Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Tue, 21 Jul 2015 20:23:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.7 Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Bill Zipp no Helping Executive Leaders Transform Their Business Bill Zipp http://billzipponbusiness.com/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://billzipponbusiness.com Technology, Time, Leadership, and You http://billzipponbusiness.com/technology-time-leadership/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/technology-time-leadership/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 07:00:29 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4728 The technology genie’s out of the bottle, and he’s not going back into it any time soon (if ever). And while technology has granted us many of our wishes, with those wishes come side-effects that have made our professional and personal lives more frantic. Here are three of my most popular posts on utilizing technology […]

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EmailThe technology genie’s out of the bottle, and he’s not going back into it any time soon (if ever). And while technology has granted us many of our wishes, with those wishes come side-effects that have made our professional and personal lives more frantic.

Here are three of my most popular posts on utilizing technology as the servant it should be, not the master it has become for so many of us.

Inbound Email Mastery: Five Powerful Practices

11,680. That’s the number Barry Gill reported in the June 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. The average worker receives 11,680 pieces of email per year.

That’s 234 pieces of email in a work week, 47 in a work day. One every 10 minutes.

Here are five proven—and powerful—practices to face the flood of email you get every day.

READ IT HERE

How to Go on a Media Diet: Five Simple Steps

Media options have exploded exponentially in the last ten years. There are literally millions of sources of information available to us online and offline.

Attempts to stay on top of even the smallest fraction of these produces waves of anxiety and days filled with distraction. We must take control of our media consumption, or, as with overeating, we will become unhealthy and ineffective.

It’s time to go on a media diet!

You won’t lose eight ugly pounds or become more attractive to the opposite sex, but you will find greater focus in your work and greater calm in your life. Here are the diet’s five steps.

READ IT HERE

You May Be Smartphone Stupid If …

It’s the technology we love to hate, but can’t live without: our smartphone.

That’s the conclusion an MIT research study reached about the personal impact of inventions in the last century. The smartphone handily beat out the alarm clock, the television, and email. Do you agree?

As amazing as our smartphones are—with apps for doing everything imaginable—I’m convinced that in many ways they’ve not made us any smarter. In a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I offer you these five observations on smartphone addiction.

READ IT HERE

The biggest threat to leaders building a high performance culture is the constant state of emergency the addiction to urgency brings. If that describes you, consider this alternative for your leaders and their teams, Executive Execution: Disciplines of Getting Things Done. This interactive workshop will replace urgency with priority and help you focus on what matters most in business and in life.

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You May Be Smartphone Stupid If … http://billzipponbusiness.com/smartphone-addiction/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/smartphone-addiction/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 07:00:39 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4676 It’s the technology we love to hate, but can’t live without: our smartphone. That’s the conclusion an MIT research study reached about the personal impact of inventions in the last century. The smartphone handily beat out the alarm clock, the television, and email. Do you agree? As amazing as our smartphones are—with apps for doing […]

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It’s the technology we love to hate, but can’t live without: our smartphone.

That’s the conclusion an MIT research study reached about the personal impact of inventions in the last century. The smartphone handily beat out the alarm clock, the television, and email. Do you agree?

As amazing as our smartphones are—with apps for doing everything imaginable—I’m convinced that in many ways they’ve not made us any smarter. In a nod to Jeff Foxworthy, I offer you these five observations on smartphone addiction.

smartphone addiction

1. You may be smartphone stupid if you check your smartphone during meetings.

I’m still amazed when I attend a business meeting and people in it are checking their smartphones. It drives me crazy and it’s everywhere, from the executive suite to church subcommittees. And it’s stupid.

Here you have in a room a collective human resource that’s worth, at minimum, thousands of dollars an hour, and that resource is being wasted by not maximizing its full potential. Meeting attendees who give a meeting their partial attention by always checking their smartphone undermine their ability to fully participate in the meeting and devalue the participation of others in that meeting.

But you say, the meeting you’re in is a pointless waste of time. Then deal with the real reason you’re checking your smartphone, meeting management. Don’t make things worse by your contributing to making it a pointless waste of time. As they say, two wrongs don’t make a right.

MORE: Stop! Before You Lead Your Next Meeting Ask These Four Questions

2. You may be smartphone stupid if your smartphone interrupts your one-on-one’s

One-on-one’s are really a subset of meetings in general, but deserve special recognition. I’ve found that leaders who may not check their smartphone in a meeting so they don’t look bad to their peers or supervisors, have no hesitation when they’re with an employee.

Apart from the obvious rudeness, this is an immense waste of time. We think we’re checking our smartphone to use our time more efficiently, but the simple fact of the matter is—as limited human beings—we can only focus on one thing at a time. We can interact with someone in a one-on-one meeting or check our smartphone. Not both.

This concept is called uni-tasking, and it’s how the most productive people achieve high performance. That is, when uni-taskers do something, they give it their full focus. So when they’re meeting with someone, that someone gets their undivided attention. Better to have 15 minutes of concentrated interaction, than 60 minutes of interrupted, scattered conversation.

You know this, but you check your smartphone anyway. Stop it! It makes you less effective with people. And effectiveness with people is the driving force of sustained leadership success.

3. You may be smartphone stupid if your smartphone keeps you in a constant state of urgency.

Here’s the real reason why, in my opinion, we check our smartphone in meetings and let it interrupt our one-on-one’s. We’re addicted to its urgency. This, in fact, may be the most profound way our smartphones make us stupid. Adrenaline, the powerful chemical in our body’s system, was given to us so we may take swift action in an emergency. What compels a perfectly sane woman to jump in front of a bus to snatch her toddler away from its path? Adrenaline.

The problem with adrenaline is this: it’s meant for emergencies only. In an emergency it quickens our thinking, eliminates options, and impels immediate action. In other words, it short-circuits strategy in the service of urgency. And that’s great for an emergency, but not for everyday life and leadership.

Our smartphones, however, with instant notifications, constant texts and email, and the incessant flow of “breaking news,” gives us a hit of adrenaline every time we look at them. We become addicted to these hits and go through withdrawals when we’re removed from them (just watch how people on an airplane grab their smartphone immediately upon landing).

Under the addictive influence of adrenaline, we make decisions based on urgency. We think only about the short term and the most immediate, not the long term and the most strategic. This hurts our business in a profound way. Staying true to long term strategy, like the hedgehog, is what delivers sustained business success, not being distracted by every little emergency, like the fox.

4. You may be smartphone stupid if your smartphone interrupts you throughout the day

“Okay, okay, Bill. I get what you’re saying,” I can hear you replying right now, “but I’m not addicted to my smartphone.” For the sake of argument (and our friendship), I’ll leave that statement aside and ask you this, how many times does your smartphone interrupt you throughout the day?

A joint study by Microsoft and the University of Illinois found that it takes, on average, 16 minutes, 33 seconds for a worker interrupted by an email to get back to what he or she was doing. If you even cut that time in half to 8 minutes, 16 seconds and multiply it by the dozens of email you receive every day, you have a problem. A serious problem. No wonder you do your best work in the evening and on the weekends!

But do you really want to spend the rest of your professional life working every evening and every weekend? You don’t have to if you schedule your interruptions and give them focused attention. That means setting 15-30 minute fixed blocks of time each day—one in the morning, one mid-day, and one in the afternoon—where you check your smartphone, rather than having it disturb your workflow and wasting your time.

5. You may be smartphone stupid if your smartphone is taking over your personal life

By now I’m sure you’re expecting me to wax eloquent in this fifth and final point about the need for work/life balance. And while I’m deeply passionate about that subject, I’ll not address it here.

MORE: The Hour that Changes Everything

What I’d rather address, and what’s not commonly talked about regarding work/life balance, are its very real business benefits. Here’s one: barrenness. That is, the absence of. Let me explain.

If you were a rancher and you grazed your cattle on the same track of land all day, every day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, that track of land would ultimately become barren. Not one blade of grass would grow on it, grazed to death and now a dust bowl.

Land needs time to recover from being grazed. Fallow time. Time for rest and time for rejuvenation. For it cannot give and give and give and give without renewing itself in any way. Neither can you.

If your smartphone has taken over your personal life, it’s grazing the land of your body, soul, and spirit continuously, and they, too, without a break will become barren. And, of course, that’s not good for you, but it’s not good for business either. Who wants to fly on a plane with a burned-out pilot or be operated on by a burned-out surgeon? No one.

So Harvard business school professor Leslie Perlow recommends this solution in her brilliant book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: PTO, or predictable time off. PTO is a fixed, scheduled unit of time where employees do not check their smartphones at all. When a company or a team embraces PTO, they coordinate it with each other so customer care is not interrupted, and then hold each other accountable for being true to this commitment.

Leslie Perlow’s research with uber-driven consulting firm, The Boston Consulting Group, discovered that the implementation of predictable time off increased team performance and employee satisfaction, including significant increases in customer loyalty and decreases in costly turnover.

Are You Smartphone Stupid?

Are you smartphone stupid? You don’t have to be! I’ve worked with lots of busy executives like yourself helping them get back in control of their time and achieving what matters most in business and in life. Consider exploring what an executive coaching engagement might look like for you and your team or scheduling one of my interactive workshops, Executive Execution: The Disciplines of Getting Things Done.

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Do Your Metrics Matter? Four Critical Questions http://billzipponbusiness.com/do-your-metrics-matter/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/do-your-metrics-matter/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 07:00:11 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4653 I’ve never met a business leader who’d actually say, “Oh no, metrics don’t matter to me.” Have you? I didn’t think so. So why ask the question, “Do your metrics matter?” Because I’ve found the way most business leaders operate is like they’re practical atheists when it comes to metrics. I know, I know that’s […]

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I’ve never met a business leader who’d actually say, “Oh no, metrics don’t matter to me.” Have you? I didn’t think so.

So why ask the question, “Do your metrics matter?” Because I’ve found the way most business leaders operate is like they’re practical atheists when it comes to metrics.

I know, I know that’s an odd phrase. A practical atheist is someone who believes in God, but lives like they don’t. So a practical metric atheist is someone who believes in metrics, but leads like they don’t.

Are you that kind of leader? Here are four questions to ask yourself to find out if your metrics really matter.

Question One: Are your metrics few in number?

The first indication that your metrics don’t really matter is that you have too many of them. Way, way too many of them.

That’s the nature of the age in which we live, we have lots of data. Big data, little data, and all kinds of data in between. Drowning in data, we never take the time to find out what the data means and count the things that really count.

Take for example sales, the field in which I have the greatest business expertise. You can measure close ratio, number of calls per client to close, net new appointments, forecasting accuracy, time in the funnel, velocity of execution by sales stage, average deal size, weighted deal size, proposals under consideration, probability of proposals under consideration, and performance against goal by week, month, quarter, and year.

You get the idea, right?

Most salespeople, when confronted with a barrage of data like this, ignore it all. That’s true of other people as well. A wall of numbers never get read, except by the most brave mathematical souls (not you and me).

And that’s too bad, because some of these metrics are essential to success. A head of sales who wants to make her metrics to matter will select the three or four critical ones to focus on like a laser, letting the inconsequential ones go.

I refer to this as the vital signs approach to metrics. Our vitals signs track the three or four things that are key to good health, like pulse at resting, blood pressure, body mass index. If any of those numbers are off, you take a deeper dive with your doctor. So too with sales. If sales are off, you take a deeper dive with your manager (known in the sales world as a strategic account review), but week by week you watch your vital signs.

In other words, the very first—and foundational—way to have your metrics matter is by identifying the vital few that make the biggest impact.

Question Two: Are your metrics predictive of performance?

So then, which metrics make the biggest impact? The ones that predict performance, not just report it. Let me explain.

If you’re driving a car, which would you rather be looking at, what’s ahead in the windshield or what’s in the rear view mirror? The windshield, of course, because that’s where you’re going. The rear view mirror only tells you were you’ve been.

Metrics that matter, then, are windshield metrics, leading indicators, not rear view mirror metrics, lagging indicators. While lagging indicators tell you some things, it’s too late for you to do anything about those things because they’re in the past. Leading indicators allow you to steer the course of your company into the future.

As important as windshield metrics are, it’s far easier to focus on rear view mirror metrics. Mostly because they involve less thinking. The data’s easily accessible and fairly easy to interpret. But the key to high performance is being able to shape the direction of the marketplace, not just react to it.

In other words, think! If you want your metrics to matter, use your brain to find the ones that focus on the future and actually predict performance.

Question Three: Are your metrics tracked consistently?

The third question to ask yourself to find out if your metrics matter is whether or not you keep track of them on a consistent basis.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a client company helping them define their key metrics, only to check in with them a mere few weeks later and they can’t remember what their metrics are, let alone measure progress against them.

What waste. This has happened to me so much that I’ve started warning my clients that I’m going to check on these things every week until I’m satisfied that tracking their key metrics has become automatic. So track, track, track, track, track, track, track. Yes, I just used the same word seven times in a row. Get the point? Now do it.

That’s the beauty of the vital signs approach I outlined earlier. When you identify three or four numbers that are your company’s true vital signs, calculating them is quick and easy, like pulse at resting and blood pressure. In this regard I’ve discovered that fancy dashboards and slick apps don’t work. Keep it simple, because, in this exceedingly complex world, simple is also powerful. Pretend you’re Apple and call it metric minimalism, that’s a much cooler word than simple anyway.

Question Four: Are your metrics celebrated publicly?

And finally, if you want your metrics to really matter. If you want to supercharge them, energize them, put them on steroids or (insert your metaphor here), celebrate their success.

Sadly, most managers use their metrics to catch people doing things wrong. They use them like a club to beat people with or a stick to poke them with. This punitive approach to performance doesn’t achieve excellence. It just pisses people off and alienates them.

The most powerful way to use your metrics is to catch people doing things right. Whenever someone meets or exceeds one of your numbers, celebrate. Tell their story to everyone. Recognize them in front of their peers. Praise them publicly. Make these people the heroes of your company and the most amazing thing will happen. The DNA of that success will begin to duplicate itself throughout the organization, because other people, too, will want to get into that action.

Yes, I know you believe that metrics matter. You wouldn’t be in business if you. didn’t. Numbers don’t lie, right? But numbers can be ignored, forgotten, or rendered irrelevant if we lead in a way that acts like they don’t exist. Pick the few metrics that really make a difference, ensure they’re predictive of performance, track them consistently, and celebrate them publicly.

Making your metrics matter is essential to building a high performance culture, and that’s exactly what I help my clients do. Whether it’s a keynote address that resets the clock for your company or executive coaching for your leadership team, give me a call and let’s explore how together we can create a culture that drive numbers.

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Get Back in Control of Your Time http://billzipponbusiness.com/get-back-in-control-of-your-time/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/get-back-in-control-of-your-time/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 07:00:34 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4662 Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. That’s the one word that describes the life of every business leader I know. That’s the word that probably describes your life as well. It’s the reality of the 24/7/365 world in which we live. We can’t stop it, but we can control it. We can master it. In fact, […]

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Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy. That’s the one word that describes the life of every business leader I know.

That’s the word that probably describes your life as well. It’s the reality of the 24/7/365 world in which we live. We can’t stop it, but we can control it. We can master it. In fact, we must master it, or it will master us.

Here are three of my most popular blog posts on how to do just that:

The Hour That Changes Everything

One week has 168 hours in it. No more, no less. Subtract the time you spend sleeping and doing basic chores, and what you have left is about 100 hours. Like the rudder on a ship, if you take just one out of those 100 hours to plan, you’ll end up charting the course of your life in a very different direction than if you just let the wind and waves drive you.

READ IT HERE

 

Four Keys to Time Mastery

24/7/365 is not going away any time soon. The genie is out of the bottle. And for the most part, that’s okay. It’s our job, however, to respond to this new reality and live the life we want to life, not the one the genie is telling us to live. This article will give you the keys to doing that.

READ IT HERE

 

Three Powerful Steps to Make the Most of Every Day

“The problem with life,” a wise sage once mused, “is that it’s so daily.” That is the problem, isn’t it? The years that add up are, quite simply, a collection of the days we live, so it’s essential that we learn how to make the most of each one. This article will show you how.

READ IT HERE

One of the greatest threats to a high performance culture is the urgency of busyness that keeps you from doing what matters most. If you need help in this area, consider the executive coaching services I provide. I’ve worked with lots of leaders and their teams helping them get back in control of their time and back to winning the great game of business.

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Three Big Differences between Coaching Experienced Leaders and Coaching Emerging Leaders http://billzipponbusiness.com/coaching-experienced-leaders/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/coaching-experienced-leaders/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 07:00:11 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4538 All coaching is not the same. I know this because I tried to make it all the same and fell flat on my face. When I first began working with leaders one-on-one, I had an assembly line approach to the process and failed miserably. Then I wised up. One of the biggest ways that coaching […]

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All coaching is not the same. I know this because I tried to make it all the same and fell flat on my face. When I first began working with leaders one-on-one, I had an assembly line approach to the process and failed miserably.

Then I wised up.

One of the biggest ways that coaching differs from one individual to the other is the kind of leader you’re coaching. Not so much in personality and learning style, which is just one of the ways all coaching is not the same, but mostly in the experience level of the leader.

Whether you coach formally for your firm or coach leaders who come to you informally, there are big differences between the way to interact with an experienced leader and the way to interact with an emerging leader.

Here are my top three:

1. Synthesis versus Direction

2. Deconstruction versus Validation

3. Legacy versus Legitimacy

Let’s look at each one of these differences in that order.

1. Synthesis versus Direction

One of the things that characterizes new leaders is this: They often don’t know what they don’t know. Many times as you coach them, they are genuinely stuck, with simply no idea of what to do next. Here is where direction is perfectly appropriate as a coach and received from an emerging leader as water to a parched soul.

It’s just the opposite, however, with an experienced leader.

I’ve found that the experienced leader needs to talk through all the issues at hand. They need to get everything out of their head, laying all their cards on the table. Then they need someone to summarize for them what they just said. Not a rote word-for-word summary, but summary with insight. Or what I call synthesis.

I had an interaction like this with one of the CEO’s that I’m working with. For the better part of an hour she laid out the details of a challenging and emotionally charged situation that she faced. After listening intently, and asking the occasional question, I summarized what I thought she needed to do in a sentence or two, using her own words in the summary. In response she exclaimed, “That’s exactly it!”

This woman was bright, passionate, and uber-experienced in her field. But she was way too close to the problem to see the solution. The job of a coach with leaders like this is to sit outside of the situation and frame it for them, synthesizing what they need to do in their own words.

2. Deconstruction versus Validation

Sometimes, however, synthesis is not enough. Sometimes leaders are tripping all over themselves, tangled up in their well-worn ways of doing things. This is where deconstruction comes in. Deconstruction helps experienced leaders reexamine how they work and decide if the way they’ve always done something is really the way they should do it now.

Deconstruction is tricky, however, because no one wants the comfortable walls of their house torn down around them. So do it with grace. But do it you must, for often it’s the only way to build a bigger, better house. Remember the seven last words of a dying organization: We’ve never done it that way before.

Emerging leaders rarely need deconstruction, because much of their leadership house has not yet been built. And if you do deconstruct it, you may unhinge them completely. What emerging leaders need is validation that they are doing the right thing, and validation that if they persevere in it, good will come. They are, in a sense, on the field of play looking up to you in the stands for approval. When you give it to them, you also give them the confidence to move forward without fear.

Coaching experienced leaders

When Do You Provide Which?

And, of course, when to provide synthesis and when to provide deconstruction is the great art of coaching experienced leaders. For that matter, too, when to provide direction and when to provide validation.

As an art and not a science, you learn this more by feel than by formula. Knowing that all coaching, and all coaching clients, are not the same is the start to mastering this art. But the real secret is developing a finely tuned sense of when to lean in and when to back off, and then having the courage—-or the self-restraint—-to do either.

The guiding question I ask myself in these moments is: What’s in the best interest of this leader? As opposed to what might be the most comfortable to me in the moment, for often they are not the same.

3. Legacy versus Legitimacy

The final way coaching experienced leaders and coaching emerging leaders differs has to do with where they are on their leadership path. At the beginning of a person’s leadership journey, they need help gaining legitimacy. They need to be encouraged to embrace the kinds of challenges that allow them to prove themselves and be seen within the organization as the go-to guy or the go-to gal.

Once leaders have achieved legitimacy, however, they can lose their way. That is, when no challenge remains, they may coast. That’s why discussions regarding legacy are so important. Legitimacy precedes legacy, for no leader who’s not respected by his or her peers and direct reports can leave a legacy. But this shift in thinking is critical, from making one’s way in leadership to leaving a mark that’s hard to erase.

For leaders who are younger, the word legacy may not connect well because it conjures images of old age and retirement. When working with a younger leader, I’ll use the phrase “leadership brand” and ask, “What do you want people to think of when they think of you as a leader?” When a younger leader answers this question, they do, in fact, begin leaving a legacy.

Whether you use the word legacy or brand, the point is this: Those who are no longer new to leadership need to be challenged differently to be their very best. The way in which you do that is by appealing to their inherent human desire to make a difference in the world and change the lives of people in the process.

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Stop Defining Your Work by Effort. Define it by Outcomes http://billzipponbusiness.com/outcome-based-leadership/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/outcome-based-leadership/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 07:00:48 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4501 Work, the very word implies effort. That is, of course, what the term means, “activity involving mental or physical effort.” And it’s that definition that’s so misleading for executive leaders. For if we define our work by its effort and not by its outcomes, we cede the leadership of our sphere of influence to someone […]

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Work, the very word implies effort. That is, of course, what the term means, “activity involving mental or physical effort.”

And it’s that definition that’s so misleading for executive leaders. For if we define our work by its effort and not by its outcomes, we cede the leadership of our sphere of influence to someone else who will. Furthermore, we’ll find ourselves climbing up a long ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall. What a waste!

Sure, there was a time in all of our careers where our work was defined by effort. That’s how the success of an individual contributor is measured. Even the success of a frontline manager is measured, to a very large degree, by completing a list of duties and responsibilities. Effort.

pablo

But the day you stepped into executive leadership was the day you stepped onto a new playing field, where the score of the game is something you are responsible for determining. How do you do this?

Here are three questions to get you started:

1. What’s the greatest contribution you can make in the role you’re in right now?

2. What’s the best way to measure the impact of that contribution?

3. What are the most effective means for achieving that impact?

I will address each of these questions in that exact order.

1. What’s the greatest contribution you can make in the role you’re in right now?

This is the first and fundamental question all executive leaders should ask themselves: what’s the greatest contribution I can make? For the work you do should make a difference in the organization you serve. A big difference, hence the phrasing of the question with the words “greatest contribution.”

A common mistake in business today is confusing activity with accomplishment, wearing hours worked in a week or miles flown in a year like a badge of honor. Nothing, frankly, could be more wrong-headed. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that you’re actually getting things done. That would be like measuring the success of a road trip by how fast your drive and how far you travel, as opposed to actually arriving at your desired destination. 

There’s nothing wrong with hard work, of course. But effort must serve a purpose or else it’s wasted. And that purpose is the greatest contribution you can make in the role you’re in right now.

What’s brilliant about this question is that it forces two conversations. First, it forces a conversation with yourself about the things that you’re best suited for in making your greatest contribution. Then it forces a conversation with the people you answer to about the contribution you will be held accountable for achieving (and, conversely, the trivia that you can let go).

Outcome-Based Leadership

2. What’s the best way to measure the impact of that contribution?

Once you’ve determined the greatest contribution you can make in your role right now, it’s time to determine how success will be measured. It’s time to keep score.

There’s something inherent in the human spirit that strives to hit a target. Throw out a number, almost any number, and people will try to reach it. That’s both good and bad for executive leaders, for you can brilliantly achieve the wrong goals and destroy your business. Or do just the opposite.

That’s why the question above is phrased with the words “the best way to measure.” I like to think of these as executive leadership vital signs. Vital signs for our physical bodies are things that we can easily track, like height, weight, pulse at resting, blood pressure, and cholesterol. They don’t tell us everything we need to know about our physical health, but they tell us enough so if any is way off, we take deeper dive and discover why.

So, too, our greatest contribution has a handful of metrics that we can track on a regular basis to measure success. Or maybe not just one number, but two numbers in conjunction with each other, like height and weight are calculated to determine Body Mass Index or blood pressure is measured with a top and bottom number, systolic and diastolic.

By extension, then, you might calculate your cash conversion cycle—the number of days it takes to get paid for a product or service—productivity per employee, or average time in the sales funnel to close. No matter your area of contribution, there’s a way to measure its success, track that success over time, and—most importantly—improve on the measurement, making a dramatic difference in the organization you serve.

3. What are the most effective means for achieving that impact?

Here is where we ask, “How?” That is, you’ve determined the greatest contribution you can make in the role you’re in right now and the best way to measure the impact of that contribution. The third and final question is: What’s the most effective means to do that?

Please note, again, the use of the superlative. We’ve been asking about the greatest, the most, the best, and that’s intentional. Executive leaders don’t succeed by delivering mediocrity. They deliver excellence, and that excellence extends down to the very methodology they use to get things done.

While there may be more than one way to skin a cat (pardon the analogy), there’s the most effective way for you and your team. Find that way and perfect that way to meet—and ultimately exceed—the score you’ve set as your target for excellence.

And, finally, have fun doing it. There’s nothing more exciting than the great game of business we are privileged to be a part of today. Keeping score is a way to have fun in that pursuit: sprinting across the finish line and celebrating in victory. This outcome-based approach to leadership completely transforms your work from the tedious expenditure of effort to a fun game you play that energizes your entire team to be the very best version of itself.

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My Massive Half Marathon Mistakes and What I Learned from Them http://billzipponbusiness.com/half-marathon-mistakes/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/half-marathon-mistakes/#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 07:00:18 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4515 In an act of unimaginable stupidity, I signed up to run the half-marathon last year on the first Sunday of October. For those of you who do not know me well, I took up the sport of long distance running at the ripe age of 53. Since that time, I’ve run in lots of 5K […]

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half marathon mistakesIn an act of unimaginable stupidity, I signed up to run the half-marathon last year on the first Sunday of October.

For those of you who do not know me well, I took up the sport of long distance running at the ripe age of 53. Since that time, I’ve run in lots of 5K and 10K races, placed in the top of my age group in some of them, lost over 50 pounds, and gotten into the best shape of my adult life.

So it seemed like a good idea at the time to try out a new distance: 13.1 miles. And it seemed like a good day to do it too, with the sun beaming bright in a big blue sky as I and 25,000 of my new best friends crossed the starting line in downtown Portland, ran alongside the lovely Willamette River, and returned back to downtown again.

My massive mistakes, however, began immediately, the effects of which were not to be felt in full until later in the race. In short, I took off too fast. I know, I know, every running book in the world warns you against that mistake—and in my head I was holding back—but not enough.

I completed my first six miles in the time I normally run a 10K, and completed the next three miles in similar fashion. I felt great and was dreaming of half-marathon glory.

And then …

And then mile 10 hit me like a ton of bricks. My legs felt like lead and my back was searing in pain. The bigger problem, however, was that mile 10 was followed by an even more difficult mile 11, followed by two of the most painful miles of my entire life.

I’ll never forget the words race officials said to me as I crossed the finish line, “Are you okay, sir?” True story. I was asked that question a half dozen more times as I staggered through the post-race recovery area.

Since then, I’ve had a chance to reflect on this experience and offer the following lessons for life and leadership:

1. Respect the Distance, Respect the Marketplace

A 5K is 3.1 miles. A 10K, 6.2 miles. Neither are a walk in the park. But a half-marathon and a marathon, 13.1 miles and 26.2 miles respectively, are a different race entirely. Mostly because completing one requires you to be on your feet running, not for minutes, but for hours at a time. The fastest marathoners in the world finish the distance in just over two hours, and amateurs like myself are lucky to do it in twice that.

The sheer time and distance of these longer races must be respected. So, too, the marketplace.

We read rags to riches stories of people working out of their garage hitting it big overnight and assume that success comes easy. It doesn’t. Beneath those stories is a more complex tale of hard work, repeated failure, and enduring passion. That’s what it takes to succeed in the marketplace today, and to assume differently is to come into it without the proper degree of respect.

We need not fear the marketplace, nor any competitor, for I’m convinced that sound strategy and hard work wins. But neither should we take them lightly either. This is why successful professional sports teams approach every opponent they face seriously. For the minute you think that you’ll have an easy time of it, is the minute you’re primed for an upset.

2. Set the Right Pace and Stick to It

There’s a fine line between ambition and achievability. Too much ambition, and you’ll burn out; not enough, and you’ll rust out. Both ways you’re out.

Pacing in a half-marathon is the same. Go out too fast, and you hit the wall like I did long before the race is done. Don’t run fast enough, however, and you’ll never achieve your personal best. Run too slow in business, and you’ll get passed by more committed competitors and lose the race entirely.

That’s why it’s so important to find that perfect pace, the one that pushes you hard enough to win, but not too hard to wear you out.

Forgive me for mixing my metaphors, but here’s the perfect picture of this balance between ambition and achievability. The strings on a violin all have tension applied to them. Too little tension, however, and there’s not much sound when the bow comes in contact with them; too much and the strings snap. Finding that sweet spot in between is the secret to the violin being its very best and making beautiful music.

3. Have a Plan for Refueling

For those of you who know a bit about the science of distance running, you’ll recognize the experience I went through in my first half-marathon as glycogen depletion.

For physically fit adults, glycogen depletion takes place after about 90 minutes of rigorous exercise as the body’s stores of natural sugars are expended. This, then, is followed by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Without replenishing its glycogen, the body has a difficult time taking even one more step, a phenomenon that’s called “hitting the wall,” or, perhaps, more colorfully, “bonking.”

And, yes, all marathon and half-marathon events have hydration stations along the course, which I didn’t utilize. Mostly because I didn’t train with a hydration station every few miles, so I didn’t quite know how to use them. But even if I did, by the time I realized I needed refueling, it was way, way too late to do anything about it.

And that’s the leadership lesson from this particular mistake. Don’t run—that is, lead—without taking care of yourself. It’s not being soft or selfish or whatever else the voice inside your head is telling you. It’s just being wise. Get the refueling you need to run your race well.

Before you start the day, take the time for emotional, physical, and spiritual nutrition, so you enter into it healthy and strong. Take regular breaks during the day to remain strong. These breaks don’t need to be anything longer than a quick five minutes of quiet between meetings. Then end your day enjoying the people you love the most: family and friends. More refueling.

Do this, for leadership, as well as life, is not a sprint. It’s a long distance event. And any long distance event requires regular refueling, or else you’ll crash and burn before your time, like I did at mile 10. Have a plan for refueling both when you’re at home and when you’re traveling, and follow that plan religiously.

Oh No, Not Again …

When I recovered from my half-marathon stupor, I immediately signed up to run the race again next year. Yes, call me crazy, but I refuse to let my mistakes define me. This time, however, I’ll enter the race with a healthy respect for the distance, run it at the right pace, refuel well, and strive to achieve my personal best.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

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Nail Your Next Presentation: Tell a Great Story http://billzipponbusiness.com/how-to-tell-a-great-story/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/how-to-tell-a-great-story/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 08:00:47 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4460 At some point in your leadership life, if you haven’t already, you’ll be called on to make a big presentation. And that presentation will be critically important to your being perceived as a serious leader, your being promoted to a higher paying position, your closing a lucrative deal, or all of the above. How do […]

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13868925204_b4566b7775At some point in your leadership life, if you haven’t already, you’ll be called on to make a big presentation. And that presentation will be critically important to your being perceived as a serious leader, your being promoted to a higher paying position, your closing a lucrative deal, or all of the above.

How do you nail this presentation?

One secret to effective presentations is the power of a great story and the ability to tell it well. Yes, you’ve got to have good content, well-researched and well-documented, but no one will pay attention to any of that information if it’s not delivered in a compelling way. A great story is that way.

The problem is, most leaders spend their preparation time on content development only and wing it when it comes to telling stories. Bad idea. A great story emotionally connects the audience to your content and motivates them to take action on what you’re saying. That’s the point, right?

So work on your stories as much, or more, than anything else in your presentation. Here’s how:

STEP ONE: Set the Context

The very first thing to do in telling a great story is immediately set the context. In a brief sentence or two transport the audience from where they are now to an entirely different time and place.

This is done by stating clearly and concisely the when, who, and where of the story. Don’t mess with that formula: when, who, and where must be done is that exact order for maximum impact.

Example:

May 10, 1996.

Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, two of the most experienced mountain climbers in the world, arrived with their clients atop Everest.

Do you see how when, who, and where works? In less than 25 words I’ve got you on top of the world’s tallest mountain.

STEP TWO: State the Conflict

The next thing to do in telling a great story is create conflict. That is, present a pressing problem that, on the surface, does not appear to have a solution. A pressing problem with no obvious solution is the very definition of conflict.

Example:

May 10, 1996.

Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, two of the most experienced mountain climbers in the world, arrived with their clients atop Everest.

You think that would be cause for celebration. But it wasn’t. It was cause for concern, grave concern, that would end up as one of the deadliest tragedies ever on the world’s tallest peak.

STEP THREE: Divulge Details

Once the context of your story is set and conflict created, you’ve bought yourself some time. In other words, you’ve hooked your listeners and can use that hook to deliver the details needed for the story make sense and have impact.

Details add color that make a story feel real and establish a platform of authority for what you’re going to conclude from it. What are the details you observe of the story we’ve been following as you read it below?

Example:

You see, eighteen hours is all you have when you’re climbing Mt. Everest.

Climbers begin their ascent from basecamp, located at 26,000 feet above sea level, in the ungodly hour of 2:00 AM. They climb through the night and early morning, reaching the summit about mid-day. They then scramble back down before sunset to the safety of basecamp.

Climbing expeditions on Mt. Everest follow this strict guideline: the two o’clock rule. The two o’clock rule states that any climber who’s not reached the summit by two o’clock in the afternoon abandons their ascent and returns to basecamp immediately. No exceptions. 

The reason for the two o’clock rule is simple. Continued climbing after this time poses grave risk to climbers and their guides. You simply cannot make it back to basecamp.

Please note that this is the longest part of the story. I can get away with this, however, because I grabbed your attention by setting the context and creating conflict

STEP FOUR: Resolve the Conflict … or Not

The next thing to do in telling a great story is resolve the conflict … or not.

Great stories come in two flavors: the comedy and the tragedy. The comedy is a story that has resolution to the conflict. The tragedy is a story where the conflict doesn’t have resolution. The example story we’ve been discussing is a tragedy.

Example:

But on this day that rule was not followed and five climbers, including the two leaders of the expedition, died as they descended Everest in total darkness—well past midnight—while a ferocious blizzard enveloped mountain.

STEP FIVE: Make the Point

Here now is the payoff: the point of the story you’re telling.

With a comedy, describe in detail the new reality that exists because the solution to the pressing problem was applied. Don’t just simply conclude, “And they all lived happily ever after.” That’s lame. Drive your point home by specifically outlining how the solution created a new reality for the people in the story.

For a tragedy, that is, when the conflict is unresolved, take different tack. Present the moral to the story, the lesson that must be learned from the unnecessary loss.

Example:

Why had this happened? One reason: the absence of dissent.

John Krakauer, the best-selling author who was on this expedition, observed that a relationship of passive dependency developed between the climbers and their guides. Guides presented themselves as invincible experts. Climbers were asked to be their unquestioning followers.

Even as Scott Fischer’s physical condition deteriorated badly, struggling to put one foot in front of the other, no one talked about the the two o’clock rule or suggested an alternative course of action.

One of the twists I like to add in this step is using a quote to make the point more powerfully. In my opinion, this is the very best use of a well-worded quote: to maximize the impact of a story. The quote below is a little bit longer than I usually use, but it’s totally aligned with the story, and I’ve never lost an audience repeating it.

Example:

“Unfortunately, the experience of these teams on the slopes of Everest mirrors the group dynamic within many executive suites and corporate boardrooms around the world,” Michael Roberto writes in Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer.

“The factors suppressing debate and dissent within these expeditions also affect managers as they make business decisions. Inexperienced individuals find themselves demonstrating excessive deference to those with apparent expertise in the subject at hand. Plenty of teams lack the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect that facilitates and encourages candid dialogue.”

The Bottom Line

Do you have a big presentation coming up? Make sure your content is sound, but don’t rely on information alone to move the audience. It won’t. Emotion drives action, not information. Tell a great story.

Here’s the complete example story without interruptions. With the quote at the end it’s just 395 words long and takes less than three minutes to tell.

Tragedy Atop Everest

May 10, 1996.

Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, two of the most experienced mountain climbers in the world, arrived with their clients atop Everest.

You think that would be cause for celebration. But it wasn’t. It was cause for concern. Grave concern that would end up as one of the deadliest tragedies ever on the world’s tallest peak.

You see, eighteen hours is all you have when you’re climbing Mt. Everest.

Climbers begin their ascent from basecamp, located at 26,000 feet above sea level, in the ungodly hour of 2:00 AM. They climb through the night and early morning, reaching the summit about mid-day. They then scramble back down before sunset to the safety of basecamp.

Climbing expeditions on Mt. Everest follow this strict guideline: the two o’clock rule. The two o’clock rule states that any climber who’s not reached the summit by two o’clock in the afternoon abandons their ascent and returns to basecamp immediately. No exceptions. 

The reason for the two o’clock rule is simple. Continued climbing after this time poses grave risk to climbers and their guides. You simply cannot make it back to basecamp.

But on this day that rule was not followed and five climbers, including the two leaders of the expedition, died as they descended Everest in total darkness—well past midnight—while a ferocious blizzard enveloped the mountain.

Why had this happened? One reason: the absence of dissent.

John Krakauer, the best-selling author who was on this expedition, observed that a relationship of passive dependency developed between the climbers and their guides. Leaders presented themselves as invincible experts. Climbers were asked to be their unquestioning followers.

Even as Scott Fischer’s physical condition deteriorated badly, struggling to put one foot in front of the other, no one talked about it or suggested an alternative course of action.

“Unfortunately, the experience of these teams on the slopes of Everest mirrors the group dynamic within many executive suites and corporate boardrooms around the world,” Michael Roberto writes in Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer.

“The factors suppressing debate and dissent within these expeditions also affect managers as they make business decisions. Inexperienced individuals find themselves demonstrating excessive deference to those with apparent expertise in the subject at hand. Plenty of teams lack the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect that facilitates and encourages candid dialogue.”

Photo Courtesy of AD – Monumental

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The Honest Truth about Leadership Transition http://billzipponbusiness.com/leadership-transition/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/leadership-transition/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 08:00:04 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4379 All leadership roles are not the same. And while we might agree with that statement on paper, in practice we violate it regularly. In practice we promote a high performing individual contributor—a leading salesperson or a leading researcher—to the role of frontline manager and are surprised when that person struggles to win the support of […]

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All leadership roles are not the same. And while we might agree with that statement on paper, in practice we violate it regularly.

In practice we promote a high performing individual contributor—a leading salesperson or a leading researcher—to the role of frontline manager and are surprised when that person struggles to win the support of his or her direct reports. In practice we promote a successful frontline manager to the role of executive leader, and are surprised when that person struggles to sustain the same level of performance he or she had as a frontline manager.

The honest truth about leadership transition is that we do this because we really don’t believe that all leadership roles are not the same. We do this because we think that leadership development moves on a linear continuum from one logical step to the next, when, in fact, it’s just the opposite.

“The most common cause of executive failure,” writes Peter Drucker in his classic book, The Effective Executive, “is the inability or unwillingness to change with the demands of a new position. The executive who keeps on doing what he has done successfully before is almost bound to fail.”

In preparing people for successful leadership transition, then, the dissimilarities of one leadership role from the other must be well understood and adapted to fully. Here are three of these transitions:

1. From Individual Contributor to Frontline Manager

2. From Frontline Manager to Executive Leader

3. From Functional Head to Cross-Functional Leader

Let’s look at each one of these in turn and learn how to master them.

Leadership Transition One: From Individual Contributor to Frontline Manager

The primary difference between being a leading individual contributor and a frontline manager is the difference between personal productivity and organizational capacity. An individual contributor excels by putting their head down and doing the work at hand to the best of their ability. This technical expertise results in success in the role and promotion to management.

Technical expertise, however, is not what makes a successful frontline manager. In fact, it can backfire terribly. Sure, a successful frontline manager needs technical expertise to be respected by his or her team, but this leader’s focus must be squarely on developing that expertise in others, not on doing the work themselves.

When you’re really good at something, however, it’s extremely hard not to jump in and do it yourself. Every time you do, however, you stop being a leader and act like an individual contributor. Every time you step in as a sales manager and close a deal for a rep so you can hit the number stunts the growth of that rep and diminishes the capacity of your sales organization.

But that’s not all.

Failure to understand the difference between personal productivity and organizational capacity will eventually burn you out. Why? When you think like an individual contributor, you tell yourself that if you work hard enough, everything will be okay. This thinking sets you up for failure as a frontline manager. Working harder does not develop organizational capacity because you’re not duplicating yourself in others, you’re just doing their work for them. That’s the honest truth about this leadership transition.

What is the secret to successful frontline leadership?

The secret to successful frontline leadership is learning how to be a good coach. Learning how to work one-on-one with your people so they become exceptional individual contributors in their own right. Note this well: coaches work hard, but they don’t play in the game. Coaches prepare their people to play in the game. And when they do, their people perform at the highest levels of excellence and the entire team wins.

Leadership Transition Two: From Frontline Manager to Executive Leader

The primary difference between being a frontline manager and being an executive leader is the vastly different dynamics of visibility and accessibility in each of the roles. Here’s a visual representation of that difference:

Executive Leadership, versus Frontline

Frontline managers have low visibility within an organization. However, due to their relatively small span of control, they have high accessibility. This allows them to be hands-on in leadership, giving their direct reports the individual attention and one-on-one coaching they need to excel. This up-close-and-personal approach to leadership works very well and qualifies the frontline manager to take on a more expanded leadership role within the organization.

The problem is, to quote Marshall Goldsmith, what got you here won’t get you there. That is, the dynamics of executive leadership are just the opposite from the dynamics of frontline leadership. Due to a dramatically increased span of control, accessibility to your direct reports is decreased and the raw mathematics of the situation prevents you from providing the personal attention that led to past success. Trying to will end in utter exhaustion

Conversely, visibility within the organization is greatly increased and people jump to conclusions about you from the slightest word or action in a way that you’ve never experienced before.

“We often tell our coaching clients that the more senior you become the more perception matters,” executive coaches Amy Jen Su and Muriel Wilkins write in their brilliant book Own the Room. “You are increasingly under a microscope. Your team members, peers, and superiors interpret your every thought, word, and gesture with greater nuance. And these interpretations drive how they respond to you.”

For example, how presidential does New Jersey Governor Chris Christie look when he jumps up and down in the luxury owner’s box hugging Jerry Jones after a Dallas Cowboys touchdown? Say what you want about his “right” to do this, the wisdom of it is questionable.

The honest truth about this transition is that executive leaders must learn how to manage their visibility, utilizing a powerful concept I refer to as authentic executive presence, to maximize their impact on people. Then they must learn how to leverage the limits of their accessibility by equipping a handful of trusted leaders who represent them to the larger group.

Leadership Transition Three: From Functional Head to Cross-Functional Leader

Within executive leadership there are two different kinds of roles: the head of a functional area, like finance or sales, and the cross-functional leader, like a general manager or a CEO. These, as with the above transitions, are two very different roles that must be approached in two very different ways.

When I was the head of sales, I lead my sales group like many sales leaders do. It was us against them. David versus Goliath. I bred a fierce devotion among my salespeople, and together we killed it. I went to battle for them at every executive team meeting and came back with the spoils of war, product changes, increased compensation, whatever. In short, I advocated for my sales department every chance I had.

When I became the CEO of this company, however, I was shocked to find out how many people I had alienated by acting this way and how many bridges had to be rebuilt for the rest of the leaders in the firm to follow me. I had to learn the skills of inquiry, leading by listening, creating alignment, and forging alliances.

That’s honest truth about this leadership transition, from functional head to cross-functional leader. What makes you effective in a functional role is not the same for a cross-functional role. In specific, the advocacy that rallies the troops in your functional area, alienates people in other parts of the business. Cross-functional success requires a blend of advocacy and inquiry, expressing your point of view and listening intently to the point of view of others. Not one or the other, but both.

What Leadership Role is Right for You?

Here’s one final word of advice. Understanding the dissimilarities between various leadership roles is critical to managing your career path.

There is tremendous pressure to accept any leadership promotion that comes your way. But only you know if a promotion is a good fit for you. If you give in to this pressure and take on a leadership role that you’re not well-suited for, it’s like beating a square peg into a round hole. Both the peg, the hole, and the hammer will be damaged in the process.

Do you love putting your head down, working hard on your own and getting things done? Then be the very best individual contributor you can possibly be. Do you love working with people up-close-and-personal, coaching and developing them one-on-one? Then be the very best frontline manager you can possibly be.

Do you love taking on a challenge and building a kick-ass department in your area of expertise? Then be the very best head of a functional area you can possibly be. Do you have a systems view of the world and love the coordination and collaboration of getting lots of moving parts operating in concert together? Then be the very best cross-functional leader you can possibly be.

In this way you’ll know the success and fulfillment that comes from doing work that’s right for you. And that, too, is the honest truth about leadership transition.

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The Top Three Blog Articles of 2014 http://billzipponbusiness.com/top-blog-articles-2014/ http://billzipponbusiness.com/top-blog-articles-2014/#comments Tue, 30 Dec 2014 08:00:06 +0000 http://billzipponbusiness.com/?p=4362 The results are in! I have in my hands the top three blog articles of 2014. I used for my rating system unique open rates from my 1200 member email subscription list. All three articles had open rates of over 40%, the winner coming in at a whopping 47%. My most popular blog article of 2014 is on the technology […]

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The results are in! I have in my hands the top three blog articles of 2014.

I used for my rating system unique open rates from my 1200 member email subscription list. All three articles had open rates of over 40%, the winner coming in at a whopping 47%.

My most popular blog article of 2014 is on the technology we love to hate: email. The next is on personal productivity, and the third is on interpersonal communication.

Here they are for you to enjoy again:

WARNING: Don’t Use Email This Way. Ever.

I look back on it now with complete and total embarrassment.

I had been tossing and turning since 2:00 AM, and it was now 4:00 AM. A slight that had been served me became amplified in my sleepless mind into a full-blown violation of my basic human rights. I was incensed!

Finally getting out of bed, I authored a sharply worded, extensively documented email, and sent it to every person on the planet. Then I went back to bed.

I awoke to utter humiliation and weeks of apologies.

We’ve all done something like that with email. This amazing technology provides us with the power to ruin relationships and destroy our brand as a leader with a click of the send button. Here are three things to avoid to keep that from happening to you:

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

The Hour That Changes Everything

One week has 168 hours in it. No more, no less.

Subtract the time you spend sleeping and doing basic chores, like bathing, eating, and getting dressed, and what you have left is about 100 hours.

The cultural narrative we’ve embraced—that there’s never enough time to do the things that matter most in life—doesn’t hold water in light of these 100 waking hours.

It takes 4% of 100 hours to exercise rigorously every other day. It takes 3% of 100 hours to have a big family meal together on the weekend, including cooking and cleaning up. And it takes 2% of 100 hours to read from a book to your children before they go to sleep at night.

When you consider the fact that the average American spends more than 30 hours a week watching television, you realize that the use of our time is more about the choices we’re making than about being too busy.

The secret to using these 100 hours well, instead of wasting them week after week, is simple planning. Like the rudder on a ship, if you take one out of 100 hours—just 1% of your waking week—to plan, you’ll end up charting the course of your life in a very different direction than if you just let the wind and waves drive you.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Beware of This Conversation Killer and Know What to Do About It

38, 53, and 72. Note these numbers and note them well.

It was 38 degrees on January 28, 1986 when Challenger flight 51-L launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The region had been experiencing unseasonably low temperatures that delayed this shuttle mission time and time again. Pressure was mounting, both from the press and within the NASA community, to get on with the show.

The problem was that the O-rings on the Challenger’s fuel system had been designed for launch at temperatures of 53 degrees or higher. Design engineers were concerned that the rings would fail to seal at lower temperatures, leading to loss of the integrity of the system.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Just 72 seconds after takeoff, Challenger flight 51-L erupted in a fiery explosion. All seven astronauts on board lost their lives and the American space shuttle program was grounded for nearly three years.

38 … 53 … 72

The greatest tragedy of this disaster was that it was entirely preventable. Engineers knew about problems with the O-rings but couldn’t agree on what to do about it. Extended discussions, both internally and externally, were conducted about this issue, but no action was taken to fix it.

I’ve read the transcripts of the actual conversations between NASA’s leaders and the engineers at Morton Thiokol, designers of the space shuttle’s fuel system, hours before the fateful decision to move forward was made. They sent shivers up my spine. The pages are filled with personal attack, angry accusations, and outright arrogance and animosity.

In short, the Challenger disaster was not an engineering failure, it was a failure in human relations.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

Thank you for your loyal readership. I’m looking forward to a great 2015.

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