Of Wisdom and Intelligence

May 26th, 2014

As I draw near to the 55th anniversary of my arrival on earth, I cannot help but lose myself in philosophical discourse from time to time. And the coming of age of each of my adult children (25, 22, soon to be 18) provide ample opportunities to dig into how things really work in the world. Like the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

When pressed, each of us could offer a distinction or two. And they would all be right. But above all else, I believe the biggest difference between wisdom and intelligence is in the speed of the collection process. Let me explain.

Intelligence can be built and expanded upon through the disciplined and creative processes used to take on new information. These experiences can happen as rapidly as we can assimilate them. Many of them happen very rapidly indeed. Each of my children are quite adept at taking on new information, especially in areas of personal interests. In so many ways, they are much smarter than me.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is best built upon a longitudinal journey through our lives, until we breath our last. Perhaps it is simply part of the human condition that we have to learn many of our most important lessons the hard way. Our own self-imposed natural selection process that we hopefully survive, as we live into our dumb decisions. Not only did my wife Debbie and I get to live through our dumb decisions over the last 33 years, now we get to see our super smart progeny making many of the exact same dumb decisions as we did, despite our sincere advice to them otherwise.

Oh, that’s right. It’s that human condition thing again.

I’ve also heard wisdom defined as the ability to see things as they really are. In this vein, I am wise enough to know that it is time for a new act, and so I mark my transition into semi-retirement, whatever that means. I have been publishing this blog as a labor of love for some eight years now, and I have enjoyed every minute of it (well, mostly). I will continue to accept limited coaching engagements, though they will be interspersed between downsizing, vacationing and traveling with the love of my life for over 30 years, Debbie.

I bid you all blessings.

An Auspicious Year

December 27th, 2013

As we come to the end of another year, it is quite natural to start looking forward to the next. I typically find myself looking ahead fondly, and this year is no exception. I cannot help but believe that 2014 is going to be an auspicious year.

I know this because each new year is auspicious, especially as viewed at the end of the current year. But as we move into the beginning of the new year, the magic of the moment is usually ephemeral and wears off my mid-January. So I decided to use this post to look forward to the change I anticipate in my life in the upcoming year.

Debbie and I will officially be empty-nesters by September. Our daughter Hannah will be moving onto campus in the fall. Our son Josh will have launched himself by June, after building a war chest for his exodus into his grown up life. Hopefully we will be in the process of downsizing from our too-large suburban home. We plan a vacation celebration for Hannah’s high school graduation, as we did with our sons Dan and Josh. Finally, Debbie and I plan to do some much-anticipated car travel across these United States.

A pretty auspicious agenda. But I cannot help but heed the advice of one of my favorite expressions- “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

So, God willing, I wish you all the best for an auspicious new year.

Leadership Litmus Test

December 12th, 2013

There are too many essential leadership behaviors to delineate them all here. But current events have placed one of these behaviors squarely into view. Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to fire people.

Romney was pilloried in the last presidential election for his ill-advised “I like to fire people” quote. The outcry surrounding this comment would have been nil had he turned the phrase a bit differently, emphasizing when it is necessary to fire people, not how enjoyable it is.

On the other end of the spectrum is President Obama, who clearly doesn’t like to fire people, because he doesn’t, regardless of their ineptitude. Case in point, Kathleen Sebelius.

In my 30+ years as an executive, business owner and leadership coach, I have never seen such a high profile project with a four year lead time and a sky high price tag ($677M) so terribly mismanaged. When you add in the monolithic opposition of the Republican party and the skeptical nature of the American public, that at-stakeness for President Obama was and continues to be, sky high. Enter the inept Sebelius.

If not for Jeffery Zients and his obvious management and leadership acumen to the rescue, we would likely be using carbon paper and snail mail to enroll about ten people per month. The last time I looked, when you need to bring someone else in to rescue a project of this magnitude, it is always after the previous inept leader was terminated.

It is neither laudable nor appropriate that President Obama goes to the “buck stops with me” well. Of course it does. We all know that. But he is not responsible to manage every aspect of every activity in the federal government. This does not work. Those of us old enough know this fact by having watched Jimmy Carter try and fail to do so.

But he is responsible to put competent people into position, and move out those who are not. This is one of the most fundamental litmus tests for any leader. You don’t have to like it, but you need to be able to do it.

Calendar Contrails

October 26th, 2013

We have all seen them. Those mysterious white lines in the sky that trace the flight paths of jets. They are called contrails.

Contrails is short for “condensation trails” or vapor trails, those white clouds created by water and ice crystals flowing from the exhausts of aircraft engines. On a clear, cool fall day, you can see hundreds of these contrails crisscrossing the sky, east to west and north to south. At the head of each contrail, of course, is the aircraft from which it emanates. Following the trajectory of the contrails, it is easy to see in what direction each and every aircraft is flying.

Likewise, the modern executive has a tool that does much the same thing as a contrail. It is called a calendar.

There is no more precious commodity for an effective leader than their time. Engaged leaders know how to best leverage their time and efforts in order to get important results. The reality check of whether they are spending their time wisely and strategically lies in a review of their calendar.

A vast majority of leaders use Microsoft Outlook for their calendar. This calendar allows for the color coding of entries, with a full color palette to choose from. With almost every executive I have coached over the last eight years, I have challenged them to use the color coding scheme to assign colors to their top goals, and then trace the colors onto their calendar. I then ask them to step back and analyze the “story” that is told by the colors on their calendars. Time and again, these pictures have been worth at least 1,000 words. The immediate impact of this rearward-looking assessment is to drive awareness on the part of the leader of the importance of the activities that find their way onto his/her calendar. And to manage them.

In the same way that a contrail indicates the direction of an aircraft, so does a leader’s calendar, when evaluated in the right light, indicate their direction.

Seven Sins of Leadership- #7 Passivity

August 31st, 2013

We have arrived at the final sin in the Seven Sins of Leadership Series, passivity. Before unpacking this, a quick review is in order.

So far we have discussed six sins of leadership- anger, pride, paranoia, overused ambition, unpredictability and myopia. Leaders who fall victim to these sins all have one element in common, they are behaving dysfunctionally. They are doing something they would be better served not doing. Sin #7 is different. It involves not doing, which makes it insidiously different and lands it on the list.

The passive leader sits back and thinks, “Ah, now I have made it, better not screw it up.” So instead of continuing many of the productive behaviors that enabled them to achieve success, they simply lay back and do nothing. But in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business environment, passivity is a byword for letting the market pass you by. The passive leader watches as slowly but surely, their competitors outflank and out position them into irrelevance. They hand wring over decisions, fearful of making a fatal mistake. If they can not snap out of it, they will certainly find themselves out of it, their job that is.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states an object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it. The passive leader makes the mistake of thinking that this law does not apply to them. They believe that they can model passivity and play it safe until exigent circumstances require action. But alas, they are incorrect. By the time the urgent situation arrives, it is too late. Their muscles have atrophied. They are incapable of taking the appropriate actions. Unless an external force causes them to act, they simply continue to do the same thing, no thing.

Ironically, playing it safe as a leader is a surefire way to put yourself and your organization, in harm’s way. But no worries, if you do not change, you will not be in the role for long.