Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Sign in the Shoe Store

"The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten."

The sign hangs near the front door of a locally-owned shoe store near where I live. It caught my attention because of the use of language. What a great phrase "the bitterness of poor quality" is! That's exactly right. You feel betrayed by shoes, or a car, or new software, or anything you buy that doesn't live up to your expectations of good quality. It's so much more expressive than its more common cousin, "You get what you pay for."

The same is true about the work we do. We pay with our effort, and the goods we take away are the results of that effort. By the work we do, I mean not only the hours we spend in our offices, or driving a taxi, or stocking shelves, or teaching a class. I mean all the work we do—as volunteers, as friends—in short, as people. If we put in little effort, our results are usually not very good. If we put greater effort and more thought into any one of our activities, the results improve measurably. Imagine how our lives could be of we took great care about everything we do!

If you follow me on Twitter, you've probably seen my little mantra: Do. Improve. Repeat. Take an action, improve your action; then repeat the improved action, and so on. And how do you gauge improvement? It's measured in quality of outcome. I know I'm swinging my golf clubs better now because the ball goes farther and straighter than it did. There is no real "perfect" in golf. All you can do is continually improve. There's no real perfect in life. But continual improvement is what we can aspire to.

Give it some thought.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Was Vince Lombardi Wrong?

Coach Lombardi, although great, was wrong when he said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." In fact, I've been thinking recently that this philosophy has caused us all some harm. Was it the singleminded drive to win at any cost that drove Enron, unscrupulous mortgage companies and banks? Bernie Madoff?

Now, I'm not laying the blame for our economic woes at Vince Lombardi's feet. My childhood pastor was Fr. Timothy Moore, one of Lombardi's lifelong friends. So, I grew up knowing about and respecting the Coach, and even sitting in terrific seats at baseball games courtesy of Father Tim's friend. But I think the famous quote leaves out a lot. I believe that the Coach was talking strictly about games, not about life, and not even about business. And I dread the thought that so many of our business leaders and political leaders have adopted this Lombardi quote as a mantra.

Earlier this evening, I read a blog entry by Miki Saxon over at Leadership Turn that reminded me how far off track some people have gotten in the quest to be first, best, top dog at the expense of courtesy, thoughtfulness, responsibility and decency.

Winning is (generally) good. Being the best, or fastest, or smartest, or biggest is not a bad thing. But putting the goal of being "Number One" above all else—or even denying the existence of all else, as this particular Lombardi quote does—can be easily recognized as the road to ruin.

When common decency, ethics, and even humanity are cast aside with reckless abandon in order to win in business or in life (i.e., be the most successful, or even eliminate your competition completely), I don't think Coach Lombardi would approve. I know Father Tim wouldn't.

Great leaders show compassion, respect, trustworthiness, honesty, decency, and other core values that were lost to Mr. Madoff, Jeff Skilling, Ken Lay, and so many others. I have no doubt that core values were something Vince Lombardi stressed at St. Cecilia's High School, at Fordham University, and at the Green Bay Packers. Otherwise, he would not have inspired his teams so well.

Give it some thought.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stand Up and Be Counted: But Count

Some people find it natural to volunteer. We like to be included, we enjoy working hard, we like to learn new skills, and we enjoy helping to accomplish goals above and beyond our everyday jobs. You'll find us involved in nonprofits, recycling drives, associations, scout troops, and just about every other place where we can make a difference.

Some of us, unfortunately, like to volunteer because of the recognition or the title we'll receive, and then just don't pull the necessary weight of our involvement. We say we'll do the work and then, well, we just don't. And it is exceedingly difficult to "fire" a volunteer.

Huge amounts of work happen in this country—and around the world—because of volunteers. But the work has to happen, and that means people have to do it. So, if you aren't doing what's expected, and what you've agreed to do, please step out of the way.

It's great to have the courage to put your hand up when people around you are trying to blend into the walls, but that courage is only valuable if it's backed up by commitment to the organization or cause.

Next time you feel the urge to raise your hand, make sure you're committed to the work.

Give it some thought.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Some things do take time to happen. Fruit ripens, concrete cures, the earth goes around the sun. Change, however, happens in no time at all, and problems happen when those who are in charge of strategic thinking for organizations are disengaged from the change.

What we need more of is what I will call speedership: Leadership that understands its need to act quickly, and to be looking farther down the road than ever before. If you have ever driven a car at speeds in excess of 100 miles and hour (don't worry, I won't tell, but let's hope you were on a track, or in Germany), you know exactly what this means. Objects and turns appear and are past you before you know it. You have to train yourself to react within very short spans of time, and to focus at the extremes of your ability.

Here are 3 basic tenets of speedership that every leader should understand:
  1. You are in touch with the speed of change in your industry and within your organization—and you understand the gap between the two
  2. You have surrounded yourself with people who can either research and understand rapid change, or who can accomplish rapid change
  3. You do everything in your power to remove barriers to change
Practice speedership every day. If you do not anticipate coming changes and learn how to respond with lightning reflexes, you will certainly wind up watching your competitors, and very possibly your own organization, speeding toward the checkered flag while you are left behind.

Give it some thought.