What you see is what you get – measuring your response to others

What good is it?

Often the mantra of the obsessively practical or the hopelessly cynical, a “what good is it?” response typically indicates disgust, disappointment, or disdain, maybe all three. Obsessively practical leaders seem to become well, obsessed, with efficiency. Every act, every task, every intention, indeed every suggestion is qualified by its practical contribution to the efficient function of the organization.

But more prevalent are the hopelessly cynical. I worked for one such leader, the founder and director of a moderately-sized leadership training organization working mostly in Asia. He expected to be disappointed and usually found something to meet his expectations. Over time, only those with a fetish for being belittled and berated stayed in the company. There was always something somewhere done by someone that failed to come up to standard.

I worked with the company for nearly two years and I can attest that the real failure rate was no higher than just about anywhere else and a good deal better than many companies of that size. It was his attitude that made the difference.

Now, make no mistake, I am no raging and rabid fan of the positive thinking crowd. It seems to lead to a delusional approach to life and its challenges.

But I am a fan, proponent, and practitioner of the power of a positive attitude. The late Michael Vance, creative thinking consultant to Walt Disney and a good many others, often observed that positive thinking tends to avoid or mislabel problems to the point of failing to deal intelligently and creatively with them. He also observed that with a positive attitude problems are identified, intelligently and honestly appraised, then and only then can creative responses be implemented.

So, the “what good is it?” response can have a more fruitful use. How do I know?

  1. Because, with few exceptions, subordinates and associates want to please. Mister Cynic referred to above does not believe that. He believed that everyone was out to disabuse him of his generosity, neglect their responsibilities, and screw up regularly and that they did so with no remorse. He is categorically incorrect. His experience has not been my experience. People make mistakes. We live in an imperfect world and 100% efficiency is a myth. But nearly everyone wants to do well and meet the expectations of their job. We are hard-wired to do so. What good is it? All effort should be acknowledged for what it is – a good attempt to do the job. If and when it falls short, accept the reality and respond accordingly. That’s what superlative leaders do. They do not cynically respond with disdain in their voice, “What good is it?”
  2. In all labor there is benefit. We do not learn by learning only, we learn by doing. Trying, falling short, learning why, trying again are all part of the development process. We cannot order a fully functional subordinate or associate from Amazon. It will not arrive on the floor ready for work. Development is what you do because you are a leader. No prudent leader would ever trample on the good deeds and well-intentions of others deliberately. Developing capable people and successful companies is always a collaborative effort.
  3. In every effort, even the ones that are not quite up to par, there is good in them. They yield something beneficial. A teachable moment or a deeper understanding are not without value. Ask Thomas Edison about failed attempts at developing the electric light.

What good is it? Well, it turns out there is a lot. The weekend begins tonight. Most of you have two days off. It just might be a good time to take another look at how you respond to the efforts of others. There’s a tragic lesson in the life work of Mister Cynic mentioned above. He spent his entire career disappointed, always feeling like he had been cheated out of more success by the failures of others. He spent his days, indeed his life, wandering around the workplace looking for people doing something wrong, finding whatever he could that would validate his cynicism and negativity.

You know what? He found plenty of it. But he ended his career bitter, angry, cynical, and disappointed that he had been robbed.  He really did look back on his life and ask “What good is it?” distressed that it was not better.

Yet other leaders in exactly the same situation had an entirely different experience. Did they find disappointment? Yep. Did they find error and failure? Certainly! But they found good in it. Lots and lots of good in it.

It’s right there in front of you too.

If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look at the video below. It’s a compilation of clips from Michael Vance.

The Might as Wells – Letting one thing lead to too many others.

Gustave-Moreau Sirens songI call it sequences, that annoying way of letting a simple task become far more complex. Even Murphy and his sagacious laws (If anything can go wrong it will, et al) has wryly observed that “You can’t do something until you do something else first.”

Sometimes, it is unavoidable…and true. You really can’t do some things until you do something else first and you might not have seen that other thing you need to do until you start doing the other thing.  (How’s that for a twisted sentence?) But sometimes we do it to ourselves.

I usually post a new article on The Practical Leader twice a week but haven’t for about ten days because I took time off to make some needed repairs on our house. With my wife out of town visiting family, it was a good time to tear things up.

Happily and prudently I had a detailed plan of what I needed to get done and made projections about how much time it would take and what materials I would need. But once I got into the project I discovered many opportunities to make the project larger and consequently more complex. I say “happily” because whenever we embark on a plan the “might as wells” pop up. As long as we’re doing this, we might as well do that.

It might be correct. Perhaps we might as well do something else along the way. Unexpected issues can arise that should be dealt with. But some should not. It takes real detachment to become a disengaged and unemotional observer to make the decisions.

  1. Make clear plans and have a focused vision of what you intend to accomplish, in what period of time. The power to focus is the power to excel and complete. Letting a job get out of hand is a sure recipe for disaster.
  2. Just because you can does not mean that you should. “Might as well” is NOT a good enough reason to add a job to the plan. Make sure added tasks are fully justified before taking them on.
  3. Even when you should doesn’t mean you should right now. Efficiency is always a good idea but effectiveness is more important. Stay focused on the objective.

Leaders have to remember that the temptations to veer off course, even if it can be rationalized and legitimized, are like the Siren’s song, luring those on a mission off course and into ruin.

The Most Powerful Question a Leader Can Ask…and it’s only one word

question markBusinesses and organizations tend to generate lots of paper and digital directives. Over time (usually a very short amount of time) they put in place standards, processes, systems, methods, and forms…lots and lots of forms to be filled out and handed to someone at some time who does something with them (although most of us are not sure what).

We develop habits and routine which do indeed have their place. But organizations are not like machines in that they should run perpetually without being questioned.

And that question is “why?”

Why do we do this the way we do it?

Why is this directive in place?

Why do we need this number?

Why is this requirement on this checklist?

The driver’s license bureau in the US Virgin Islands (where I lived just before moving to my present location) required citizens to bring two passport photos with their application for a driver’s license long after it had installed digital cameras and printers. Even though the printed passport photos were no longer necessary, clerks were required to collect them and staple them to a paper application. When asked why, they simply replied that it was on the list.

Organizations tend to maintain systems and processes, manifest attitudes and promote products long after they have lost their appeal or their effectiveness. It seems that why is asked too seldom. Without wanting to sound negative, religious organizations are really guilty of this.

You as leader need to be asking why all the time…and you need to be relentless in discovering an answer then ruthless in evaluating the answer.

“Just because” or “Because we’ve always done it that way” are not acceptable.

But there’s a flip side. When someone who works with you asks you why, you have to be able to answer it as well. And “Because I said so” is really not the first answer that should come out of your mouth. (There are times when that might indeed be the right answer but those times are very rare.)

So, why ask why?

  1. Because it challenges motives. It delves into reasons why something is done or required.
  2. It provokes examination of suggestions, policies, procedures, methods, and intentions. Therefore it promotes BOTH efficiency and effectiveness.
  3. It prods us to look backwards into the origin of things but challenges us to push ahead. We cannot and we must not validate our positions or our authority by measuring our faithfulness to systems, forms, methodologies, processes, or procedures that we may have inherited. There might have been a good reason why back then, but is it a good reason why for tomorrow?

Why is the recommended first response to every action, every requirement, every regulation, and every expectation you as a leader are considering. It should be one of the most often used words in a leader’s vocabulary. Why? Because it forces us to trim down, to focus, to zero in on the most important, to validate every action, and free us and our associates from everything but the most critically important things to do.

It is too easy to slip into the comfort of following habits so that we do things right. Asking why makes sure we are doing the right things.

Why leadership training programs fall short

file0001625497945The American Society for Training and Development reports that U.S. businesses spend a whopping $170 billion on leadership training programs.  They largely fail or at the very least fall way short of the expectations set for them.

Why?

Because you do not train leaders; you develop them. Training does have its place. We can train workers to build things or connect widgets to whatzits. We can inform, the one thing formal education does reasonably well.

But leadership development is more than an informative process. Much more! It is a transformative process.

Back in the days before digital photography, the process of creating an image was far more hands-on. Someone had to compose a photograph and shoot the image with a camera which allowed light to affect film which had been coated to react to it. Then, the film had to be taken into a darkroom and “developed.” There chemicals were applied to the film which revealed the image on the film and produced a negative. The negative was exposed to light which affected paper which was then immersed in a chemical bath which caused the image to appear. The picture was then “developed”.

At the risk of oversimplifying the process, let me draw some parallels between that and the subject of this column today.

Training programs essentially assume that with exposure to the right information, anyone can be trained to lead. This is simply and practically untrue. Many notable business people advocate that leaders are made, not born. I disagree and disagree vigorously.

The exposure to chemicals and light reveal an image that is already there. They cannot create something that does not exist. Leadership development applies light (information and truth to use that word in a philosophical and academic sense) and the right outside forces to reveal what is already there. Leaders are born…then developed over time and experience.

Training focuses on the things being taught but development focuses on the person being developed. While training superimposes a curriculum on a time schedule through which a person must endure, development provides the right sort of components, including but not limited to information, within which a person may grow and mature in their experience.

Finally, training may be efficient and is constructed to be efficient, but development is far more effective. The secret is, of course, the image, as it were, unrevealed but already resident within. No training program can ever hope to impart the nuanced and profound understanding that development does. It takes time and exposure to do that.

Corporations, associations, the seminar industry, and the educational establishment try but fail. Indeed, I propose that these institutions actually work against the effective development of leaders…but not deliberately. And I am not implying anything duplicitous in either their methodology or their curriculum. I think they mean well but continue to churn out graduates who are not equipped to lead. At its worst it impresses a person that s/he is ready to lead when they are not. As evidence I point to a close friend who told me that he was the best husband he had ever met and he made that statement without a hint of sarcasm. He actually did believe he was. When I asked him how he knew that, he pointed to the fact that he had attended and graduated from a marriage training course which, by his assumption and implication, made him a stellar husband. He was legendary alright, but only in his own mind. The mere exposure to information had led him to believe in something that was untrue and to propose that he was something that he was not (I asked his wife).

Most people in the real world don’t believe training is adequate either, that’s why they seek candidates with experience. They know that information and personality must be tempered in the fires of life to sharpen and harden them into a useful instrument.

If your company or organization has training programs, I suggest you take another look at them. If they are intended to impart hard skills like attaching widgets to whazits, then fine. If they are intended to train leaders, well, maybe they deserve a more careful examination and challenge to their presumptions.

7 rules of engagement that make it easier for your associates to work with you

rule-bookUnless you are the sole proprietor of your business and work in isolation, tucked away somewhere in a closed room, you have to work with, for, and alongside others.  In every job there is a certain amount of give and take with which we must all contend. We must be able to get along if we are going to go along. There are 7 rules of engagement that will make your job…and that of your associates…easier.

  1. The golden rule doesn’t mean what you might think. I’ve always thought that if I treated others the way I would like to be treated those “others” would be pleased. But it doesn’t quite work that way. If I treat others the way they want to be treated, if I step intelligently and insightfully into their shoes and understand how they want to be treated, it works much better. Some people are very direct. Others aren’t. Some are quite open and talkative. Others are not. If I am gregarious and open I must not assume that everyone else is too and treat them the way I want to be treated. It will, and does, create resentment and irritation. Instead, figure out how they are and what they like then treat them accordingly.
  2. Choose simple over complex. I wrote about this in the last post so I won’t belabor the point here. Complications are, well, complicated. They make failure and frustration more likely.
  3. Choose the direct path to an objective over the indirect path. Expedite everything when at all possible.
  4. Be open rather than closed. I know this seems to run counter to #1, but I am addressing the “others” among us who need to open up some. A closed person can be misunderstood as being aloof or resistant to joining in. Those with whom we work need a place to connect.
  5. Be forthcoming rather than withholding. Don’t force someone to discover and ask just the right question. Supply any and all information that someone else might need to do their job without waiting to be asked and or waiting to be asked just the right question. I once called to ask what time a business closed. They told me the time. I got there a half hour before closing time to discover the door locked for the night. I called the next day, explained what happened and that I had called to ask. “Yes,” they said, “we do close at that time except for last night when we closed early.” When I complained that I made a trip, they defended their response saying that I did not ask when they closed that day, just asked when they closed. Don’t make others ask every little nuanced implication to find out what they need to know. Tell them.
  6. Report before being asked. Be actively accountable. Let superiors and associates know what’s what. Don’t force them to run you down and pry information out of you. Withholding information is a device used to control others. It becomes devious and Machiavellian…and it does not make for beneficial, benevolent working relationships.
  7. Volunteer the information others need to do their job. In this sense you become the mature adult in the room. We all work together and need ideas and information to flow freely. Participate in that yourself. Play nice.

All of the above describes a good citizen, one who behaves maturely, avoids pettiness and silly games. We often look for esoteric and scholarly secrets to define and describe smoothly running companies when they are most often simple and obvious.

6 principles of effectiveness

Wooden mannequins pushing puzzle pieces into the right placeIf efficiency is the economic use of human, psychological, and material resources, what is effectiveness?

Go ahead. Think about it. I’ll wait…

Like many of you, I find the Business Dictionary online to be a useful and oft utilized resource. Here’s how they define effectiveness:

The degree to which objectives are achieved and the extent to which targeted problems are solved. In contrast to efficiency, effectiveness is determined without reference to costs and, whereas efficiency means “doing the thing right,” effectiveness means “doing the right thing.”

Effectiveness is vision in action.

While managers are concerned with and focused on efficiency (and rightly so), leaders are focused on effectiveness. Yes, I know, all company and organizational systems must be efficient because productivity and profitability are critical to the life of the business or mission. But you have managers for the productivity side of things. They, if they’re doing their job, make certain things are being done right.

You know what’s coming next, don’t you. I risk sounding trite and like a motivational speaker, but I’ll do it anyway. Managers make certain that things are being done right but leaders make certain those managers and the people they manage are doing the right things. (Well, hey, if the Business dictionary can use the term I can, too.) There, I said it. Leaders focus on the target. They fixate on the vision and measure everything, I mean everything, by it. Whether you’re new to the job or a seasoned veteran, the biggest threat to your effectiveness as a leader is the past. The past holds processes that have been in place for a time, contains relationships that have interacted for a while, and carries with it the comfort and reassurance of the familiar.

Here are 6 principles of effectiveness to remember:

  1. You may have done it the way you’ve done it for as long as you’ve done it but you may not need to keep doing it the way you’ve done it. Is the task, report, process, or system vital? Why was it begun? Why has it continued? Why should you continue it?
  2. Effectiveness trumps efficiency when it comes to building morale. Laying bricks is one thing, building a cathedral is another. The effective use of efficiency is a powerful motivator. Let me say that another way. Associates, employees, staff members, and/or volunteers (in a nonprofit organization) just feel better about themselves and your company when they sense they are making progress.
  3. Before you can say, “Now we’re getting somewhere,” you need to actually be going somewhere. The objective is not today, it’s tomorrow.
  4. Busy-ness is not to be equated with business. Activity should never be confused with progress. Never. Productivity should never be measured solely in counting terms unless those counted things can be directly tied in to the vision.
  5. Do not waste resources on unattainable or unrelated goals. Having goals that stretch can be motivating and energizing. Having goals that are just unreasonable cause the onset of malaise because those who must carry them out begin to question your judgment and your connection with reality. If you articulate vision, and your managers understand their role in the structure, they soon become confused if activities and the goals that measure them are unrelated to the vision.
  6. Connect the dots. It may not always be apparent how this process fits with that vision. If you don’t know and if your managers don’t know, who should? You, of course. If a task, report, process, or activity does not fit somewhere in the gears of the vision, do you need to do it any more? Be ready to answer why they should do what. If you don’t know, find out. If there is no justifiable reason, then seriously challenge the need to continue it. This is where effectiveness breeds efficiency.

On Monday, I suggested you evaluate two systems within your company or organization. What did you find out? This is important. Exposure to information has a counter-productive effect unless one acts on it. So, really now, what did you find out? You’re the leader, lead.

14 Ways an outsider can make strategic planning even more productive

outside helpLots of jobs are outsourced these days. With the downturn in the economy a few years ago many companies discovered they could save money by hiring the assistance they needed when they needed it rather than keep them on the payroll all the time. Some jobs lend themselves to this better than others – commercial copy writers, some accounting help are just two.

In something as important as strategic planning, a set of outside eyes and ears can be a big, big benefit to your company. As I’ve stated in earlier posts, I am NOT IMPLYING that you are not capable of developing a strategic plan yourself. But buy-in is imperative and it’s just a fact of group dynamics that a voice other than yours can usually elicit the ideas and cooperation of others more expediently than you, especially if you’ve set aside a period of time to get it done. The development and implementation of vision and strategic plans must be accomplished without a hint of manipulation. None! You want spontaneous and enthusiastic participation here and nothing less than a psychologically sound system to gather ideas and guide development of the plan will do.

There will be reluctance to overcome, skepticism to defuse, and politics to maneuver through. You will encounter associates who want to dominate, ones who have off-the-wall ideas, and those who simply want to dissolve into the scenery. There will be baggage to handle, egos to stroke, and ambition to temper. Without meaning to, we can often trigger unwanted reaction and I’ve already said that you, the leader, want to be a catalyst for action not a point of reaction. So, hire the skilled outside facilitator to cross the minefield. Let her or him take the point. You and your facilitator want the same thing and that facilitator is not going to embarrass you or supplant your position or usurp your authority. S/he is skilled at bringing out the best in others, focusing on the objective, and getting the job done. After all, s/he wants the same thing as you do – an efficient and effective department or company.

Here’s 14 ways an outside facilitator can help you succeed in this task:

  1. Oversee the process while you and your team find the answers. S/he will not provide the answers but s/he will help you arrive at them.
  2. Stay on target. Tangents and red herrings are oh so compelling but your facilitator can keep the process on track.
  3. Educe ideas. Not suggest them (except to provoke thinking) but to draw them out of the reserves within the team.
  4. Engage group-wide and on-going participation. There are always stragglers. There are always those moving more quickly than others. No one should be left behind. No one should dominate the discussion.
  5. Nurture the foundlings. Emergent ideas can be fair game for predators. This is not a survival of the fittest setting. It is a survival of the best. A facilitator can protect emergent ideas. Shooting down an idea right out of the mouth of someone usually has the effect of stifling discussion and compromising thinking.
  6. Put off-target ideas into storage. Shooting them down usually discourages their originator but time can be wasted discussing things that are off-topic, even if they are only slightly off topic. A facilitator knows how to store them until such a time they are shown to be unnecessary, irrelevant, or unworkable.
  7. Sounding the waters to make sure everyone fathoms the discussion.  This takes skill because you don’t want to sound like a grammar school teacher but you shouldn’t assume too much either. Facilitators continually offer feedback into the team to assure everyone gets it.
  8. Say it once, twice, as many times and as many ways as necessary. Rephrasing the objective, rewording the dilemma, restating the objective keeps the process on target.
  9. Force the team to make choices, to set and maintain priorities. There are many paths to the goal. Which one should you take? There are many tasks to be executed. Which ones come first? The facilitator knows that no plan is worth the paper it’s written on unless and until tasks and priorities are determined and scheduled.
  10. Weave together the three strands of an unbreakable cord – understanding, consensus, and commitment. When s/he does this, it becomes a team effort and decision. When you do this, it might be construed as your idea. I think it was General Eisenhower who said that leadership was the art of letting others have your own way. You know that a hard job is better done by someone who thinks it was their idea.
  11. Avoids the “talk but no walk” condition that infects too many groups. Follow-up is vital. Facilitators never leave this step to others. Talk is cheap and highly attractive. If plans are not executed the group is worse off than before.
  12. Maintains a record of achievement, a list of what’s been accomplished, and celebrates them all. Most facilitators create a visible list of what the group with whom they work is going to achieve and checks off each milestone. They know that nothing succeeds like success.
  13. Protect your interests. While individuals have a stake in the strategic plan and a role in the implementation of it, what’s really on the line is the future and viability of your company or organization. Facilitators never forget that, even if they don’t often say it.
  14. Connect individual interests with corporate ones. They know that everyone works for personal gain. Everyone! Even in non-profit, charitable organizations, those who work there, either compensated or volunteer, do so for personal reasons. Facilitators, well, facilitate that. They possess insight into human motivation and can pull all components together and capitalize on the X-factor, that intangible something that ignites the spark of enthusiasm to bring the vision nearer.

Coming tomorrow!

I need your input. I am developing training courses and want to know what’s important to you. If there is an itch somewhere, I want to know where to scratch. On Friday, I will put up a survey and I’m asking for your input. It won’t take more than two or three minutes and every choice counts. Thanks for your participation.

 

Viability – lessons from Studebaker

Studebaker_Champion_(Rigaud)They started making wagons for farmers, miners and the military in 1852. Incorporated in 1868 under the name Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, they entered the automobile business in 1902 making electric vehicles. By 1904 they were making gasoline-powered vehicles and for the next 50 years became a major player in the business. With a reputation for quality and reliability, Studebaker produced some of the most iconic cars in America’s Golden Age of the Automobile.

They’re gone now. A bloated and sluggish manufacturing system, poor capital management, and an ill-advised merger finally did them in with the last vehicle rolling off an assembly line in 1966.

But they’re not the only company or organization to disappear from the scene. Blockbuster is gone. So are Woolworth’s, Kresge,  E.F. Hutton, Pullman (plush railroad cars),  Lionel (electric toy trains), Zenith (radios and televisions), Montgomery Ward, and American Motors are but some of the many that were once viable companies. To be viable is to be capable of working successfully. But a company or organization may be capable of working successfully in a shrinking market or for a changing constituency. What worked well back then, may not work so well next year.

Why? Because one must maintain viability.

Viability – the ability of a thing (a living organism, an artificial system, an idea, etc.) to maintain itself or recover its potentialities.

This concept, this definition is precisely why I’ve been hammering on the topic of vision and emphasizing that strategies and tactics MUST follow vision, not the other way around. Viability means your company or organization possesses the following things and does more than offer mere lip service to them.

Relevance – the product you offer, the services you provide must have meaning and necessity to those for whom you provide them. Those people or companies must have an emotional engagement with that product or service. You know that sales are almost never logical. They are almost always emotional.  But even that is insufficient. There must be a need for what you offer. This should be evident in your promotional materials which should, if they are written effectively, describe the benefits your product or service provides. To maintain relevance is to maintain an ability to satisfy the needs of the user. This involves more than the product. It also demands the acquiring experience. Look at the evolution of supermarkets through the years. Today’s prosperous companies have well-lighted stores, wide aisles, and products appropriate to their local customers desires. Just consider the development of online business to see how relevance plays such a critical role.

Relief – there is a pain/promise element to every transaction. The customer or constituent experiences some pain, even if it is minor. They need something. The question is always “do we as a company and do I as a salesman understand what that customer needs?” Companies and organizations that maintain viability are successful at promising to satisfy that need and then fulfilling it. All economic transactions are problem-solving ones. They have a problem, we solve it and get paid to do it. That pain may be multi-level. Someone may be in the market for a car but need transportation and more. They may need to feel the rush of a powerful and responsive driving experience. They may need to feel safe and comfortable, too. Companies that maintain viability offer relief because they understand what their customers and constituents need.

Efficiency – Studebaker neglected to update their manufacturing plants. At the time of their demise, their plant had a break even number at 500,000. The company made no money at all until a half million cars were sold! This is the particular domain of leadership to envision and management to enact.

Effectiveness is gauged by measuring all three – relevance, relief, and efficiency.  A comprehensive vision born out of real world circumstances and cunning prognostication pursued by responsible management of resources and a light on your feet adaptability adds up to a viable company.

 

Keeper Trait #7 – Diligence

diligenceI went through 26 employees. 26 employees hired and fired over the course of five years. In that time I was approached by the Job Corps people with candidates for work, by who knows how many walk-ins, and by people responding to ads in the newspaper.

Some lacked the talent to be trained for even low-lever jobs. All of them lacked diligence.

One of the seven heavenly virtues*, diligence is usually defined as

“A zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work; decisive work ethic, steadfastness in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one’s time; monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).”*

We most often call it a work ethic. You would think it would be part and parcel to human nature but it is not. The culture from which I had to draw employees was quite casual about work. It was not unusual for workers to simply fail to show up for work for a few days then reappear ready to plug back in.

When I hired everyone and anyone I told them the same thing. “If you don’t show up, and if you don’t call in, don’t come back. I have zero tolerance for no shows.”

Many of them tested my resolve.

They all lost.

You cannot build a business on the backs of weakness when your employees are riddled with a casual work ethic.

I almost put this trait at the top of the list, but I have stated that the traits are not sequential. They are all number one. A work ethic might just be a little more number one than the others.

It has it all:

Motivation, ambition, carefulness, self-starting, energy, effort, awareness, concern about the expenditure of time, all of those wonderful characteristics that make an employee worth far more than they get paid.

I actually thought I would just have to close up the shop when I had to go through so many workers. But I finally found four men who exemplified diligence. They turned my business around because with diligent workers:

  • I could get work out on time,
  • I could get more work out,
  • I could produce a higher quality of work,
  • I could schedule more work because I knew I would have workers to do it,
  • I could predict cash flow more accurately,
  • I could cut down on waste in both effort and product,
  • I could concentrate on my side of the business (sales, marketing, customer care) because I knew the employees would actually show up and do their job.

They will do these things for you to.

Up next, trait #8 – Prudence.

*The seven heavenly virtues were derived from the Psychomachia (“Contest of the Soul”), an epic poem written by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (c. AD 410) entailing the battle of good virtues and evil vices. The intense popularity of this work in the Middle Ages helped to spread the concept of holy virtue throughout Europe. Practicing these virtues is considered to protect one against temptation from the seven deadly sins, with each one having its counterpart. Due to this they are sometimes referred to as the contrary virtues. Each of the seven heavenly virtues matches a corresponding deadly sin.

Keepers Trait #5 – Creativity

sinksFor my birthday, my son took me to a new restaurant in downtown Ft. Myers, Florida, near where I live.  Ft. Myers was winter home to Thomas Edison. While here, he invited close friend Henry Ford down for a visit. Ford liked the place so much he bought the house next door to Edison. The estates are now a historic site and have prompted a number of Edison and Ford themed businesses. One of the newest is called Ford’s Garage, the restaurant we visited on my birthday.

The entire place is cleverly done, from the vintage Model T hanging over the bar, the shined-up institutional furnishings. The napkin rings are hose clamps. The thing I found most creative was the faucets in the bathroom. They are gasoline filler nozzles connected to the water lines with black rubber hoses.  Everywhere you look there is creativity.

This is not a plug for Ford’s Garage. It is an appeal for Keeper Trait #5 – creativity.

“Creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way. “

The operations of any organization, large, small, commercial, or non-profit all require people who can solve problems, tackle dilemmas, and inspire customers. We have become bogged down by data and analysis gained from gathering preference statistics and conducting focus groups.

Anyone who has stayed in a roadside hotel can spot it. Rooms are totally lacking in creativity. They all are about the same size, have the same style of furniture, are appointed with a bed, a desk type of area, a counter to put suitcases on, an mini-bar, and a flat screen TV with remote. The colors and décor may vary but the basics are there.

Spurs to creativity, says Vance, are change, stress, and excess. “Moderation kills creativity.” Average people can achieve great things, he promises, when “they’re pissed off” or “they’re on fire with a cause.”

Now, most of us are not in the business of designing new businesses or redecorating apartments. The most likely venues whenever we talk about creativity are in design businesses, graphics arts, or architecture. But creativity is a keeper trait for every business or organization.

Why?

Because there are three basic premises to creativity:

Premise #1 is that “A” must equal “A”. “A” cannot equal whatever you want it to equal. If creativity means making something new or rearranging old things in a new way, one must know for certain what the old thing is and one must know what already is so that something new can be fabricated.

Premise #2 is the Law of Cause and Effect. Creative people understand the difference and are able to sort the differences out.  They know that most people will deal with effects but seldom get to the causes. Creativity comes in when they begin to develop solutions to problems, a highly useful and oft-needed skill.

Premise #3 is the principle of influence. Leadership is influence. People willingly follow because they are influenced by someone (positively and negatively). Influential people are people with ideas. Ideas require creativity. People with ideas are moving towards leadership. People without them are moving away. There is no such thing as leading from behind. One may fall behind. One may lag behind. But whoever is at the head is leading. Influential people are idea people.

There are two manifestations of creativity. On one hand, there is artistic and scientific creativity. Those are the Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs types who come up with brilliant ideas. I had a business partner once who was very creative. He could design a machine for our shop where no such existed.

On the other hand, there is creative problem-solving – the ability to overcome obstacles by approaching them in novel ways. This is the kind of creativity that comes in most handy in the business world. This is the kind we will find most useful to most applications for us. Success magazine recently ran a good article on this here.

Chanting once again my mantra about the purpose behind hiring others, let’s all say it together. We gather associates because they:

  1. Extend our reach.
  2. Multiply our effectiveness.
  3. Divide our work.

Creative people are idea people. They see solutions, embrace objectives, and find a path through. They are eyes through which we can see farther, ears by which we can hear more, and arms by which we can reach out more.

Keeper trait # 6 is organization. See you on Thursday.