Willis searched for diverse contributors and asked me to be part of the project. My piece is about my father and the father I am trying to be.

The chapters are thought provoking, sometimes tear jerking, and always inspiring. This would be a great Fathers Day gift either as a thanks for being that man to a mentor or as inspiration for someone starting their journey.

You can buy it direct at (or you can get it at Amazon but they don’t make as much money that way!!)


May 15th, 2013

Henry Kravis and George Roberts are the built KKR – a top tier investment house. They have know each other since they were two! Now, almost 70, we can learn a lot from their collaboration.

A few strong quotes, “we’re not judgmental, that we can trust each other 100%, and that when we screw up we’re there to support the other person.”

In 2010, before their firm went public they held a leadership meeting to discuss those ever important company culture and values. “George and I gave two examples of where we’ve made mistakes,” says Kravis. “You could hear a pin drop. People were thinking, “IF they can (examine their errors), maybe that is a good place for us to start,” The article in Fortune magazine, March 18, 2010 is a fine lesson on the importance of trust, culture, and values.

After encouraging executive to get coaches, each got one too! Two very successful executives getting coaching as they approach age 70! A good lesson there too…

Oldtimers Day (week, month and year)

May 4th, 2013

OK, I know that is a quaint term but I want to talk about those elder statesmen (and women).

The NY Yankees, as chronicled in Driving Mr Yogi, invite past Yankee legends to spring training to help and reinforce culture.

The Cleveland Indians are paying former long ball hitter Jason Giambi, who once made $20mm a year, $750,000 this year. What can a past his prime 42 year old do for that salary? Plenty. He is a part-time player and a full-time mentor. He contributes to the culture and atmosphere of learning and excellence. He brings experience and a winning attitude. He brings that “it” factor that not every player has but every player responds to.

In an era where stats and figures seem to rule every decision this argues for those intangibles. So hard to measure but so important to have. Geno Smith watched his stock go down in the recent NFL draft. Behind the scenes reports suggest his stock was falling before draft day as he failed to dive in and fully engage when he visited teams. Rather than show he was a roll your sleeves up leader he showed he was above the rest, which he isn’t and he paid the price. I hope he learns the importance of real leadership and that it is about more than touchdowns and and X’s and O’s.

Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays Manager, has a lifetime in baseball and he says “the way you feel when you walk in the door is as important to our success as anything we can possibly do coaching anybody on this field.”

Employees retire and you lose critical skills and expertise. I contend there is a better way. Why must the old model of retirement still hold when most all other models from the last century are outdated. The other day we toured Gettysburg Battlefield and our guide (who drove our car, talked for three hours, and was outstanding) was 85 years young. His grandfather fought in the battle! We learned so much from him. Whart

I challenge you to find a way to keep learning and to transfer knowledge from those oldtimers in ways you have never done before. I know firms who are doing it and they are reaping rewards.


What got you here will keep you here!

April 15th, 2013

If you are looking for a good book on excellence and improvement you should take a look at What Got You Here Wont Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. But if you are looking for real world examples of what it takes to stay on top you need not look any further than the Manning brothers. You may know them as Peyton and Eli. You may know them as Super Bowl Champions. You may not know they were coached by now Duke University head football coach David Cutcliffe while they were in college and that he continues to be a mentor to them.

Last week both Manning boys wanted to review some fundamentals. They put together their own minicamp at Duke and each brought a few receivers from their team. This isn’t their first trip to Duke to see Cutcliffe. Eli was back two years ago and Peyton spent a good deal of time as he recovered from his neck surgery. In this case, Peyton said, “Eli and I wanted to be coached like we were college freshman again.” Cutcliffe picked up on that comment, “Peyton clearly understands, like most great athletes, if you are not careful, the smallest things are what go after you’ve played a great length of time. The fundamentals need to be retooled.” I would add that this doesn’t apply just to athletes. It applies to winners in all pursuits. Leadership and sales fundamentals need to be retooled too. Those little things that helped you get ahead way back when STILL matter and when you stop doing them you will fall from the top spot.

Cutcliffe quipped that he has known Eli since he was going to see the Lion King at the movies when Peyton was at Tennessee. Eli replied. “He is always a great source to have…someone to talk to who is going to tell you the truth and not what you want to hear, but what you need to hear to keep improving.” Who do you have as a source for you to talk to, to tell you the truth, and tell you what you need to hear. Most of us don’t have that person. Cutcliffe can see the work ethic by the fact they showed up. He can also see the fundamentals in their execution. It may be a bit harder for you and me to find that mentor but that doesn’t make it any less important. Perhaps that makes it more important. I was blessed with a mentor to me for several years in my business. Sadly, he passed away and I still miss his coaching, cajoling and challenging.

Last weekend I attended an elite retreat with 60 speakers. There were some minimum standards to qualify to attend and the small group made it easy to interact and exchange with others who are successful in the industry. Some of the attendees make millions a year. (I would settle for a million!) While it may not be a private minicamp with a valued mentor it was an important opportunity and now I need to review my notes and get to implementing.

What is your plan to mentor and be mentored? Who is your truth teller? You may elevate your game without this person but it will be easier and faster with them.






March 25th, 2013

In Chapter D of Construction Leadership from A to Z I address decisiveness as a key leadership trait. Clearly you cannot lead anything of you are unable to make a quality decision.

Chip and Dan Heath, the authors of Made To Stick ( a good read) have penned another book. This one is called Decisive: How To Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. They offer several ideas on making better decisions

Consider the issue as if you were someone else. What would someone else do in this case? In the military we might call this a red team review where another team looks at your solution and offers comments and insights from their different perspective. When you look at it from a different perspective you are better able to remove your emotions and biases.

Another tip. Ask yourself what you would tell your best friend to do if a personal scenario. At work, ask yourself, what would your successor do if you were replaced tomorrow?

Be careful about over optimism too. Confirmation bias and selective processing are ways our brain convinces us to do something we fundamentally know is wrong. Roughly two thirds of executives only consider ONE course of action when making a decision. Adding options increased the likelihood of success. With only one option you will explain away the negatives. With multiple options you can make a proper choice.

Another consideration is the integration of scenario based training into your own leadership practices. Create scenarios and have people think them through. The resulting conversation accelerates their move up the learning curve and makes your life easier.

Finally, there is a school of thought that says there are no bad decisions..only ones that would have been better had more information been available or if the person was able to process the information available in a better way.




Presidents Day Message (not what you think it is)

February 17th, 2013

This isn’t about them, those Presidents and what we can learn, good and bad, from them. This is about YOU. (it often is, isn’t it?). Our leaders do leave a legacy. So do you and I would argue that yours may be greater because it is personal. Well, it CAN be.

The choir director/organist/etc at our church passed away recently. He was a gifted pianist and I enjoyed listening to him play. He was a music teacher also. As people gathered to celebrate his life, those stories, often forgotten, came rushing to the surface. Our pastor wrote that perhaps he was best at sharing time with people. He learned to truly be there WITH someone when he was with them, never showing a sign of wanting to be anywhere else.

Two quotes from former students ring loudly.

you gave me a warm, pleasant place to “run to” at a time in my life that was very chaotic…that yellow choir room was a safe-haven for me, giving me one period a day of happiness, confidence, and comfort. I can only hope to be half the teacher and person you are.

He always believed in me. Heck, he even liked me. He thought I was worth something. For a little fifteen year old with low self-esteem, that meant the world to me.

WOW. What would they say about you? And don’t fool yourself and say these are the writings of people talking about high school. There is a fragile fifteen year old still inside all of us.

Leadership is a relationship but is also about impact. You might impact others simply by pausing to spend time with them as you visit a site or conduct a review. Put the technology down and look them in the eye and ask yourself, what will they say about me when I am gone? If you tell yourself you do not care….



The one thing your business can’t live with out (besides customers)!

January 2nd, 2013

What is the single biggest impediment to your future growth and success? If your answer is lack of customers, you are wrong. There are plenty of customers out there for what you offer. The fact that there are many businesses offering the same thing you do proves that there are plenty of customers. Consider restaurants. They come and go on every street corner and in every strip mall. Some survive and thrive; others go out of business. Clearly, there are customers. What these failing firms lack is qualified supervisors to run the business properly from open to close. The single biggest impediment to your future success is the lack of people who can lead and manage others.

Sourcing entry-level employees, while a hassle, is nowhere near as hard as finding qualified supervisors. Growth slows when you don’t have supervisors to manage those entry-level employees. Now is the time to re-dedicate yourself to the development of your supervisory employees.

I will never forget the comment a few years ago by the VP of HR of one of the largest concrete contractors in the United States. We were discussing their need to continue investing in leadership development during the downturn in 2009. He said, “During the last downturn, we shut down all leadership development–and when things got better and we needed new foremen and supervisors, we opened the spigot and nothing came out. We weren’t able to bid some work and we didn’t make the money we were supposed to make on some of the work we did get because we didn’t have qualified supervision on the jobs.” So, in ’09, although they were not continuing to invest at pre-downturn levels, they did continue to invest. They are now well-suited to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way as the economy recovers. Are you?

The importance of supervision is obvious when it comes to quality, production and safety. All of these are direct contributors to the bottom line. We also must consider the impact supervisors have as leaders of those entry-level employees. Generation “Y” – those 18 to 34 years old – is already more inclined to jump jobs. Couple that with an economy where many jobs that are available seem entry-level (employees at the lower ages find starting jobs with an average $21,000/year salary), and you have a recipe for turnover. This generation leaves a job every two years. Compare that to a Baby Boomer who stays for approximately seven years. The implications are clear. You are already at risk of losing the very employees you need to build your business for the future. The only chance you have of keeping them is to create an environment in which they are well-led, so they will want to stay. The trump card here is the quality of your supervisors.

This begs the question, “What are you doing to develop yourself so you can be a better leader, and what are you doing to help your supervisors do a better job?” All too often the answer to this is, “Not much.” I recently facilitated a session where the group was bad-mouthing the millennials who didn’t work at the expected level and who often quit because they felt they were being poorly led. This group of project managers had earlier talked about importance of reading the spec book for a new product. I asked the last time any of them had a read a leadership book. None of them could answer. They were very excited to learn about a piece of new material, but not so excited to learn about how to lead the people who would be installing the material. So, are the millennials at fault, or is the supervisor? Of course, it is not an either/or question; it is both/and. But the fix has to start with the supervisors. The quality of leadership is a key factor for the future success of this firm—and yours.

In addition to the obvious role of classroom training, there are other things you can do to develop your supervisors. Ultimately they all come back to sharing your time and your talent with them.

Time — Hallmark Cards is known the world over for its slogan, “When you care enough to send the very best.” Modified for our needs, we have the truism: “When you care enough to spend time with your people, they become the very best.” Why is giving of your time such a big deal to your employees? Because when you do, they understand that you think they matter and they are important. Clearly, there are many demands on your time, some seemingly more important than your people are. Don’t be fooled. This is Priority One.

Talent – Give them the tips and techniques to do the job better. Help them become more successful at what they do. Now, not only are you spending time with them, but you have something to talk about while you’re doing it! Employees want to do a good job, and when you give them ideas, they appreciate it.

Growth can be exhilarating and profitable. The lack of it can suck the life out of you and the profits out of your business. You must have well-trained supervisors to enable your firm to grow and prosper. Without them, you will not have the success you are capable of. Act today to be ready with qualified supervisors tomorrow.

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"...thanks for speaking to our group. I got a tremendous and favorable response to what you shared. Your enthusiasm, related to our business, resonated extremely well with all levels of management in the room. "

Eric DeFrancisco
Director of Operations
RTM Arbys.