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power plugYou can have the best strategy on the planet, but nothing gets delivered without your people. They are the powerful core of a great business.

What happens when your workforce isn’t pushing your strategy forward? Well, two things are happening. Some people are headed off in random directions, so you end up with chaos. Others are too afraid to take any significant action at all, so you get nothing.

Neither of those achieves your goals.

We all understand that a team’s actions, individually and collectively, must be focused on the right objectives. That’s what management does.

But out here in the real world, it’s not just about breaking big goals into team objectives and individual actions. If you stick to that, your competition will swiftly overtake you. You’ve ended up with a bureaucracy, where following The Plan is more important than actually moving forward.

This is where leadership comes in. Management operates best with logic and procedure, while leadership calls upon inspiration and emotion. Together, the two elicit focus, dedication, teamwork and self-management.

I’m not saying that your company needs to be overtly emotional. For instance, look at President Kennedy’s moon-shot program during the 1960s. NASA was an amazing engineering organization, and engineers aren’t exactly known to be emotional. But they were absolutely inspired, dedicated and focused — even to the degree that momentum powerfully continued past JFK’s death in 1963.

That’s also a great example of how inspiration is infectious. Congress was absolutely dedicated to the program as well, ensuring generous funding. The Legislature could have done nothing without NASA, and NASA would have done nothing without Congress.

Likewise, your leaders and managers can do little without your workers and partners. They, in turn, will achieve nothing of value without management processes and leadership inspiration.

Together, you can be absolutely unstoppable.

That brings up a major issue, though, with powerful objects. Consider a supertanker, or a freight train, or a rocket engine. They struggle with making quick changes of direction.

Your business needs to operate in a competitive environment, with shifting customer demands and ever-changing technology. In some industries, include unstable government regulation.

Yet your people are good at doing things a certain way, and management structures reinforce sticking to what’s worked well in the past.

This is where true leadership makes the most impact. The best leaders I’ve seen are the ones who refuse to sacrifice the core values and mission of an organization. make timely decisions to alter goals and strategies to keep up with (and lead) change, and drive the management systems to quickly align the workforce around a new direction.

This sounds contradictory: How are we to change direction but not change our mission? We can do it because these are two distinct levels.

Perhaps your deepest personal values are to be healthy and have a long, happy life. Within that, there are many options. A new exercise device comes out that helps you stay healthy while having more fun. Or you get sick for awhile and switch to different exercises. Or you just want to change because you’re tiring of the old routine. All of these changes are perfectly fine for helping you achieve your deeper values.

This is exactly why it’s important to distinguish between the two levels in your business.

If your employees think the purpose of your business is to keep them employed, then they’re operating at a very basic level. You have much bigger goals than that, even ones you would never ever sacrifice.

One way to tell the depth of your goal is with this simple question: Would you rather shut down the business entirely rather than sacrifice the goal? The closer you get to answering “yes,” the more you’ve identified the unshakable foundation of your company.

Does each and every employee understand what that is, and work every day to deliver their part? Is each manager constantly looking for improvements?

Are they inspired?


This article was first published in BizWest.

I’m shocked sometimes by how many business owners think that the transaction with employees is all about exchanging work for money.

That’s what’s on the surface, but it must not stop there. Yes, you can get work in return for pay. But you’re unlikely to get productivity, passion, and caring.

There’s two reasons why this matters. Read the rest of this entry »

OK, I’m going to show my age here.

Jack-Palance-as-Curly-shows-One-Thing-in-City-SlickersIn the 1991 movie City Slickers, there’s a conversation between the wide-eyed Mitch (Billy Crystal) and the grizzled veteran Curly (Jack Palance):

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

[holds up one finger]

Curly: This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s**t.

Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what *you* have to find out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Our economy and our daily lives run on utilities. They’re so critical, in fact, that government plays a major role in ensuring their reliability and pervasive availability. But they also suffer from invisibility.

When something is reliable and universal, we don’t spend much time thinking about it. Until something interrupts it, of course, such as a flood or major storm or a human-caused event.

This happens a lot in business, too.

Read the rest of this entry »

Burning shipIt’s said that Cortéz, upon reaching the New World, directed his men to burn the ships behind them.  It’s a powerful image.

If you’re unfamiliar with this as a business concept, the idea is that at times you need to be fully committed to moving forward, having no option for retreat.

It flies directly in the face of contingency planning.  Which I’m a fan of.

So the real question is:  When is it appropriate to have irreversible commitment, to only look forward?

Read the rest of this entry »

bargain-455999_640I received an interesting email this morning from a company which says it’s recruiting coaches for another (unnamed) firm.  Having a little time to investigate, and being inquisitive, I decided to check it out.

The first thing I did was to type in the name of this company and its website and the word “scam” into Google.  That often finds people who are talking about it in a negative way; if they’re using the word “scam” then they have fairly strong feelings.

Read the rest of this entry »

BriefcaseI’ve talked with a lot of people looking to sell or otherwise retire from the business they own.  The image is that someday, someone’s going to come in with a briefcase full of hundred dollar bills.  The owner will gladly walk away, their future now secure.

But we all know it doesn’t happen that way.

What that briefcase really represents is the security that you have your future in hand, and no matter WHAT happens with the business, you don’t have to worry about it.

It’s about removing risk.

Read the rest of this entry »

Frog“I’ve interviewed tons of people, but nobody seems like a good fit for this job.”

“Well, you know it”s a numbers game! You have to talk to a whole bunch of people to find the good ones.”

There’s many places where we talk about the “numbers game” to be successful:

  • Sales prospecting
  • Finding employees
  • Dating
  • Finding a buyer for your house

Here’s the problem: It’s not exactly false, but it leads you into bad decisions.

Read the rest of this entry »

SONY DSCThere’s one key to a successful business.

We worry about a lot of things, and things get complicated.  Employees, partners, marketing, product development, it goes on and on.

But there’s exactly one thing for you to succeed.  Without it, everything falls apart.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jim RohnMotivational speaker Jim Rohn offered these wise words many years ago:

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

I’m convinced that it’s absolutely true.  When I work with people who are on fire, they ignite me as well.  When I’m with folks who are depressed, my own mood goes downhill.  Quickly.

So what do we learn from this sage advice?
Read the rest of this entry »

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