CHU On Self Leadership – Baby Boomers: Stop Using the C-Word! 

Summary/ Net: Boomers, please stop believing that you “can’t do” things you never mastered before – or better yet – tried without success in the past.  Use “The 5 T’s” to overcome your lack of confidence: Try, Training, The Right Tools, The Requisite Time, and Trial and Error.

I wrote this for three reasons:

  1. Few things frustrate me more than hearing friends, family members, and colleagues say they “can’t” do something when I know they have the capability to learn how to do it.
  2. I recently realized that over the course of my adult life, I have – on multiple occasions – told myself that I “can’t” (or more correctly, “couldn’t,” as these were in the past) do things I later learned to master. A few examples:
  • I thought I couldn’t learn to use a computer, then use Excel, then use “v-lookup” and “pivot tables.” Now, I have completed advanced Excel courses, can create PowerPoint faster than I can talk, and am learning Python.  Similarly, I went from not knowing how to create a simple video to making videos for my nonprofit, policy/ political, and other clients, learning Adobe Premier Pro to do so.
  • I thought I wasn’t handy; couldn’t be trusted to hang a shelf in our apartment. Today, I know I can do finished carpentry, recently building a cabinet that looks like a speaker with a lift to conceal a 70-inch TV in my living room.  I also made a set of bookcases that match the ones built by my friend and excellent carpenter/ contractor “Mr. Wayne.”
  • Although anyone who knows me today has a hard time believing this, not that long ago I thought I couldn’t ride a “drop bar” road bike. So much so that when I started cycling again about 12 years ago, my first purchase was a “flat bar” road bike.  Now, I ride several thousand miles a year on my beloved PARLEE RZ7 – training for endurance cycling events to raise money for research to find a cure for pediatric brain cancer.
  1. I also realized that – living in the 21st century – there are 5 “T’s” we can all use to overcome this lack of self-confidence in our ability to learn how to do most anything: Try, Training, The Right Tools, The Requisite Time, and Trial and Error.

The “5 T’s”

  1. Try

You never know what you can do until you try

– C.S. Lewis

Just try new things. Don’t be afraid. Step out of your comfort zones and soar, all right?”

– Michelle Obama

 

 

 

It’s a trite tautology to say that we fail at 100% of the things we never attempt, but it’s also true.  That said, we have the benefit of living in the 21st century and the “4 T’s” dramatically increase the odds that we can all master new skills and capabilities if we summon the courage to try and take advantage of the resources to help.

  1. Training

Training is everything.”

– Mark Twain

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”                                                                                 –  Henry Ford

While “I don’t know how to do X” or “I’ve never been trained how to do Y” prior to 2008 might have been somewhat acceptable excuses for using the C-Word, that all changed in 2005, when YouTube was created.  Today, YouTube has over 90,000 lectures, tutorials, and courses on a wide range of subjects.  Want to learn how to build a finished carpenter-quality bookcase? Check!  Or to play almost any song on any instrument? Check! Adobe Premiere Pro? Check!

I remember first realizing this when my son Myles started his business making custom grip tape for skateboards in 2011 at age 12.  He sat at our family PC in the kitchen and taught himself how to use Photoshop to turn photos into drawings and then separate the images into individual layers to make stencils for spray painting the color images on the grip tape.  I remember asking Myles why he was using YouTube to learn Photoshop when his skateboarding coach’s wife was the lead instructor at New England School of Digital Photography.  His response – “I can do it myself.  And this is faster.”

In addition to YouTube, there are hundreds of online courses available from excellent providers, including Udemy, Kahn Academy, and LinkedIn Learning.  And most major universities are making their classes available to audit online for free.

  1. Tools

“Make sure that you always have the right tools for the job. It’s no use trying to eat a steak with a teaspoon and a straw.” – Anthony T. Hincks

“Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs

Again, living and learning in the 21st century we have so many excellent tools available to help us learn and do new things.  Using Apple device apps like “Clips” which automatically convert voice to text captions on videos or the right “jig” to make sure the holes for shelf clips on a bookcase line up perfectly makes these formerly formidable tasks incredibly easy.

My transition from telling myself I couldn’t be trusted to mount a TV on the wall to hanging French doors and creating matching built in bookcases in my office was forced on me by the Covid-19 labor shortage.  My awesome contractor extraordinaire “Mr. Wayne” was too busy with larger renovation jobs to help me with my “house perfect list” projects, so I decided to figure out how to complete them myself.  I soon realized that I could buy both the materials – and some really cool “man toy” power tools like a power compound MITRE box – for less than paying someone else to do it for me.  And I get the wonderful byproduct of having more cordless power tools than I ever dreamed of.  (A colleague once said to me: “You realize you are a little boy in a grown man’s body!)

  1. Time

“Time isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing.”                                                                                                        – Miles Davis

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration.  The rest of us just get up and do the work.”                             – Stephen King

 

To learn new things, once you have acquired the requisite training and tools (and training on how to use the tools), you have to put in the time.

Depending on the complexity of the material, skills, or project you are committed to tackling, the requisite time will vary.  As someone who has worked my entire adult life to manage the challenges of ADHD, I often find “getting started” to be one of the greatest hurdles to learning new skills (or completing tasks).  I have found that setting my iPhone timer for 15-20 minutes a very helpful strategy for getting going, saying to myself “Anyone can do this for 20 minutes!” And I often find myself re-setting the 20-minute timer – at times for hours.

Depending on the complexity of your challenge, great strides can be made over a few weeks or months by learning and practicing for as little as ten minutes a day.  I am a great fan of the book Atomic Habits, which praises the compounding power of just doing something one percent more each day. Language learning apps like Babble and brain training tools like Brain HQ are great tools for learning new skills and improving focus, short term processing memory and pattern recognition in bite sized lessons and games that yield significant improvement with little time invested on a daily basis.

Atomic Habits also recommends developing “habit stacking” routines, where you combine new routines with existing ones.  Examples from the fitness world include doing 50 air squats and heel raises while taking your daily shower or completing a few language and brain training exercises from Babble and Brain HQ while on the treadmill or stationary bike.

Other types of intellectual capital can be created by investing in a few hours of training.  Examples include specific software skill hands-on training – a few years ago, I invested in a one day 6-hour advanced Excel course produced by the company ONLC and was amazed at how much I learned (and was able to focus thanks to the extraordinary instructor and course design) and was able to apply immediately after completing the course.  A one-or two-hour cooking class can transfer a ton of skills and knowledge toward mastering new recipes and techniques, and weekend tennis or golf schools can raise your game to the next level.

  1. Trial & Error/ Try Again.

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”                                                                                                                                                                             – Thomas Edison

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”                                                                                                                                                           – Abert Einstein

The journey of learning new skills will often require a healthy dose of “trial and error.”  I learned the hard way during my “self-apprenticeship” to acquire finish carpentry skills to practice any permanent tasks – e.g. cutting, drilling and especially routing – on scrap wood before trying to rout out the space to countersink hinges on a finished door!  “Measure twice, cut once” is also a helpful mantra.

While writing this article, I thought a lot about why I succumbed to the negative self-talk of the “C-Word” for so many years.  One of the root causes of this destructive thinking appeared to be pervious failures at specific tasks, which given my career success as both an entrepreneur and consultant, is puzzling.  Although consultants and entrepreneurs/ business leaders have very different skills and attitudes on many levels, one phase both professions abhor is “We tried that already, and it didn’t work,” a phrase often used by “experienced” clients, managers, and traditional investors to kill innovative ideas, approaches, and products.

APPLE NEWTON

Imagine if Thomas Edison had held that point of view – I might be writing this article by the light of a whale oil lamp! Edison “failed” more than 1,000 times before producing a working light bulb, but is remembered for his beautiful quote “I have not failed 10,000 times–I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways it will not work.”

Or if Apple had concluded that a personal assistant/ communication device could not be developed and commercially successful based on the failed Newton – a brick size device launched in 1993.

While I am a huge fan of the trial-and-error method and learning from one’s mistakes, I also keep in mind Einstein’s definition of insanity as “Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”  To stop using the dreaded “C-Word” and happily live on a vertical learning curve, it’s important to differentiate between learning new skills or creating new products and services that require constant repetition with many errors along the way – such as learning to play Hendrix’ Little Wing on guitar – with those that require continuous innovation and improvement – like the “Newton to iPhone” example above.  One of the greatest lessons I learned from my late father was the power of “Creative Persistence,” and I have often said that creative persistence is the key to all entrepreneurial success.  (For more on this, see my article “A Tribute To the Original Collaboration Evangelist.”)

Will Koehrsen’s excellent article “The Mundanity of Excellence: Talent Does Not Determine Success and Why That Terrifies People,” echoes many of these points in his excellent summary of “The Mundanity of Excellence” by Daniel Chambliss and also draws on insights from the books Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (Ericsson); Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance (Hutchinson); Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Duckworth); Principles (Dalio) and The Power of Habit (Duhigg). Koehersen’s summary of these great works:

“When we objectively study excellence, we discover:

  1. Excellence requires doing small, ordinary things consistently right.
  2. Innate talent is not responsible for high achievement.
  3. Significant improvement results from qualitative changes in how you practice skills, not from doing more of the same.

I hope this challenge to those of my – and all – generations to stop using the “C-Word” by leveraging the “5 T’s” is of value to you.  I would appreciate both your feedback on this article and any strategies you have used to learn and master new things.

 

CHU

6 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Beautiful Mother

Today is the 103rd Anniversary of my beautiful mother’s birthday.  At her 2004 memorial service, I spoke about 6 of the most important lessons she taught me by the way she lived her 85 years.  Recently, I have thought a lot about the Leadership Lessons I learned from her words and actions:

  1. Take care of yourself
  2. Sweat the details
  3. Never stop learning
  4. Listen and communicate
  5. Always be optimistic, and
  6. Help others in need.

A few details about these lessons and how my mother modeled them follow:

 1. “Take care of yourself.”

It is critical that leaders take care of themselves – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – in order to maximize their ability to lead others.  Self-care enables leaders to both operate at their full potential in terms of their personal productivity and Intellectual, Implementational and Inspirational Leadership Skills and it sets a great role model for those they lead.

We found a file in my mother‘s desk over the weekend labeled, “inspirational quotes.” One of the items in the file was a handwritten page titled Don’t forget to note. In the first quote was “age is not an important unless you are a cheese.”

As amazing as it sounds, my mother spent only 27 of her 30,561 days in the hospital, and 12 of those were to give birth to my sisters and me. At the age of 82, my mother planned a vacation to Canaan Valley State Park. During that trip we also visited Blackwater Falls where she insisted on walking down and back up over 100 stairs to see the beautiful river.

How did she stay so healthy? My mother was wise. Living at a time when the benefits of diet and exercise were not nearly as well known or promoted as they are today, my mother knew. When we were kids, our next-door neighbors often had hamburgers and French fries or heaping plates of pasta for dinner but not us.   Never French fries. Occasionally pasta, but only if accompanied by three vegetables – two green and one starch. And, we had to eat three bites of everything, no matter how “yucky” it was.

I can remember when I was around 10 years old my mother doing leg lifts on her bedroom floor and other exercises to accomplish what we now call “strengthening the core.“ Today, these exercises are performed daily by professional athletes and weekend warriors as well.

My mother had amazing discipline.  She somehow managed to live in the Governor’s Mansion – home of the world’s largest cookie jar always full of the chef’s homemade chocolate chip cookies – and not gain a pound! I am sure I put on more weight during a weekend visit than she did living there for four (actually eight in total) years.

2. “Sweat the details.”

As a lifelong student of business (and leadership) successes and failures, I have come to believe that one of the greatest causes of business failure continues to be leaders who do not understand the details of their enterprise – literally the micro and macroeconomics of their products and services and those of their partners and customers. The collapse of Enron, the subprime mortgage/ credit default swap crisis are prime examples. So too are the tombstones of the “dot bomb” era.

Manners, appearance and knowing the correct way to do “all things” were of great importance to my mother. As children, we were all homeschooled with the details Emily Post’s book of etiquette. I can assure you my sisters and I were as thrilled about this part of our education as most kids would be today. But I can also assure you that a few years later, when attending a formal eight course dinner at Oxford or the Greenbrier or the White House, we were thankful we knew what to do with all that silverware.

When my father became governor at the age of 34 in 1956, my mother was thrust upon the national stage with him. She knew that part of her role as First Lady was to represent the people of West Virginia on that stage and that her appearance and performance were important elements to transforming the brand of our state. A few weeks before she passed on, mother told my sister Sharon that she would make sure to look especially good on the days she wasn’t feeling so well, so that others were less likely to notice.  Great advice I have used frequently over the years.

3. “Never stop learning.”

Related to the point above, leaders have to love being on a vertcal learning curve.  This is critically important in the globally connected, technology and AI driven rapidly evolving economy of the 21st century.  As Jim Fowler – EVP and Chief Technology Officer of Nationwide and former GE CIO says, “Success in the 21st century is dependent on one’s ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn new ways of doing business.”

 My mother believed in lifelong learning, and was a devoted consumer of newspapers, magazines, books and especially her beloved NPR

In 1995, my ex-wife Patty and I gave my mother a computer for Christmas. Before leaving West Virginia, we wrote out detailed instructions on exactly (we thought) how to compose and send an email.  When we returned home to Toronto, we found several “emails” from her that read something like this:

Dear Patty and Craig, thank you for the wonderful comp

Dear Patty and Craig thank you for the wonderful comp

Dear Patty and Craig thank you for the wonderful comp

Need help, the words keep disappearing!

We realized that the words were scrolling off the screen – not something that happens on an IBM Selectric typewriter!  So, at the time, we thought maybe a computer wasn’t the best gift idea we ever had. But just three days before she passed, we were thrilled to receive an email from mom, announcing that after almost a decade of “needing to learn to use email,” she had succeeded!

4. “Talk a lot, listen to and communicate with your family.”

The more leadership experience I gain and the more leaders I learn from, the more I believe that communication – thoughtful, effective two-way communication and listening to your team members, partners, and customers rise to the top of the most important characteristics of successful leaders.

After leaving the Governor’s Mansion, my father thought it would be a good idea to return to the family home in Huntington, West Virginia. My mother thought differently, wanting it to be a short drive to see her Charleston grandkids. Guess who won?

Shortly after our first child Jordan was born, I asked my mother for advice on being a parent.  Without pause, she said “Communicate. Talk to your kids as much as you can and make sure you listen to them when they talk. And you and Patty talk and listen to each other too.”

My mother was always there for her family, whether that meant walking upstairs stadium or theater stairs to watch a ball game or see a play, or flying to Toronto and Boston for grandparents’ day. Her home was filled with pictures of her kids and her grandkids.  And even at 85, she was still the cruise director of the family, scheduling vacations, cooking Easter dinner, and planning our annual family photoshoot.

5. “Always be an optimist.”

In addition to knowing the details of their enterprise economics, leaders – especially entrepreneurs striving to create something truly new – must have the ability to find a “path to daylight’ no matter how challenging or difficult the hurdles they are confronted with. This is one of the most critical communication skills of inspirational leaders.  One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela, who wrote “It always seems impossible until someone does it.”

My mother was a social worker, a first lady, and a tireless advocate for helping underserved children – challenging roles during a very challenging time. My mother truly did see a world where the glass was always “half full. “ She almost never complained and had the almost unbelievable strength to make it through even the most difficult times.  When it was time to leave the Governor’s Mansion in 2001, my siblings and I thought it would be a good idea for mom and dad to move to Edgewood Summit, a beautiful independent and assisted living facility. They thought otherwise, and again, they won. One of the reasons my mom gave for not wanting to live there was she didn’t want to look like a “little old lady riding the bus.”  At that time she was 83 years old and maybe 4’10 and 1/2” tall  – on a good day –  but I remember thinking, “If you think you don’t look like a little old lady, we can roll with that!”

6. “Help others in need.”

Since my mother’s passing, the brand enhancing, economic and talent acquisition benefits of being good members of the communities businesses operate in and their commitment to helping those born in underserved zip codes succeed have been well documented. Leaders need to walk the walk and lead by example to realize these benefits.

As the West Virginia newspapers’ wonderful stories about my mother’s passing reminded us, her legacy is not only that of a loving wife, mother, and grandmother but also of a devoted public servant in her own quiet way. From her early career as a social worker to making time to support the Cammack Children Center for Orphans – even as a young mother with three small children and a traveling husband – to her incredible service as the first lady of West Virginia, my mother used all of her resources and assets to help those in need, to help those who were not lucky enough to have parents or access to education or basic healthcare. She was a tireless and effective advocate for children and women’s issues and we can all honor her life’s work by following in her footsteps

Although my mother’s body left this earth in 2004, to all who were blessed to know her and especially those of us who got to call her mom or grandmom, her soul and spirit are very much with us today and will remain forever in the lessons she taught by how she lived:

Take care of yourself

Sweat the details

Never stop learning

Listen and communicate with your family

Always be optimistic, and

Help others in need.

My mother kept this quote from Emerson on her desk:

To laugh often and much: to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to appreciate beauty; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.   

 My mother clearly succeeded and I am blessed to have learned and remind myself of these lessons from her.

 

LEADING BY LISTENING – A LESSON FROM COACH K

LEADING BY LISTENING – A LESSON FROM COACH K

Near the end of Duke’s Sweet 16 victory over Texas Tech, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski), one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history listened to his players – who asked him to let them change from zone defense to play “man to man.”  He agreed and Duke went on to win and, after beating Arkansas and will play in tonight’s Final Four matchup vs. North Carolina.

Think about that for a moment – Coach K has been coaching college ball for 48 years – that’s more than five times the combined college basketball experience of his starting five players.  By listening to his players and changing his mind, he exhibited an extraordinary level of confidence in himself and his young team.

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A Collaboration Campaign – 5 Observations From 8 Days On The Front Lines In Georgia

Summary: We drove over 3,000 miles last week from Boston to Atlanta, Jonesboro, Ellenwood, McDonough, Riverdale, Montgomery, Griffin, Lagrange, Oxford and Covington, Georgia and back home.  We travelled south to work door-to-door canvassing to help the Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win their runoff races to represent Georgia in the US Senate.  The bulk of our time was invested in “curing” rejected ballots – mail-in ballots that had been rejected because the voter didn’t include the requisite ID or the Board of Elections reviewer decided that their signature did not match the one on file.

We realized that voter suppression was not only real, but much more insidious and painful than imagined.  Warnock and Ossoff won because their campaigns and the efforts of the Georgia Democratic Party were far superior to those of the Republicans, and because Stacey Abrams and her 2018 gubernatorial campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo provided the strategy and the intellectual, implementational and inspirational leadership to win the Georgia races and  flip the US Senate.  We also experienced the highs and lows of Wednesday, January 6th.  We woke to see data convincing us that both Warnock and Ossoff would win, were moved and inspired by the words and Memorial of Dr. King next to the  Ebenezer Baptist Church and then watched the horrific events unfold at our Nations Capitol throughout the afternoon and evening. As heartbreaking as those images and acts were, we remain optimistic about our future given both the impact of the leadership and work we saw in Georgia and the words of Dr. King who reminds us that “the moral arc of the universe bends slowly, but it bends in the direction of justice.”

 “We came to Georgia to do GOTV work, we were blessed to have the opportunity to do civil rights work.”

The 5 Observations from 8 Days on the Front Lines in Georgia

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Leveraging Your Greatest Sales & Marketing Assets – Intellectual Leadership

Net: CEO’s and other company leaders with a enterprise view of their operations are uniquely positioned to identify and share best practices in all areas.  This opportunity can be greatest in organizations that operate in multiple locations with a lot of entrepreneurial flexibility to pilot new ideas, especially in sales and marketing. One way to capture best practices if to identify your brand’s most compelling assets and challenge yourself and other leaders to make sure you are utilizing both your most powerful messages and the most effective 21st Century communications media for sharing them.

My education as a consumer marketer wasn’t always pretty.  Among other screw-ups (see Leading by F***ing Up), our launch marketing campaign for AIR MILES Canada was so bad it was featured in a popular case study taught at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivy School of Business.  But somehow we managed to correct, learn from and survive from our mistakes and went on to enroll over 70% of Canadian Households as active members in the program and the company (now the LoyaltyOne Division of Alliance Data NYSE ADS) continues to win awards as one of the most recognized and respected brands in the country.

One of the insights we had in our earliest days was to make sure we identified and leveraged every potential sales and marketing asset available to us.  That included assets like the phenomenal support of our partners like Canada Safeway, Shell and Bank of Montreal/ MasterCard and the opportunity to co-brand our start-up with these extraordinary franchises.  We also created opportunities for partners to share their co-branded marketing, data-based direct mail, email and social media marketing and the business results from these initiatives at quarterly MAB (Marketing Advisory Board) meetings.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend several inspirational Year Up Graduations, from Miami to Atlanta to NYC.  In addition to hearing the incredible stories of transformation told by the young adults we serve, I also noticed a number of “best practices” being implemented by our regional teams across the country. On the flight back to Boston, I took a few minutes to reflect on the most powerful assets available to all of us who work at Year Up that can be leveraged to communicate our value proposition to the organization’s stakeholders, including our corporate partners and potential targets, our investors, future employees and students.  Realizing that I have not always been the most thoughtful and strategic about leveraging these assets, I sketched out a small matrix to use as a kind of “check list” for our work:

The matrix forces us to think about the potential assets available to us when preparing for stakeholder engagement – Year Up Student Success Stories; the Value our Corporate Partners tell us they receive from working with Year Up; our incredible growth of the number of students we have served (from 22 to 4,000) and the corporate partners who have hired them (from 12 to 250+); and the endorsements of third parties, including leading industry groups, foundations, investors, academic institutions and others.  It also reminds us to use the most effective 21st Century communications media to share these assets.

We originally used this when developing a strategy to grow our partnership with individual companies, but more recently are also using it as we think about maximizing opportunities within industry verticals like finance, insurance, health care, technology and education.

If you are interested in learning more about Year Up’s assets and media/ communication opportunities, a few details follow:

  1. The voice and transformational stories of the young adults we serve.

Ideally, we would all be able to take at least one student with us to every Year Up stakeholder meeting, or better yet, to get every stakeholder or influencer to spend some time at one of our amazing sites with a few students.  But we don’t live in an ideal world and can’t always do that.

The good news is that we have several options for virtually bringing our students to stakeholder engagements, including the incredible student success stories produced by our marketing group, student pictures and quotes like the ones in our presentations and our screen savers and many incredibly powerful videos, including the 60 Minutes episode; our Cyber Security video that features CISO’s from leading companies like LinkedIn, Symantec and Salesforce and several students and the JP Morgan Chase video staring several AML and other alumni working at Chase and (then CIO) John Galante.  Our marketing team also recently developed a 90 second video “mashup” that combines clips from the GE Year Up Partnership video with those from Angel Navarez’ graduation speech.  It is one of the most powerful and efficient ways we know to explain what we mean by “Crossing the Opportunity Divide.”

  1. Year Up’s growth and track record of success

Although we are all used to seeing this chart, business leaders and other stakeholders often have the following reaction: “Wait, it looks like you continued to grow right through two recessions” – something most companies were not been able to do.

The leading nonprofit strategy consulting firm Bridgespan recently named Year Up as the largest, fastest growing and most successful youth serving organization founded this century.  That quote, when combined with a chart like the one below, almost always resonates with our corporate partners, business development prospects and other stakeholders:

  1. The world class brands and incredible support of and feedback from Year Up’s corporate partners

The privilege to use our corporate partners’ logos and – in many cases – literally co-brand Year Up with so many of the country’s largest and most respected companies and other leading enterprises is another incredible asset.

We have been able to do this since our earliest days and at times, it might be something we almost take for granted.  But those of us with entrepreneurial experience can assure you that most nonprofit and early stage for profit companies would die to be able to co-brand their enterprises with JP Morgan Chase, Salesforce, Harvard University, Facebook, Google, GE and so many others.

We recently added these charts showing the growth of two of our largest partners alongside the one above to demonstrate that Year Up has clearly been able to “serve our mission through the market:”

We also recently realized that we have been collecting Net Promoter Score (NPS) data as part of our Week 14 Internship Feedback Survey.  NPS is one measure of customer satisfaction that is used by many of our largest partners, including JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, AT&T and GE.  The NPS survey is deceptively simple, asking only one question: On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely would you be to recommend Year Up to a friend or colleague?  The NPS score is calculated by subtracting the percent of “0-6” responses from the percent of “9 and 10” ratings.

Average scores are published annually for many industries.  An NPS of 30 or higher is considered positive.  The average NPS Score from Year Up’s partner intern managers is 50 and ranges from 30 to 59.  The chart below compares recent Year Up NPS scores from several partners with the average NPS score of 14 for the U.S. staffing agency industry over the past seven years.

Another powerful way to share the success of our interns, graduates and alumni is through relevant quotes, like these from the 60 Minutes Episode about Year Up:

  1. Third party endorsers.

Many highly respected third party experts, leaders, publications and organizations have endorsed Year Up’s model and results, including The Bridgespan Group, 60 Minutes, Harvard Business School, American Banker and others.  Although not all of these endorsements will have the same impact with each stakeholders, over our 17 year history, we have received an impressive number of awards, business school case studies, and articles in respected publications and you can almost always find a relevant third party endorser that will resonate and add gravitas to Year Up for most stakeholder groups – corporate partner vertical, foundation, investor or community leaders.

One way to think about how effective you are at using these four assets is to refer to this matrix that lays out your assets and the media you can use to bring them to life in the most effective way possible:

We are not suggesting that you share or present multiple media sources of each asset in every stakeholder meeting.  We are suggesting that you use at least one media type (e.g. data driven charts, corporate partner testimonials) for each asset during your initial meetings to understand which asset and format hits both the “heart and head bulls eye” of those you are pitching to buy your products and services and/ or support your mission. Once you understand what message and medium is most effective to your specific stakeholder, you can then tailor future communications to emphasize those assets and media that area most effective with him or her.

We would love to hear your thoughts on creative ways you have used the assets of the enterprises you have led and the media you have used to showcase them.

CHU

The Most Important Leadership Book I Have Read (and the shortest blog post!)

Net: One of the most important roles of leaders and managers is to “look for people doing things right and tell them.”

Like most companies, The Loyalty Group (now the LoyaltyOne division of Alliance Data) had Operating Principles.  Ours were:

  • Work together
  • Be at cause
  • Respect & challenge each other
  • Teach & learn
  • Have fun

One of my goals when seizing the opportunity to start a new company was to create a culture where we were we were all driven by the goal of creating the future first and doing what others found impossible while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.  I quickly learned that simply espousing these principals and putting them on the walls of our offices was perhaps necessary but terribly insufficient to create the kind of culture we envisioned.

After a few (painful) false starts we built these principles into several company processes and policies:

  • Recruiting – no one was asked to join the company before a senior executive (often me) had shared our Operating Principles with the potential employee and received their commitment to leading by these principles.
  • We hired an industrial psychologist to conduct an anonymous employee feedback survey twice a year. The survey included questions about our managers’ leadership style and asked employees to rate their managers on how well they modeled “leading by the Operating Principles.”
  • 10% of the bonus for anyone who managed one or more employees was calculated based on their team members’ responses to “leading by the Operating Principles” questions.
  • We probably terminated more employees for violating our Operating Principles than for any other reason.

Given the importance of our Operating Principles and our commitment to taking employee feedback seriously, the semi-annual meeting when our industrial psychiatrist presented the results was well attended and no one was checking email or otherwise “not present.”

Although over two decades ago, I still remember the first meeting we had with our psychologist to review the employees’ feedback like it was yesterday.  Our team member’s feedback was fairly positive until she came to the section on “communication.”  Although our industrial psychologist was a highly professional and buttoned down PhD, I believe her exact words were “you all suck at communication.”  She clearly had our attention as everyone on the management team was at least somewhat stunned at her proclamation.  We thought we were doing all the right things when it came to communication – we had monthly town meetings, a frequent feedback culture, shared company updates through email blasts, I had lunch with five customer service representatives every month and our leadership team “double jacked” in our call center several times a year.

Our psychologist told us we needed to read The One Minute Manager.  Published several years before our meeting, I had seen the book in bookstores but never bought it.  At that time, I was a big reader, but focused on consuming “serious” books published by Harvard, MIT or Oxford; books on strategy, leadership and customer service.  The One Minute Manager looked to be about 50 pages long and I didn’t think it could possibly add value to me or other leaders of our company.  But given her feedback and alarming “you suck” conclusion, I bought it at Toronto’s Pearson Airport that evening and read it on my flight to Montreal.

The book’s most important message was simple: Leaders and managers should make it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them.” This is especially important for entry level team members and anyone joining an “apprenticeship business,” like Bain Consulting in the 80’s, Loyalty or Year Up where, over the course of their existence, these industry leaders have developed approaches, processes and other practices to deliver their mission.

Looking for people doing things right and telling them is critical for at least two reasons:

  1. Team members, especially those new to the company or industry, often do not realize when they are doing something “right.” I remember this being modeled expertly by my Bridgespan colleague Susan Wolf Ditkoff when we were developing a strategy for the nonprofit Common Cents.  On one occasion, Mandy Taft, a relatively new member of our team (but with significant work experience prior to joining Bridgespan) had presented to our client.  As soon as we got in a taxi for LGA, Susan said to Mandy “you did a great job presenting this morning and let me tell you exactly what you did that was effective…”
  2. Thankfully, our industrial psychologist told us exactly what we were doing wrong during the meeting mentioned above at the Loyalty Group. Our leadership error wasn’t that we didn’t give positive feedback – it was that we almost always followed up a “great work” comment with something like “but, did you ever think about doing this…” or “what if we added this…”  Unbeknownst to us, a lot of our team members where hearing “she/he thinks I could have done this better.”  Immediately after this session, our leadership team made it a priority to “look for people doing things right and tell them” and also were more conscious of and thoughtful about adding constructive feedback – often separating the “plus” from the “delta” in Year Up parlance.

Although I believe LoyaltyOne’s specific operating principles have evolved over the past two decades, I’m pretty sure their spirit lives on and that they are one of the major contributors to the company’s extraordinary track record. Long after I handed over the leadership reigns to JS and BAP, the company continues to define what it means to “create the future while treating people with respect and having fun along the way.”  Few companies can match their accomplishments, including: 20%+ annual growth; one of the key drivers of the highest performing North American stocks; perennially selected as one of the best companies to work for, best companies for diversity, best companies for women,and best corporate culture.  I will forever be grateful to Sir Keith Mills who gave me the opportunity to play a small part in getting this wonderful enterprise off the ground, but the real credit goes to my leadership team members, every one of our associates and those that continue to lead the company into the future.

Love to hear your favorite leadership books or others that have had a significant impact on you.

CHU

 

Leading by f*ing up

My brilliant friend Morra Aarons-Mele, creator of the podcast “Hiding in the Bathroom” and author of a book by the same name subtitled “An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You Would Rather Stay Home),” recently posted the poignant question “How do you stop obsessing over a f-up?” on Facebook.

I responded to her post:

Here’s how I TRY to put f-ups behind me. 1. Write it down 2. Identify lessons learned, if any. 3. Share my mistakes with team members and mentees.

 At our company The Loyalty Group, we hosted annual Experience Sharing Conferences with the management teams of our sister companies from around the world. A highlight was always the presentations by each CEO on the biggest mistakes made over the past year. One of our Operating Principles was “Learn from you mistakes, don’t dwell on them. Identify the lessons learned, share them and move on.”

Morra’s question and several recent experiences with leaders who seem hesitant to ever admit – much less promote – their mistakes stimulated this article.

Here’s what you can do to use your mistakes to add value to the missions you pursue and the teams you lead:

  1. Be ruthlessly self-candid about the mistakes you have made. Recognize them.
  2. After you recover, think about the lessons learned. What – in hindsight – could you have done before the moment of your mistake to have prevented it?  I have often found this simple matrix from Chapter 3 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People helpful:

 

In his book, Covey makes the important point that leaders often find their days consumed with responding to and managing both work and personal “emergencies” and “crisis.”  They live in Quadrant 1, spending their time on critically important and urgent issues.  His more important insight is that many of these crisis could have been avoided if leaders focused more on and invested in Quadrant 2 activities and issues:

One of the challenges of this paradox is – in most cases – if you don’t invest in Quadrant 2 initiatives today, you likely won’t lose a customer, key employee or experience other professional or personal pain today.  E.g. If you don’t get some exercise today, it’s unlikely that will lead to a heart attack.  Another challenge is we often find it difficult to find the time to prioritize Quadrant 2 activities because we end up spending all of our time putting out Quadrant 1 fires.  This analysis may be helpful as you think through the lessons learned from your most recent mistake. One of our insights was that we needed to make Quadrant 2 initiatives mandatory and – on the rare occasion  when all else failed – give them same “nights and weekends” priority we would Quadrant 1 emergencies.

  1. Share –  and even consider promoting – the mistakes you have made with your colleagues, the teams you lead and the people you mentor. In order to successfully do this, you need to both lead by example – share your own mistakes – and ensure you have created a consistent culture and a work environment where employees feel safe sharing their own mistakes.  One way we did this at The Loyalty Group (now Alliance Data’s LoyaltyOne division) was to incorporate the company’s 10 Operating Principles into to our bi-annual employee feedback survey.  One section of the survey asked employees to rate their manager’s performance re “leading by each of the Operating Principles” over the past six months on a one to 10 scale.   And we put some teeth in our commitment to leading by our Operating Principles by basing 10% of all managers’ annual bonus on their team members’ responses to these questions.  Perhaps more importantly, I am sure we fired more managers for not leading by our Operating Principles than for any other reason.
  2. Continuously analyze the root causes of mistakes and make sure you are investing in training, capabilities, programs and other resources to decrease the probability of repeating them.
  3. Although we all try to not make the same mistake twice and thereby modeling Einstein’s axiom “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different results is the definition of insanity,” mistakes will inevitably happen.  Sometimes more than once.  If this happens, repeat steps 1-5 and keep moving forward.  I’s OK to cut yourself some slack.

Please share your experiences with learning by and leading from your mistakes.

CHU

4 T-Shirts in the Entrepreneur’s Closet

Net: A Year Up student recently asked me if I had any favorite any motivational words or slogans.  I told her about the 4 T-shirts we wore at Sports Loyalty International: Carpe Diem; Never, Ever Quit, No Regrets & Breakthrough.  After speaking with her, I realized they applied to my current role at Year Up as well.

My favorite “unsuccessful” company has to be Sports Loyalty International.  We had a great, fun, talented team; phenomenally supportive investors; an all-star advisory board; and what we believed was a uniquely transformative program and business model.  We also had cool T-shirts.

In addition to making the morning wardrobe choice a very easy one, the words on SLI’s 4 T-shirts became motivating slogans to our 8 person team and closest advisors.  Recently, while visiting Year Up’s Atlanta site with GE CTO and Year Up champion Adam Radisch, I met an amazing young woman named Ariel Terrell.

Ariel asked me if I had any favorite words or slogans that I turned to for inspiration and motivation.  She shared that she was planning to cover the walls of her basement family room with inspirational words for her kids. I asked the young lady how many children she had and was surprised when she responded “five.”  Ariel explained that she had adopted her sister’s three children several years ago when her sibling was unable to care for them and then had two of her own.  I asked her “When do you sleep?” and she responded “rarely!” This is one of literally hundreds of stories I could tell you about the grit and determination of our students.  They are the embodiment of the Year Up brand, the primary reason we have grown from serving 22 students in 2001 to 3,700 this year and my greatest source of inspiration and energy.

So, back to our T-Shirts.  I told Ariel about our slogans: Carpe Diem; Never Ever Quit; No Regrets and Breakthrough, and also shared a few inspirational quotes. On the plane back to Boston, I thought about these slogans and realized they also apply to those of us who lead corporate partner development for Year Up.

Carpe Diem

I probably first heard the phrase Carpe Diem in the movie Dead Poets Society.  I also heard it in my head over and over again when making the decision to accept the offer from Sir Keith Mills in 1991 to start the Loyalty Group in Canada. As entrepreneurs at SLI, we realized that every day was a gift from our investors.  They believed enough in our vision and our team to give us the opportunity to create a new type of loyalty program that had never been successfully developed in the world’s largest market. At the same time we were keenly aware – as are all start-up’s – that we had limited funds and therefore days to close the requisite number of customers to create an economically viable business before running out of capital.  To us, Carpe Diem meant seize the opportunity you have been given to create the future every minute of every day you work.    I have a similar feeling about Year Up.  I remind myself every day that I am incredibly fortunate and privileged to work in service to our amazing students and the opportunities corporate partners like GE give them to cross the Opportunity Divide.

Never Ever Quit

True confessions – we stole this from Winston Churchill’s “never, never, quit.” This was our mantra when three of us started The Loyalty Group in a Toronto hotel room in 1991 and became our business development rallying cry during the 8 years I was fortunate to run the company.  While in Canada, I was often asked to speak to business school students and share our strategy and leadership principals at other companies’ management team meetings and executive retreats.  A common question was “what’s the key to success when starting a business?”  Without hesitation, I always responded “creative perseverance.”

Creative perseverance is something I learned from my father who still holds the record for being both the youngest and the oldest person ever elected governor of a US state.  What most people don’t remember is that he actually lost three elections in between these historic milestones – an experience that would have eliminated the desire to ever run for elective office again in most human beings – but not him.  During his successful 1996 campaign, he didn’t re-use the slogans or policies from earlier attempts, but instead developed a platform around using technology to improve the employment opportunities and quality of life for West Virginians.  He adopted the slogan “A Leader for New Times,” secured the URL governor.com and created one of the first political campaign web sites.

The point of creative perseverance is to “never, ever, quit” but – equally important – it is to remember Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When I was Loyalty’s CEO It took me six years to land what became one of our largest customers and likely doubled the value of the company.  Every quarter I emailed the target CEO, but I never sent him the same message as the previous quarter.  I never wrote, “Hey it’s me again, asking for yet another meeting to talk about our loyalty program.”  Instead, I sent him examples of new innovations we had created to add value to other corporate partners: a recent case study on the ROI from investing in our program from a similar business; a new internet marketing application we had developed; a new database marketing product; the increased percentage of households in his store’s trading area that had joined our program; and our latest research showing the number of customers who would increase their spending at his stores if he joined our coalition. After literally six years of this water torture, he eventually succumbed and became (and remains) one of our most important customers.  At the dinner when we celebrated the signing of our contract, he said “you eventually became too logical to ignore.”

While I hope it never takes 6 years to convince a new corporate partner to hire Year Up interns and graduates, I recently realized that while I have diligently followed the mantra of “never, ever quit,” I have often failed to remember the importance of “creative perseverance.” Far too often, I emailed or called unresponsive targets with a message asking for an initial or follow-up meeting.  That actually worked in several instances as I secured meetings with leading companies after months of weekly requests, but – realizing my lack of creativity – I now wonder how much more efficient my efforts could have been if I included new case studies, articles, success stories, etc. from other Year Up partners in their industries.  One of the great things about Year Up is we have not only great “sizzle” – student and partner video testimonials, the 60 Minutes episode, etc., but also great “steak” – real quantitative studies and evidence of the value we create with our partners.  And with 3,700 students in 17 locations providing talent to over 200 corporate partners this year, we are constantly creating a steady stream of new “sizzle” and “steak” that can be used to accelerate our business development sales cycle.

No Regrets

“No regrets” is pretty simple.  At SLI, we refused to say the words “would have, should have, could have” the morning after losing a sale.  It means doing your very best, seizing every opportunity and “leaving it all on the canvas,” to use a boxing metaphor.  Although I loved the three years we worked together to try and get SLI off the ground, I had no regrets when we finally ran out of runway and investor patience. We gave it our best shot and used the full capabilities of our extraordinary team and partners.

But to be clear, “no regrets” does not imply that we never made mistakes.  One of our Operating Principals was “We learn from our mistakes, we don’t dwell on them.” I have always believed that I learn more from my mistakes than almost any other activity.  At The Loyalty Group, we hosted an annual “Global Experience Sharing Conference” where the management teams of sister companies from the UK, Netherlands and Spain would get together.  A highlight of these meetings was sharing “The 10 Dumbest Things We Tried Last Year.”  I recently realized I should be sharing the mistakes I have made over the last several months with the team members who work with me across the country.

Breakthrough

By definition, entrepreneurs are trying to create a product or service that has never existed before – otherwise, there would be no entrepreneurial opportunity.  Successfully creating a new product or service requires all of the above, but it also requires “breakthrough moments” when a prospective customer or investor “gets it.”  Although I realize some other experts disagree with me, I am a firm believer in “shooting all of the arrows in your quiver” when making sales presentations.  By that I mean using both steak and sizzle – data, testimonials, videos, etc. – as efficiently as possible when developing and implementing your sales and marketing tools and materials.  The logic for this is simple – you often don’t know which arrow is going to hit the prospect’s “sweet spot.”  Research tells us that using PowerPoint or other visual devices increases a prospect’s retention of your pitch by 30% vs just having a conversation, but it can’t tell you what form or medium will be most effective with an individual target.  There are several styles of learning and – unless you can get reliable inside knowledge about what forms will be most effective with your prospect – it behooves us to efficiently try all at our disposal.

At SLI, we developed what we affectionately called the “Blow Fish Strategy.” Initially there were just four of us competing against my former company The Loyalty Group – by then a billion dollar enterprise with an impressive 20 year track record – so we needed to develop low cost ways of making us look more substantial than we actually were. Our strategies included:

  • Buying low cost (i.e. $200) iPads from my former Bain colleague’s online retailer glyde.com, co-branding with SLI and our partners logos on a customer “skin”, creating a screen saver that looked like the iPad had been custom developed and programmed to only include our overview presentation, focus group videos of their customers saying they would increase sales if they could earn loyalty points and high quality images of their and other leading businesses displaying our point of sale materials.
  • Bringing on Toni Oberholzer and her “one wonder woman” creative firm OVO as a partner. Toni developed incredibly high quality loyalty program cards, membership kits, mobile apps and partner collateral for our business development meetings.  She worked under and delivered against ridiculous turn-around times and charged us a fraction of what one of the “big agencies” would have cost.
  • We figured out how to transform our presentations Toni’s brilliant creative into a hard cover Shutterfly books. We had these books individually produced with the names of the executives we met with and they arrived at their offices within 4 days of our initial meetings. Best of all – they actually cost less than having a presentation printed and bound with a plastic cover at FedEx!
  • Shout out to my Co-Founder Lauren Creedon for leading all of the above.

We found that individual aspects of the blow fish strategy worked well with different individuals.  For some, the creative mock ups “got them;” for others it was our videos of their customers’ voices or our program results from leaders in their industries from the Loyalty Group’s AIR MILES program.  In a few cases, we had “insider information” and knew – for example – to not share our focus group videos with the Vice Chairman of the Red Sox, who was more of a “numbers guy.”  But if not, we would live test each element to see what worked with each target executive and use their feedback to tailor our message.

Recently, several of my Year Up colleagues and I have realized there exists a “7 Step” business development process we need to progress through to reach our goal of becoming a significant strategic source of entry level talent for our corporate partners:

We also realized that progressing from one step to the next often happens after a “breakthrough” moment and that over our 17 year history, we have developed a number of “breakthrough accelerators” that can reduce the sales cycle between each step. Examples include:

  • A Year Up Champion changes roles or companies, e.g. David Kenny became General Manager of IBM Watson; Jeff Robison became COO of WorldPay.
  • An article is published about a Year Up Corporate Partnership, e.g. State Street and American Banker.
  • A new Year Up Corporate Partner video is developed. e.g. Year Up Cyber Security Curriculum developed in partnership with Symantec, eBay and LinkedIn.
  • The establishment of a cross functional internal Corporate Partner Steering Committee focused on maximizing the value proposition of their partnership with Year Up. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and others have done this.
  • Opportunities for Year Up executives to present at high level cross functional meetings, like GE’s CIO Council.

Those of us who lead our largest relationships our now collaborating with marketing and sales operations support to collect and share these and other best demonstrated practices to help accelerate our mission delivery.

Please let me know your motivating words and slogans – on T-Shirts, board room or basement walls or otherwise – and I’ll share them with Ariel and her five children.

Thanks

CHU

Three I Leadership

During the time I was CEO of The Loyalty Group, we grew from three entrepreneurs in a Toronto hotel room to over 600 employees when we sold the business to Alliance Data System (NYSE: ADS) in 1998.  Throughout this period, I thought a lot about both leadership and how to help our people develop the requisite skills to advance as far as they wanted to in their careers.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure that seeing those who worked with me do extremely well.  Two great examples are John Scullion and Brian Sinclair.  In 1993, I had to use all of my selling skills to convince John to leave the high profile corporate travel business Ryder Travel and join a company whose balance sheet looked similar to some now defunct Wall Street firms.  John is now President and COO of Alliance Data Systems, with a market cap of several billion dollars.  Brian Sinclair, whose first job out of college was an AIR MILES analyst, is now the Managing Director of Nectar, the wildly successful coalition loyalty program in the UK that recently sold to Aeroplan for $700MM.

After we visited Brian at his London offices last summer, my 12 year old daughter Jordan remarked, “You gave him his first job and now he has a better job than you!”  Although I thought about reminding her that the flexibility of my firm enabled our father-daughter trip to London, my wiser side prevailed and I responded, “That’s right, and nothing could make me happier than seeing people I hired doing really well.  That means I hired great people and hopefully they learned a few things from working with me.”

One of the things I came to understand about leadership and developing executive talent became what I call the “Three I’s of Leadership.”  I realized to build a successful high growth company while delivering on our cultural goal of “doing what others consider the impossible, while treating people with respect and having fun along the way,” we needed leaders with the following skills:

  • Intellectual Leadership – Leaders who had both the raw brain power to identify opportunities and solve challenges and very deep skills in their specific areas of expertise.
  • Implementational Leadership – Leaders who were not just “consulting smart.” Executives who could actually stop thinking, developing models and drawing 2 x 2 matricies and “land the helicopter, get the troops in the field and make things happen”, to quote a former client.
  • Inspirational Leadership – Leaders who could get things done without making everyone who worked for them want to quit.

Over time, I found out two things about this model:

Three I Leadership can be, and usually is, a shared set of skills. Although no senior executive can have below threshold skills in any of the areas, many highly successful companies are lead by “Three I Leadership Teams.”  I first realized this through being involved in YPO (the Young President’s Organization) where I spent a lot of time with other Presidents of successful companies. My original belief was that successful CEO’s had to be “A” players in all three leadership skill sets, but I observed several who clearly were not what anyone would consider “motivate the troops inspirational” and others who were brilliant “idea machines,”  but needed someone to keep them from trying to implement every idea as soon as it burst into their heads.  All I observed were very smart, but not all would qualify for Mensa.

I soon realized that almost everyone had built a “Three I Team” around themselves by hiring direct reports that balanced and complimented their skill sets. There was the collaboration principle at work again.  Once I realized the importance of Three I Teams (and the stupidity of expecting every senior executive to be naturally gifted at all three), I started using the model to help my direct reports work on their weakest areas and to make sure we had Three I Teams leading all of our major groups and strategic initiatives.

I later began using the Three I model in recruiting and would ask candidates to distribute 100 points across the Three I’s to indicate their leadership strengths and weaknesses. One of the funniest reactions I received to this question came from an executive who had worked at American Express during the 90’s when Harvey Golub was CEO.  He responded something like, “That’s a great model.  Harvey is 60 intellectual, 40 implementational and 0 inspirational.” Then he became even more excited and said, “No, that’s not correct.  He is 60 intellectual, 60 implementational and negative 20 inspirational.”  Although the candidate was clearly exaggerating in jest, he was making my point exactly as Ken Chenault was Gulob’s number two at the time. I had the good fortune to spend time with Ken in the late 90’s as he had to personally approve American Express’s deal to  become an AIR MILES Sponsor.  Then and now, there may not be a better example of a “High I Inspirational” leader than Ken.

The model can apply to the leadership teams of organizations large and small. I recently thought about this model and how it applies to little league baseball coaches.  A coach needs to know the game of baseball, the complex rules, how to catch, hit, run and steal bases, etc.  Knowing how to play baseball is necessary, but insufficient. Someone on the coaching staff needs to know how to teach young kids to play baseball – how to learn the game and improve their skills. What drills are most effective in practice; how to spot a batting stance off balance or throwing motion without follow-through and how to make the subtle changes to correct these errors.  Finally, as all sports are partly mind games and baseball can be incredibly stressful for young athletes, at least one of the coaches has to be able to keep the kids fired up and have a vast vocabulary of positive things to say no matter what happens at the plate!

If this model makes sense to you, try it inside your own organization.  If it applies, consider building it into your professional development systems and recruiting strategies.  Collaborate by letting me know if it worked and what you have done to build upon it.

 

Note:  This post was originally written on November 11, 2008. 

What business can learn about leadership and collaboration from Little League Baseball

Although you wouldn’t know it from the 50 degree weather we have had the last three days, it is spring in Boston, which means my 9 year old son is playing baseball again.  Helping coach his little league team reminded me of the leadership model we developed at the Loyalty Group that others have found helpful and I thought I would share it with you.

During the time I was CEO of The Loyalty Group, we grew from three entrepreneurs in a Toronto hotel room to over 600 employees when we sold the business to Alliance Data System (NYSE: ADS).  Throughout this period, I thought a lot about both leadership and how to help executives develop the requisite skills to advance as far as they wanted to in their careers, as this was one of my most important roles. Few things give me greater satisfaction than seeing several of the people I hired continue to grow and be successful in their careers. Indeed, many of those I hired and mentored have taken Loyalty to levels of success we didn’t even dream of during my tenure, and we were pretty big dreamers back then.

One of the things I came to understand about leadership and developing executive talent became what we called the “Three I’s of Leadership.”  I realized to build a successful high growth company while delivering on our cultural goal of “creating business success that others consider impossible, while treating people with respect and having fun along the way” we needed leaders with the following skills:

  • Intellectual Leadership – Leaders who had both the raw brain power to identify opportunities and solve challenges and very deep skills in their specific areas of expertise.
  • Implementational Leadership – Leaders who were not just “consulting smart” but who could get things done to move the business forward.  Executives who could actually stop thinking, developing models and drawing matrices and “land the helicopter, get the troops in the field and make things happen.”
  • Inspirational Leadership – Leaders who could get things done through others without making everyone quit.

Over time, I found out two things about this model:

Three I Leadership can be, and usually is, a shared set of skills.

Although no senior executive can have below threshold skills in any of the three areas, many highly successful companies are led by “Three I Leadership Teams.”  I first realized this through being involved in YPO (the Young Presidents Organization) where I spent a lot of time with other Presidents of successful companies. My original belief was that successful CEO’s had to be “A” players in all three leadership skill sets, but I realized that this often wasn’t the case.  I observed several very successful CEO’s who clearly were not what anyone would consider “motivate the troops inspirational” and others who although incredibly smart “idea machines,” needed someone to figure out what ideas should actually be implemented and then take the idea from the white board (or the back of the napkin) to the business and the bottom line.  All I observed were very smart, but not all would qualify for Mensa.

I soon realized that almost everyone had built a “Three I Team” around themselves by hiring direct reports that balanced and complimented their skill sets. There was the collaboration principle at work again.  Once I realized the importance of Three I Teams – and the stupidity of expecting every senior executive to be naturally gifted at all three – I started using the model to help my direct reports work on their weakest areas and made sure we had Three I Teams leading all of our major groups and strategic initiatives.

I later began using the Three I model in recruiting and would ask candidates to distribute 100 points across the Three I’s to indicate their leadership strengths and weaknesses. One of the funniest reactions I received to this question came from an executive who had worked at American Express during the 90’s when Harvey Golub was CEO.  He responded something like: “That’s a great model.  Harvey is 60 intellectual, 40 implementational and 0 inspirational.” Then he became even more excited and said, “No, that’s not correct, he is 60 intellectual, 60 implementational and negative 20 inspirational.”  Although the candidate was clearly exaggerating in jest, he was making my point exactly as Ken Chenault was Gulob’s number two at the time. Then and now, there may not be a better example of a “High I Inspirational” leader than Ken.

The model can apply to the leadership teams of organizations large and small.

Back to my baseball analogy.  Last year, I thought about this regarding little league baseball coaches.  A coach needs to know the game of baseball, the complex rules, how to catch, hit, run and steal bases, etc.  But knowing how to play baseball is necessary, but insufficient. Someone on the coaching staff needs to know how to teach young kids how to play baseball – how to learn the game and improve their skills. What drills are most effective in practice; how to spot a batting stance off balance or a throwing motion without follow-through and how to make the subtle changes to correct these errors.  Finally, as all sports are partly mind games, and baseball can be incredibly stressful for young athletes, at least one of the coaches has to be able to keep the kids fired up and have a vast vocabulary of positive things to say no matter what happens at on the field – a swinging strike becomes a “good cut, “bases loaded means “we now have an easy out at every base,” etc.

If this model makes sense to you, try it inside your own organization.  If it applies, consider building it into your professional development systems and recruiting strategies.  If you use it, collaborate with us by letting me know how it worked and what you have done to improve the model.