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.

Listen, dont speak

December 14th, 2012

I attended a trade show for the Assn Execs of NC today…this is truly a target market for me and it was good to be with them. One of the things I was reminded of is the importance of simply listening to people. I wasn’t there to tell MY story..i was there to make friendships and build relationships. This takes time, time I am willing to invest as these folks are in NC.

We can all do better to talk a bit less and listen a bit more…This makes all the more sense as I tell you I am sending notes to six people I met, and listened to today.

The Olympic Wrap Up

August 13th, 2012

A few observations from the Olympics…

I tweeted this the other day – Would you win an Olympic medal for your work? Would you even qualify to compete? Excellence is not just for Olympians. Why are you waiting?

And today in the paper I read about Coach K. “He’s brilliant,” Kobe said of Krzyzewski Sunday. “He communicates very well. And he’s fun. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. We all have enjoyed him immensely.” High praise from a pro ball player and it underscores that the principles of leadership truly are universal.

Communicate! How many times have we heard this one? It is a stand alone chapter in my new book, Construction Leadership from A to Z. It is regularly cited by leaders and followers as an essential ingredient in leadership. SO, What have you done lately to become a better communicator? Read a book, take a class, ask for feedback???

Make it fun! Nobody is shooting at you. The stakes are high but they are not life and death (for most of you). Humor is powerful and it helps people relax and excel. Too serious is too tight and too tight isn’t fun. Michael Phelps said he was tight when the Olympics started. When they didn’t win gold on that first medley he relaxed a bit and he swam better. Did you see the NBA players dance with joy after winning the gold? They were having fun doing something quite serious, representing all of us, and Coach K made it fun. Heck, Lebron James even poured water on him at the end. You don’ do that to guy who isn’t fun. There are many things you can do to make it more fun at work but the first thing you need to do is relax and give yourself permission to laugh and to have fun. Your quest for perfection is getting in the way of having fun. Your quest for excellence can be very fun.

And what is wrong with a silver medal? How many examples of poor sportsmanship did you see from those who got second? Then there were those who won silver and were overjoyed by it. Run a personal best and get second? Not sure how you can complain about that. Excellence is about the effort as much as it is about the result.

You cannot do it alone. This is a key leadership theme for me. Each competitor had a huge support group, formal and informal, family, coaches, and fans. Who is in your support group? Do they know it? Do you thank them? Or are you waiting for the big event to say thanks. Don’t wait. And your employees are in your group. Let them know it.

I could go on.  I already knew the results because I checked online but I enjoyed watching. Excellence in any endeavor is inspiring. Easy to measure in London, harder to measure in your world but still worth pursuing.

What did you learn watching the Olympics?

Would you win an Olympic medal for your work? Would you even qualify to compete? Excellence is not just for Olympians. Why are you waiting?



What benefit (or value) did you contribute today?

July 21st, 2012

Was talking with my buddy Jared at the gym today. He was fired up about a conversation he just had with a woman at work.

In a few keystrokes he created a program that cuts in half – a 50% improvement in efficiency – the time it takes her to complete a task she does regularly. He saved her THIRTY minutes each time she does the task. She was grateful beyond words and looked at him as if he had created fire! The sad thing here is she has been doing the task for years with no feedback, little training and, as you will see, little satisfaction. It was almost a fluke that he was helping her team in the first place as he had overheard someone talking about a challenge and he volunteered his time.

As they talked after the program ran he asked what benefit she had delivered to the company that day? She couldn’t answer. Ok, what about in the past six months? What did she do that added value to the company? This time she had an answer, “I cannot tell you anything good that I did but I can tell you every single thing I did wrong because my boss always tells me when I do something wrong.” WOW, can’t you just feel the sadness as you read that. The only feedback she ever gets is negative. This happens way too much. I hear it all the time. It is dehumanizing and demoralizing.

Yet, here she was with the opportunity to save time. She was eager but I suspect that will turn to fear and disengagement again as she knows what is coming next from her boss. Don’t be that boss.

Jared remembered the time he came out of a basketball game as a youth. He had just missed a shot with a chance to tie the game as time was running out.  As he came to the sidelines the coach yelled, “YOU MISSED THE SHOT!” Umm, he knew missed the shot. A little support, a little, hmm coaching, might be nice but not the obvious and negative.

I have heard it said that feedback should be soon, certain and positive. Not a bad guideline.

Too Big To Fail – Especially People

July 13th, 2012

Too Big To Fail – Especially People – The recent Penn State episode confirms that we are destined to be disappointed when we put people on a pedestal. It appears Joe Paterno was part of the problem. Let’s not forget all the good that Joe did but there are people today still saying he did nothing wrong. The facts of the report seem to say otherwise. But this is not about Joe.

This is about our tendency to place too much faith in people and to place them on a pedestal. When we do that there is only one way they can go and that is down. The press continues to have examples of this; Lance Armstrong (verdict still out), Baseball steroids (though it seems we are going to give these guys a pass on this), Marines urinating on corpses in a combat zone. In all cases am I surprised by the event? Not fully. Disappointed? Totally. I feel the same way about Penn State. If the Church can cover up sexual abuse then so can a college. Surprised? No. Disappointed. Yes.

Perhaps the only place to safely put that faith is in a higher power. I am not here to debate that but I know placing your faith in a person is a riskier prospect. We are all human, and flawed, and we will all stumble at some point.

Maybe I am becoming more of cynic but I do know there are fine people doing fine work across our nation, the world, and in your organizations. But they are human and they will make mistakes. No problem there. Coach them, work to improve as we all aspire to that higher level of living and performance.

The problem lies when the law is broken and nothing is done to correct the breach. This is particularly egregious when children are the victims.

When we accept people as human, as we all are, they never get on the pedestal and maybe we can avoid these instances in the future. But the minute we place on them a greatness that exceeds their humanity we are all in danger.

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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.