9 Things Successful People Do Differently

Book CoverSimple truths tend to ring loudest.  Such is the case with Heidi Grant Halvorson’s simple book 9 Things Successful People Do Differently.  It’s not an exhaustive tome by any means but it is a very accessible and applicable read in the same lane occupied by the timeless One Minute Manager.

It’s not often my daughter encourages ME to write about a business topic.  Particularly because she is in 4th grade.  Nonetheless, she did.  The journey started exactly a year ago when I gave her a copy of Halvorson’s little red book to read on a flight from LAX to DFW.  It looked like an interesting title on the habits of successful people and it appeared accessible for my 8-year old who sits in a 3rd grade classroom M-F while reading and engaging on a 7th grade level.  (She’s still a bit young for Blue Ocean, but I have a copy on stand-by – ha, ha)  Also, the author being a woman gave me the opportunity to reinforce the vision I have consistently shared with my daughter: You are among a new generation of women that will make an even greater impact in life and business as the male dominated world evolves.  So I handed her the book and off we flew.

I was and I wasn’t prepared for the response.  At the end of each chapter she talked to me a bit about the core point and I asked her a couple questions which led to more discussion followed by me encouraging her to make a note or two in the book itself at the end of each chapter.   The surprising angle, which should not be so surprising, was that she related each chapter’s core point to the context in which she lives.  In chapter 5 Halvorson describes getting better rather than being good.  My daughter related this to reading.  She measures the number of words she reads and set a goal to read 2 million words in 3rd grade, which she achieved.  Without my prompting she explained how she can ONLY get better at reading.  She noted that CAN’T merely get good at it because her school won’t let her.  How?  Well, upon achieving a new reading level, the instructors praise the student appropriately and promptly move the finish line to the next level which has a new list of interesting books.  There you go, she experiences “getting Better rather than being Good” in real life.

This chapter-by-chapter dialogue continued until she finished the book.  Then came the question “Do you tell people about books like this?”  followed by “Are you going to tell them about this one?”  So, here I am.

So, a bit of a spoiler alert – here’s Halvorson’s list:

  1. Get Specific
  2. Sieze the Moment to Act on Your Goals
  3. Know Exactly How Far You Have Left to Go
  4. Be a Realistic Optimist
  5. Focus on Getting Better, Rather Than Being Good
  6. Have Grit
  7. Build Your Willpower Muscle
  8. Don’t Tempt Fate
  9. Focus on What You Will Do, Not What You Won’t Dot

For the very good commentary that accompanies each chapter, go pickup 2 copies – one for you and one for a son/daughter or niece/nephew.  You may be surprised at the outcome.

Nanda Devi: Mountain and Leadership Lesson

Mt. Nanda DeviA lack of leadership has the power to kill.  Is that a simple truth or management hyperbole?

I recently shared how mountain climbing related to leadership in that business teams are similar to climbing teams:  we “clip-in” to the rope which ties us together and makes us responsible for each other’s welfare.   If one team member falls, the rest of the team clipped-in to the rope can save them.  There is a famous story about one climber who saved an entire team.  A lead climber on an expedition slipped on an icy assent which threw one climber after another into a deadly “avalanche of people” until a single alert member of the team slammed his axe into the ice, secured himself to it and became the anchor that stopped the fall and saved everyone on the climbing team who was clipped-in to the rope.

Nanda Devi (photo above) is a stunning mountain in India.  While making it to the top of Mount Everest earns a badge of honor among climbers and oohs and ahhs from friends, conquering the more challenging peaks such as K2 and Nanda Devi earns the deepest respect among the small world of expert climbers.

UnsoeldsOne such group of climbers included a man named Willi Unsoeld.   His well-known and respected climbing team lived in Seattle and often practiced on nearby Mt. Rainer in the Cascade mountains.  When he and his wife were blessed with a daughter they didn’t name her Whitney, Ranier or even Everest.

They named her Nanda Devi.

Nanda Devi grew-up around elite climbers and learned of the triumphs and challenges associated with climbing.  When she was 22, she announced her desire to climb Nanda Devi – the mountain for which she was named.  This stirred Willi’s soul even as he knew she would need to be surrounded by a strong team.

I read the story of the climb and to summarize it, an elite team was assembled from among Willi’s friends to help Nanda Devi achieve her dream.  Somewhat irrationally, the team decided no one would be the absolute leader for this particular climb – they would be a peer-group of the elite.  From the beginning, the leadership by committee disagreed on everything from climbing approach to the food that would be carried.  No one took control, instead team members made their own decisions as everyone wanted a “mellow climb” without an overbearing atmosphere.  Bad decision.  The climb was also scheduled at a poor time of year simply because one team member wanted to wait for the school year to end.  Even worse decision.  The lack of strong leadership violated the first and most important rule of climbing: On every assent, regardless of team skill, experience or personalities, someone needs to be at the “head of the rope” first to plan the journey and then to make the tough calls on the climb itself.  Everyone on the team must defer to the leader, especially when they are on the mountain.

The team met tough weather from the beginning of the climb as they moved up from the lower camps.  The situation turned worse when Nanda Devi became ill with altitude sickness followed by an apparent abdominal infection.  Such is not terribly uncommon in climbing.  One solution is to go back down the mountain to a lower camp, recuperate and resume the climb.  If the condition is too severe, a climber can be evacuated from lower camps by helicopter.  The leader is often required to make these tough decisions.  Why?  To summit the worlds great mountains is a huge achievement and many brave climbers eager to reach the summit often push past their health problems because “they have come this far.”  Such risky choices often prove foolish – even deadly.  Leaders must step in and make the call when desire and logic are in conflict.

As Nanda Devi’s condition worsened day by day, it became clear that she should descend to a lower camp and be evacuated.  Tragically, none of the elite climbers including her father, wanted to be “the one” to tell her to go down the mountain and delay achieving her dream.  They proceeded to talk each other out of a decision they all knew was desperately needed.  Nanda Devi tried to be courageous and asked that they continue despite her health.  The team pushed forward and the unthinkable happened.  Nanda Devi’s condition very rapidly deteriorated and she died just below the summit.  She was buried by her father on the mountain that carried her name.

Nanda Devi Usoeld died not because of poor training, not because they took the wrong route, not because equipment failed and not because of sudden weather – and all of those things take the lives of expert climbers every year.  No, Nanda Devi was killed by a lack of clear leadership before the climb even started.

Relationships among the team were fractured as men who had once trusted each other with their lives on the world’s most challenging peaks offered conflicting explanations.  It would take 10 years but eventually each one admitted, albeit reluctantly, that their collective failure to elect a single leader for the climb meant they ALL were responsible for the death of Nanda Devi Usoeld.  A failure of leadership resulted in tragedy.

Business is not usually about life or death situations.  Yes, there are some examples – such as in emergency rooms where the lead doctor MUST direct the trauma team and make life-saving decisions on critically injured patients.  If you know the story of the Space Shuttle Challenger, then you know that a lack of leadership among multiple experts who had clear evidence in front of them (but pressured each other to keep the shuttle program “running on time”) caused the greatest tragedy in the history of the US Space program.

So what conclusions can be applied to your business?   In simplest terms, the failure to lead can kill a team, business or project – sometimes before it begins.

Here are my 5 keys to ensure clear leadership:

  1. It must be clear who is leading.
    Ambiguity destroys team dynamics and kills momentum.
  1. Leaders must look forward.
    Leaders must watch for obstacles and point the way.
  1. Leaders must make the decisions.
    Seeking input or consensus along the way in consultation with experienced team members is fine – but this must not delay decisions or cause overthinking.
  1. Decisions must be clear and direct.
    Leaders who make ambiguous decisions are not really making decisions.
  1. Leaders must ensure the team is “clipped-in.”
    Commitment is critical and must be demanded by the leader – this is not the same as blind loyalty.

Those 5 points apply to new leaders every bit as much as seasoned executives – in small companies or major corporations.  When mentoring new and seasoned leaders, I often share the story of Nanda Devi Usoeld.  While you may not be climbing a mountain, or making life and death decisions in an ER or the military, you are definitely seeking the exhilaration of success and clear leadership is where every journey starts.

5 Steps To Finish The Year Strong!

GreenlightMy wife and I just dropped-off our very excited daughters at school.  It’s the first day of the new school year.  That means it’s GO TIME.

Every August I get extra revved-up at this exact moment.  Why?  Back to school season creates a collective consciousness in America that shows itself in work ethic and purchase habits.  Summer vacations that recharge batteries and bond friendships have served their critical purpose.  It’s time to transition to finish the year strong in your business and that effort starts now!  We have exactly 120 days, one-third of the year, in front of us from now to the December Holiday break.  Except for Labor Day, Thanksgiving and a couple faith-based holidays, the collective workforce is engaged and undistracted.  At least the smart individuals are!

Are you ready to go on a run and finish this year strong?  Here are my 5 steps to do so:

  1. NEW BOOKS:  My daughters will receive new textbooks today.  I will select some as well.  I generally read business biographies in the summer, but today I will shift to books on strategy, leadership and execution.
  2. NEW SCHEDULE:  Starting today, I get up a half hour earlier to have some quiet time for a devotional, make a cup of coffee, get breakfast ready for my daughters and text / tweet props and thoughts to friends and my team.  When my wife drives the girls to school at 7:30, I am already at full speed.
  3. RENEW FOCUS:  I ask myself, what do I need to get rid of so I can be unhindered?  Is there any clutter on my desk – things that are weighing me down that I need to DO NOW or finalize or cross off?  I always find a small list of things that were “pending” and take a specific half-day to “execute (do) or execute (kill/skip).” Try this and you’ll be surprised how well it helps you focus and feel ready to push ahead.   It’s like cleaning out a closet – you feel good when it’s done.
  4. RENEW THE URGENCY:  To experience the satisfaction (and rewards), go create a sense of urgency for you and your team.  A few things could include: incentives and competitive goals for the team and a determine the reward for yourself / your wife & family that is paid for out of any year-end bonus.  Create visibility so the competitive standings are known across the entire team.  Text your people daily in your “mentor role”- one day to challenge in a positive way and the next day with any numbers along with specific encouragement about executing.  Also increasing the frequency of 1:1 meetings, but shorten the duration – make some of them 5 minute stand-up meetings.  These little tricks inject a sense of urgency across the whole team.
  5. RENEW VISION: What do you want to say about this 120 day run in January?  Get specific and list 3-5 objectives.  Some of those may require a simple adjustment on your part while others may demand new methods vs. last year.  Either way, take your time to consider the list and put it on a wall where you can see it every day.

Are you ready to go on the 120 day run and finish the year strong?

Get to it!

10 Regrets of Not Doing The Right Thing

One evening I was ruminating about management regrets.  We all have them.  Sometimes we learn… but too often we don’t.

3985490626_4ece1bf58aI sent a flurry of emails to my CEO friends, asking, “Tell me about a time that when you made a CEO-decision that YOU KNEW DARN WELL you should have made much earlier but were nervous about…. but when you finally pulled the trigger EVERYTHING TURNED OUT JUST FINE.”

These friendly pillars of knowledge, offered these thoughts:

  1. Going slow on investing just leads to wasted time as one ends up investing down the line anyways.  There is no investment better than investing back in a growing business.  Do your ROI analysis – if you won’t lose your shirt… go for it.
  2. I’ve never regretted firing someone who wasn’t performing or the wrong fit, even after worrying about the decision for months.  On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve never regretted making a much-needed, but costly, new hire “too early.” In both cases, I always look back a few months later at my team say, “Why did I wait so long?”  JUST DO IT!
  3. Getting nit-picky in deals and ending up not getting them done!  What a waste of time and loss of an opportunity – I was foolish!
  4. Not hiring fast enough, thinking I can’t afford headcount, but not hiring is what I could not afford.  For example, It has been just about 30 days since our new VP joined, and he already has 15 multimillion deals in the pipeline with our existing partners.
  5. Never wait to be tough in negotiations with bigger companies.   We were wrongfully being sued at the IP level by a big company because they were worried about us as a competitor.  They presented an irrelevant but related patent and sued us to try to scare us into selling to them.   Everybody around me was asking me to compromise and give up because it was just one of many market opportunities for us.  I refused to compromise.  We did the right thing and… extracted a very favorable settlement which gave what we needed in a very affordable way without having to go to the uncertainty of a trial (which the big player really didn’t want either).
  6. Quoting customers list price for an upsell the customer asks for!   Salespeople are always nervous about offending the customer or losing a deal and I keep telling them there is nothing offensive about charging appropriately (never gouge!) for additional services.   I joined in on a call and it took me less time to get the customer to say yes to an additional element than it took me to get my salespeople to stop whining about being afraid to quote it.
  7. Not saying “No” earlier in a deal/negotiation process whether it was for financing or revenue.  I’ve found its the fastest way to cut to the chase as to whether a real deal can be struck, but also nerve-wrecking at the same time.
  8. Deciding to raise prices when the product value calls for it.  Sales guys never want to deliver bad news.  If we do our homework properly we usually get the expected result, but again, we’re always worried about irrational actors.  Stop worrying and do it!
  9. Every time some one gets canned.  Everyone knows it for months but nobody has the “guts” to do it so I STEP IN AND FORCE IT.  Everything always comes out fine… actually, things get BETTER after the tumor is removed.
  10. Overthinking, Micromanaging, Delaying, Denying, Hoping and then Dying.  You can’t layoff and cut expenses to get rich, you can’t hope your way out of a hole, you can’t micromanage your way to recovery.  You need dry powder in the form of capital so you can invest in the business and manage through the tough times.  This game is not for the feint of heart or the under-capitalized.

Good and Great Reiterated


It is always fascinating to come upon new perspectives on the well worn trail defining “good” and “great.”

Consider Carlos Ghosn,  Carlos-ghosn-renaultthe French-Lebanese-Brazilian businessman, who is currently the Chairman and CEO of France-based Renault, Chairman and CEO of Japan-based Nissan, and Chairman of Russian automobile manufacturer AvtoVAZ.

Ghosn is a multi-ethnic leader of an automotive conglomerate featuring French, Japanese and Russian management cultures.  Wow.  I imagine that management succession plan was not easy to craft.

Within his record of performance and effectiveness lie highly refined views of management axioms.  One of my favorites is his approach to “Good vs Great.”  Ghosn said,

“Good” is somebody who delivered and allowed the company to overcome obstacles, without leaving a profound impact on its culture.  “Great” is somebody who leads his company to achievements and performance and value that nobody was expecting it had.”

In other words, Good executes and Good gets the job done despite the normal bumps along the way.  Great LEADS to new heights that were unexpected.

Do you want to be good?  Simply execute and be dependable.

Do you want to be great?  Achieve the unexpected and do the impossible.

4 Reasons Hopes and Dreams Can Be Bad

quote-Tracy-Chapman-peoples-real-hopes-and-dreams-can-be-70639Hopes and dreams are not what they are cracked up to be.

Yes, I believe in dreams (up to a point) but I prefer to describe the concept as thinking big with a specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable, time-based plan.  To me, there is no such thing as a dream home or dream vacation – there is only an earned home or an earned vacation.  You eventually wake up from dreams and get back to reality where you only have what you earned.

Not long ago two alarming conversations took place with people I deeply care about.  One involved a seasoned company founder hoping external macro factors would ultimately solve a revenue challenge.  The other involved an individual dreaming and yearning for a particular future while metaphorically running in place without a plan or even a plan to make a plan.  After listening, making innocuous comments and offering bits encouragement the discussion moved on.

Later I felt tremendous guilt.  On one hand, there was guilt for not opening up a deeper discussion that could provide usable perspectives to my friends.  On the other hand, there was a responsible, cowardly feeling because I avoided a deeper discussion only because I was not in the mood, or just too tired that day, to deal with potentially emotional responses.

Somewhere between being perpetually driven 24X7 “without a life ” -or- sitting around aimlessly hoping and dreaming while clutching a box of tissue lies a balanced response.  It does not take much energy to make a simple plan to address the problem, or at least start to do so with some reasoned effort.   After thinking, the dark side of dwelling hopes and dreams crystallized into 4 basic points:

  1. Dreams are often a morass of feelings and yearnings but these emotions too often betray us.
  2. Dreams usually have no action-plans and plans contain some level of accountability.
  3. Hope is not a method, it merely shifts responsibility somewhere else. (See also this book by General Gordon Sullivan)
  4. Hopes and dreams can mate which gives birth to the evil twins: excuses and self-victimization. (I was hoping that this would happen… I guess my dreams were not meant-to-be).

So, I am going back to finish both conversations without being a know-it-all or a screaming stepmother.  If I am to be true to these two relationships, then don’t I have a duty to deliver an encouraging, actionable response with care and compassion? Both conversations will include my encouragement to turn hopes and dreams into action-plans with clear objectives, no matter how small.  I will also give each person my commitment to hold them accountable and walk the path with them in whatever way they feel is most effective.  If I care, which I do, then I owe it to them.