Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter

Jim Clemmer's Leader Letter

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January 2011, Issue 94
New Year's Prediction Alert: It's Silly Season Again!
Top 10 Blog Posts for 2010
Tweet Reading: Recommended Online Resources
A New Year is an Excellent Time to Review, Assess, Celebrate, and Refocus
The 7 Sins of Learning Impaired Management Teams
Tips and Techniques for Reviewing, Assessing, Celebrating, and Refocusing
Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm...on Reflective Learning
Purposeful Renewal for a Wonderful Life
Learning from Southwest Airlines: Nurturing a Culture of Volunteerism
Coaching Skills - Complimentary Podcast
Read It Here or Hot Off My Blog
Most Popular December Improvement Points
Feedback and Follow-Up

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January 2011, Issue 94

How many New Year's predictions have you heard already? How many gave you a good chuckle or caused you to say, "Yeah, right. You have no idea what's going to happen!"

If the "experts" weren't so serious - and often dire - with their predictions for 2011 and beyond, this could be a highly amusing time of year. As we get back to work following the holiday festivities we could be entertained - even laughingly regaled - by economists, analysts, futurists, tech experts, sociologists, and marketers with their computer models, colored graphs, trends analysis, projections, and forecasts.

A chimpanzee throwing darts at a corkboard full of random projections, list of natural disasters, social trends, new technologies, and the like could do better. Some newspapers have actually picked stocks by throwing darts. They've often done much better than the ones chosen by "experts."

So have a good laugh when you hear pundits pour forth their "wisdom" about what's ahead. You might even picture a chimpanzee sitting on his or her lap with dart in hand grinning at the camera and shaking its head at the babble spewing forth.

New Year's Prediction Alert: It's Silly Season Again!

Media producers and publishers of TV, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, blogs, and the like are especially enamored by media savvy predictors (the higher profile and credentialed the better) who confidentially provide succinct sound bites backed by numbers and "analysis." Rarely is there a critical look at the track record of these predictions.

Philip Tetlock, professor of psychology, business, and political science at University of California Berkeley, has extensively studied the accuracy of these predictions. His book, Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? "describes a twenty-year study in which 284 experts in many fields, from professors to journalists, and with many opinions, from Marxists to free-marketeers, were asked to make 82,361 predictions about the future, finding that they were only slightly more accurate than chance, and worse than basic computer algorithms...forecasters with the biggest news media profiles were especially bad."

So, for your prediction amusement during Silly Season, read two Fast Company blogs. Here they are with a few especially hilarious examples of past "expert" predictions :

Looking Forward by Looking Back -- Predictions for 1993...From 1893

  • Labor organizations will have disappeared.
  • There will be no rich or poor.
  • Religion will cease to be a power in the world.
  • Rail travel will reach 90 - 100 miles an hour.
  • Transcontinental mail will be forwarded by means of pneumatic tubes.
  • All marriages will be happy - for the law will put to death any man or woman who assumes conjugal position without the proper physical, mental, and financial qualifications.
  • Three hours will constitute a long day's work.

Timeline of Failed Predictions (Part One)

  • "So many centuries after the Creation, it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value."
    - Committee advising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain regarding a proposal by a certain Christopher Columbus, 1486.
  • "The view that the sun stands motionless at the center of the universe is foolish, philosophically false, utterly heretical ... the view that the earth is not the center of the universe and even has a daily rotation is philosophically false, and at least an erroneous belief."
    - Roman Catholic Church, 1616.
  • "Four or five frigates will do the business without any military force."
    - British Prime Minister Lord North, on dealing with the rebellious American colonies, 1774.
  • "What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out oflocomotives travelling twice as fast as stagecoaches?"
    - Quarterly Review, 1825.
  • "X-rays will prove to be a hoax."
    - Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883.
  • "Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
    - Marechal Ferdinand Foch, 1904.
  • "You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees."
    - Kaiser Wilhelm, 1914 (start of WW1).
  • "There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."
    - Robert Millikan, Nobel Prize in Physics, 1923.
  • "TV will never be a serious competitor for radio because people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn't time for it."
    - unknown, from The New York Times, 1939.
  • "Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."
    - Popular Mechanics, 1949.
  • "In all likelihood world inflation is over."
    - International Monetary Fund CEO, 1959.
  • "But what...is it good for?"
    - Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968 (commenting on the microchip.)
  • "(The world will be) eleven degrees colder in the year 2000."
    - Kenneth Watt, 1970.
  • "That virus [HIV] is a pussycat."
    - Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at U.C. Berkeley, 1988.
  • "You'll never make any money out of children's books"
    - Advice to JK Rowling from Barry Cunningham, editor at Bloomsbury Books, 1996.
  • "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."
    - Dick Cheney August 26, 2002.

Timeline of Failed Predictions (Part Two)

"Following up on my last post about failed predictions, I thought it would be useful (Okay, fun) to think about a few things that people might live to regret saying in the future."

  • "The book is dead."
  • "Social media? That's just for kids."
  • "There will never be another war in Europe."
  • "Nation states are irrelevant."
  • "The price of oil will remain under $150 for the foreseeable future."
  • "Credit default swaps do not represent a major threat to the financial system."
  • "We will find a cure for every known disease."
  • "E-mail is here to stay."
  • "New labor saving devices will shorten the working week to 4-hours."
  • "Aliens do not exist."

Top 10 Blog Posts for 2010

While you're reviewing and refocusing from the Holiday Season, here's a chance to review the most popular of last year's 100+ blog posts. The links below will take you directly to the post.

Many of the blog posts on this Top 10 list were published last summer. That's either because readers had more time or they were hitting the hottest issues of a long hot summer! Will these be hot button topics in your organization in 2011?

Tweet Reading: Recommended Online Resources

This section summarizes last month's LinkedIn Updates and Twitter Tweets sent about online articles or blog posts that I've flagged as worth reading. These are usually posted on weekends when I am doing much of my reading for research, learning, or leisure.

My original tweet commenting on the article follows each title and descriptor from the original source.

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail
"Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples' resolutions: the first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February, people are backsliding and by the following December, most people are back where they started, often even further behind."

Ray Williams provides timely and practical steps that extend into any habits we're trying to build or break.

John Maxwell: Lead From Where You Are
"Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is."

Provides practical approaches to my long held principle that leadership is an action, not a position. If it's to be, it's up to me.

Making Room for Reflection Is a Strategic Imperative - Umair Haque
"What most companies (and economies) don't do is to stop doing - and that's a self-defeating problem. We seem to be clueless about making room for deep questioning and thinking: reflecting. Our doing/reflecting ratio is wildly out of whack."

Sets up and supports my upcoming blog posts on the critical need for management teams to review, assess, celebrate, and refocus.

PR Leadership - Lessons Learned from Harry Potter
Alan Cohen, Executive coach, shares leadership lessons learned from Harry Potter.

Insightful look at what we can learn from this popular series. Dumbledore's opening quote on choices is profound and oh so true.

How to Bring Out the Best in Your Boss - Liz Wiseman
"Most corporate managers are multipliers "down" to their direct reports and staff, but not out to their peers or up to their bosses. Yet, my research has shown that people can serve as multipliers from any direction, even to a diminisher."

Leading others is most often focused on direct reports and sometimes influencing peers. We need a lot more focus on upward leadership. See my first blog post about Wiseman's research at Genius or Genius Maker: Do You Multiply or Diminish Intelligence Around You?

A New Year is an Excellent Time to Review, Assess, Celebrate, and Refocus

January is often a time for us to look back on what was and ahead to what can be. This is also what highly effective - and disciplined - management teams do so much more regularly that their mediocre peers.

Many management teams have a limited or faulty understanding of what's working, what's not, and why. Reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing are essential to continuous growth and leadership development. It's the follow through that both completes and restarts the endless improvement cycle. Without this essential component, learning, energy, and momentum dwindle.

And it's all too easy to let what's wrong and what still needs to be improved overshadow what we've accomplished and how far we've come. The pressure of continuous performance improvement can be very draining. If we're going to maintain high energy levels, we need to develop the habit of periodically taking the celebratory pause that refreshes.

Reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing come from an understanding that it's ultimately our improvement action that determines our performance results. The effectiveness of that action hinges on our follow through and stick-to-it-iveness. Failing to follow through and follow up is a way too common and deadly management team trap.

You've likely set your 2011 budgets and operational plans. Can you produce those new and different results by continuing to do the same things? Not likely. So does your team know what's worked and you should keep doing, what you should stop doing, and what you need to start doing or do more of?

It's a vital time out to recharge yourself. How are you also going to reconnect, recharge, and renew your team?

Further Reading:

The 7 Sins of Learning Impaired Management Teams

Our last item looked at using this fresh New Year as a time of reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing - both at home and at work. Besides energizing us, it's critical to our ongoing learning and development.

In offsite retreats and workshops, management teams agree on how critically important it is for the team to do this. We'll often discuss some of these pressing needs for this vital leadership practice:

  • It's so easy to drift off track and confuse busyness with effectiveness.
  • Constant change and relentless improvement can be exhausting.
  • Results come from what we finish not what we start.
  • We often allow the "tyranny of the urgent" to crowd out what's really important to our long term success.
  • When we don't step back and look at how we're doing we can't improve.
  • We need to continuously learn what's working/not working and redirect our efforts.
  • Savoring success and small wins along the way energizes us and our organization.

Given just how critical periodic reviewing, assessing, celebrating, and refocusing is to team learning, growth, and development, why is it so rare? This is a very rich and useful discussion (reflecting on reflection) for a management team. Here are some of the common reasons (The Seven Sins) that emerge:

  1. Reflective learning on yesterday's effectiveness and strategic thinking about tomorrow's priorities feels less productive than solving today's operational problems.
  2. Planning and new beginnings are more exciting than the hard work of implementation.
  3. We talk about accountability but we're not disciplined about following through and following up.
  4. We feel relentless production pressures to "just do it" and feel we can't afford the time to step back and figure out how to do it much better.
  5. Operational review meetings become information dumps and get way too deep into tactical issues with little focus on underlying root causes or systemic strategic issues.
  6. We usually dwell on what's gone wrong and don't understand what's gone well, why, and what we can learn from our successes.
  7. We fear that celebrating success will foster complacency and satisfaction with the status quo.

Which of The Seven Sins is dumbing down your management team? Reflective leadership, celebrating and appreciating our strengths and successes, disciplined time management, and refocusing on high leverage activities are the hallmarks of high-performing management teams. How's your team doing?

Further Reading:

Goals and Priorities : A series of past blog posts on slowing down to speed up, reducing priority overload, the discipline of stop-doing lists, minding your own busyness, The Acceleration Trap, and related topics.

Tips and Techniques for Reviewing, Assessing, Celebrating, and Refocusing

As you look back over the past year and forward to 2011, schedule time to get your team re-energized and re-focused. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Summarize Your 2010 Accomplishments - this can be done as an "Annual Report" with photos, graphs, video clips, and such in a published format, PowerPoint, Intranet, etc to chronicle positive changes and improvements. It doesn't have to be glossy and expensive. It can be a simple collection of summaries, stories, improvement charts, lessons learned, significant milestones, etc. Publicize it broadly across your organization and use it for celebrations and recognition activities.
  • External Assessments - Have external improvement experts do team/organizational audits and assessments on what's working, what's not working, change/improvement obstacles and challenges, and how to overcome them.
  • Project Reviews - finish every major change/improvement or project with the team assessing what went well, what they would do differently, and a summary of the major lessons learned. Post, publicize, or share those broadly for everyone to learn from.
  • Learn from Your Successes - during operational reviews, look for unexpected and unplanned successes. Dig deeper to understand what went right and how that might be repeated or built upon.
  • Annual Retreat - Start a powerful annual practice of taking your team offsite to:
    • Create, review, or update your vision, core values (no more than 3 - 5 words or phrases), and purpose/mission.
    • Review data/feedback from your internal external customers or partners on their expectations and how you're performing against those.
    • Assessments of team/organization performance.
    • Review of all improvements and positive changes. This can be the input for your annual report.
    • Celebrate your accomplishments and key milestones.
    • Set plans for celebrations and recognition across all of your groups or organization.
    • Set your 2010 strategic imperatives and the key elements in your cascading goal deployment system.
    • Identifying this year's performance gaps and improvement priorities.
    • Agree on the improvement planning process and timetable for development, approval, and implementation.

Go to Management Team Retreats if you'd like to see the framework and approach we've refined over the last few decades.

Thoughts That Make You Go Hmmm...on Reflective Learning

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."
- Confucius, ancient Chinese thinker and social philosopher

"... the most successful teams had leaders who actively managed the groups' learning efforts. Teams that most successfully implemented the new technology shared three essential characteristics. They were designed for learning; their leaders framed the challenge so that team members were highly motivated to learn; and an environment of psychological safety fostered communication and innovation."
- "Speeding Up Team Learning," Amy Edmondson, Richard Bohmer, and Gary Pisano, Harvard Business Review

"They only babble who practice not reflection."
- Edward Young, 17th Century English poet

"And time for reflection with colleagues is for me a lifesaver; it is not just a nice thing to do if you have the time. It is the only way you can survive... without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful."
- Meg Wheatley, organizational behavior author and consultant

"Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action."
- Peter Drucker, writer, management consultant, and self-described "social ecologist"

"Time for reflection - All too many managers are judged by the sheer number of hours they work and the tasks they accomplish. When people are too busy or overstressed by deadlines and scheduling pressures, however, their ability to think analytically and creatively is compromised. They become less able to diagnose problems and learn from their experiences. Supportive learning environments allow time for a pause in the action and encourage thoughtful review of the organization's processes."
- "Is Yours a Learning Organization?" David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review

Purposeful Renewal for a Wonderful Life

Two of Heather and my favorite holiday traditions are watching Christmas movies and refocusing our vision, values, and purpose. For over 25 years, Heather and I have found that spending a quiet evening of uninterrupted time "daydreaming" during the holidays or early in January has kept our marriage strong and our lives in focus. We spend time visioning our ideal circumstances in the coming years for family, house or home, our careers, our physical health, our financial health, community involvement, spiritual growth, and social life.

During the holidays I again watched one of my favorite movies; It's a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. It's a 1946 classic that tells a very compelling story about making a difference in the lives of many others. Years ago, I first rented the video after reading that a judge ordered someone who had tried to commit suicide to watch the movie. In the movie, Jimmy's character, George Bailey, becomes a reluctant leader in his small hometown of Bedford Falls. Engulfed in a personal financial crisis by the evil business tycoon, Mr. Potter, George prepares to jump off a bridge so his family can collect on his life insurance policy. Then, Clarence, George's guardian angel drops in. Clarence shows George what life would have been like in Bedford Falls (without him it became Potterville) if George got his wish and he had never been born. The town and the many lives George touched (and even saved) so positively are much poorer because George was never there. In true movie fashion, George joyfully returns to his real life, and grateful friends and family resolve the financial crisis.

A powerful message in It's a Wonderful Life is about finding our life's meaning and purpose. The preeminent leader of happiness research and the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, writes in his book Authentic Happiness , "...if you find yourself stuck in the parking lot of life, with few and only ephemeral pleasures, with minimal gratifications, and without meaning, there is a road out. This road takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose."

  • In a very impactful Harvard Business Review article, "How Will You Measure Your Life?", Harvard business school professor, Clayton Christensen, summarizes the key lessons he teaches aspiring MBAs on building better lives. He explores key purpose and meaning questions like: How can I be happy in my career? How can I be sure that my relationship with my family is an enduring source of happiness? And how can I live my life with integrity? Here are a few conclusions:
  • "The most powerful motivator isn't money; it's the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute, and be recognized."
  • "If you're not guided by a clear sense of purpose, you're likely to fritter away your time and energy on obtaining the most tangible, short-term signs of achievement, not what's really important to you."
  • "The key is to define what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place."

Further Reading:

Learning from Southwest Airlines: Nurturing a Culture of Volunteerism

The New York Times recently published an in-depth look at the zany - and wildly successful - culture that propelled Southwest Airlines to become the largest U.S. domestic carrier over the past 40 years. Entitled "Pushing 40, Southwest is Still Playing the Rebel," this entertaining and educational article explains how the company's very powerful culture evolved and raises questions about how the company is going to sustain and grow its culture. The biggest immediate challenge is the recent purchase of AirTran Airways and bringing its 8,000 employees into Southwest's very unique culture of 35,000 people.

In addition to a three minute New York Times video synopsis of the Pushing 40 article on the same page there's a link to a You Tube clip of a flight attendant rapping a highly entertaining boarding announcement backed up by passengers in the front rows providing the beat through their rhythmic stomping and clapping. This is quite a change from the indifferent and ignored boarding announcements I experience on most flights.

I am especially interested in this article and discussion of Southwest's culture because we use a 20 minute video in our Leading a Customer-Centered Organization and Leading a High Performance Culture workshops and Management Team Retreats that's always very popular and provokes lots of inspiring conversation about how to use these approaches to build the participant's leadership and culture. Entitled "It's So Simple," the video provides a great look at the values and beliefs deeply embedded in Southwest's culture. In Canada, WestJet has successfully modeled itself on similar approaches.

In the Pushing 40 New York Times article Mike Van de Ven, chief operating officer, is at a company Halloween party (one of eight corporate fun functions to build teamwork) "rolling on the floor, posing for pictures, and greeting children and parents with a wide grin in his Buzz Lightyear costume. 'This shows you how little we have to do to run the airline,' says Mr. Van de Ven. 'The less we do, the better it runs...our culture is our biggest competitive strength.'"

It's a "blinding flash of the obvious" that obviously isn't so obvious or it would be practiced much more often; delivering delightful service, involvement in the continuous improvement, and contributing to a team's effectiveness is a voluntary effort. No amount of prodding, pushing, or punishing will produce outstanding service/quality. "Firings will continue until morale improves" may snap people into toeing the line, but it won't nurture the creative spirit so vital to the high service/quality performance. Putting people together in groups and calling them teams doesn't create teamwork.

Volunteerism is especially important in improving customer service. Service and quality levels are a reflection of the organization or team process, structure, or system, more than individual skills or attitudes. Individuals are the symptom carriers for dysfunctional processes and systems or the visible ambassadors of a high performance culture. Poorly served and disengaged frontline staff pass along this highly contagious attitude to customers. An organization that ignores, pushes around, or mistreats its frontline servers won't - or even can't - deliver exceptional customer service. A high service culture is an inside job.

It's really just common sense. Beat up your people and they'll beat up your customers. We now have decades of documented evidence of this phenomenon. Numerous studies have compared the levels of satisfaction employees felt in the levels of service they received from the organization with levels of customer satisfaction. When employees feel well treated, when they have the right tools available to do the job, and when they have management's strong support for delivering high service, customers experience much higher levels of service. The internal or external service delivered by an individual or team mirrors what they receive from the organization.

It really is so simple -- to understand. But it's proven remarkably difficult for many management teams to do.

Coaching Skills - Complimentary Podcast

Just after Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance was published (now over 100,000 copies sold), I recorded an audio series reading excerpts from the book. These are now freely available in a monthly podcast series. Access the installments here as they are posted. Add this page as an RSS feed or add the URL to iTunes and have new segments download automatically as they are posted.

This month's podcast focuses on Coaching Skills. You can learn more about this series and look at an overview of the audio on the Firing on All Cylinders - Audio CD web site page.

Read It Here or Hot Off My Blog

The items in each month's issue of The Leader Letter are first published in my blog (updated twice per week) the previous month. You can wait to read it all together each month in The Leader Letter or you can read each item as a blog post and have them sent directly to you hot off my computer by signing up at http://www.jimclemmer.com/blog/. Just enter your e-mail address in the upper left corner box under "Sign up for E-mail Blog Notification."

Most Popular December Improvement Points

Improvement Points is a no-charge service to bring timely and inspirational quotes from my articles to subscribers three times a week. Built around our new topic index, Improvement Points are crafted to help you become a better leader of yourself, your team and your organization. Each Improvement Point links directly to a full article on our web site. If you'd like to read more about the point being made in that day's Improvement Point, you simply click on the "Read the full article now" link below each IP. Many subscribers circulate especially relevant Improvement Points articles to their team, Clients, or colleagues for further discussion or action.

Here are the three most popular Improvement Points we sent out in December:

"It's much easier to give in to the victimitis virus. It's less painful to believe that anger, jealousy, or bitterness are somebody else's fault or beyond our control. But that makes us prisoners of our destructive emotions. We hold grudges, let resentments build, and become cynical. We stress ourselves out. We stew in our own deadly juices."
- from Jim Clemmer's article, "Growing with Change"
Read the full article now!

"Our ability to develop an energizing Context and Focus for our team or organization will determine whether we'll be a true (and effective) leader or a technician or technical expert, supervisor, project manager, administrator, or bureaucrat. At the heart of cultural leadership is caring for the context. Goals need to be energized and focused by the larger context of exciting visions. These paint us into the big picture and draw us forward to the future of our dreams."
- from Jim Clemmer's article, "Visions Provide the Energizing Context to Reach Our Goals"
Read the full article now!

"Denise sees possibilities in people. She believes that people want to take pride in their work and be part of a winning team. She has learned that motivation or morale problems are usually rooted in leaders failing to engage people in the broader aims and ideals of the organization. As more people search for meaning in their lives and in their work, this disconnect creates much of the frustration and lack of purpose found in so many workplaces today. Denise works hard at connecting people to her organization's vision, values, and purpose. Denise's high energy and optimistic attitude sets a strong and positive emotional tone throughout her organization. People are inspired to face tough problems with confidence and teamwork."
- from Jim Clemmer's article, "A Tale of Two Managers: Command versus Commitment"
Read the full article now!

Feedback and Follow-Up

I am always delighted to hear from readers of The Leader Letter with feedback, reflections, suggestions, or differing points of view. Nobody is ever identified in The Leader Letter without their permission. I am also happy to explore customized, in-house adaptations of any of my material for your team or organization. Drop me an e-mail at Jim.Clemmer@Clemmer.net.

Keep learning, laughing, loving, and leading - living life just for the L of it!!


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