Aug 302014

Almost every day when I walk the apartment parking lot to check the mail, I see litter strewn on the ground (usually fast food wrappers, empty soda cups, crushed cigarette boxes, or beer bottles). I pick it up and place it in the big trash bins by the carports. I don’t know if other people pick up the trash as they walk by it, but I have never seen anyone else do it.

I have sometimes, out of frustration or because I was in a hurry, walked by a piece of trash only to find it waiting for me a day or two later, right where I left it.

This may seem silly, but today, as I picked up a straw and soda cup top (no cup to be found), and walked them to the bin, I thought of my favorite superheroes.

Perhaps Superman and others don’t do what’s right because they have super powers and they can. Perhaps they just do what is right because no one else will.


Aug 292014

I am proud to have a team that regularly outperforms teams double its size in arguably better markets with more tenured staff. My team performs at a high level regardless of moving targets, staffing adjustments, market changes, or customer traffic patterns. I attribute much of our success to two things, and I was reminded of these today while speaking to a peer: Patience and Persistence. Here is how it works:

Patience: I distill information. It is rare for me to make a decision without analyzing available data and asking for input from my team leaders. Even when I am not directing a team, this is true. For example, I read lots of books on leadership but I throw most of the information out. It is not all relevant to my style of leadership and some of it is plain bad (one popular example is the idea of “servant leadership“–an oxymoron that makes great copy but is meritless as an actual principle). When a directive is delivered to me, I do not necessarily pass it on to my team untarnished. I examine the core value of the message, decide if it is right for us and how the team can best ingest it, and then act in alignment with our team values.

An easy way to kill team effectiveness is by delivering conflicting messages. That is why it is important to be a filter for the information coming in. I once worked for a company that had, as one of its core values, “Empower employees” yet required employees to complete a requisition form for the most basic office supplies, even Paper Mate cheap ball point pens–if you wanted one, you were “empowered” to fill out a form. Of course, the irony of that was lost on no oneā€¦ except the head of HR.

Persistence: I take the long view. I have learned that everybody wants something and they want it now but that is almost never a path to sustainable success. In personal affairs or in business, we deal with agendas. Family, friends, coworkers, bosses, vendors, television news anchors, brands, even our pets have an agenda and they all want you to follow theirs.

Instead, I stick to my team’s agenda, deliver the results we are focused on despite distractions and requests coming at us (distill the information), and ensure we are operating within our team values and principles. If we understand the overall mission we have been charged with (which is usually closer to “grow the business” than it is to “we need to sell more widgets now, now, now!”), then it is easier to quiet the noise, take the long view, and follow our agenda.

In a more than 20-year old company, my team has quietly become the fifth most consistent performing team in only 3 years and we continue a quiet but steady rise. Sometimes we are recognized but usually we don’t make big splashes; we just continue to do well and try to improve day by day. We never seek magic bullets and we do not compromise our team values of Integrity, Honesty, and Trust.

If there is a secret Leadership club where all the popular leadership skills are passed out to every author basically re-writing the same book, I was not invited. I have figured out a few things, though, by simply being persistent and patient. It takes persistence to seek information, edit what does not fit and find those little nuggets that change everything. It takes patience to walk, not run, when others are screaming “fire!” and you know that keeping your team on task sometimes is the task.

Whether in business or personal success, I can tell you patience and persistence always pay off.


Aug 282014

I bought a new pair of today, and I think I might have paid more for them than I have for all other pairs of pants I have bought in my life.

I am slowly upgrading my wardrobe by buying higher quality things but having less of them. I now only have fewer pants and shirts than I ever have and for every new one I buy, I give one or two away.

Many things are not that important to me and for those I will happily buy the cheapest version I can find (pencils, for example). The things that matter to me, though, I want the best of, so I will spend a small fortune on a commercial blender that will last 50 years and make a killer smoothie every day rather than buy the $30 Oster blender from Target that I will replace ten times.

There are always things to buy. When I choose not to buy something, I am freeing up that money to buy something even better.

Today’s lesson is: Consider owning less things but being willing to pay more to have the best of the things that really matter to you.