What to Do on Your First Day Back from Vacation

September 2, 2014 Leave a comment

Especially relevant as I’m coming back from a four-day. Especially relevant for an Org with a changing focus. Especially relevant to all senior leadership all the time.


April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

I was plowing through some archived material last week and I came across this piece I saved about a year ago. I don’t think I wrote it myself, but I can’t find any attribution. Regardless, this piece captures my own thoughts pretty well. We’ll ascribe it to Anonymous until someone else claims ownership. Enjoy.

“I have recently spoken and written about staff retention, about growing your team and about strategies for keeping hold of those most valuable of resources. Over the weekend, I started thinking about strategies for coping with the unfortunate, but inevitable, loss of a star player from a team.

We all have go-to members of our teams that embrace challenge and opportunity with gusto, professionalism and that achieve exceptional results, often in the face of adversity. We don’t ever want to face the possibility of losing a superstar but, as I said above, it is inevitable that opportunity will come knocking and some will be tempted away.

Rather than having the departure knock the organization backwards and be an emotional hit on us personally, we must prepare for the eventuality.

My thoughts on the preparation needed are:

1.  Communicate openly and candidly – Be prepared to discuss your team member’s futures and have their best interests foremost. By doing this, you will never be surprised by a potential exit.
2.  Seek help from the team to identify and train the up and coming superstars in the organization. This will ensure succession.
3.  Stay connected even after the individual has left. Stronger networks benefit everyone. You never know who you might find from a recommendation from your ex-employees.
4.  Look after your people while you have them. They will repay you in spades.

What would you do to prepare?


April 3, 2014 7 comments

I had a professional first a few weeks ago; after 25 years of working life I resigned from a job. I’ve been merged, acquired, leveraged, re-org’d, and RIF’d in one combination or another a dozen times; but I’ve never quit a job. It was a pretty big decision, and here’s what was behind it:

Six months ago I began to feel a professional restlessness. My situation was good; the company was thriving, and the owners were kind and generous with me. Was I having a string of bad days, or were the feelings really valid? Two months of serious self-examination landed the conclusion that yes, the feelings were indeed valid; I wasn’t just having a bad day. I needed change; needed to feel hungry again, needed to feel a little scared again, and needed to feel that ambition was being fulfilled. I was in danger of becoming stale. That’s when I made the decision to leave my position.

Extended restlessness, frustration, and dissatisfaction are a liability to the organization. We’ve seen too many valued colleagues march themselves into an emotional rut under the excuse of “sucking it up”. But sucking it up is a short-term tactic, not a career strategy. I resigned because I didn’t want my own restlessness to devolve into bitterness, cynicism, and mediocrity.

Leaders need to recognize the signs of incipient restlessness in themselves and in their employees, and to act on those signs before restlessness turns to feelings that debit rather than credit the organization. Your company, your clients, your colleagues, and (in my case) the patients deserve your very best.



March 18, 2014 1 comment

In my last post (My First TED) I reported that “American Made” manufacturing guru Jennifer Guarino crushed five bad assumptions about manufacturing. Here are Ms. Guarino’s five, with my own note about why:

  1. Technology has taken the place of skilled labor. Wrong: Technology assists skilled labor.
  2. Lower costs = higher profits. Wrong: Higher quality = higher profits.
  3. College degree is the best bet for success. Wrong: Critical thinking and grit are the best bet for success.
  4. There is no dignity in trade work. Wrong: All work is trade and craft work.
  5. Manufacturing has left us forever. Wrong: Some manufacturing has left us temporarily.

I can’t cite any global statistics that support Ms. Guarino’s statements. As with most insurgencies, the conventional indicators often obscure what is happening on the ground. Regardless, personal experience attests to the empirical truth of what she says. I believe a renaissance in American manufacturing has been in progress for at least 15 years. The facts are there for anyone interested enough to look for it. The emergent and evolving south and east Asian economies are driving up the cost of outsourced labor. Politicians are incentivizing companies to re-shore. Consider also the cultural factors associated with the rise of social media, the popularity of local-grown food stocks, the resurgence of the American automotive industries, and the emergence of high quality, high-pride American made products. Most important though is the relentless entrepreneurial drive that characterizes the American Mittelstand. I can’t prove it; but I feel it, I see it, and I believe it. And all revolutions start with ” I believe”.

Do you?

My First TED

February 17, 2014 3 comments

Whenever a new TED video comes out I always get energized by the brilliance of the ideas and the passion of the speakers. So when TEDx Baltimore went live on Jan 31 I thought it would be a great way to rub shoulders with the people that are changing the world. I wasn’t disappointed, and I learned some valuable lessons about the world-changing business.

First off, kudos and thanks to Sarge Salman, Curator. The venue, speakers, and infrastructure were first rate, and the whole set-up promoted maximum interaction between speakers and attendees. Wow!

Here’s some memorable take-aways from my first TED.

  • Chess Champ Jennifer Shahade told us the decision trees for chess get so complicated so fast that the real cognitive discipline is recognizing when to analyze and when to work from experience and intuition. This has big implications for anybody whose job description includes decision making.
  • Civil rights advocate Haben Girma explained how persons that have lived with challenges are uniquely qualified to advocate. Without a shred of self-pity Haben explained that because she could neither see nor hear, until she was able to advocate for herself she was excluded from being able to choose. “Think of all the chocolate cake I missed”.
  • Social services iconoclast Molly McGrath Tierney  challenged her own industry by explaining that all well run industries are self-protecting machines, and true innovation and progress sometimes requires a complete dismantling of the old system.
  • Nick Cienski shared his call to raise awareness and fight human trafficking armed only with mountaineering skills. His message: use the tools you’ve been given, and figure it out.
  • “American Made” manufacturing guru Jennifer Guarino crushed five bad assumptions about manufacturing. This talk covered so much important ground so quickly it really deserves a whole separate post. Trust me; there is a nascent renaissance in American Manufacturing.

Nineteen speakers covering a huge range of topics, and yet six common themes emerged:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about the idea, what the idea did to you, and what you’re doing with the idea.
  2. Anyone can change the world, but nobody starts from that point. Everyone starts alone and from zero.
  3. Changing the world always starts with changing yourself.
  4. Nobody thinks they have the tools, but they eventually realize that they actually do.
  5. Everyone feels a call to action.
  6. Once you act on that call; once you take action, providence provides.

So if TED is all about “Ideas worth sharing”, this is my TED to you. Do it.


January 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Tom Peters mentioned more than once that he’s nearly driven to tears with the sheer intensity of presenting. I know how that feels because it takes a staggering effort to prepare for and deliver sustained focus, engagement, listening, and thoughtfulness of response. And honestly this is the only effort worthy of our clients, customers, and our own professional values.

As leaders we are expected to deliver this level of effort on a daily basis. Realistically though, can you completely empty yourself day after day? How long can you keep this up and how fast can you bounce back and repeat?

The key word is STAMINA: The physical and moral strength to resist or withstand fatigue, hardship, and prolonged physical or mental effort.  Stamina is a critical leadership attribute, and no matter what you think; you need more. The expectations and demands of leadership require it.

The good news is that stamina can be trained: if you don’t have it, you can get it. If you already have it, you can get more. It’s not easy though. There is only one effective way to increase stamina: Forced disruption followed by disciplined recovery


Forced disruption is the same as going to the gym or going for a run, and it works like this: if you don’t change up your workout routine you get stale and plateau. This happens with your work life too. Going about the same routines, solving the same problems, with the same people and tactics will make you go stale and will erode your stamina over time. There are so many resources about disruption we couldn’t begin to cite them here, but a good place to start would be this great post by Whitney Johnson in the Harvard Business Review . Forced disruption for the purposes of increasing workplace stamina centers on getting outside your normal routine, normal patterns, and normal stimulus. A wholly non-inclusive list of disruptive options might include:

  1. Talking to people you don’t know.
  2. Reading something really hard
  3. Learning the operational languages of other departments.
  4. Taking news feeds from outside the US
  5. Taking on a project your don’t know how to finish

The important thing is to get out of the rut and get stimulated!

Disciplined recovery is the second element to improving workplace stamina. This element also draws from the gym metaphor: You make the greatest gains during your recovery phase; not from forcing the disruption without a break. Ask any gym rat: the overwhelming tendency is to ignore the recovery phase and train until you’re either hurt or so burned out that you stop altogether. The act of recovery must be a planned in advance, and it must be approached with as much discipline as the forced disruption. Like forced disruption, the empirical premise for disciplined recovery is well documented, including here, here, and here. Admittedly I have a bias for Crossfit, and the engineer in me loves Lonnie Lowery’s scale for quantifying recovery:

  1. Nutrition: 8 points
  2. Hydration: 2 points
  3. Sleep: 3 points
  4. Rest: 1 point
  5. Meditation/Relaxation: 1 point
  6. Emotional Support/Relationships: 2 points
  7. Warm-up: 2 points
  8. Stretching: 1 point

Anything less than 10 points on any day indicates insufficient recovery. You can experiment with your own plan, but without a disciplined recovery plan to match your forced disruption your stamina will actually drop as you become increasingly burned out.

So, what do you think? Do you have any personal stories of being emptied, of training to increase your stamina, and what happened next? What has worked for you? We’d love to hear about it!

Journal Mining 2.0

December 31, 2013 1 comment

A few weeks ago I wrote a short post about the wonders of journal mining. Coach Dan John has been telling us for years that one of the keys to progress is to keep meticulous journals, and then mine them regularly for clues about how things are working out. Of course you need to keep a journal to mine it.

On New Year’s Eve last year Brenda and I were driving to a celebration and I asked, “How was 2012 for you? Brenda said she couldn’t really remember much, except that we had a really hectic summer. She then turned the tables on me and asked the same. I couldn’t really remember anything noteworthy either, except a real general sort of way.

So on this day last year I resolved to keep a 2013 journal. It was nothing complicated; I simply logged a series of one-liners as reference points for review and reflection come the end of the year. Over the course of 2013 I logged about 175 entries. I’ve mined that journal repeatedly throughout the year for insight, comic relief, and general recollection. In some cases the journal mining yielded a fond memory or a chuckle. In a couple of cases it prompted hours of questioning and self-assessment. Other entries evoked moments of gratitude, decision, prayer, affirmation, and resolve. I had at least one moment of introspection every month that challenged my assumptions about my own role, motivations, and priorities.

Having this journal also helps me remember that in 2013 I read 14 books, took 9 trips for general pleasure and recreation, spent renewing time with close friends on 12 separate occasions, and scratched my head in wonder at 23 international events.

I grew two beards and shaved them both off. I made literally barrels of wine at the Tin Lizzy Winery ,  I planted and harvested a garden, went through three major regulatory inspections, worried about my own health, laughed my ass off at how funny and smart my kids are, and found a 1942 Mercury dime in pocket change. And through the wonders of technology, I had uncounted interactions with some of the most intelligent and interesting people in the world.

The best part of keeping the journal was that the very act of writing, even just one-liners, drove feelings of regret, anger, and self pity into meditations on my own motivations and priorities. And today I started a new family tradition (I hope) of sharing the year in review with my loved ones at home. So here’s to you, reader. Congrats on making it through 2013, and best wishes for a useful, interesting, and wonder-filled 2014.

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