Archive for August, 2015

The golfer’s dilemmas

Golfer: “How do you like my game?
Caddie: “Very good, sir, but personally I prefer golf.”

I usually answer the question “Do you play golf?” with “I own a set of clubs.” This response captures the tension most casual golfers feel. I can hit 100 errant shots in a round, but, like an addict, I fixate on that one strike that settles down a fairway, on a green or, best yet, in a hole.

Golfer: “Do you think I can get there with a 5 iron?”
Caddie: “Eventually”

Club selection is the bane of a golfer’s existence. I can approach the ball with quiet confidence, execute a flawless swing and strike the ball in the sweetest of spots only to watch it land 20 yards in front of or behind the desired destination. My kids’ bags have four or five clubs. Why does mine have fourteen, all hard to use and easy to lose?

Golfer: “That can’t be my ball; it’s too old.”
Caddie: “It’s been a long time since we teed off, sir.”

Golf’s biggest critique is the time commitment required. I’m not real sure how 18 holes became the standard. Thirteen or fourteen holes would allow me my one good shot without completely exhausting my energy and my wife’s patience.

Five hours away from work and family is certainly a sacrifice. It’s also a relatively undivided time to build quality relationships, assuming you’re playing with the right people. Does anyone have an extra set of left-handed ladies clubs? She’s about five foot six.

Golfer: “Please stop checking your watch all the time. It’s distracting.”
Caddie: “It’s not a watch, sir. It’s a compass.”

Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth pursuit can’t touch my epic searches for a lost ball. In a golfer’s psyche, a horrible shot becomes decent if you locate your ball. Alternatively, a horrible shot becomes respectable if you find someone else’s lost ball. It’s proof you haven’t completely driven off the map.

Golfer: “I think I’m going to drown myself in the lake.”
Caddie: “Can you keep your head down that long?”

The fundamentals of a golf swing seem so simplistic: Don’t over-grip, don’t over-swing, don’t sway, don’t pull your head out, don’t try to kill it. I have executed all this and more in some gorgeous practice swings.

But then, somehow, demons overtake in the 6 inches, 6 seconds and 6 thoughts between a practice swing and an actual one.

When I top, hook or slice a ball into the next zip code, everyone is responsible but me: the cart girl, the president, my parents, the people I’m playing with, my caddie.

Golfer: “You have to be the worst caddie in the world.”
Caddie: “I don’t think so, sir. That would be too much of a coincidence.”

Kevin Thompson is a weekly columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info

What’s your leadership quotient?

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” Dr. Lyle Sussman began his seminar. “One kind walks into a room and the room lights up. The other kind walks out of a room and the room lights up. Which kind are you?”

Sussman is a Professor of Management at the University of Louisville. He writes and speaks on leadership, motivation, performance and teamwork.

Sussman believes great leadership begins with great followership. His Golden Rule of Management is this: “Are you the kind of employee that YOU would want to manage?”

Self-examination is critical to improving one’s leadership quotient or “LQ”. LQ is Sussman’s measurement of a person’s ability to lead effectively.

“It’s hard to look at yourself,” Sussman says. “It’s easy to stay in that river in Egypt: denial.”

The cure for denial involves asking the people around us for honest feedback about how we act. It is a painful process. It is also a helpful one. Sussman recommends 360-degree reviews where more than an employee’s supervisor comments on the employee’s performance. These reviews should be done anonymously.

Presentee-ism can be as big of a problem as absenteeism, Sussman says. He once asked a seminar attendee, “How many people work in your company?” His reply: “About half of them.”

Management guru Peter Drucker was convinced that most organizations are over-managed and under-led. Sussman agrees. All employees are volunteers, even if they get paid. They have free will and can choose how hard they will work. Managers can buy talent, but they must earn loyalty.

The goal of both managers and employees is to increase value and reduce costs. Value and costs can be in both monetary and non-monetary terms. Non-monetary cost reductions may include resolving conflict or reducing stress.

Volunteer-employees create value for your organization. What are you doing as a leader to make them smarter? Sussman asks. When’s the last time one of them came to you with an idea to make the organization better?

Productivity is the product of efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency means limiting costs. Effectiveness means getting a job done. Sussman explains efficiency and effectiveness with a quadrant matrix:

1. Not efficient, not effective – This person raises costs, but doesn’t achieve goals (will soon be fired or bankrupt)

2. Efficient, but not effective – This person limits costs, but doesn’t achieve goals

3. Not efficient, but effective – This person raises costs, but at least achieves goals

4. Efficient, effective – This person limits costs while achieving goals

Category 4 is obviously the model employee, but most employees fall into Category 3. Effective coaching can help employees ascend into Category 4.

Unfortunately, good coaching can be scarce. Most managers are more referee than coach. It’s easier to carry a rule book and a whistle than to invest in an employee’s development. That requires courage and self-sacrifice.

With regard to coaching, courage, self-sacrifice and getting out of one’s comfort zone, Sussman had a unique perspective on the growing industry of executive coaching and consulting.

Coaches and consultants are paid to get people to do things they already know they should do. People who actually do what they know really do believe what they know.

We’ve all heard the adage: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Hogwash, Sussman says.

“The trick is to make the horse thirsty.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Staying relevant in an evolving world

I had gone down to the hotel lobby for a bucket of ice. In one of the meeting rooms, all my banking seminar classmates were watching a movie that our instructor had assigned for the next day’s class. Somehow, I missed the memo – probably because there was never a memo, only a GroupMe message.

I figured it out four days later, after missing a handful of other class meetings and announcements. And I thought I was being progressive when I listed “text” as my preferred communication method.

I obviously had never heard of GroupMe. Consequently, my group never heard from me. I was, in a way, inconsequential. That is, irrelevant.

Of all the things I’d like people to say about me, “relevant” is on the list. I want to matter – to my kids, to my wife, to my customers, to my employer.

The more the world changes – and the faster it changes – the harder it is to feel relevant. Fortunately, my banking school schedule included a course on keeping bank branches relevant in an internet banking world. It was taught by Dave Martin, a retail banking columnist for American Banker magazine.

Martin said the average American visits a bank branch two or three times per year. That may or may not be the number of times your internet banking system requires you to change your password.

Anyway, what is the need for a physical bank branch when you can do practically every banking task from the confines of your underwear?

Good question, and surely one my employer considered before opening a not-cheap 4,500 square foot banking center for me to run last year.

Cavernous bank lobbies are a holdover from when lines of customers snaked to and fro waiting to deposit paper paychecks. Today, checks are nearly extinct. Less than fifteen years ago, fifteen Federal Reserve check processing centers scattered the country. Only one remains.

Evolution is happening in every industry, Mr Martin observes with both a comforting addendum and a prescient warning: “Evolution does not mean elimination, but failing to evolve guarantees elimination.”

According to Martin, organizational progress gets threatened by three types of people. “Snipers” shoot down every idea that might move an organization or a person forward. They have a form of intelligence but deny its power.

“Historians” remember when every idea failed before. Never mind that the landscape may have changed in a way that will now grant the idea success. Historians are stuck in the good ‘ole days which are “good” primarily because you know how they turned out. The past didn’t kill you so it seems safe now.

“Jetsons” are futurists who saw the answer to every perplexity last night on the Discovery Channel. If you would just buy a new technology system or adopt the latest production technique, your performance issues would be solved.

Relevant people aren’t snipers – they fail more, not less, than average. They aren’t historians – they don’t trip on things behind them. They aren’t Jetsons – they recognize that success stems from the consistent application of good habits, that everything is hard until it is easy.

Mr Martin believes bank branches can still provide a place for people to get straight answers from people they trust about financial questions. They can profitably serve as the human interface of the bank’s online operations. They can stay relevant.

And I can learn to use GroupMe.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at kevin@kwt.info.

The three roads to wealth

I once met a man who was not interested in obtaining wealth. Then he heard about the lottery. I once knew a woman who did not want a raise. Then she discovered they were paid in dollars.

Ninety-nine out of a hundred of us want to increase our wealth. It appears we all were made for a mansion built in heaven. Generally speaking, wealth builds in one of three ways.

1. Professional

The professional road to wealth travels through formal education and licensing. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, etc. spend many years in institutional environments preparing for standardized tests. In the end, professionals have something that’s rare because most people don’t like to read and study.

Like a rare diamond, degrees and licenses are highly valued in the marketplace. That’s why attorneys can make more in an hour than others can make in a week. Physicians can make more in a surgery than others can make in a year.

(They can also spend it faster than others. I once knew a surgeon whose annual income was greater than his net worth. That’s not easy to do.)

A professional’s earning power stems from his or her knowledge. It’s true: Knowledge is (earning) power.

2. Corporate

The industrial revolution welcomed corporations into the economy and we have not turned back. Corporations create mega wealth for those willing to endure their bureaucracy.

A friend of mine wants to quit his corporate job every other week because of the politics and the personalities involved. He longs for a tractor, a spread of land and the independence such a work life provides. But that work life pays in corn, not Chuck E. Cheese tokens. And his kids really like Chuck E. Cheese.

Corporate employees often trade freedom and adventure for the dollars they make. They make get an 18% bonus but they also may work in a prison-like compound. The whims of managers up the ladder can bring sudden location and position changes. But if employees are willing to make the moves, the corporate ladder leads to wealth.

Corporate economies of scale produce vast resources. When every Dairy Queen from Texarkana to El Paso sends you a cut of their Blizzard sales, a flurry of financial gain blows to the franchisors. But let’s not forget the franchisees. They represent the third road to wealth: entrepreneurship.

3. Entrepreneurship

As a banker of entrepreneurs, I see the wealth that self-employment creates. It’s not guaranteed, of course. A lot of ventures don’t work. But when they do, it can be big. Remember: High risk, high reward.

When someone creates a new product or service that solves a problem or saves time or money, people will pay for it. Most people have ideas that would make the world a better place. Entrepreneurs actually execute on those ideas. And there’s often as much creativity in the execution as there is in the idea itself.

Of the three roads to wealth, entrepreneurship can be the most lucrative. The wealthiest people in America invented things and started businesses.

But if you don’t have the stomach for owning your own business, you might try the bar examination. If not that, perhaps you have the patience to endure Dilbert in the next cubicle over. Wealth is available down all three roads.

Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Franklin family offers model of service

“God has a sense of humor,” Larry Franklin says. The former CEO of San Antonio-based direct marketing firm Harte-Hanks never thought he’d be working the land at age 73.

“My father sharecropped the same one hundred east Texas acres for 50 years. My goal in life was not to be working in dirt anywhere. I wanted off the farm.”

After graduating in a class of 13 (“ten boys, two girls and a married woman”) from Ladonia High School, Franklin took his young wife and some football talent to East Texas State University.

“Charlotte was from the big city. She was from Paris.” Texas, that is.

“Walking off the field after my last game, she said, ‘You’re going to be a father.’ We eventually took an economics professor’s advice and went to graduate school at Texas Tech. Kelly was born in Lubbock.”

After an MBA, a CPA and 4 years of public accounting, Franklin joined Harte-Hanks in San Antonio, rising over the course of 41 years to the top of the corporation.

During his tenure, Franklin purchased 150 businesses in 37 states across 7 sectors in the media industry, including the San Antonio Express-News and KENS TV. Harte-Hanks’ assets today include mainly direct mail and target marketing businesses.

As the business grew, Franklin wrestled with his purpose:

“One day we all will answer two questions: ‘What did you do with the Lord?’ and ‘What did you do with what he gave you?’ I have felt good about the first question since I was thirteen, but I wasn’t sure about the second one.”

As he approached 60 years of age, Franklin slowed down, thanks, in part, to the power of some praying women.

“I’ve always been surrounded by praying women. First, my mother, then Charlotte, then my two daughters.”

Franklin stepped down as CEO in 2002. At the urging of his son-in-law, Jason Borchardt, Franklin purchased the first ranch he toured: 450 acres 10 miles northeast of Blanco. That was 1996.

Nearly two decades and an additional two thousand acres later, the Franklin Family Ranch annually hosts thousands of day visitors, retreaters, campers, hunters and trail riders. An Easter celebration draws more than a thousand. (“It’s not about eggs and bunnies.”) Boerne-based Still Water Sports Camps has called the ranch home for six consecutive summers.

“It has been an unbelievable run being out here with these kids,” Franklin said as dozens of diverse Still Water campers swarmed around us. “We have seen amazing transformations in kids because college counselors plant seeds and pour into their lives.”

Franklin’s two daughters and their families also live and work on the ranch. Kelly and Neil Hardwick handle the groups who visit. Kristi and Jason Borchardt manage the wildlife which includes several species of deer, antelope and sheep. Franklin’s grandchildren cook and serve meals for campers and guests.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” Franklin reflected. “It’s like what the apostle John said, ‘I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth.’”

Son-in-law Hardwick summarized the uniqueness of the arrangement:

“We wanted a different life than what corporate America might dictate. We wanted to work together and live together. We wanted to show our kids through a life of service what it means to have a servant heart.”

Franklin recognizes the divine irony in his situation, “We always thought we’d have a place in New York City. God had a different plan.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at kevin@kwt.info.


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