Monday, August 11, 2014

Leaders who are A.W.O.L.

                                                             
I served in the U.S. Army during one of the most difficult periods of American history.  The  Vietnam war. The draft was in place and there were more than a few guys who wanted to be anywhere other than in military service. I can still hear the old Bobby Bare song coming from the beer garden speakers declaring "I wanna go home..dreaming of those cotton fields back home."  

Of the almost 9 million who donned the uniform, 1.5 million, at some point, went AWOL (absent with out leave) and 500,000 deserted. While some might have excused the action as "moral conviction" most who served saw it as irresponsible at best and cowardice at worst. Regardless of a persons point of view there was no tolerance by the government given to those who violated the articles in the military  code of conduct. 

Throughout my business life I have, sadly, observed so called leaders behave in a fashion of  cowardice when it comes to making the tough decisions surrounding the matters of moral absolutes or code of conduct among employees. Some of them have deserted, and many have routinely been AWOL. It hurts me deeply to watch how coworkers talk and treat each other in some organizations.

But beyond that there is an outrage within me that is stronger than my disdain of bad behavior. It is the unwillingness to be a morale voice for right and wrong. So called leaders will not take action on the bad actors because they are hiding behind possible backlash of the courts or individuals.  

If you have been a reader of this blog site, you know that I have pointed out, more than a few times, the business of "game playing" many executives engage in. They follow the trendy practice of developing "Value Statements" because some consultant told them that would be a good idea all the while most in the organization don't know what they are and certainly don't adhere to them. 

The other admonishment I have made is for companies to know who they are and what they stand for rather than  what they do and how they make money. It takes a person of principle and courage at the top to declare who we are, what behavior (code of conduct) is acceptable and what's not.

Companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick Fil A are examples of  those that operate at the WHO above the how. Both of these companies have leadership at the top who are in perfect alignment to the uncompromising principles they will operate by. They are willing to go to court to protect their organization from the "PC" crowd, unlawful mandates by the government  and are willing to forfeit revenue in order to stand on principle. There are other companies who preform like these firms do, but on the whole they are few and far between.

If it weren't so sad, it would be almost humorous to watch how those in positions of power justify and allow "exceptions" to the rules they claim are guiding principles of behavior.  I wonder to myself how can they hypnotize themselves to believe a waiver is justified when the fact is they are deserters and cowards who have gone AWOL in their leadership responsibilities?

Having work place chaplain's, wall hangings that describe company "values" and giving lofty speeches mean nothing if not lived and practiced in the midst of the "business battle" everyday. Be assured, in my own business, family and personal life I sermonize this same message. 

In our country, in our families, and in our organizations we need a "Moral Voice" at the top who declares... "This is what we stand for." "This is the code of conduct which we will all adhere to. Anything less is unacceptable. PERIOD."   It is a rare person who will stand on principle but the world is full of pretenders. In a world of relativism our leaders have sunk to new lows in standing for what is right, hoping that it will all work out okay in the end. 

Even Jesus saw this and warned people about the pretenders and those who follow the crowd rather than making the right choice for eternal life. To those hoping all would be ok in the end he said " Enter through the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and spacious and broad is the way that leads away to destruction, and many are those who are entering through it. But the gate is narrow (contracted by pressure) and the way is straitened and compressed that leads away to life, and few are those who find it."

What about you and your organization. Do you have leaders who know who they are and have a code of conduct that describes proper behavior? Or do you have leaders who talk a good game, but in reality, they've gone AWOL?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why some of your policies along with your training could mean NOTHING!

Recently I heard an interview of two former U.S. Navy Seals who are now business consultants. They are sharp guys and I wish I could give you the name of their company, but I can't remember. However, the whole focus of their management/leadership development is on the discipline of running an organization.  As elite special forces veterans, these guys have a pretty convincing argument based on experience for the unwavering commitment to the task, responsibility, strategy, execution and accountability of the mission.

One of the statements made during the interview struck a cord with me. "It's not what you teach, it's what you tolerate that makes the difference." The phrase was a reminder ot the what I've espoused over the years concerning human behavior i.e., "People work to the expectations that you give them. If you expect less than the best, then that's what you'll get."

Laying down the rules for your children means nothing if you don't hold them accountable and reinforce desired behavior with BOTH the stick and the carrot. In today's society I see more homes run by demanding kids than by parents precisely because the "telling" children how to behave is nothing more than empty rhetoric absent follow up and insistence.

God did not hand down the 10 really cool ideas, 10 suggestions for living, or recommendations you may want to consider for a happy and positive best life now. NO, they are 10 Commandments. And although there are many who will discount it, there are consequences for not following them, especially #1.

All to often, I run into management types who want me to conduct training programs to "fix them," meaning their employees, customers, vendors, etc. What they are wanting is people who are dedicated, dependable, loyal, on time, self starting people who care for the business just as much as the major share holders do. The challenge with this is, that the behavior of top management is not congruent with communication sent to the masses. It looks like a one way street for many people, hypocritical at best and just plain dishonest at worst.

Telling is not training and teaching without accountability could be worth nothing and a waste of time.

Instead of giving you a list of "Do's" here's a small list of "Dont's"

1. Don't go any further in your business/organization/department until you have clearly stated the operating principles which can not and will not be compromised.

 2. Don't over look or excuse non-conforming behavior because someone is a talented person, friend, high producer or has a lot of seniority. The good they bring to the organization is heavily out weighed by the harm they cause the organization and to your creditability as a leader.

3.  Don't confuse others with your unclear or fuzzy messaging or expectations. There are some things that are simply black or white. There is NO gray area. Identify them and then, unequivocally, communicate them.

4.  Don't draw "a line" and then not act on those who cross the line. If you do, you have changed the expectation which will result in others ignoring "the line" altogether.

5.  Don't get stuck on "trendy" thinking about moral or ethical opinions or concepts. Know what you believe and why. Consultants and book writers might give you some ideas, but you must discover, deep down inside of yourself, what is right.

6.  Don't jeopardize the organization by trying to please everyone, because it will never happen. Have policies and procedures that make sense to the customer, to the employee, the community and for the good of the business.

7.  Don't ever tire of doing what's right. It's not always easy. It's not always popular. It's not always expediedent. And it's not always profitable.

The Apostle Paul said it best....."I have the right to do anything," you say-but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do anything - but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others."

Monday, June 9, 2014

Nationalism versus Exceptionalism

Last week I had the privilege of working in Bulgaria. I was blessed to work with a new partner, Krasimir, who lives in the city of Stara Zagora. Krasimir is a true visionary. He has a vision and passion for his small business, for his community and for his country. During my time with him I spoke at Universities and held small business seminars which he had organized. He and I also met with influential people in Sofia, the capital city, the President of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry as well as the President of the Bulgarian Association of Women Entrepreneurs.

 I was warmly welcomed and received by many really smart people who were quite open concerning a wide range of topics from politics, business challenges, world events in the region, etc.

 Their candor during our discussions has been a constant thought with me since I left this somewhat economically depressed Balkan country. As for their future growth, I sincerly believe, Bulgaria has huge upside potiential if managed and lead properly in many different sectors of the society. I will let those who are not familiar with this southeastern European country do your own historical homework, but the future success may fall on some key decisions they will make in dealing with their EU and NATO membership and the relationship they have with Russia.

 Among these decisions will require innovative thinking for business cultural change. Like all countries and companies, this change will be difficult precisely because the voices of the "status quo" is louder than that of innovation and risk taking.

 Now stay with me as I describe some change "thinking" for Nations and Organizations.

 During my many meaningful discussions with my Bulgarian friends, one constant theme became paramount, that being "Nationalism." Nationalism is defined as..."a feeling that people have of being loyal to and proud of their country often with the belief that it is better and more important than other countries." The people I met have a strong national pride. As we discussed business and the challenges presented, they made clear that they desire to go their own way. They have no desire to be American, Russian or anything else other than a strong and vibrant Bulgaria.

 The last time I sensed such a strong and heartfelt national pride was during my work with managers of the Iraqi Oil Ministry. I remember one guy standing up in the middle of a strategic planning session we were having and with tears in his eyes he proclaimed "I love Iraq, I love Iraq, I love Iraq." It was a powerful moment and a reminder to me of the strong unification people have to their home country.  However, "pride" may not be enough in a country or business for long term success. Rather, you must become "exceptional."

 Most people know my loathing of our present administration in Washington D.C., and the many different  levels of transformation which our country is moving toward. I will not make this political, but rather I'm driving home a point. Obama does not believe that America is an exceptional country. Rather, he believes that we are like all other countries in the pride we have. He has confused Nationalism with Exceptionalism. There is a huge difference between the two.

 Exceptionalism is... "the condition of being different from the norm; also : a theory expounding the exceptionalism especially of a nation or region." 

America is exceptional because of our unique standing in the world. Among those things which are different from the norm are, our military strength, economic superiority, free market history along with our founding fathers moral and ethical principles which have guided us through our young history. These are just a few key points and there is no other country who consistently posses these attributes. Does that make us better? Maybe yes and maybe no. Does it make us exceptional? Yes.

 Oddly enough, there are many in our country who seem to resent our exceptionalism and consequently we're losing a strong sense of positive Nationalism which was once unanimous among our citizenry.

 In building an organization for success, time and effort must be given to discovering and practicing being different from the norm. Being proud of your company (or country) may make you feel good, but it won't give you the organizational advantage you are seeking. Espousing cliches, talking about your unique "value formula", or implementing the same old tired training programs will not set you apart from the rest.

 During my work in Stara Zagora, we have already begun the process of "discovery" of what will make this city/country exceptional which will attract a innovative and exciting future. My work causes me to help others think and act differently. Walking along side those in Bulgaria who have a strong sense of Nationalism, I will join Krasimir and his vision in seeking "exceptionalism" in the Balkan region.

It won't be easy, and it won't be instant. It will be a difficult process, but one well worth embracing and one I'm most excited to be part of.

 What about your company or organization? Are you Exceptional or just Proud of who you are?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Breaking Free to Succeed

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 During the week of May 25th I will be working in Bulgaria with a hard working and ethical business leader, Krasimir Krustev, owner of  www.chemitrade.bg
 I will be participating in business round tables, small conferences and lecturing at The Trakia University, Stara Zagora.

 I follow the news and events this region of the world quite closely and during my prep work for this upcoming assignment I came upon an interesting report published by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation which is the number one think tank in Washington D.C. .

 The report concerns the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, covering 186 countries. The report states that they measure economic freedom based on 10 quantitative and qualitative factors, grouped into four broad categories, or pillars, of economic freedom:

 1. Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption);

 2. Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending);

 3. Regulatory Efficiencies (business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom);

 4. Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom.)

 The Report defines Economic freedom as...... "Economic freedom is the fundamental right of every human to control his or her own labor and property. In an economically free society, individuals are free to work, produce, consume, and invest in any way they please. In economically free societies, governments allow labor, capital and goods to move freely, and refrain from coercion or constraint of liberty beyond the extent necessary to protect and maintain liberty itself."


 The United States is ranked 12th behind #1 ranked Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia. The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years. The overall U.S. score decline from 1995 to 2014 is 1.2 points, the fourth worst drop among advanced economies.

 Bulgaria is 61st freest in the 2014 Index. Its overall score is up by 0.7 points.
Bulgaria is ranked 28th out of 43 countries in the European region, and its overall score is above the world average but below the regional average. It is considered "moderately free."

There is a reason why Bulgaria is making gains while the largest economy in the world is declining.

 To see your countries ranking go to www.heritage.org/index/ranking

 As I consider what might be done to make improvements both in my country and those countries I enjoy working with I can think of many. However there are two areas which would be paramount.

 1. Elect government officials who will break the chains of corrupt and unethical practices.

 2. Remove government practices which strangle freedom of individuals and companies to succeed.

Winston Churchill said.."Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery."

Ronald Regan said " Government is not the answer to our problems, government IS our problem"

However, we can not always put blame on outside forces like the government, attitudes, customers, policies etc. as a way to try to explain away their inability to succeed. To many people hold  onto a "victim" mentality.

 While studying this report, I also thought of the freedom employers give (or don't give) the people who work for them. Do they create a helpful culture or do they have policies and procedures that will not allow their people freedom to be successful?

 I look forward to my ongoing discussions with my friends in Bulgaria and around the world.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Selling Out

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My recent posts have had a leaning toward behavior traits that center around issues like the lack of boldness, the need for risk taking and the desire of some people to conform to popular opinion or pop culture. These are traits I've observed in individuals who hold positions of authority, leadership and, indeed, the general population. These behavior traits manifest themselves in business and personal life alike.


Although I always want to be as positive as possible in my posts, I may, on occasion, come off as negative rather than reaching my intended purpose of causing people to think and reflect about their own behavior and that of the organizations they interact with. Today's thoughts may sound harsh, but the fact is a reality of behavior about another group of people. People I call "sellouts."

 Sellouts are those folks who have made a conscious determination to exchange personal conviction for personal convenience or profit. They are not necessarily crooks (although they could be) but rather those who are "gutless" in their standing morally, ethically, or even strategically for self survival, personal gain, or secure standing.

Two quick examples of what I'm talking about. Today, I passed such a person in the Chicago airport. A U.S. Congressman who is a good guy, but unwilling to shake things up in D.C. because of the consequences which may result in loss of status in Washington, or not being re-elected in his home district.
The 2nd is of an acquaintance who once claimed to be strong in his faith, but most recently has declared himself as "spiritual" rather than being specific in what he once considered absolute truth. His new proclamation is difficult to understand because the desire to be all things to all people leaves him weak and without creditability on morale and ethical issues. In both cases, they have become "sellouts."

 Before anyone thinks I'm just casting stones, please understand that the thought of being a "sellout" is first considered and investigated by me, about me.

 For good or bad, I became a consultant precisely because of two events that intersected in my professional life.

 1. Because of many wonderful things that were happening in education and cultural change in the company I was working for, I was asked by other firms to help them in the same process of change management. However, I probably would have never left this fine firm to start my own business, had it not been for the 2nd event.

 2. During my time with this company I was fortunate to work with a wonderful CEO and President/COO. The support, values and vision were perfectly in line with the President of the company. However, this President left our company to work for another firm. The new President was a finance guy and saw education and development as an expense that could be eliminated and would  therefore bolster the bottom line. There are still many executives like this today, but I digress.

 The new President was a nice guy, but was determined to dismantle some of the things we had begun to do while wrapping himself in a protection blanket and justification of budget concerns. He was a very short sighted guy and not a long term process thinker, and certainly not a visionary. The arrival of my travel expenses to his desk, was like fingernails on a chalk board. He just could not bear it! He wrote me a memo and insisted that I immediately stop any activity that would cost money.

 At this point, I had two options. Submit to the mandate and stay with the company and draw a pay check, along with the stock options that my position afforded, or leave the organization and try and find something that was in line with my passion, talent and belief. Although staying would have positioned me much better financially, I chose the latter. I was unwilling to "sell out" and sell my soul for a paycheck.

 It was a tough decision. I'm pretty sure I would have a lot more money in my bank account today had I stayed with this great company, and probably could have found something within the firm to do, but at the time it seemed I had only one option and that was to leave.

As it turned out, God has opened doors in the past 25 years for me that I would have never even seen, let alone walk through, if I had sold out for temporary survival. The funny thing is the new President commented to a friend of mine, after I had left the organization, that "Lewis was really a smart guy. But I just couldn't rein him in."

 Many companies are betting that most of their employees will "sell out" and conform because they need a job.

 I could give a long list of examples of how people sell out professionally and personally. You could too and I challenge you to come up with your own list.

However, I want you to know that "selling out" is something I consider, in my own life, almost daily.

 Will I..
 > Fudge my expense account I send to my clients?

 > Will I lie on my taxes?

 > Will I take unfair advantage for perks that on the surface seem harmless, but are really dishonest?

 > Will I be faithful to my God and live according to the principles I told Him I would? Not because I'm trying to earn His favor, but because of my love for Him?

 > Will I be willing to do what is right for my clients, even though there is nothing it it for me, or even if I should lose money in the process?

 > Will I continue to tell it like it is and give my opinion, to my kids, grandkids, friends and clients, knowing it may be unpopular?

 > Will I stand on principle instead of personal gain?

 Much of this self reflection will not happen for a lot of people. Why? Because they have never seriously thought about what they stand for and what they are willing to sacrifice for. That is why so many people "sleep walk" through life.

 A life lived, but not a life of purpose. It's a sad commentary the number of people who "sell out" for survival and monetary gain. People who are willing to sell their soul for job security, endure insults and disrespect, and compromise for popularity.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Conformity of Nonconformist

                                 
non·con·form·ist :
 a person who does not behave the way most people behave : someone who does not conform.

 Back in my youth they were called "hippies." I went to school at the University of Arkansas and served in the Army. I remember these people as folks who sat in trees on campus or picketed and protested the Vietnam war. Their appearance was long hair, kind of dirty looking, unkept, sandals and beards and smoked dope (a fitting word for a dopey behavior.) The problem was, they all looked alike. They conformed to the way all the other nonconformist looked and behaved. From that nonconformist look, our society began to blend in with a new fashion of long hair, and a cleaner but different style of dress.


Today these same type of people call themselves the 99% er's. Many of the youth today in the U.S. want to look like they are nonconformist, but in reality they are just trying to fit in with everyone else, pressured by pop culture. The nonconformist look today is multiple tattoo's (which was once reserved for prison convicts) and body piercing is considered the "thing" to do for many young people.

 However, this "body art" phenomenon is not shared every where in the world, nor indeed in many professional business organizations. During my recent work in Eastern Europe, the notable absence of "body art" among the young was described to me as a strong family pressure of values.Most business still want to project a professional image.


 During this Easter season, I have thought of Jesus and the fact that many called Him a non-conformist because he was unwilling to conform to the "church" teaching, but rather He held on to the will and purpose of God, the Father. The Apostle Paul encouraged persecuted believers of his time "to be no longer conformed, to the pattern of this world, but rather, be transformed by the renewing of your mind."


 Now lets jump to business conformity or non conformist.... In my last blog post I discussed being a risk taker, someone who is willing to challenge the status quo for the over all good of your customers, your boss and the organization as a whole. Here are some ways people conform to nonconformist...


 > I have several clients who, over the years, have developed a pattern of behavior. Some positive, some negative. One might purposely teach character and acceptable behavior principles while others develop a culture of unkindness and disrespect toward one another.


 > Labor unions for the most part have lost their way. In the 50's they were a powerful force of the nonconformist who no longer would accept the abuse and thuggery of management bosses. Today, unions are strictly a "business" who pretend to be protectors of the little guy but, quite frankly, they are more a political arm of the Democratic party and are supporters of the "entitlement" mentality which, in my opinion, will destroy our free market/capitalist society.


 >"Go along to get along" people in business who have conformed to the way things are done, "because we've always done it that way." In this case we need nonconformists who will shake things up a bit as long as they don't become anarchist.


                    For leaders who read this site, the question is:
  1. Do you encourage honest debate and passionate dialogue among your people? Or do you view those who have an opinion as trouble making nonconformist?
 2. Have YOU become a conformist in your leadership style?
 3.What kind of culture have you created, and what principles of behavior has become common place in your business?


 In some of my lectures, I make a statement that goes something like this..
 "A president is a president, is a president. Their a dime a dozen and I can buy another one any day of the week. What do you do that adds value to your position? Do you just do the job like everyone else, or do you give more than what you are paid to do?" (By the way, you can insert your job title in this question as well if your not a president.) It's a question every employee should ask of themselves honestly.


 If we are to grow as a business, one of the elements needed will be to insure that we properly evaluate whether we are conformist or do we constantly look for ways to be positive nonconformist. Honest reflection and action may be required concerning the above. It is a process for continuous improvement.

 May you all have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Being A Risk Taker

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Peter Drucker said.."People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risk, make about two big mistakes a year."

In my professional life I have unfortunately witnessed many so called "leaders" who are unwilling to  take risk. Most people are much more comfortable with living the status quo. It's not always bad to be a non-risk taker and there is something to be said for those who are consistent, predictable and loyal employees and steady contributing members of society as a whole. Lord knows we need these people and quite frankly they make up more than 80% of our population. Organizations must have people who are dependable and willing to carry out the task. However, we don't need them in positions of leadership. 

Most people I know who have been granted the title of "leader" were people who were at one time, good at something i.e., accounting, maintenance, production worker, sales person, etc. Because of their performance excellence they were promoted by someone who needed a "leader" in the maintenance department, production line, sales department.  As wonderful as that might sound, many organizations have ruined individuals by taking them out of there previous job which they were so talented and placed them in situations that requires completely different skill sets, therefore setting them up for failure. As result they have frustrated the newly appointed promotee, have given him/her no honorable escape from the wrong decision and caused disappointment of the groups they were trying to improve. 

Among the many skills needed for an effective leaders, are that of "risk taker." 

The future is charging at us and our organizations at a rate of 60 seconds per minute. With the onslaught of technology and globalization, doing what we have always have done will put us behind quicker than we could ever imagine. Just yesterday, I heard of another large company in the U.S. moving 600 jobs to Honduras, to escape the pressure of unions, higher taxes (soak the rich mentality) and a complacent work force environment.

What every country, company, business, department desperately needs today is those who are willing to be risk takers, to avoid becoming another sad statistic.

Tragically, we have to many who prefer to "go along to get along" than to shake things up a bit for improvement. Risk has the potential for failure, but also the opportunity for high rewards. 

So what does a risk taker do? Glad you asked...

1. Be Bold!  This does not mean arrogant, but confident in expressing ideas and approaches. In a recent survey, Leaders were ask "What keeps leaders in your organization from being more bold?" 52% of the leaders cited "people don't like disruption and change" as the reason.

2. Be willing to do something different in their own lives that will stretch themselves out of their comfort zone.

3. Speak up. When you see injustice, wrong doing, processes that don't make sense, tell someone. Give your opinion for the solution, not just a complaint. We have enough critics in this world, we need those who will describe a better way.

4. Develop a formula or system for risk taking opportunities. Example:  Many years ago Gore-tex developed a culture that actively engaged and embraced almost every person of the company in decision making and risk by requiring that two questions be honestly answered with a YES before anyone took action on their ideas.

1. Is what you are wanting to do, good for Gore-tex?
2. If you're wrong, can we survive it? 

There is a lot of communication and nuances surrounding these two questions, and I'll be glad to share with you if you want to write me. But, IF you can answer yes, then you have freedom to do just about anything you want to do in the company. 

Warning!  Being a risk taker could bring some added grief along with challenges to your life. I know because as a bold risk taker who is constantly trying to move organizations and people in new directions, I have experienced "push back"criticism and resistance by many who are stuck in the status quo, or from organizational heads who are threatened by something they did not think of or initiate. Pride is a destructive thing.

So, here's the deal. If you have the title of leader (CEO, President, Supervisor, Department Head, Owner or whatever) consider some small, risk taking, initiative within your area of responsibility today. If possible, create a culture of engagement with your employees' to foster risk taking. Don't wait for the R&D department, or an innovation group to come up with ideas that will secure your future in a sometimes brutal but always exciting world. 

Take up the challenge. Take a risk!  Be a real leader!