Thursday, November 4, 2010

WATTS HUMPHREY -- A Giant Passes from the Scene

This is a sad day for everyone who has been engaged at any level in the wonderful world of software. Watts Humphrey, who just died at 83, pioneered the development of many of the processes that assure and ensure software quality. He is probably best known as the father of the Capability Maturity Model -- an approach that has had more impact than any other. Watts understood all along that IT and software engineering aren't about technology; they are about people and processes making technology a tool for solving problems.

His official obit from his long-time base in the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University ( is headed: Watts Humphrey Succeeded in Changing the World of Software Engineering. "Changing the world of anything is an outrageous commitment," Humphrey said in an interview in early 2010, discussing his decision to come to the SEI. "I knew I couldn't do it alone, and I wanted to be in an environment where I could work with folks and do that."

As the pioneering innovator behind several important software development processes, Watts Humphrey more than met his promise to change the World of software engineering. His contributions go well beyond methodology and the many awards and accolades he received. For decades, his work inspired software engineers and his colleagues and friends worldwide. (Jared Cohon, president, Carnegie Mellon University.)
But Watts' legacy is not just for us techie types -- in fact, what made him so successful in "changing the world" was his strategic leadership, that is the ongoing focus of this blog. Watts embodied the qualities that any leader in any field can adopt.

Vision: After years of pioneering work at IBM as a leader of a mammoth, global software engineering group, Watts saw with great clarity what needed to be done to move developing software solutions to business problems from a black art to an engineering discipline. He believed in the power of harnessing technology in a disciplined way.

Translate vision to reality: Watts was not one of these leaders who float along at 30,000 feet on his visionary quest but whose feet never touch the ground. He could turn his vision into practical processes that gave individuals a clear road map to daily practice.

Inspiration: Because Watts' vision was so clear and because he could translate it into reality, he inspired generations of folks in the software field by making us want to implement his ideas. His style was easy going but compelling. I still have handwritten notes from the many times I heard him speak and lead seminars -- and I still pull them out and use them in my work.

Caring: At the end of any keynote, presenters like Watts are always mobbed by enthusiastic people. Some busy themselves with packing up their notes and computer, distractedly hand out a few cards, and slip away. Others believe they have a captive audience to continue pontificating or shamelessly trying to drum up consulting gigs. Watts was different. He talked with each person, no matter how new to the field and naive, as if he or she were the only person in the room. He shared. He was warm and encouraging. No matter how long the line, he was patient and engaged.

Commitment: His commitment to changing the world of software engineering was authentic and not grandiose. Many in the field believe they have the keys to better software solutions and don't mind telling you how great they are, how wrong others are, and how following them will get you to the promised land of zero defects. Watts simply told stories about how real people had succeeded in putting processes in place to improve results. His commitment was to the people that toil away in Cube Land day after day, trying to support their organizations with technology; the Dilberts of the world. Watts’ commitment was not to aggrandizing himself.

Great Management: Long before the Gallup organization published First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently (FBAR,) Watts wrote a little volume called Managing Technical Professionals. In it he lays out how to adapt and adopt our understanding of human psychology to bring out great performance in people. FBAR simply confirmed with extensive data what Watts had learned from his experience as a manager and leader. Whether you manage technical or non-technical people, it is still one of the best handbooks for day-to-day working with people. (Of course FBAR is a necessary resource too.)

So whether you're a techie who was touched directly or indirectly by Watts and his breakthroughs or whether you're just trying to be a good manager and leader, spend a little time investigating and learning from this giant...he did change the world for the better...and the world is a little diminished today with his passing. Luckily we can all access and learn from his legacy which will be with us a long time.

Farewell, Watts. We will miss you and we will never forget you and what you have done for us.

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

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Strike up the band for leadership

Learning from great leaders including the US founding fathers is the constant theme of this blog. Today, I want to depart and tell you about a close-to-home example that everyone could learn from.

My husband plays clarinet in a community band. It's a mixed group of professional musicians, many of them retired, students, people who only began to play an instrument recently, and those who have played for decades. The average age of the players is probably around 70. From September to June they play a 2-hour concert once a month in a local community center to an enthusiastic audience. They specialize in marches and show tunes.

For the last few years my father-in-law and I sit in the audience and enjoy the show, tapping our feet to the peppy pieces and singing along to familiar songs. It's pleasant and we have a good time. But...the music isn't always that good. Often in the past it lacked a certain energy...a certain polish.

This past Sunday the band blew our socks off and played for 2 1/2 hours and had us all applauding and begging for more. People were out of their seats and very excited.

So what was different? Well, the band had a new conductor. That was the only difference...and what a difference it was.
  • Energy and Focus: The new conductor, although a few years older than the previous one, had a spring in his step, a smile on his face, and an energetic conducting style. It wasn't flamboyant but it was active. Great leaders do that. They exude energy and focus. In fact, new research underway at MIT is measuring this to demonstrate the difference between the merely adequate and the great leader.
  • Engagement: As the new conductor put the band through its paces, he made eye contact with different sections, subtly bringing them in, building their sound or lowering their volume. He engaged with individuals and sections to bring out the best in them. Great leaders do that. When they are talking with you, you are the only person in the room. Your own energy level increases and your performance moves toward your true capabilities.
  • Highlighting Achievement and Talent: The new director composed a program with the usual marches and show tunes but with a twist. Each one highlighted a particular section -- the brass, the winds, the drums, etc. Each tune gave a whole section the opportunity to strut their stuff and shine in front of the audience. He also had several pieces that featured individual members up front soloing and demonstrating their unique talents. Leaders are proud of the talents of their teams and want them to shine. Great leaders don't have to be the center of attention or the best at everything.
  • Making the best with what you have: The community band has a diversity of talent. Some members aren't very good while a few are outstanding musicians. But what makes such a band possible is that everyone is there because they want to be. They enjoy playing music whether they are particularly good at it or not. The former band leader used to spend a lot of time fussing at people, trying to get them to play better. The new director talks about the music with them -- its meaning, origin, and subtleties. Leaders do that naturally. They get everyone focused on a goal -- in this case, playing a particular piece of music as well as possible. They have a clear mission -- bring enjoyment to the community through their music making. He keeps them focused on the goal and mission -- they do their best on their own to meet those.
  • Challenge the Team to Excel: The former conductor would always include at least one or two 'serious' pieces -- usually a little slow (even draggy.) All they managed to do was highlight the lack of talent in some players when the tempo slowed and individual instruments were harder to hide in the ensemble. The new conductor had a different approach that both challenged the players and, again, got the best out of them. First, he lengthened the program by about 20 minutes, adding more pieces. Second, he had one more challenging piece, still in the genre the band does best. The band was a little apprehensive but they came through with flying colors -- or rather soaring sound. Their energy was a little lower by the end but still higher than all of last season. Leaders help their teams build on their strengths and remind people of the confidence they have in them.
By the end of the concert my 96 year old companion was jumping for joy. "I can't believe how good they sound. They were terrific." And they were. Same players, same audience, same instruments, same sort of music, same hall -- Leadership -- a good band leader -- made all the difference.

His transformation of the band reminded me of a quote from Dr. W. Edwards Deming about work and leadership:
Why are we here? We are here to come have joy in our work. 
The band leader brought joy to his players, the audience, and to himself. Strike up the band for your own leadership.
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, president, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

For more about learning from great leaders, check out Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers, available at

Learn more about how Rebecca and her team can help you develop your own strategic leadership and that of your team at 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Unity Day

I sign the US Constitution
SEPTEMBER 17, 1787 -- That's the real birthday of the UNITED States! We may celebrate July 4 (1776) when we declared our independence from Great Britain but after the Revolution we were united in name only. By 1787 the States were squabbling with one another, blocking any meaningful legislation in the Congress established under the Articles of Confederation, and refusing to pay into any national fund. Each state issued its own (worthless) currency and inflation was destroying the income of farmers. That of course led to foreclosures and Captain Shays, a farmer and former army officer, mustered his fellow farmers to close down the courts and then marched on the state armory before being stopped by the Massachusetts militia. Britain, France, and Spain were plotting to pick off individual states while European creditors threatened to cut off all credit to the new country because of unpaid war debts. No, it was not a happy time. A few years after the hard-won revolution, the UN-united states faced dissolution.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin conspired to call what we know today as the Constitutional Convention. Fifty-five delegates from 12 of the 13 states met through four hot, muggy months, from May to September, in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall.) They hammered out a new Constitution using James Madison's draft as a jumping off point. They argued, postured, debated, and speechified. They were sometimes grumpy and occasionally even rude to one another. They caucused, cajoled, and compromised. (They also partied, went on excursions, dashed home to attend to business, and complained bitterly about the hard conditions in boarding houses and lack of money to pay for food and lodging.)

In the end, 40 men signed the document on September 17, 1787. We owe them a big debt. Once the Constitution was ratified in the states and the government was established with its three branches and a bicameral legislature, the states were no longer sovereign. That's right. Many states had considered themselves sovereign prior to this. Without the unity that was established with the Constitution, the likelihood that the new nation would have survived is quite slim.

Today we many argue about the amount of authority that should rest in the states and the federal government, and the framers left it a little vague in places. The fact is we are one united nation. So September 17 should be a big celebration for each American. And maybe its OK that it hasn't become another day to skip work, watch fireworks, and barbecue. Instead, why not take a little time to read the document itself. Find out what it really says. It's quite short, even with the amendments. And, maybe just thank little Jemmy Madison and the boyz for persisting in their quest for a "more perfect Union."
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(C) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Ph.D., President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Richard Brookhiser has written an excellent profile of James Madison recently. Check it out
Want to know more about the Constitutional Convention and how it functioned as a strategic planning session? Check it out:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brits Burn White House TODAY!

Yes, the British did burn the White House on this day (August 24) in 1814...just thought I'd throw in a screeching headline because they are all the rage as the media cover big events.  What was going on back in 1814? Why were the British so mad? Probably they were retaliating for the U.S. burning public buildings in York (Toronto) Canada...all part of the War of 1812.

The soldiers added insult to injury by eating the food set out on the dining room table and sarcastically drank to "Jemmy's health" with his fine wines in crystal glasses...then burned the house, capitol, and assorted other official buildings.

It was a bitter day in U.S. history after several humiliating defeats in the war. President Madison was not at home to great his unwelcome guests but was on horseback in the field with his army. He was the last Commander in Chief to actually take part in a battle. It was all the more surprising because of his frail physique.

Of course, Madison is not known for his military prowess. He has no eponymously named buildings in Washington, his face does not stare out from Mt. Rushmore, nor does he grace any money. But we should be thinking about James Madison today, on the anniversary of the burning of his official residence because of his pivotal role in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are his monument.

What would Madison make of the current roiling debates about building an Islamic Center in New York City? There are several clues -- more than that, well established facts. Here's a brief entry from Wikipedia that summarizes those facts.

As a young lawyer, Madison defended Baptist preachers arrested for preaching without a license from the established Anglican Church. In addition, he worked with the preacher Elijah Craig on constitutional guarantees for religious liberty in Virginia.[10] Working on such cases helped form his ideas about religious freedom. Madison served in the Virginia state legislature (1776–79) and became known as a protégé of Thomas Jefferson. He attained prominence in Virginia politics, helping to draft the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. It disestablished the Church of England and disclaimed any power of state compulsion in religious matters. He excluded Patrick Henry's plan to compel citizens to pay for a congregation of their own choice.

Madison's cousin, the Right Reverend James Madison (1749–1812), became president of the College of William & Mary in 1777. Working closely with Madison and Jefferson, Bishop Madison helped lead the College through the difficult changes involving separation from both Great Britain and the Church of England.

Madison wrote widely about the issue of freedom of conscience and religion. Unlike Jefferson and Franklin for example, he was a religious person and a member of the Episcopal faith. During the fight to ratify the new Constitution, many opponents demanded the addition of a bill of rights. Madison, at first opposed such a list as both unnecessary and inadequate but was eventually convinced that it was important to gain support for the Constitution. He digested the hundreds of proposed amendments down to a manageable few and shepherded them through the first Congress to become the first 10 amendments,  the Bill of Rights. He crafted the first amendment based on the Virginia statute (written by Thomas Jefferson) that he got through the Virginia legislature.

Madison paid a price for opposing the powerful Henry on the religious freedom issue and winning the Constitution ratification debate in Virginia. Henry blocked his appointment as a Senator and supported powerful candidates against him in his congressional district. Madison prevailed.

As he did with the Baptists and other so called dissenting faiths in Virginia, he stood for absolute freedom of religion. When he helped dismantle the official religion of Virginia (his own Episcopal Church) he made it clear what the original intent of the First Amendment was.

The demagoguery that has replaced debate of the issue of the Sufi mosque would have disturbed Madison greatly. The religious hatred, intolerance, and lies that have circulated and not been refuted by so-called responsible politicians would have made him physically ill. There is no way of knowing what position Madison would have taken on the location of the center. But we do know what he said on the freedom to practice ones religion and the absolute separation of church and state.

196 years ago, our capitol was in flames and our president was leading an army to defend our country and the Constitution and Bill of Rights he helped author. I think Jemmy's advice to those who support and oppose the building of the mosque might have been the following:
  • read your history -- including the Constitution and Bill of Rights
  • dial back the rhetoric and emotion -- discussion and dialogue work where demagoguery doesn't
  • remember why we were fighting 200 years ago...
The world is watching -- will we actually uphold the separation of church and state, the freedom of religion and the freedom to assemble, and the great promise of pursuing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don't know much about historeeee...

You may not remember the old pop song with that refrain but it could be the theme song of way too many people. My sister called the other night and told me about a meeting she went to in her town. The discussion got pretty hot and heavy and one woman pulled out her pocket-sized copy of the Constitution and waved it around as she made her points, disagreeing with whatever was being said.

Now my sister is not the shy retiring type that I am -  ;-)  - and so she asked her, "Did you actually read the Constitution?" "Well, no...but I know what it says..." and went on with her harangue, misquoting and mangling the document -- rhetorically not physically.

To my sister and me, it was a reminder us of being dragged off to tent revivals by our grammaw where various lay preachers would thump the good book, tell us what it said, and threaten us if we doubted them.

The problem with the thumpers is that in the words of the founding fathers, the constitution, or the bible or other holy books, you can cherry pick phrases that agree with your beliefs and ignore those that don't. If your audience doesn't know any better and hasn't studied the details themselves, you can say just about anything. Psychologist know that if the idea is repeated often enough, you will come to believe if, even when faced with hard facts to the contrary.

Here's an example from a letter to USA Today (7/1/10) from a writer commenting on the passing of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Our Founding Fathers did not intend congressional positions to be life-long ones. They felt that it was the duty of our leaders to give of their time and manage their states temporarily, and that this was in the best interests of their constituents...
We have senators...[who] have become professional politicians.

He goes on to support term limits AND age limits.

There are many good arguments for and against term limits...but how the founding fathers "felt" is not among them. There were among the founders those who saw it as their duty (or privilege) to serve in government for a while and then return to private life. George Washington is a good example.

But not all the "fathers" followed that path nor believed it was the best path. Three examples from three different political philosophies come to mind. Patrick Henry was one of the most powerful professional politicians in Virginia and served in a variety of positions in the state including the governorship. He was a strong "states rights" defender and foe of the new federal Constitution because it removed the absolute power of the states.

John Adams started out as a lawyer but was soon drawn into the Continental Congress and became a professional politician, serving as a representative in the Continental Congress, and as a diplomat in France and England. With the establishment of the new federal government he became Vice President and then President. He was a Federalist and only left office when defeated by Jefferson in the election of 1800.

James Madison beginning in his mid-twenties was only out of public office for a couple of years. He served in county and state legislatures, the Continental Congress, worked with Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin to engineer the Constitutional Convention, served in the new Congress, was Secretary of State under Jefferson, and finally served as a two-term president. Although starting out with a strong nationalist/federalist bent, he moved away from this by Washington's second term and worked along side Jefferson to found the Republican Party (which later morphed into the Democratic Party.)

My point is that the letter writer didn't know some basic history, which he could have discovered in a  history book, on the web, or (in the olden days) in school. But that seems too hard. I recently set my Google Alerts to look for references to the Founding Fathers -- everybody adopts them to prove their points. I'm on a quest to confront ignorance with facts.

The founding fathers were as complex, complicated, and conniving as any modern politician or leader. They were humans. They had their points of greatness and their follies. We should admire them, not because we can find some words they uttered that fit our political views but because of what they did, sometimes in spite of themselves, to create a system of government that works and is self-correcting through the will of the people.

Before you adopt their words to prove yourself right, read the entire body of their work. Learn what books they were reading and what philosophers influenced their thinking. Know what was going on in the wider world and in their world.

Learn a little more about historeeeee....
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President , Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Want to know a little more about historeee and contemporary leaders? Check out Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. Available on Amazon.

Want to read a couple of chapters first? Send an email to with "Chapters" in the subject line.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Proclaim Liberty July 8, 1776 & 2010

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof ...thus begins the inscription of one of the America's favorite icons. Visiting the bell again a few months ago I was struck by all the languages and cultures that were swirling around the bell in its museum across from Independence Hall. As I snapped this picture, I realized what an important symbol this is, whether the many myths about it are true or not.

On July 8, 1776, so the story goes, the bell which hung in the tower you can see in the background, rang out for the first time to summon the people to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. Imagine yourself standing there in front of what was then the Pennsylvania State was hazy, hot, and humid...they you heard those inspiring words for the first time...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Even when we're not living up to them, this is the essence of who we want and strive to be.

The insurgents who had been meeting as the Continental Congress had signed this declaration and were officially in rebellion against the established government. This wasn't some lame manifesto with more slogans than substance. The signers were committing treason and were ready to put it all on the line...Listen to how they closed it:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

In the end, it really doesn't matter whether the bell was actually hanging in the crumbling tower...What does matter is that both the signers and the people knew that they were declaring LIBERTY. At that moment, every person in the colonies had to make a choice...were they with the rebels or with the King? For many, this was a wrenching choice and it tore many families apart. Ben Franklin's own son sided with the British and they never spoke again.

If you haven't read the Declaration since high school, take a look and read it today, hearing it fresh for the first it to your kids and grandkids...suggest your friends read it.

As you do, let those words sink in...all men are created equal...Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, Tea Partier, Green Partier, something else or nothing...Ask yourself a few of questions:
  • Are you really Behaving as if all people are created equal?
  • Are you really Behaving honorably?
  • Are you really Behaving as if Liberty for everyone is what it's all about?
The Declaration's signers left us many traditions and, as I wrote in my last blog, one was for contentious debate. What I want to suggest is that we don't need to venerate that tradition. If we're really being faithful to our best traditions -- our ideals -- our guiding values -- then we'll recognize that the Declaration is for all of us, no matter what our political persuasion; that those who believe differently from us have the LIBERTY to do so; that when we demonize our opposition and claim a 100% lock on the truth, we are violating the sacred trust the founders passed down to us.

Enjoy the 234th anniversary of that first reading of the Declaration -- enjoy reading it again yourself -- and treat your fellow humans a little better.
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
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Want to know more about the founders and framers and how we can apply their positive and negative lessons today? Half off sale continues to celebrate all of the important anniversaries linked to the Declaration and the creating and ratifying of the U.S. Constitution. Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers at 50% off is available ONLY on this HIDDEN web page. This is a limited offer so get your copy today. If you'd rather buy it on Amazon and miss out on this offer, click on over.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Feudin', Fightin' & Fussin' on the Fourth

I'm sick of it! Right Wingers, Left Wingers, and No Wingers...Get your facts straight...or I'll call down the wrath of Founding Fathers Past!

Got your attention? Here's what set me off on this beautiful 4th of July holiday...everybody trying to appropriate our founding fathers and mothers for their own purposes...Prove your point with logic, facts, and reason or get off the stage. (See my special offer at the end.)

What folks say: Politics are more divisive than ever...there was a time when we used to disagree without being disagreeable...viciousness in opposing parties is something new...let's bring back civility...

Folks, here's the fact...we have never been a country of sedate, soothing debate. Our founding fathers and mothers were brilliant and courageous but when it came to politics, it was no holds barred. The point was (as it still is) to prevail. They didn't cuss as much, but they were not above sexual innuendo, lying, or character assassination when it came to political opponents.

Ron Chernow (author of the excellent biography, Alexander Hamilton) wrote a delightful article in the Wall Street Journal. It starts,

Americans lament the partisan venom of today's politics, but for sheer verbal savagery, the country's founders were in a league of their own.

Chernow points out, "Despite their erudition, integrity, and philosophical genius, the founders were fiery men who expressed their beliefs with unusual vehemence." They didn't stop at criticizing one another’s politics; their barbs were often personal.

John Adams called Hamilton the "bastard son of a Scotch peddler," while James Callender exposed Hamilton's affair with his friend’s wife. Newspaper man Samuel Adams, seen as a great patriot in his own day and ours, was not above the fray. "Truth was his first victim...To radicalize the populace Adams had adopted a total disregard for it. In his writings he employed slanderous lies, unvarnished propaganda, and rabble-rousing rhetoric. He whipped the people of Massachusetts and many other colonies into an anti-British fury."

The favored form of political trash talk was the pamphlet and newspaper column, written under classical Roman pseudonyms or derived from clever puns. They hammered away at one another with great relish and no restraints. They would have embraced Tweeting and Blogging as great inventions and set out with glee to rip one another apart.

Thomas Jefferson, whose stirring prose in the Declaration of Independence animates this 4th of July and embodies our most noble ideals, shrunk from doing his own dirty work. As the formation of our first parties heated up, (Hamilton headed the Federalists and Jefferson, the Republicans) he called on his buddy, Jemmy Madison, "'For God's sake, my dear Sir, take up your pen, select the most striking heresies, and cut him (Hamilton) to pieces in the face of the public.' When Madison rose to the challenge, he sneered in print that the only people who could read Hamilton's essays with pleasure were 'foreigners and degenerate citizens among us.'" Jefferson who applauded Callender's attacks on Hamilton was not so enthusiastic when Callender turned on him exposing his affair with "dusky Sally," his slave and half-sister of his deceased wife. (quote from Chernow)

In the records of debates in the Constitutional Convention and state ratifying conventions, the rhetoric escalates, with wild accusations flying that might make some of our media mavens of mayhem blush. Remember, this was an era when people would be called to the "field of honor" (challenged to a duel) for an implied slight. Calling someone a liar to his face was such a justification. Listen to this exchange during the debate over the power of large states and small. Gunning Bedford, a "fat, tempestuous delegated from Delaware" drags his bulk in front of the delegates and in a frenzied harangue spits out, "I do not, gentlemen, trust you. If you possess the power, the abuse of it could not be checked; and what then would prevent you from exercising it to our destruction?...Is it come to this, then, that the sword must decide this controversy, and the horrors of war must be added to the rest of our misfortunes?..Sooner than be ruined, there are foreign powers who will take us by the hand."

Madison, one of the most brilliant debaters and politicians of the era, summed it up, "If men were angles, no government would be necessary." The debates roiling the late 18th and early 19th century were fierce. Federalists and Republicans accused one another of treason. They could turn on former allies over night. Madison and Hamilton engineered the Constitution Convention and co-authored the Federalist Papers (with contributions from John Jay) in its defense. Madison pushed Hamilton's financial reforms through Congress. (He twisted enough arms behind the scenes to secure passage so he could argue and vote against it in public to maintain his constituents back home. Sound familiar yet?) After the new parties formed, Madison assailed his former ally, never missing a chance to paint him in ignoble terms.

I don't like the partisan bickering, shouting, and backbiting. AND I admire Hamilton, Jefferson, Adam, Madison, and the framers and founders. My gripe is about our lack of historical knowledge, our tendency to make stuff up, and the habit of partisans of every stripe to lie to defend their cause. Let's face the brutal facts -- ones we like and ones we don't -- and debate with a goal of coming to consensus or close to it.

That was Washington's great desire. He truly hated the partisan wrangling, the unbridled press, and the inability of people to rise above their passions. Though he occasionally fell victim to his own monumental temper, mostly he was that wise, impartial leader we all admire. So on this wonderful 4th of July, while we're barbecuing, watching fireworks, or hitting the mall, let’s ask ourselves this: Am I following along in our country's long tradition of bashing and demonizing those with whom I disagree, or am I trying to follow Washington's advice and have "restraint in tongue and pen?" If you are going to evoke the founders and framers, read some real history and get it right!


Want to know more about the founders and framers and how we can apply their positive and negative lessons today? CLICK HERE: Half off – 4th of July sale – Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. Available ONLY on this HIDDEN web page. This is a limited offer so get your copy today. Rather buy it on Amazon (and miss out on this offer?)
® Rebecca Staton-Reinstein (all quotes fully cited in Conventional Wisdom except one about Sam Adams from Eric Burn’s Infamous Scribblers.

Monday, June 7, 2010

John Wooden: An Extraordinary Leader Departs

John Wooden was an extraordinary leader. Every leader or aspiring one can learn from him. While most of the obituaries and tributes point out his phenomenal record as the coach of the UCLA men's basketball team and former players hail his profound influence on their lives, there was so much more to this man. He was the epitome of leadership under pressure. Sports fans will remember him sitting there through every game, pretty calm, that rolled up program in his hand. Whether the team was winning or losing, he seemed unflappable. In fact, one of the few times he ever seemed to lose his cool was when he believed the players were not giving the game everything they were capable of. Here's what Wooden had to say about losing and winning.

To me, success isn't outscoring someone, it's the peace of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best. That's something each individual must determine for himself. You can fool others, but you can't fool yourself.
Many people are surprised to learn that in 27 years at UCLA, I never once talked about winning. Instead I would tell my players before games, 'When it's over, I want your head up. And there's only one way your head can be up, that's for you to know, not me, that you gave the best effort of which you're capable. If you do that, then the score doesn't really matter, although I have a feeling that if you do that, the score will be to your liking.' I honestly, deeply believe that in not stressing winning as such, we won more than we would have if I'd stressed outscoring opponents.
There's no great fun, satisfaction or joy derived from doing something that's easy. Failure is never fatal, but failure to change might be.
Your strength as an individual depends on, and will be in direct proportion to, how you react to both praise and criticism. If you become too concerned about either, the effect on you is certain to be adverse.
I always taught players that the main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team. It's amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.
I have often said, 'The mark of a true champion is to always perform near your own level of competency.' We were able to do that by never being satisfied with the past and always planning for what was to come. I believe that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. This constant focus on the future is one reason we continued staying near the top once we got there.
...I was as concerned with a player's character as I was with his ability.
While it may be possible to reach the top of one's profession on sheer ability, its impossible to stay there without hard work and character. One's character is what you really are. Your reputation is only what others think you are. I made a determined effort to evaluate character. I looked for young men who would play the game hard, but clean, and who would always be trying to improve themselves to help the team. Then if their ability warranted it, the championships would take care of themselves.

These simple but profound insights are applied by great leaders...the others whether in business, politics, government, of nonprofits or NGOs could change their direction and results immediately by following them. Wooden's record is a testament to the power of his leadership: no losing seasons in his 27 years, 10 national championships in 12 years - 7 in succession, world record for winning 88 games in a row. But sports records eventually fall. Leadership records do not, and applied leadership lessons can live forever. Are you ready to learn from Wooden? Do you have the character and ability and willingness to do the hard work? If so...

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

Quotes originally from an ad in the Wall Street Journal in 1986 and reprinted in Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese about Quality, Rafael Aguayo, Simon & Schuster, 1990

Thursday, May 27, 2010

223 years -- good enough track record?

223 years ago in May 1787, the U.S. Constitutional Convention opened on May 25 and began its debates. They were wrestling with how to form an effective republican government. They were responding to crises of huge proportions; a national legislature unable to act because of deep divisions, massive government debt, widespread foreclosures, foreign enemies prepared to strike, and extensive domestic strife.

Sound familiar?

On May 29, Edmund Randolph put forth the Virginia Plan -- authored by James Madison -- as an outline for the constitutional debates. Deliberations raged for four long months in the Philadelphia heat. At the end the produced the U.S. Constitution that was ratified the following year after extensive, rancorous debate in state ratifying conventions. This historic document is a strategic plan that has stood the test of time.

A few years ago, author David McCullough gave a speech at a leadership seminar entitled, "Knowing History and Knowing Who We Are." In it he quoted Daniel Boorstin, the late Librarian of Congress, saying 'trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.' McCullough continued, "We're raising a lot of cut flowers and trying to plant them...One of the truths of that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened...We just don't know how things are going to turn out for us, they [the revolutionary generation] didn't either...[John Adams in a letter to his wife wrote,] 'We can't guarantee success in this war, but we can do something better. We can deserve it.' Think how different that is from the attitude today when all that matters is success."

McCullough goes on to decry our lack of knowledge, much less understanding, of history and concludes, "History isn't just something that ought to be taught...or encouraged because it's going to make us a better citizen." [It will make us a better citizen, a more thoughtful and understanding human being, and will cause us to behave better.] History "should be taught for pleasure: The pleasure of history, like art or music or literature, consists of an expansion of the experience of being alive, which is what education is largely about."

What pleasure, guidance or understanding can you gain from the history of the making of the U.S. Constitution? What pragmatic lessons are there for your leadership efforts? According to many contemporary executives, there is a lot to learn. I interviewed 20 of them as well as poured over the records of the Constitutional Convention. I discovered the common strategic approaches of historic and modern leaders as they work to deserve success.

Here's what former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had to say:

Thank you for sharing with me your new book Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. Your research into the planning sessions of the Constitutional Convention and the struggles that our framers of the Constitution faced has been cleverly weaved into the strategies of modern business. I am pleased to have your book.

I have been persuaded to reopen a "secret" webpage for a limited time so you can take advantage of a special offer and improve your own performance and learn from these historic and modern mentors. I did it myself. The very process of writing the book was a major learning experience. The insights I gained and applied helped me survive the economic downturn and thrive now that things are improving. You can do the same.
Discover your own conventional wisdom... Click here for the special offer.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vote agin' 'em

That was my Aunt Letha's advice when it came to the democratic process...As every election neared she repeated her maxim: "I never voted FOR anybody in my life...I always vote agin' 'em!" She'd love the Tea Party and all the anti-incumbent ballyhoo in the media. Despite the fact she had a nice government job with the IRS she had a rather jaded view of government officials at every level.

Like many people, she had her own way of enforcing term limits -- throw the bums out.

At this point many months before the November elections, that's what lots of folks are saying and doing in state primaries. And in a democratic republic that certainly beats violence, coups, and take overs. I just returned from Lagos, Nigeria. While I was there, the president died. There was a peaceful transition as the acting president was sworn in. Many people breathed a sigh of relief...There had been military take overs in the past and few peaceful transitions. In Thailand opposition to the incumbent precipitated violence and death so votin' agin' 'em seems a better solution.
But is it? Let's get a little historical perspective on the situation. I just spent some time in Philadelphia and had a chance to visit Independence Hall and wander through the historic district thinking about the Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Constitution. It got me to thinking about being agin' 'em.
Of course the representatives that assembled in the 1770s and 80s were agin' taxation without representation, the Townsend Acts, Stamp Act, Intolerable Acts, and all the rest. They believed their rights as British citizens were being violated. Their protests did turn violent at times although it's easier to remember civil disobedience like the Boston Tea Party. Right from the beginning there were those who were ready to break with England and those who wanted to mend the growing rift. Tempers flared on both sides as the definition of patriot shifted until it solidified once war broke out. Yes, the revolutionary generation was agin' many things.
However, they were the first to understand that being agin' the British wasn't enough. They also had to be FOR something. What that something was for them was the ideal of a republic -- a government that represented the people and was agreed to by the people. When the 55 representatives showed up to represent 12 states (Rhode Island refused to come) in 1787 to write a new constitution, they were ready to define in detail what they were for. Gouverneur Morris, representing Pennsylvania, encapsulated their goals succinctly in the Preamble.
The success the framers had both in working to get the new constitution ratified and then to establish the new government was based on the fact that they stood on a solid platform of ideals, pragmatism, and political savvy.
James Madison, who played such a crucial role in the constitutional efforts was a career politician. From his first public office in his early twenties he served in representative body after representative body, seldom being out of office for any length of time. He eventually reached the executive branch serving as Secretary of State and then president for two terms...even though he presided over an unpopular war (1812.) He was an "insider" who sometimes voted with his next election in mind instead of the "greater good." Although generally thought of as a "conservative" by today's litmus tests he might be vilified, especially for his adamant views (and voting record) on the strict separation of church and state. His views and votes on slavery would also get him in hot water today. But at the end of the day, he believed, as did many of the founders, that public service, politics, was an honorable and necessary profession.
So as dearly as I loved my Aunt Letha, and she was a treasure, I have to respectfully disagree with her. In every election, I look at candidates of every stripe and try to figure out what they are standing for, what they will try to accomplish, and what ideals they will work to put into practice. Do they have the character and stamina of a Madison...if so, I'll vote for 'em.
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Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc. Author, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Spirit-ed Debate

We've all heard and seen the headlines, "Spirit to charge $45 for carry-on luggage!" Lots of strum and drang. Some congressmen even want to "protect" us with new regulations. Wait a minute...what's going on?

Let's step back for a minute and take a more objective look at Ben Baldanza and his Spirit Airlines. (Let me make it clear. I'm NOT defending his decisions, just describing a few facts.) When Baldanza took over the South Florida based airline, he had a vision. He wanted to make Spirit and its home airport (Ft. Lauderdale/ Hollywood, FL) international. He had noticed the demographic shifts of people from various parts of Latin America moving north from the Miami area to the Ft. Lauderdale area. As he reasoned, "Why should they have to go all the way to Miami to fly back home?"

It's that sort of questioning that has marked Baldanza's thinking throughout his long career in the the airline business. He also made another important decision when he became CEO at Spirit. He realized that there were two basic models for an airline. At one end was Singapore Air with it's superb service, high-end amenities, and reputation for pampering everyone. At the other end of the spectrum was Ryan Air, a no-frills airline in the extreme. It competes on low fares with an a la carte system where you pay for everything you want.

Baldanza says that the problem with most airlines is that they try to live somewhere in the middle but don't deliver either great service or very low prices. So he decided to remold Spirit in the Ryan image. You get a fairly low fare (sometimes even a $9 special) and then pay for everything else...everything. OK. You know that going in so it's no surprise. As most airlines tried to survive the economic difficulties over the last few years, they also started adding on charges for basics (or what used to be considered basics) although not lowering their fares particularly.

So it comes as no surprise that Spirit will start charging for carry-ons that must go in the overhead bins with the fee based on whether you belong to a special membership or when and where you check in. The $45 is only for people who show up at the gate without paying for the bag ahead of time. Baldanza believes that this is all fair (no pun intended) because you only pay for the services you want. He thinks it will get some folks to check those bags and relieve the congestion getting on and off the plane. (We'll see...we'll also see if people will pay it or choose to fly another carrier. Ryan Air was forced to back off its plan to charge for use of the bathroom on short flights.)
But is Baldanza to be vilified? Not in my opinion. He made a business decision in line with his business model. The customers will determine if it's a good one or not. But there's more to Baldanza than this one decision. I had the privilege of getting to know him and profile him in my book on strategic leadership, Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers. The picture above is a classic Ben Baldanza moment. Just like his planes, his offices are no frills also -- a non-descript industrial building in an office marble entrance hall, just a buzzer and no outrageous perks...just a plain utilitarian office. Why the vacuum cleaner? Because Baldanza uses it to keep his office tidy himself.
He meets with employees regularly, getting their ideas and feedback, gives out his email address and replies, and is generally considered an excellent leader and manager. As his assistant remarked out of the blue one day as I sat waiting for a meeting, "He's the best boss I've ever had!" Even the interviewer on a recent CNN interview spontaneously remarked that Baldanza seemed like a very likable guy he'd like to work for.
It's important to separate out the disagreement with Baldanza's business decision and understanding his business strategy and his track record as a good leader, visionary, and a "nice guy." If you don't like the extra charges, don't fly those airlines that have them.
Oh, and no matter which airline you fly, could I plead with you (as a minimalist, frequent business traveler) not to drag on all of your worldly possessions, overstuffed giant suitcases, and shopping bags crammed with stuff?
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Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc. Looking forward to your comments. And check out more about Baldanza in Conventional Wisdom.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Belated Birthday, Mr. Jefferson!

This week was the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the U.S., and founder of the University of Virginia. The latter is one of the achievements he was most proud of and wanted on his tombstone.

He conceived of the University as a very different place from the academic institutions of his day. One of his ideas was to create an "academical village." Today that same vision is driving another leader in the same direction.

George Hanbury, the new president of Nova Southeastern University arrived there after successful stints as city manager of cities that needed a major turn around. His record in Portsmouth, Virginia and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida are substantial and might have led a lesser leader to retire on his laurels. Not Dr. Hanbury.

This excerpt from Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers details some of Hanbury's achievements at Nova as COO as he worked to implement Jefferson's vision.

Hanbury rediscovered Jefferson's vision as he did his doctoral work at Florida Atlantic University and when he arrived at Nova in 1998 he was eager to bring it to reality. Jefferson's idea of the "academical village" was a place where academics and the real world could be brought together for students to benefit from both. He saw a place where students would have a practical as well as theoretical education, where commerce and study could blend.

"It takes a visionary to look at a 1970s shopping center and wasteland of abandoned parking lots and see a revolutionary new community combining commercial space, state-of-the-art research facilities, living and recreational space, and college class rooms. Yet that's what he saw...

When I first came to just seemed like a natural that what Jefferson was professing...[wanting] students to appreciate how theory was supportive of practice, and without practice, theory was no more than an exercise. Practice without theory would just remain stagnant and there would be no expansion.

I thought if we wrapped the buildings around the parking decks, and then made it an attractive area for people who want to live and work and do research and connect all that to a doctoral research university with high-speed connections to all other research universities in the state, you'd really have quite an economic engine."

So Jefferson's "academical village" is emerging in Davie, Florida, spurred on by Hanbury, whose vision is ever evolving and who, himself combines theory and practice quite neatly in building the university.

Happy birthday, Tom, your ideas are alive and well and continuing to evolve and see the light of day.

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Want to apply the wisdom of the founding fathers such as Jefferson or contemporary leaders such as George Hanbury? Read Conventional Wisdom or contact me to discuss how their insights can be helpful to you and your business.
Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Is Washington broken?

Making sausage is yucky

The talking heads have been going on for some time about how broken our government is and how disgusted everyone is about watching the "sausage making." Maybe so...If you were watching C-SPAN (or one of the networks covering the health care debates and votes) last night, you got a glimpse of the "process," the "rules," the jawboning, and arm twisting. But is that really a demonstration of a broken system? Was there some halcyon day in the past with the two parties discussed issues calmly and rationally and then agreed without rancor?

Not really.
Back to the first big controversy
Travel back to the very first Congress...that's right...back to 1789. There were no parties yet. (They would arise in George Washington's second term.) However, there were "factions." Groups of representatives were beginning to congeal around specific issues representing the wide variety of opinions in the country. In fact, ratifying the Constitution and setting up the government had been widely debated and many states ratified by paper-thin margins. North Carolina and Rhode Island were still not on board. So the beginnings of our government were not all sweetness and light.

The first big issue to get the blood boiling was "assumption." The states and the Continental Congress had run up huge debts during the Revolutionary War and the European creditors were howling for their money and threatening to cut off all credit to the fledgling country. Alexander Hamilton, the Secretary of the Treasury, had brought to Congress an extensive bill to create a financial system for the U.S. The plan was for the federal government to 'assume' the debt, set up a national bank, issue bonds, and establish what we would recognize as a modern financial system.

The push back and opposition were immediate and fierce. The details are not as important as the general principles that fire today's health care and other debates. What is the role of government? What is the balance of power between the states and the federal government? Big government or small?

Leading the opposition to Hamilton's plan was James Madison. Before the evolution of party leaders and whips, he had assumed those roles and was the principle leader in the House of Representatives charged with implementing President Washington's agenda. But when it came to assumption, Madison balked, and began to retreat from his former partner in writing the Federalist. The impasse was as heated and nasty as any we have seen lately. Remember there were no rules for the press so that papers and pamphlets contained anything and everything...more akin to our blogosphere than the modern press.
The deal is struck
One evening Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, invited Hamilton and Madison to an intimate little dinner party. Although they were all quite coy later about what transpired that evening, the results were soon apparent. Madison twisted enough arms to that assumption passed the house with a few votes to spare and he could vote against the bill and keep his seat with his anti-assumption constituents. Then he engineered the quid pro quo -- the vote to establish the new capitol on a parcel of land in northern Virginia not far from GW's home. (Hamilton worked behind the scenes to forestall New York and Pennsylvania who were vying for the honor.)

So there we are...the first Congress operated just like the present trading, arm bending, rule bending, backroom (dining room) deals. The vast majority of legislation is always a compromise of some sort. We are too diverse a country for it to be otherwise. Sometimes the deals are pretty despicable and sometimes relatively benign...but there are always deals.

The founders were enamoured with the Roman Republic and wanted to emulate it in many ways. But the Roman Senate was no gathering of saints any more than the state legislatures and Continental Congress where most of the new Representatives to the first Congress cut their political teeth.
Operating as designed
So, no, the U.S. government is not broken. It operates as designed with its checks and balances, backroom deals and public posturing. It's designed to come back to the center more or less and designed to be messy like all creative processes. Only dictatorships operate without the mess.
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Read more about the founders and their leadership styles and processes...and meet modern leaders who use their same approaches. httl:// and read Conventional Wisdom: How Today's Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's the Year of the Tiger...Dump those resolutions!

It's officially the Year of the Tiger and a welcomed relief it is...

But before we look forward, let's look back for a moment. If you celebrate the western new year by making resolutions, you've probably broken or forgotten them by now. And it's just as well. Resolutions don't work...something you've already figured out for yourself. But why don't they work?

  • Resolutions are tactical. They are isolated bits of activity, unrelated to anything else.

  • Resolutions don't come with an action plan. They are usually a description of some result we want but are really just a wish.

  • Resolutions have no staying power. They arise from good intentions but are not tied to daily life.

If you really want to see results, you have to have a plan, a strategic plan, that's attached to your overall direction in life, your vision of the future, your path. In other words, planning for your life is just like planning in business. Vision --> Mission --> Goals --> Strategy --> Objectives --> Tactics/Actions --> RESULTS

George Washington comes to mind as a role model for life plans. As a young man, he decided to shape his character and become an admirable human being. He laid out a plan that he followed throughout his life. He set goals and had an action plan to reach those goals. He knew he wasn't a saint. For example, he had a legendary temper but he worked hard to not let it rip every time he was angered. As he matured, he realized that history would be watching and he amplified his efforts...all with a plan.

"I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent." He would agree with Ben Franklin, "One man of tolerable Abilities may work great Changes, and Accomplish great Affairs among Mankind, if he first forms a good Plan and...makes the Execution of that same Plan his sole Study and Business."

So throw out those resolutions, put together a plan worthy of yourself and this auspicious year. Be brave like the Tiger and plan for your success.

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