Monday, November 16, 2009

The Buck Stops Here

I was just thinking about Harry Truman's immortal words as I was conducting a seminar for civilian managers at a military installation recently. Like all employees, they are held accountable for their results and like all supervisors, they are held accountable for the results of their teams. The definition of management is getting results through others.

The first rule of accountability is NO WHINING...or as my British daughter would say, NO WHINGING!

Because I fly so often, I'm especially affected by stories relating to air travel and several incidents over the last year bring home 'give-'em-hell' Harry's message.

Think about that plane load of people stranded for 9 hours on a plane on the tarmac and unable to go inside the terminal. Officials scrambled to tell us why they couldn't do anything about it -- it's not my fault; don't blame me -- was the sub-text of every statement.

Or what about the pilots who flew past Minneapolis -- each new whinge was more outrageous than the one before.

Or take a more tragic example, the crash outside Buffalo where the pilots failed to get enough rest and follow procedure and the airline executives refused any responsibility for underpaying pilots and skimping on training. It was a recipe for disaster but everyone looked for someone else to blame.

You can add your own favorite examples. The message is still the same. When I was interviewing executives for Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, one of the things I wanted to know is how they handled mistakes. Every one of them had a similar response.

  • Acknowledge the mistake as soon as possible

  • Take responsibility -- even if you don't think it's your fault

  • Move quickly to fix the situation

  • Figure out what went wrong and act to prevent it in the future.

It's a simple formula. Yet it seems impossible for many people to follow. If you don't follow it, you cannot claim to be much of a manager or leader, no matter what your title. Back to Harry for what to do if you can't follow the formula:

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen...and stop whinging!

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October is International Strategic Planning Month

This month the planet is celebrating International Strategic Planning Month. Why not join in the celebration?

What does your own plan look like? Tattered around the edges? Way off projected revenue and profit? Forgotten in some dusty corner? Not updated since February?

Or maybe you're one of those successful people who has a plan and keeps it up-to-date. You use the plan to guide your work, adjust it as necessary, and use it as a living document. If so, you celebrate ISP every month.

I was on a TV interview show recently with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. He emphasized the need for executing the plan and adjusting the plan based on conditions on the ground. Now this is an important and even critical part of planning that too many people forget about.

Those of us who do create a strategic plan every year are often optimistic about what we can accomplish. We do the best job we can to analyze the environment in which we will be operating but none of us has a crystal ball...Stuff happens.

Unfortunately, too many folks drop the plan and start reacting to those unexpected events -- usually negative events -- and then we are into a downward spiral of firefighting.

When this year started, the ink on my plan was barely dry when the economic melt down hit me and my business hard. It was a scary couple of months -- disaster loomed and businesses were folding right and left. I was just as scared and worried as anyone else.

What I did was go back to the drawing board. I rewrote my plan, set new goals, devised new strategies, and set out on a new execution path. Everything I tried didn't work but some things did. As my friend the CEO said, "you can have the most elegant strategy, but when you hit the beach, it's execution that counts." Usually I'm not a big fan of war analogies in business but this is one of the times when the metaphor fit...and worked. I had to be more nimble, more creative, and more survival oriented than at any time in my business life.

The payoff? It's October and I'm still in business celebrating International Strategic Planning month. My plan? I just finished a new update that will take me through the second quarter of 2010. I may revise it a gain in 3 months -- the plan is only as good as the execution.

What about you? Have you made your plan for 2010? Now's a good time. Remember the old chestnut that's still floating around because it's true -- Fail to Plan -- Plan to Fail!

Want to know more about the Do's and Don'ts of Strategic Planning? Download it for free today.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Plan is a 4-letter word!

"Listen, Rebecca, nobody has time for this planning stuff in this economy. They just need to survive. Planning's for when things calm down."

That was the 'conventional wisdom' from a chum of mine recently. Well, I beg to differ -- I'm not being self serving -- so here's the 'evidence.'

The September 25 - October 1 edition of the South Florida Business Journal reported in two separate articles on local banks that are doing well because of their planning. We could all take a lesson from them.

Coral Gables, Florida is the home of Gibraltar Private Bank and Trust. Several years ago the bank, founded by Steve Hayworth in 1994, was acquired by Boston Private Financial Holdings. It has just been repurchased by Hayworth and a group of investors.

Hayworth said he moved to repurchase the bank because he felt it was in the best interests of his clients. The bank will stick to its business model.

"In this environment, I see an opportunity for an integrated private bank and wealth management," Hayworth said. "We are very focused on private banking and wealth advisory services for professionals and affluent families."
"The bank will stick to its business model." This is one of the keys to Gibraltar's success for many years, first as it prepared itself for acquisition, then as it prospered under the Boston company's auspices, and now as it strikes out on its own again. Steve Hayworth and Gibraltar were featured as a case study on the power of strategic planning and leadership in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. They attributed their phenomenal growth and doubling their assets in four years to the robust strategic plan they put together and FOLLOWED. In fact, they coined a telling phrase, "The Plan is the Boss." When other banks were faltering, going under, or just flailing about in an economic downturn, Gibraltar and Hayworth stuck with their plan and forged ahead.
In the same issue of SFBJ an unrelated story featured the Florida Shores -- Southeast Bank, founded by Steven Hickman in 2006 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Obviously this wasn't a great time to start a new bank and the bank and Hickman took a lot of flack for their slow initial growth. According to the Business Journal

Hickman said he wanted a manageable rate of growth that stuck to the bank's business plan. Because of that, Florida Shores has a relatively clean balance sheet.

"A lot of the banks that grew faster are paying the price now," he said. "We have good capital and plenty of money to lend."
"Manageable rate of growth that stuck to the bank's business plan." There's that pesky planning again! Hickman, in an email, was quick to give credit to his entire team for being the fastest-growing South Florida bank. But as was clear from the leadership philosophy he shared in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, Hickman had been an expert and booster of strategic planning since his early days in the banking business. He knew its power in helping keep any venture on track and successful over the long haul. The proof of the power of that approach is in his balance sheet.

Planning in tough times? Is it a must for survival? Think about the framers of the U.S. Constitution, also featured in Conventional Wisdom. The United States were hardly united. Europe had cut off our credit, inflation was rampant, and foreclosures were devastating the farm-based economy. The latter led directly to Shays' Rebellion where local farmers in Massachusetts closed down the bankruptcy courts and marched on the state arsenal. Foreign powers were perched on our borders just waiting to pick off the disintegrating states like road kill. In fact, the U.S. faced the most threatening crisis in its history, rivaled only by the winter of 1776-7, the Civil War, and the Great Depression. Tough times indeed!

So what was the response to this tough time? 55 men assembled in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to hammer out a strategic plan for the nation. That's right...a strategic plan...The Constitution. Want to know more? Check out Conventional Wisdom. Want to get through these tough times? Make a plan Stan and Fran! Create a strategic plan with short term actions that will move you toward your long-term goals. If you flail you fail. Or as that sage, business guru Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will do."

I don't know about you, but I'm following the lead of Hayworth, Hickman, and the framers.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Monday, September 21, 2009

George Who?

You know the drill...Jay Leno stops people on the street and asks them simple questions and that's where the fun begins. Recently he stopped a nice young man and asked him to name some Founding Fathers. "Founding Fathers of what?" he asked rather belligerently. OK, maybe it was staged...but...

Only a quarter of high school students in a recent poll could identify the first president of the U.S. Few could list the 3 branches of government. Forget about any real understanding of our our system of government and how it works. The findings of the latest poll reflect many other more scientifically sound studies that show up year after year.

Thomas Jefferson sums it up best: If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or have some other affiliation, the lack of knowledge of our history and understanding of our government is frightening. It could foreshadow disaster.

What is to be done?

  • Develop an engaging curriculum at every level of eduction from elementary school through college; involve educators, parents, students, historians, and instructional designers

  • Train teachers at every level to become knowledgeable and involved; provide them with materials and support to develop lessons that capture students' interests

  • Bring history to life with field trips to local historical sites and visits to local government meetings; Every student should visit Washington, D.C. at least once during his or her 12 years in school

  • Focus less on standardized testing and more on involving students in recreating critical events from our history, debating the great issues, applying lessons to their own lives.
This will not be easy. Political debate will rage around the curriculum and determining the "correct" facts and their interpretation. But as the PBS series on the Civil War and the HBO series on John Adams have shown, when you present history in a compelling way, people will be involved and come away glad to have learned something about two crucial periods in our history that still have echos in the present.

When the John Adam series was first running on TV, Greg Swienton, CEO of Ryder System, would gather anyone who was interested to discuss the previous nights episode. These were lively ad hoc conversations. Imagine that in your busy work place. When was the last time you gathered to chat about history? When was the last time you talked with your kids or grandkids about history or took them to visit a historic site or city council meeting?

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein,

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Lions Sleep...

The Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, has passed from the scene and both Democrats and Republicans, allies and opponents lionize his contributions of four decades plus service. All of them seem to agree that what made him such a legislative master was his ability to find common ground. On the Senate floor he might roar and attack but behind the scenes he was ready with a joke, a helping hand, and a genuine desire to work out a solution. At his wake earlier this evening, one of the speakers talked about his lack of pettiness or personal rancor.

What struck me about all of this were the parallels with my own favorite legislator, James Madison. Jemmy like Teddy mastered the art of being an effective legislator. From his mid-twenties on, he served in a series of legislative bodies and was seldom out of office. He started in the colonial Virginia House of Burgesses and moved through the independent Assembly and into the Continental Congress. His most important contribution was helping pass religious freedom legislation and to fight Patrick Henry’s favorite cause, state funding for religious institutions.

Madison is called the Father of the Constitution with good reason. He used the skills he had honed in the rough-and-tumble legislatures of the Revolution and post-Revolutionary period to make sure we built a more perfect union. Jemmy was one of the conspirators who brought the Constitutional Convention into existence. (Patrick Henry stayed home saying he smelled a rat!) He had done extensive homework and showed up early to meet the delegates, take their measure, and begin building relationships. He had a draft of a new constitution introduced as the Virginia Plan. He spoke on every issue, forcefully and often persuasively. He worked in committees and behind the scenes, looking for common ground, striking deals, and building consensus. He socialized and told great, if off-color stories, and seemed to be everywhere doing the one-on-one of good political organizing. In other words he was a great legislator.

Once the Constitution was finished he worked with Alexander Hamilton in a white heat of creativity to author the Federalist, one of the great political documents of all time, arguing persuasively for ratification. Of course he was elected to the Virginia ratifying convention and although he was very ill, probably as a result of his four months of non-stop work in the convention followed by months of work on Federalist, he faced down Patrick Henry’s bombast and dramatic attacks on the new Constitution. He worked his legislative skills to their limits and brought in a paper thin victory.

With the formation of a new Congress, there was a groundswell of support to appoint Madison to the Senate. But now political payback was at work. Patrick Henry blocked his nomination, still smarting from his most recent defeat and never forgiving him for the defeat of state support of religion. Although Henry also attempted to gerrymander his district later, Madison was elected to the House of Representatives every time he ran.

In the new Congress, Madison was in his element and served as Washington’s right-hand man, making sure his legislative agenda was realized. Madison first drafted and then engineered the passing of the Bill of Rights. But perhaps one of his most interesting feats was passing Hamilton’s financial legislation. Here we see a skilled legislator at work. Even though Madison was skeptical of the financial and monetary policy in the bill, he agreed to support it. He worked behind the scenes to line up enough votes so it could pass (and he could save face with constituents and vote against it.)

For most of his life, he was known to be a passionate supporter of republican values and government without being ideological, petty, or back biting. He did not hold grudges and worked to find common ground. But as Washington entered his second term, Madison teamed up with his best friend Thomas Jefferson and fell into the ideological trap as they worked to destroy Hamilton and form the first political party in the modern sense, the Republican Party which morphed into the Democratic Republican party which became the Democratic Party. (Note – the modern Republican party arose in the years before the Civil War.)

Once Jemmy went down this ideological trail, his effectiveness as a legislator declined. When he entered the Executive branch as Jefferson’s Secretary of State and later as President, he was out of his area of real expertise. The master legislator disappeared and the adequate, but not distinguished, executive took his place. In retirement, the gifted Madison returned, without rancor again, reconsidering earlier positions, and looking for common ground.

Perhaps Ted Kennedy’s most enduring legacy will be as a role model for accepting ones gifts, ones true talents, and building them into a lifetime of passionate service. Jemmy could have learned a few things from Teddy…and visa versa. At their best, both men showed us what legislators should be – people who get things done by looking for ways to compromise, to work together, to be collegial, and to eschew ideological and petty rancor, payback, and meanness. Jemmy and Teddy were lions many of today’s legislators should learn from…the lions are sleeping...but hopefully others will awaken...

(C) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Friday, August 7, 2009

Most people are about as happy as they decide to be

What a great thought. I've carried this saying, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, around with me for 27 years. It jumped back into my mind yesterday when I read an article in USA Today discussing the latest research on happiness that came to the same conclusion.

At the same time, I was skimming though some articles in Training magazine reporting on a Deloitte study of executives and their attitudes about the economy and their companies. For the first time in a long time, there was a vast increase in those who thought things were going to turn around in the not-too-distant future. Doom and gloom were lifting. So they should be happy, right?

Buried in the report were some other findings however. The number-one focus of most of these executives -- note I did not say leaders -- was laying off more people. They were concerned about losing people once things turned around. In fact, the HR and leadership journals have been full of articles on retaining high-potential employees and grooming them for the future. So are these execs planning for how to keep these hi-pos once things loosen up? Most are not!

Studies show that Gen Xers and Millennials will jump ship as soon as new opportunities start to materialize. Wouldn't it make sense to plan for what's coming that will have a big impact on a company's ability to recover and grow again? Strategic leaders are planning. After all, they have that vision of the future and are planning how to get there. But their non-strategic counterparts are still mired in the present and the past.

Instead of planning how to take advantage of opportunities that are starting to arise, instead of actively growing the folks they'll need to be able to mobilize, instead of seizing the moment, they slashing staff, eliminating training, pushing everyone beyond their limits, and generally making themselves and everyone around them 'unhappy.'

Strategic leaders, not only think things are getting better, they're acting on their 'happiness.' They're investing in and nurturing their folks. They are planning and executing their plans to retain, engage, and develop the folks that will make their vision a reality. That's the difference between occupying a leadership title and being a leader. Strategic leaders are happy.

So I'm with Abe. Let's get happy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Compromise -- good idea or bad idea?

Whether in the board room, the Congress, or dinner table debate, at some point someone will suggest a compromise. Then what happens? Some folks believe you should stick to your 'principles' and never give an inch. Others just want the debate to end so they'll jump at the chance. Neither extreme leads to good decisions or even good compromises. The U.S. Congress is debating health care/insurance reform at the moment and we see both types of extreme behavior on both sides of the aisle. In the end, there will be some sort of legislation passed and it will be a compromise...that's the way the system is set up. In fact, it took a major compromise to set up Congress in the first place.

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was not that much different from today's Congress. It had a variety of opinions and special interests contending with one another. It had people who were adamant on many issues. Perhaps the most contentious debate was around representation --would it be equal numbers of representatives from each state or representation based on population. The smaller states wanted equal representation as they currently had in the Congress formed under the Articles of Confederation. They feared the power of the larger states and believed they would be gobbled up without equal voting power. The large states had been constantly frustrated by the ability of small states to stimmey legislation because representation did not rest on population. Both sides drew a line in the sand...or the dusty, musty floor of the Convention meeting room. This contintious issue threatened to derail the entire convention and people were ready to bring it to a close rather than give even an inch.

The arguments were bitter, lofty, extreme, and heart-felt. Virtually no one was neutral. Then on June 11, Roger Sherman (that stern looking gentleman above) put forward a motion. It was not accepted immediately and needed to go through more debate, but in the end, the Great Compromise, as it came to be called, would be accepted. The two houses of the new Congress would be selected differently. The upper House (Senate) would be based on equal representation for each state. The lower House (Representatives) would be chosen by population. It was not an easy compromise but it was 'great.' There was lots more discussion -- the devil is always in the details -- but the compromise stuck.

It's impossible to predict what might have happened had Sherman not stepped forward and had not the majority of votes finally gone for the Compromise. Many historians believe the Convention would have broken up and the fragile Union would have quickly disintegrated and been divided up by the European powers perched on the borders.

Almost exactly one year later the required ninth state ratified the new 'compromise' Constitution and the news was officially handed to Congress July 2, 1788. That compromise saved the Union because the delegates were able to back off a little from their 'principles' and see that survival of the country -- the greater good -- was more important.

So the question for each of us today, whether in our companies, nonprofit boards or government entities, is the same one that faced the framers. Is this the point to give up 100% of nothing to embrace 50% of something that will serve the greater good? This is never an easy question because it means we won't get everything, or even a lot, of what we want. Can we live with it? Can we support it so that we will make progress, if haultingly? For strategic leaders, like Sherman and James Madison, George Washington, Ben Franklin and others at the Convention, the answer was yes. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

Will your followers, staff or constituents be able to thank you for compromising for the greater good?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hard heads for hard times

It was one of those magical days in Paris, just around Bastille Day 2006. I was zooming around the streets with folks from a mastermind retreat on Segways. You've seen these contraptions -- they look like a scooter with out the back end. There is no motor - your body position keeps them going. Some folks find them great fun or at least useful. I wasn't so sure. But I was getting the hang of it and it was an adventure. Then some folks stepped right in front of me...did I mention there are no brakes? The machine stopped dead and the law of physics took other works, I fell backwards and my head hit the pavement...luckily I was wearing a helmet. My companions rushed over but all that was hurt was my goeth before a fall, you know.

I was thinking about that Segway ride and that fall and my hard head. My mother always claimed I had a hard head. I've come to believe it's a good thing. In fact, as a small business owner, it may be one of my most important assets in these hard times.

These are not times for the faint-of-heart to be in business...there are tough decisions every day. Every aspect of the business must be examined while asking that simple strategic question: Is this going to help me accomplish my mission or will it move me away from it?

You see the question is NOT, "should I spend this money on X?" It's not even "will this give me return on investment?" And it's definitely not, "Where can I cut expenses more?"

In hard times, you must be hardheaded and ask a different set of questions: "Of all the things I could be spending my time and money on, which will move me toward accomplishing my goals?" "What are my priorities for success?" "What will I lay aside so my energies are focused on the most important things?"

Sure it's tough out there. Everyday we could hear some bad predictable as the thunder storms that roll through here in South Florida almost every afternoon. Let the economic storms roll. This hardheaded business owner is taking a page from the Founding Fathers. They certainly faced hard times...there was a price on their heads...but they focused their energies on success. They envisioned a republic that had never existed before. They made it a reality. Their hardheaded determination helped inspire that first Bastille Day.

So remembering all that serves as a guide for today. When you fall off your plan, get up and go again. Create a different future and hardheadedly make it happen. Innovate. Invigorate. Instigate.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A sad day for strategic leaders

Today I learned that Edward G. Novak passed away. Ed was an extraordinary person and a strategic leader. I first met him when he spoke at a software quality conference several years ago. He wasn't the first executive to speak at such a conference but he was the first to bring along his staff member who managed his projects. He featured her as a co-speaker and demonstrated not only his own qualities as a leader but his willingness to give public acknowledgement of the accomplishments of a so-called subordinate.

At the time he spoke, he was a Senior Vice President with Bank of America. He was a life-long banker with a reputation as someone who could engage employees and customers and still meet business goals. He built strong teams where ever he went. For many years he was a member of the Board of Trustees for the Baltimore Museum of Industry and also chaired that board. His leadership came through time and again as he helped this important preserver of Baltimore's rich heritage thrive even in tough times.

As an executive, Ed excelled at Hoshin planning and always looked for the best practices. When asked why he brought along his project manager to speak at the conference he replied, "I didn't know any better. I thought everybody teamed up." When I interviewed him for my book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, I explored his ideas on team building. Here is what he said.

"My job is to deal with clients and work with our technology partners...I'm a banker. I don't know the technology side. I knew my weaknesses and knew I needed somebody who understood technology and could get our vision built. My value would be understanding our business. I saw, from day one, that it was a partnership. We would partner to be successful...It wasn't any stroke of brilliance. This was the only way I could think of going about it to be successful.
Novak's modesty aside, his way of partnering for success has become a best practice within the bank and is widely emulated."
Ed left us too soon but he leaves behind a legacy of great leadership, service to his community, and many warm friendships. Farwell friend.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

World-Changing Anniversaries

This week marks two world-changing anniversaries -- they will go unnoticed on your Outlook calendar or CNN's news crawl. You won't hear your favorite NPR or PBS commentator wax eloquent about these propitious days. The blogosphere and talk show hosts, left, right, and center, will not be foaming at the mouth about them...BUT...

On May 25, 1787, the U.S. Constitutional Convention officially opened in Philadelphia. Delegates from 12 of the 13 states were drifting in with different agendas and expectations. Some thought they were just going to spend a few weeks making some amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation that had governed the new nation for a handful of years. Some weren't sure what was going to happen but they knew something had to be done to get the country out of the crisis at hand. A few had come to defend the status quo and try to stop any changes from being passed. And then there was that core group of conspirators that were preparing to commit treason for the second time...but more about them later...

What was that crisis facing the U.S. in 1787? A few years after the hard-fought Revolution, the country was on the verge of collapse.
  • With no central currency or monetary policy, states printed their own worthless paper money, driving triple-digit inflation.
  • Inflation led to foreclosures on many farms in the largely agricultural nation.
  • Taking matters into their own hands and led by Revolutionary soldier Captain Shays, a gaggle of Massachusetts farmers closed down the courts that were taking their farms, and marched on the arsenal in Springfield, declaring a second revolution. Although they were routed by the state militia, Shays' Rebellion sent a shock wave through the country.
  • The British, Spanish, and French were circling like vultures waiting to pick apart the new nation like road kill.
  • Meanwhile the states were feuding with one another over boundaries, fishing and navigation rights, and trade. Several were preparing to go to war while others considered abandoning the fragile union and going it alone or allying with a foreign power.
  • And what of the Confederation Congress? It was impotent since it could not impose any legislation on the sovereign states and could only beg for money, which was seldom forthcoming. The Articles could not be amended unless all 13 states agreed and that seldom happened.
Back to those treasonous conspirators...James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, and a handful of others decided that the time had come to overthrow the Articles of Confederation and establish a new constitution that would have authority over the states. To this end they called the convention, connived to get Congress to approve the session, and enlisted George Washington to come as a representative from Virginia and provide the political cover they needed to create the new constitution.
Of course, the Convention, as one of its first acts, elected Washington to preside over the meeting. And this brings us to our second important date, May 29, 1787.
On this day, the conspirators tipped their hand to the shock of many of the delegates. Edmund Randolph, the Governor of Virginia and host of the Convention, rose to present his opening remarks on the crisis and then read out the Virginia Plan. Authored for the most part by James Madison, it laid out a radical proposal for a republican form of government with representation of the people in a tripartite organization of legislative, executive, and executive branches. These were designed to check and balance one another. This bombshell plan became the agenda for debate that lasted for another four months. But in the end, the Constitution that we know today was written and then ratified by enough states to go into effect.

As the Convention ebbed and flowed, the delegates used many of the techniques we recognize today as strategic planning. In my new book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, 20 contemporary leaders describe how they use these same techniques.

  • Luda Kopeikina, CEO of Noventra, describes how she encourages debate and idea generation.
  • John Zumwalt describes how he uses a common mission to drive successful action at PBSJ just as that quintessential mission statement, the Constitution's Preamble, sets out our country's mission.
  • Howard Putnam, an early CEO at Southwest Airlines, used his planning session to set the floundering company on a new path and unite his team behind it.
  • Michael Howe describes his evolution as a strategic leader who decided to change the face of health care.
  • Alan Levine, now Secretary of Health and Hospitals for Louisiana, relates how he turned a county health care system into a world-class operation delivering high value to patients and lower costs to tax payers.

What can we learn from these remarkable anniversaries?

In times of crisis -- seek bold, break-through solutions -- reject the status quo and your comfort zone -- stick to your mission.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Check out the book for more tales of strategic leadership both at the Constitutional Convention and in today's successful organizations.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Opportunity trumps cost cutting

Folks, the word is in from some strategic leaders...Opportunity trumps cost cutting for companies that will succeed in this economic environment. Now this is not a new concept but you wouldn't know it if you only listen to the TV news, cable or network. Yes, it's tough out there and most companies don't have money to throw away, but, and it's a very big but...

Why am I saying this? Because in the last couple of weeks I've chaired two very different panels of people who are strategic leaders who all say the winning strategy is looking for the opportunities -- the top line, revenue generation through innovation and grabbing the vast opportunities that are out there, is where the winners are. You cannot cut your way to profitability or success.

Two weeks ago I chaired a panel of five of the executives I interviewed for my newly published book. (Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.) They included Greg Swienton, CEO, Ryder System, Ben Baldanza, CEO, Spirit Airlines, George Hanbury, COO/EVP, Nova Southeastern University, John Stunson, City Manager, Oakland Park, Florida, and Evan Rees, former banking executive and fundraiser for the Boy Scouts and homeless. Today I chaired a panel of technology executives speaking at an international conference on software quality. They were Jason Kalich, General Manager, Relationship Experience Division, Microsoft, Mike Zanillo, CIO, WMS (gaming entertainment industry,) and Phil Beckman, VP of Research and Development/Products, SpringCM, (on-demand content management solutions.)

These executives from diverse industries, geographical regions, backgrounds, and areas of expertise ALL said the same thing. It's about opportunity. Do you hear that? Opportunity.

A few blog entries ago I reminded people about the Chinese ideogram for the word "Crisis" that contains the symbols for "Danger" AND "Opportunity." These folks all echoed the same understanding of the universe. We must acknowledge the danger and then focus our energies on the Opportunity. The framers of the U.S. Constitution and the entire revolutionary generation that we acknowledge as the founders of the U.S. understood this. They knew their lives were at stake -- the danger was physically hanging on the gallows or the nearest tree. Like the panelist they were not unrealistic in their assessment of the danger. But unlike the talking (empty?) heads on TV, they did not allow that to constrain their thinking and creativity. These leaders, ancient and modern, focused on opportunity, on finding new areas for success, of capturing the future and not miring themselves in the present or the past.

Think times are tough? It's a matter of perspective. Think again, it's the time of opportunity. Read my earlier blog on the manufacturer who captured the lawn flamingo market...or look at the origins of Microsoft or other great companies that took carpe deim literally -- seize the day!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1 is not a foolish day

April 1 is an important day in American history, although few people know it. This is the anniversary of the first day the new Congress under the new Constitution met, had a quorum, and could conduct business. April 1, 1790. No foolin'...James Madison and the other delegates assembled to begin the business of putting the newly ratified Constitution into action. They began the business of ensuring the fragile union survived and grew strong.

This was no easy task. This was a new form of republican government. The delegates were serving two year terms in the newly established House of Representatives. They knew they would have some real power to get things done and to levy the necessary taxes to meet their obligations. Under the now-defunct Articles of Confederation, they were only able to beg the states to support initiatives with money. Now they represented specific geographical constituencies and each had a vote unlike the one vote per state under the Articles.

The crisis that brought on the Constitutional Convention and resulted in the new government was still raging; foreclosures, inflation, threatening foreign powers, creditors demanding payment for war debt, and more. The situation was not unlike today, although the country was more vulnerable than now.

As usual, James Madison had made a thorough study of the issues. He had the responsibility for seeing that George Washington's agenda made it through the new legislature. To gain ratification of the new Constitution, he had promised to bring a bill of rights into the amendment process. He would also have to see to it that the proposal for funding the debt and establishing a national bank would pass even though he had grave doubts about it. However, Alexander Hamilton, the new Secretary of the Treasury had convinced him it was a necessity to deal with their disastrous financial and credit situation.

Today's leaders face many of the same crises as the those in that first Congress. In fact the parallels are startling. They also face tough, even unpleasant choices. Several of the contemporary leaders profiled in my new book spoke at a seminar for local business people on March 27. They agreed with the premise that now is the time to focus on opportunity while doing what is necessary to get through the short term.

Greg Swienton, CEO of Ryder System, repeated his philosophy from his profile in the book. He has charged his team with looking for every alternative saving before letting an employee go. That means getting rid of things that make their lives more convenient or comfortable but do not actually contribute anything. He had already led the way by getting rid of the corporate jet when he became CEO.

Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines, was also on the panel and interviewed in the book. In a piece about him in the New York Times on Monday, the reporter was incredulous at his plain office in a nondescript office park. Baldanza was photographed with his own vacuum cleaner he uses to keep his office clean. But this is exactly the leadership image he is trying to set.

The key for all of the leaders on the panel is to focus on important isses with strong, decisive actions that are congruent with their larger mission.

So, no foolin'...take these leadership lessons to heart on this historic day.
(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about these modern leaders and those of the early republic today -- Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

The full panel included: Greg Swienton, CEO, Ryder System; Ben Baldanza, CEO, Spirit Airlines; John Stunson, City Manager, Oakland Park, Florida; George Hanbury, COO/EVP Nova Southeastern University; Evan Rees, former President, CNL Bank, now working full time to raise money for the Boy Scouts and the Partnership for the Homeless.

The panel presentation will be available soon on our website.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Casting a longer shadow

It seemed like an insignificant thing at the time. Jim, the CEO of a Midwestern printing company, decided to start drinking bottled water. He made no pronouncement and asked no one else to do the same. Six months later, every manager and supervisor was drinking bottled water and bottled water dispensers had been installed throughout the plant and offices.

What happened? It's a phenomenon known as 'Shadow of the Leader.' Put very simply, people unconsciously begin to act like, and even think like, the leader of the group. For many it is completely unconscious. The leader doesn't force it to happen (unless of course you're dealing with a dictator or megalomaniac or other negative leader.) But great leaders set out consciously to create an enduring culture.

The Shadow has great consequences for the organization. I've been looking at how this plays out in the way things get organized and then get done for almost 40 years. Back in the 1970s a new take on leadership and corporate culture started to emerge. This Shadow of the Leader concept was first studied in depth by Larry Senn in his 1970 dissertation. My own dissertation explored the same phenomenon in a grassroots, community organization. Later as a corporate officer, I went through training by the Senn Delaney company on applying Senn's insights. The idea had come full circle with me.

In my new book, I was back on the same quest -- not to look for trivial examples like drinking bottled water but to find examples that would be useful for every leader in today's new tough reality. Perhaps one of the best examples from the history I explored was George Washington.

Washington was not always an iconic leader. His early military career did not look too promising. But he had a characteristic that ultimately propelled him to the top. He determined to mold his own character into someone he and others could admire. So when he was appointed to head the Continental Army and wrest the country from the British empire, he was ready. He turned a rag tag bunch of farmers, merchants, and ne'er-do-wells into a disciplined fighting force.

But it was his peace-time leadership that illustrates the Shadow concept best. First, at the Constitutional Convention he was immediately and unanimously elected to serve as president of that historic session. Delegates watched his body language closely to see which ideas he favored. Although he never took part in the public debates, his views were well known and held great sway with the delegates. On the last day, when he finally spoke and suggested changing the number of voters for each congressional district, the assembly passed it without discussion.

There was never a doubt about who the first elected president of the Republic would be. In fact, there were a significant number of leaders who believed that he should be an elected king. But Washington was a believer in the republican cause of representative government and refused to turn his office into a throne. He understood his Shadow and thought long and hard about every decision from the most trivial to the most profound -- he knew history was watching.

When he stepped down after two terms, he established a precedent that held until the Roosevelt administration and was then codified in the 22nd amendment to the Constitution.

Washington cast a long Shadow of leadership that established a dignity about the office of the president. (Now lest you continue to see him as the stiff figure in paintings and statues, remember that he was a renowned dancer and enjoyed partnering the ladies in the most intricate and spirited dances of the day.)

Perhaps the most enduring part of his Shadow for leaders to be aware of today was his courage in the face of every danger -- not just in war. As the country was collapsing in 1787, he stepped forward to take part in the Constitutional Convention -- which gave it legitimacy and ensured others would join in. When he took on the presidency of the new republic, he had to invent it and reached out to trusted leaders for advice and counsel -- Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson. He was willing to face the crises of his day -- foreclosures, inflation, civil unrest, foreign threats, falling credit, piracy, and more. He was willing to invent a new form of government to save the country.

Leaders can learn a lot from walking in Washington's Shadow -- there's a lot of light there.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
Author: Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Tweet is NOT Sweet

-- Did you watch the President's address to Congress this week? If you watched the audience of Senators and Representatives closely you saw some of them thumbing away, tweeting to their followers.
-- And your point is?
-- That's just it. There are millions of folks out there who don't find this a problem. You see, millions of folks are delusional. There are two points in that delusion that hit a nerve with me.

First point: Despite those who claim otherwise, we do NOT multi-task. What the brain is actually doing is switching from task to task quickly so it seems to our conscious minds we're doing more than one thing at a time. Here's some proof for you -- if you drive and talk on the phone (even hands free) you have the same chance of crashing as if you were drunk or stoned.

Test it out for yourself -- no, I don't mean drink and drive -- I mean watch the news on your favorite channel. Have someone else in the room sitting with eyes closed just listening to the news. As the news goes on in the central panel, you start reading the crawl at the bottom of the page. If they have one of those places that marks the time or the stock ticker, watch that for a while. If they have one of those pop ups for another show, be sure to watch that. In other words, consciously watch the way you may do it every day. After about 15 minutes, compare notes with the 'listener' about the news stories in the central panel.

If your recall is as good as that of the listener, write and tell me. But it won't be.

Those folks who were tweeting during the president's presentation would not be able to pass a simple test and certainly missed the subtleties, the flow of concepts, the rhetorical flourishes, and body language subliminal signals.

Too bad. How can you make a political or intellectual judgement or analysis if you weren't fully present....Oh, you recorded it? Sorry, it ain't the same as being there.

Point two: What sort of narcissist are you to believe that your every stray thought must be communicated to the universe. And what sort of poverty of mind do you have if you follow some one's every stray thought?
Every one's mind strays, even during a compelling situation. But people with their brain cells functioning train themselves to focus on the important. Think of hero-pilot "Sully." What if he were busy tweeting his stray thoughts while trying to land an airliner in the Hudson River? No, "nothing like the aspect of being hanged in the morning to concentrate your mind."

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were not a lot different from most of us. They knew how easy it was to lose focus or be carried away by their own narcissistic impulses. When they put together their rules for the Convention in 1787, they made a special point of insisting that no one was to write notes, read a newspaper, or talk with his neighbor during their discussions. No multi-tasking allowed. Why? They were astute observers of human nature and knew we could not do it. Period. The End.

And look what they did as they tried to tame their human inclinations. They sat on wooden chairs in the Pennsylvania State House six days a week from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. with no formal breaks, no designer water bottles, no snacks, no working lunches, no coffee breaks, no tweeting, no phone calls, no ipods, no scrolling...They did this for 4 months in a stuffy, hot, humid room. They listened to everyone -- even the windbags. They focused, they argued, they went back over old territory and reexamined it, they postured, they made good and bad arguments, they pondered, they considered and reconsidered. They wrote a Constitution that has stood the test of time for over 200 years with few amendments.

They weren't perfect. They were very much like us. They understood how easy it is to lose focus, so they worked hard to do as good a job as they could, without giving in to their tendency to be distracted.

We sing the praises of the distracted, multi-tasking, type A personalities. Are we getting more done? Are we getting more important things done? Are we creating greater significance for our own lives, the lives of others or the planet?

One of the most successful leaders I interviewed for my new book, Greg Swienton, the CEO of Ryder System, talked to me about the importance of true balance in one's life. He talked about the discipline of making real time for family, faith, community, and refreshing the spirit.

We could all learn a lesson from Greg and the framers. Stop tweeting and start communicating. Stop tweeting and start listening. Stop tweeting and get a grip on your own place in the cosmos.
(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about Greg Swienton and other contemporary and historic leaders in Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I'm saving the flamingos

Out in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania there are many manufacturing plants that are rollicking along as if there were no constant drumbeat of doom and gloom on TV. I visited two of them this week and it was a pleasant surprise. Both companies have added to their capacity and product diversity by buying up equipment from competitors who have given up. Both are looking for more and more creative ways to cut costs while they expand their offerings. Both are thriving.

One of these plants produces all sorts of gardening and lawn-related items; plant containers, hardware for window boxes, and numerous other things. But what really struck me were the flamingos. That's right, those neon pink birds you've seen perched in people's yards are alive and well. Those flamingos just might pull the company right through the recession and help keep profit rolling in.

The owner bought the injection molding equipment from a company that had shuttered its doors. He was confident that this was one item that he would not have to compete with China to produce cheaply in the U.S. You see, those flamingos are full of air, sort of like a hard plastic balloon. That makes them very bulky to ship in those giant containers you see on ships. You can't get enough in the container to make it profitable.

Now the owner is working on a new jig to be able to dip about 10 of those birds in the paint to get those cute little black and yellow beaks looking just right -- again saving money and time -- no more hand painting.

So what's my point? Pretty simple. As a friend of mine says, when everyone else is zigging, it's time for you to zag.

That's what the framers of the U.S. Constitution did in 1787 when they decided to save the Republic. Remember, at that time foreclosures were destroying farms and families, inflation was destroying every one's financial security, foreign countries were poised for invasion, the government was impotent...there were even pirates attacking our shipping off the cost of Africa.

Sound familiar? 222 years ago, our leaders were facing many of the same challenges as today. They 55 men who made up the Constitutional Convention had decided it was time to zag. Many so-called leaders in the 13 states didn't want to lose their political power and change the disastrous status quo. Even Patrick Henry refused to participate -- he said he smelled a rat!

So George Washington, James Madison, and others met, formulated a new Constitution, shepherded it through the ratification process, and then served in the new government. They took a bold new direction, they innovated, they refused to participate in the dyer predictions of the imminent downfall of America.

So, I'm following their lead and that of that innovative factory owner in Pennsylvania. How about you? What are you doing to zag and thrive in this economic climate?

I said to the factory owner, "I guess the flamingos will save you." "No," he said, "I'm saving the flamingos!"

(c)Rebecca Staton-Reinstein

Read more about this innovative plant owner in my new book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. It's available now in a special pre-publication offer.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"I screwed up" or "Mistakes were made"...Your Choice

The news programs ran the video loops endlessly this morning as President Obama took responsibility for nominating people who hadn't paid their taxes. Most of the commenters seemed genuinely surprised to hear a leader say that he had made a mistake. He went on to say he would take the consequences and act to rectify his mistakes going forward.

I wasn't particularly surprised. Not because of some partisan political position but because I’ve been interviewing a large number of executives over the last few years for my new book and they do the same thing. It may not be common for politicians to fess up but strategic leaders everywhere know it is the only way to handle inevitable mistakes.

Consider the alternatives – the ubiquitous "mistakes were made" or outright denial. In 2007, I blogged about that nasty, weaseling-out phrase and quoted from some of my interviewees on the importance of admitting mistakes. ( No need to comment on denial…

Now, in my new book, Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress, I discuss in detail how even great leaders make big mistakes and, more importantly what they do when the mistake comes to light. These executives all told the same story, summed up in the words of one of them, "When you make a mistake, admit it, get out quickly, and fix it." Sound advice that many would do well to follow whether in public life, managing a department, or trying to lead a decent personal life.

Here is what I concluded in the book:

What Distinguishes Great Leaders?

* How does a leader handle the bad decision? Great leaders acknowledge their mistakes personally. They do not fall back on the passive “mistakes were made” formula. Instead, they say, "I made a mistake." They accept the consequences of that bad decision.

* What does a leader do? Great leaders take personal responsibility, usually without a lot of fanfare. They take the next right action, no matter what others say or do. They move quickly to fix their errors.

* How does a leader show his beliefs? Great leaders act on their beliefs and are courageous role models for their convictions.

* How does a leader use a mistake? Great leaders learn from their mistakes and act differently in the future. They discover the frames [psychological blinders] leading them to the bad decision in the first place. They get more diverse perspectives on their future decisions.

* How does a leader confront his or her frames? Great leaders understand their own perceptions of the situation can cloud their decision making. They seek other opinions. They recognize they are framed, and work to stand outside their own frames and doubt their own infallibility.

* How does a leader help others to admit and correct mistakes? Great leaders understand humans make mistakes. They encourage risk-taking and do not automatically punish mistakes. They make sure people have the opportunity to learn and grow from mistakes and confront their own limiting frames.

How do you stack up on the mistake-o-meter? As difficult as it is, do you admit you screwed up? Do you take full responsibility? Do you find the source of the mistake and correct it?
It's always so much easier to blame someone or something than to stand up and take your lumps. Little kids say, "I’m sorry," and hope that will make everything all better. But it doesn’t. Because the kid doesn’t have any PLAN to get better. As grown ups, as people who need to incorporate sound leadership into our lives, we have an obligation to admit, submit, and fix it.

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein and Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Read some of the real-life examples of big screw-ups and what strategic leaders did to make it better. Go to and take advantage of special offers to get you copy of Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. Then send me your feedback to this special address:

This is the first book to:
* tie the lessons from the U.S. Constitutional framers to contemporary leaders
* reveal new leadership secrets from George Washington)
* show you how to achieve the impossible by unleashing the Madison Factor
* show you how to get spectacular results using the practical strategic approaches used by the framers and modern executives.

One critic raved: "This is not a book; it’s a catalyst for strategic leadership." Get your copy today.

The book will not be available on Amazon until May 25, the anniversary of the beginning of the Constitutional Convention. Get your copy today and take advantage of the prepublication offers.

Read a recent article on the importance of the Mission -- Be Careful What You Ask For: Getting the Mission Wrong

Monday, February 2, 2009

Would George Washington approve of the Super Bowl?

I don’t know about you but I was on the edge of my seat, enjoying my once-a-year treat of ribs, and rooting for the Cardinals while my husband cheered for the Steelers. I was on my feet screaming when Larry Fitzgerald dashed down the field leaving would-be tacklers in his wake. Then I sat stupefied, while my husband whooped as Santonio Holmes sailed through the air, caught the pass, and crashed out of bounds in a jumble with his tacklers. Anxious minutes, seeming like hours, ticked by. Were his toes on the turf of the end zone? Finally, the answer I didn’t want to hear. But it was a great game with lots of drama, some of the commercials were pure delights, and Springsteen is still The Boss.

But I wasn’t that happy at the end of that exciting game and it had nothing to do with who won or lost. (To tell the truth, I didn’t really care.) No, what alarmed me was the number of fouls and the general over-the-top rage and anger that some players displayed. Bad sportsmanship has become such a part of so many sports today that it goes by barely noticed by the bobble heads yammering about the plays and quoting obscure statistics.

But it shouldn’t. Of course, the players are emotional and of course, no one likes to make a mistake, feel a play was poorly called or lose the game. We are humans after all and react in some pretty predictable ways. But feelings, no matter how strong, positive or negative, do NOT have to be acted on; do not have to be translated into action. In fact, the grand-standing dances and gyrations some players insist on have become their ‘trademarks,’ simply fueling the notion that there’s no need to keep a lid on the id.

George Washington exemplified the ability to keep raging emotions in check. He is reported to have had a legendary temper but few people ever saw him let it rip. What was his secret? It started when he was a very young man; younger and less well educated than the professional football players on the field yesterday. He decided to mold his character himself; to set out self-consciously to become a person who was in his words, ‘restrained in tongue and pen.’

He did not simply bite his tongue or go home and throw beer cans at the TV in frustration. He worked to turn himself into a man of high character and self-discipline. Most of the time, he succeeded. This did not turn him into an up-tight party pooper. Not at all. He notes in his diaries his many social events. He loved to dance and drink tea with the ladies. He was a superb athlete and thought to be one of the best horsemen of his day.

But he would have been appalled at the displays of bad sportsmanship at the Super Bowl and most modern sporting events. He knew that it was possible to respond appropriately to adversity and not simply react in the heat of the moment. He faced disasters of greater magnitude than a game and most of the time emerged to demonstrate his strong character.

One of the CEOs I interviewed for my new book told me, “The higher you go, the less you can do. You don’t have a right to scream at people. You don’t have a right to behave badly.” Washington and the best contemporary leaders understand that. Legendary coach John Wooden, often paced the sideline during an exciting game but there were no histrionics, no screaming, no drama. He often carried a roll-up program in one hand and his expression was calm whether his team was winning or losing. One of the few reported times that he lost his equanimity was when he thought the players were not giving the best they were capable of.

Every leader can all learn from Washington and Wooden. We can willingly sacrifice the victory dance if it means leaving the tantrums behind. Now on to Super Bowl XLIV!

(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, author
Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding FathersCheck out the special offers:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is George Washington or James Madison one of your peeps?

No, this is not a weird question. If you lead a team at any level of your organization, you should be on the look out for other potential leaders. If you’re a team member at any level of the organization, you should look at your own way of contributing. We have much to learn about successful team leadership and membership from George and Jemmy. Most of twenty executives and CEOs, interviewed for my new book on strategic leadership, chose George as a leader they admired from among the founding generation. Jemmy Madison emerged as an exemplary team member and leader. What can we learn from them?

George Washington --
--- was admired by his troops during the American Revolution, not because he was a nice guy – he was tough, insisted on discipline, and had a legendary temper. He was admired because the troops knew he cared about them, pleaded their case in the Continental Congress, and suffered hardships but never flinched in the face of the enemy.

--- became president in the midst of economic chaos, foreign plots to destroy the U.S., and internal political divisions. No one had ever been president of a republic covering so many people in such a large land mass. He had to invent the precedents from the most mundane to the most consequential.

--- could have been king – there were many who wanted to elect him king for life. Instead, he chose to serve two terms and then retire, just as he had when he resigned his commission at the end of the Revolution.

What does this teach us as leaders of teams from the executive suite to the shop floor?

The leader must:
* care about the team, share their situation, and fight for the team members’ success and recognition

* be creative, inventive, and make decisions based on vision and values

* know when to relinquish power and overcome the push of ego to hang on.

James Madison --
--- was the master of leading from behind, whether engineering the U.S. Constitutional Convention, drafting the outline for the Constitutional debates, or generating consensus behind the scenes.

--- articulated his case clearly and persuasively at every instance whether in the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia Constitutional ratifying convention or co-writing the The Federalist.

--- fought to pass the legislation that was necessary to establish the new republic as a strong nation – even when he was not 100% in support of the actions, such as authoring and championing the Bill of Rights or shepherding Alexander Hamilton’s financial plans through a reluctant Congress.

What does this teach us as team members from the executive suite to the shop floor?
* If you don’t take credit for everything, you can achieve more working to get the results the team and its leader need

* Learn to make clear and cogent contributions to every discussion – do your homework and share your insights

* Sometimes you must fight hard to accomplish something you don’t agree with 100% to further the results of the team and its leader.

Washington and Madison had a special relationship that developed over many years. George was the charismatic leader who wanted to build a strong republic. Jemmy was the brilliant thinker and politician who knew how to persuade people of the need for a robust republic and its institutions. They made a strong team to bring about the Constitution and to get the new government established.

But even their team didn’t last forever. As Washington’s first term was ending, his cabinet team that included Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson was breaking down. The enmity that developed between these two titans resulted in the formation of the first political parties in the U.S. – the Federalists led by Hamilton and the Republicans led by Jefferson. Once Madison opted for Jefferson’s team, the Washington-Madison team broke down.

You can learn a lot from Washington and Madison AND modern executives who are strategic leaders…Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers examines how contemporary executives exercise strategic leadership, utilize their own Madison Factor, build effective teams, and deal with mistakes and tough decisions.

Learn more from the Constitutional framers and modern leaders. Get your copy of Conventional Wisdom today using the special pre-publication offer at

Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
Author, Conventional Wisdom

Friday, January 9, 2009

It’s opportunity time

When the going gets tough…You know the rest of the cliché…but what does it mean to “get going?” One thing not to do is to spend too much time listening to the same bad news over and over…or spending too much time around the water cooler (or wherever people congregate these days) bemoaning the state of the global economy. This brings on that other cliché, “Misery loves company.” All we do is whip ourselves up into a greater state of panic.

I think there is another cliché that is much more useful. The Chinese ideogram for “Crisis” is made up of those for “Danger” and “Opportunity.” I’m not suggesting living in a dream world and ignoring the danger. I am suggesting that when it comes to macro-economics, we can’t do much so why waste energy and time yammering on about the dire state of things. In fact, successful people have always figured out that the way to deal with a crisis is to look at the “opportunity” side of the equation and put our energies there.

In 1787 in the U.S., the headlines would seem eerily like those in 2009 – Foreclosures ruin families…Inflation rises…Pirates disrupt shipping…violence increases…hostile countries waiting for collapse…congress deadlocked…
Just 4 years after the end of the American Revolution the country was collapsing and Britain, France, and Spain were circling the imminent road kill waiting to seize the tastiest morsels.

Luckily George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and 51 others decided to commit treason (technically) for the second time. They assembled in Philadelphia for 4 months in that long hot summer and hammered out the new Constitution.

They could have stayed home and watched their families suffer, their businesses fail, and the government flail about. Instead, they looked at the “Opportunity” side of the equation. They seized the opportunity to create a powerful plan for change…to put all of their ideas of republican government to work…to create a large republic from scratch…It hadn’t been done before…They were in new territory…Territory that was ripe with opportunity.

So whether you’re an individual and have just lost your job or an entrepreneur struggling to stay afloat or a large company or institution getting ready to make drastic budget cuts…Stop for a moment. What opportunities are there for you? What are you uniquely qualified to take advantage of? What is being overlooked by all the others who are focused on the danger?

Many years ago I worked for a big corporation that had a major downsizing…The folks who thrived in this crisis were those who took the opportunity to reexamine their lives, their values, and their goals and strike off in new directions. These are the non-victims…The choice is yours. You can take your role model from the framers and embrace opportunity or from those people the media dig up who are circling the drain, hopeless and helpless, and looking for a hand out. You don’t have to participate in the recession…it’s really optional…Opportunity calls.