As my family and I were sitting down for dinner tonight on our back porch, my son ran inside to get something. When he came out, I asked him "what did you need to get." He replied "my phone, in case someone texts me." Now, what I did not tell you is that my son is not yet 4 years old and he does have his own phone, only it has no batteries and does not work. The point of this story is that he learned about texting and the need for having his phone at the dinner table from us, his parents.
Is this a good example for us to set for our kids, that we need to have our phones with us in case someone calls or texts us? It scares me the lesson that we might be teaching our children. What happened to make instant communication so necessary? I remember never having my own phone line (let alone a cell phone) and my friends had to call my parents to speak to me. I remember my first cell phone, which was the size of my arm and cost about $20 per minute. I remember working for a major company that only had one email address for the entire company! I am not waxing nostalgic here, nor am I feeling sorry for myself. I am all for innovation, but this is crazy.
My son should be learning how to read, how to ride a bike, how to climb a tree…the last thing he should be learning is that he should have his phone at the table in case someone texts him. This spills over into the workplace where people are expected to be available 24 hours a day. It is up to the leaders to set a precedent. If you want to encourage work-life balance, don't send people emails at 10pm at night or on the weekend. When someone gets an email from their boss, they will feel obligated to respond. Don't call people at 8pm on a work day and expect them to be available to talk.
As a leader you need to set the example, don't bring your phone to the dinner table.
A recent article about Bruce Springsteen mentioned that it took him more than six months to finish recording the song Born to Run. He re-wrote the lyrics so many times that the words filled more than 50 pages in his notebook. Finishing the song and the corresponding album almost drove him over the edge because he was so desperate for a hit. This song is now considered one of the greatest rock songs ever. So what can we learn from the Boss? Never give up until you are satisfied. Springsteen could have finished earlier and put an inferior product out on the market, but he would not have been satisfied. He persevered until he had made the song perfect, and his work paid off. Too often companies are in a rush to put out products or services and don't take the time to ensure they are of high quality. They may achieve some immediate results, but there is nothing sustainable. Companies need to approach the development of products and services like Springsteen approached Born to Run – to make something successful you need to pour your heart and soul into it and persevere until you are satisfied. There is too little of this trait today because of our quest for instant gratification.
Mark Hurd recently resigned as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, but that is not news anymore. Nor is it really news that he resigned due to the submission of expense reports supposedly used to quiet a female contractor who accused Hurd of sexual harassment. The real news is the $40m severance package that Hurd will receive for his resignation. Under Hurd's tenure, he stressed the importance of implementing a stronger business code of ethics and got rid of anyone that did not follow that code. Usually, those people were asked to leave and given no severance. So why does Hurd get a large severance package for breaking those same rules? Because CEOs are playing in a different game than everyone else. We see it with the size of the compensation packages, we see it in the size of the severance packages and we see it in the reckless disregard that some CEOs have for the rules that we are all supposed to follow.
HP under Hurd saw great success over the past five years so it is not surprising that the rules for him are different. I have no problem with CEOs being paid ridiculously high wages because of the pressure they are under and the higher standard we hold them to, but to blatantly treat them differently when they do wrong does not send the right message to the business community or those that look up to these leaders. The message that money can overcome any wrongdoing will send us down another slippery path that leads into the ethical abyss. This is not the best strategy for an organization that is primed for success in a very competitive marketplace.
I have been on a bit of a reading frenzy lately, which is something that I have not done in a while. I am usually reading a couple of books simultaneously, one fiction for interest and another more business-oriented. In the past month, I have read Peter Drucker's The Five Most Important Questions You Can Ask About Your Organization, which is one of the best business books I have ever read. Very simple in its format and text, but very complex in its implementation. I have also recently finished the first two books from the Stieg Larsson trilogy, murder-mystery novels that are bestsellers. I cannot wait to read the third book in the trilogy to see how it all plays out.
The greatest thing about reading is that it accomplishes two things: it helps you learn and develop; and it takes you away from everyday life. Reading takes you to a place of fantasies, mystery, history, geography, or wherever you want to go. There is nothing like curling up with a good book to take your mind off of your troubles.
As I sit by the window, overlooking the peaceful Muskoka lake where we are vacationing, it makes me think how important it is to try different things once in a while and get ourselves out of our comfort zone. You do not need to make radical changes, but trying new things keeps you interested and excited. This is the same for businesses. A colleague of mine was having trouble attracting new clients so he decided to do something radically different, which ended up working well for him. When you are successful, figure out what it is that is making you successful and continue to do it, when you stop being successful, figure out what has changed and change with it, if you have never been successful try something completetly different because what you have been doing is obviously not working.
We all have a choice on how we want to grow as people and as business leaders, so take any opportunity you can to try new things and new approaches.
For the success of any business, engagement and leadership must come from the top down. This does not mean that only top management can lead an organization or its initiatives, but it is very hard to drive change when the CEO is not engaged. Having worked with dozens of companies over the years, I have seen the difference between success and failure. Failure looks like a time-consuming, important initiative that has no sustainability. Failure looks like a lot of money and effort spent with no long-term impact on the organization. Failure looks like a waste of the organization's time and money. Failure looks like a de-motivated workforce and internal battles. But enough about failure, what does success look like?
Success looks like an initiative that is championed by individuals or team from all levels of the company. Success looks like a change that creates long-term benefits for the organization. Success looks like something that outlives the CEO's tenure. Success looks like people being engaged and passionate about their organization.
Many times the difference between success and failure is the level of support and engagement from the CEO. CEOs are there to inspire, to lead, to provide direction, to communicate, to make hard decisions and to engage employees and business partners. Without that, organizations cannot expect to implement initiatives successfully.
Business, like life (and blackjack), has its up and downs. You can have your best month ever, followed closely by your worst month ever. So how do you stay on an even keel? How do you ensure that you are progressing both when things are going well and when things are challenging? You need to keep the momentum going. What I mean by this is that you need to continue to do the right things. When a colleague of mine was struggling with his business, he kept on doing the right things – focusing on customer service, providing tremendous value to his clients, speaking at industry events, putting out valuable content, etc. and eventually things turned around for him. He did not let the frustration affect his performance. When you work smartly, and give yourself the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, you will be successful.
This also goes for when things are going well. The business of another colleague of mine was having its best year ever, but instead of riding that success until it ran out, he decided to push the envelope and take the business to the next level. He tried news ways to engage his customers, he reached out to a new target market and he brought on news products to offer. All of this led to even more success.
Business is like blackjack – if you are not doing well, keep playing the game intelligently and you will eventually be successful (and know when to walk away). If you are having success, push your bets. Try something new. The key to success in business is to determine what the right things are and continue to do them, then continue to push it to the next level when you become successful.