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.

Journal Mining 1.0

December 18, 2013 1 comment

I was going through some old notes the other day and came across these minutes I took at a Customer Service Committee meeting about a year ago. I regularly mine though my old notebooks and journals, and am constantly amazed at the great content that I had forgotten. If you’re not mining your journals, you’re missing a great opportunity.

These customer service tips are no-brainers, but it’s great to see them again as a reminder. My personal favorites are points about effective listening and mastering the “positive no”.

Customer service committee meeting, 11/06/12:

• Effective listening skills are a competitive advantage.
• Responsiveness: call back, email back on the same day.
• Full voice-mail boxes = bad manners, poor communication.
• Start meetings on time, and come prepared for the meeting.
• Have an agenda.
• Invite in advance, no late notices.
• Manage (client/internal) expectations.
• Attend if you’re invited, or send a delegate.
• Get good at the “positive no”.
• How to effectively deliver bad news.
• Internal transparency and communication.
• Always deliver a high quality product, regardless of what the product is.

I’m sure you have something to add too. Please let me know your top customer service teaching points.

The Tansley Effect

December 13, 2013 2 comments

I just finished re-reading Frank Herbert’s classic, Dune. One of the things I like about this book are the arcane mash-up references Herbert makes to real and fictional events, persons, and principles. During this re-read I became fixated on something Herbert called the “Tansley Effect”

“He set up small unit experiments with regular interchange of data for a swift Tansley Effect, let each group find its own path.”

So what is this Tansley Effect? Surprisingly, Google has almost nothing to say. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist. Almost. A nice article in the Citizen Scientists League  last year made an attempt to unravel the story behind the reference,

“Given Herbert’s well-known penchant for researching the science behind his fiction and his interest in ecology, it seems plausible that he would have run across Tansley’s work  and named a future scientific principle after him”

From Herbert’s writing I imagine the Tansley Effect as the cumulative outputs from a group of highly skilled, disciplined professionals all studying the same problem, and routinely sharing their findings. Each new independent finding becomes a common input into everyone else’s process. The Tansley Effect is an endless positive feedback loop. How quickly the solution would reveal itself against such an onslaught!

Impossible, you say.

How would we avoid the waste of duplicated effort?

This question is irrelevant. Allowing independent local solutions to a common global problem is neither duplication nor waste; it’s best practice.

How would we ensure information was shared?

A culture of information sharing arises naturally from shared goals and from investment in group outcomes. Any impediment to that culture is removed from the organization. Plenty of organizations ruthlessly defend their culture.

How would we eliminate the default competition?

Wrong question; competition is not inherently bad for the organization, as long as it remains productive. Non-productive competition is counter-incentivized. Correct behaviors consistent with the culture and goals are rewarded.

The combination of shared goals, constant cultural recalibration, and incentivizing of correct behaviors is the driving force behind the Tansley Effect. This effect is operational and observable in organizations and communities around the world.

By any other name, have you ever seen the Tansley Effect in action? I’d love to hear the story.

Dune, and the long range plan

December 6, 2013 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago Whitney Johnson  posted on “The Book That Changed Me.” Whitney cited Enders Game  by Orson Scott Card, and then asked “what about you?”. My reply was Dune, by Frank Herbert. At Whitney’s suggestion I’m going to explain why I chose this book and how it changed me.


I was thirteen when I first picked up this book. Dune is a science fiction/political thriller set on a hostile desert planet with no open water. The planet is inhabited by a native human population (the Fremen) that has developed the necessary technology and psychology to thrive in a deadly environment where water is literally a matter of life and death. Dune provided a fantasy world I could disappear into, and a story line that suited my own imagination about myself. I could easily insert myself into the story; imagining myself as any and all the characters. In Dune I found the “Hero’s Journey” presented in the context of planetary ecology, religion, politics, and space travel: all the stuff that appealed to my thirteen year old self.  This story also had desert wisdom blended from high science, hard realities, and common sense. That innate wisdom compelled my return to Dune over the years.

The Fremen’s ecological vision for their hell planet forms a subtext for the political story that comprises the Dune saga. The technologically sophisticated Fremen were possessed of an unshakeable belief that they could transform the desert ecology and landscape of their planet into a paradise with open water. This transformation would take hundreds of years, and nobody in the story would ever live to see it. Yet they were onboard with the sustained sacrifice and group discipline required to achieve the vision. The Fremen discipline for long-term effort, their communal vision, and their utter commitment to future generations (read sustainability!) in the face of overwhelming, or even impossible odds forged in me a desire for that same sense of discipline, community, and mental toughness. This book changed me by showing the relationship between hard work and results. Even now, in times of professional hardship, conflict, and long odds I draw on the Dune story for strength, inspiration, and refreshment. When I think about the Fremen I tighten my own belt and get back to work.

Here are some quotes that hopefully convey the message better than I can:

“The Fremen were supreme in that quality the ancients called “Spannungsbogen” – which is the self-imposed delay between desire for a thing and the act of reaching out to grasp that thing.”

“They’re in league with the future, she thought. They have their mountain to climb. This is the scientists dream…and these simple people, these peasants, are filled with it.”

“This was a dream for which men would die willingly.”

“In the manner of a teacher answering a child who has asked the sum of 2+2, Kynes told them: “From three hundred to five hundred years.” A lesser folk might have howled in dismay. But the Fremen had learned patience from men with whips. They tightened their sashes and went back to work. Somehow the disappointment made the prospect of paradise more real.”

“So it was true as this umma had said in the beginning: the thing would not come in the lifetime of any man now living, nor in the lifetime of their grandchildren eight times removed, but it would come.”

So now it’s your turn: What book changed you?

Leading from the front

November 20, 2013 2 comments

So much of pop leadership writing assumes there is a follower in the equation. This is a misunderstanding about the differences between leadership and management. Management is about the effective use of resources to accomplish things. Management implies structure and process. Management often happens with minimal leadership.

Leadership is about crafting a vision of possibility. Leadership precedes structure and process; it fills the void where established structures end or fail.  Leadership often happens without any management at all.  Leadership happens at the front lines, where the action is. All leadership is from the front, never from the back.

Leadership from the front is doing something that nobody has ever done before. It’s about going first.

It’s doing something that nobody else wants to do.

It’s making a decision that nobody wants to make.

It’s figuring out something that nobody has been able to figure out.

It’s expecting the heat and taking it.

It’s taking one more step when everyone else has quit.

It’s starting up again when everyone else is stopped.

It’s about taking a stand when nobody else will.

It’s often about being alone.

It’s always about commitment.

Most lists of great leaders will include King, Gandhi, Lincoln, or Mandela. Their contributions to history are real and legitimate. But real leadership happens everywhere, all the time, and leadership is not limited to circumstances of power or influence. Consider the stories of these ordinary people who showed extraordinary leadership through their actions. I’ll let you do the homework; and perhaps you have some good examples of real leadership in action too…

Captain Lawrence “Titus” Oates

Tom Hornbein & Willi Unsoeld

Paul Anderson

Satyendra Nath Bose

Joe Kittinger

Roger Bannister

If you’re hungry for more good material on real leadership, see also:

This great post by Andreas von der Heydt about the 17 qualities and views of great leaders

Or Jim Kouzes’ discussion on unknown leaders

Maybe read Hermann Simons book “Hidden Champions of the 21st century

The Portable Career

November 14, 2013 Leave a comment

In 1994 I was a front-line supervisor for an up and coming biotech firm. I led a crew of 14 people on a rotating 12 hour shift. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever worked. When our flagship product failed to hit clinical endpoints the stock tanked and we were swallowed in an acquisition. We learned that only a handful of the team would be offered positions in the new company. For the next month I spent most of my days counseling the team about their future. I told my team that the new owners could take their job away, but nobody could take their experience or their knowledge. I encouraged the team to leverage these assets into their next career opportunity. That counsel was the genesis of what I call “The Portable Career”.



The things that matter most in your career are portable. Portable assets carry forward to your next job; they’re not lost in a job transition. Knowledge and experience are good examples of portable career assets. Other career assets are portable too: your professional network, your salary history, your work ethic, your creativity, your reputation. These don’t get left behind in a job transition, and because they don’t get left behind they have a remarkable intrinsic value to you and to your next company.  Your job is to understand portability and leverage all your portable assets throughout your career.

The original “portable careerists” from the class of ’94 were all working again within 6 weeks. Some are retired, and some I lost touch with. But from that original cohort we now have two MDs, three PhDs, one corporate vice president, two business owners, and one wildly successful venture capitalist.

Do you have portable career story? I’d love to hear it!

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