Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Humility in a haughty world

Legend at birthIn his book Good to Great, business guru Jim Collins describes what he calls “Level Five Leadership,” and why it’s so hard to achieve.

Level Four is mainly attained by a person’s drive to make it to the top. Ambition, talent, egotism and self-fulfillment characterize the ascent.

But Collins’ “Level Five” leaders also have a humility that makes them truly transformational people. They have ample motivation, extreme knowledge and special skills, but they also know it’s not all about them.

Here’s the irony: Everything that catapults a leader to Level Four works against him or her in the jump to Level Five. That’s why, Collins says, not many people get there.

When I look around our world today, I see growing levels of hubris, pride, arrogance and self-aggrandizing. Heck, we even put lines like “Future Hall of Famer” (and worse) on toddler tee shirts.

At a middle school B-team basketball game recently, a player blocked a shot, and then towered over his victim with heavy taunting.

I thought, in a measure of disbelief, “This is middle school! And B-team at that!”

Professional sports drive a lot of it. Kids just mimic what they see. Practically every play nowadays is punctuated with a Super Bowl-level celebration.

The concept “act like you’ve been there before” has flown the coop, along with “let your play do the talking.”

The entertainment culture contributes cockiness, too. The more highly one thinks of himself, the more likely a fifteen minute run of fame will last to sixteen.

Social media perpetuates a look-at-me environment. “Influencers” are paid based on their followership and followers rarely follow the self-effacing.

It’s not an easy line to walk. I want “Make America Great Again” without forgetting pride comes before a fall.

I want confidence in our progress but also a recognition that for as far as we’ve come, we still can’t land all helicopter flights safely.

Scripture is full of admonitions like Luke 18:14, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Last week, San Antonio Express News sportswriter Tom Orsborn highlighted the reading passions of San Antonio Spurs past and present.

Legend Manu Ginobili recommends Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I haven’t read it, but it looks timely. Here’s a clip from the prologue:

While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive, visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I’ve found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.

Are we surprised that an organization that won five world championships in fifteen years would spawn players interested in selflessness? Win or lose, head coach Gregg Popovich consistently encourages opposing players and coaches after games.

Corey Benjamin, the Chicago Bulls’ first round draft pick in 1998, once told a teammate he could beat a retired Michael Jordan in one-on-one.

When word got around, Jordan showed up to the Bulls practice facility to set the record straight. The game wasn’t even close. His Airness, in sweatpants, handled the upstart with ease.

A little humility – “I’d like to play Michael Jordan in one-on-one.”- would have kept Corey Benjamin off the wrong pages of basketball history.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Bush 41: Pragmatic, civil and stately

The year was 1988. The setting was Mrs. Walton’s sixth grade Social Studies class. The conflict was a debate between a long-forgotten Dukakis / Bentsen supporter and me, the class’ Bush / Quayle surrogate.

As an eleven-year-old, I followed the 1988 presidential campaign like a hawk, clipping newspaper stories and creating my own election scrapbook.

My grandfather drove me in his roller skate of a Mazda 323 to the local Republican headquarters. There, I stocked up on Bush / Quayle yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers.

I was ready for the big debate.

My suburban middle Tennessee county was sufficiently conservative, so I would really need to flop not to win.

In addition to my policy points, I had my jokes lined up. This was sixth grade, after all. Not everyone followed politics as closely as I, much to my surprise.

“What does an old car sound like when it can’t get going?” I asked. “Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis.”

George Herbert Walker Bush rode to victory that year on the back of his predecessor’s legacy, his wife’s wit and his vice president’s good looks.

During his time in office, he served the nation with strength, resisting both an Iraqi dictator and a ballooning government. Bush was rightly concerned about federal overspending, especially with an overseas war pending.

In a 1990 budget deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush agreed to raise certain tax rates which contradicted his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge from 1988.

Ironically, the deal reduced government spending significantly and instituted a pay-as-you-go (“PAYGO”) rule requiring new spending or tax cuts be offset by spending cuts or tax increases.

It created the framework for a balanced budget in 1997 and several budget surpluses in the years that followed.

Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office at the time, called the 1990 budget “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

Bush’s willingness to compromise in order to make some progress arguably cost him his job in 1992 when a silver-tongued southern governor made him pay for breaking his tax pledge.

A remarkable quality of our 41st president was that he did not hold a grudge. He supported his successor and even partnered with him on charitable missions in their years out of office.

While Bush took his surprise 1992 election defeat quite personally, he quickly rose above the fray, leaving a handwritten letter in the Oval Office for the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton.

“You will be our President when you read this note,” he said, “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

That, friends, is class and grace and perspective like we’ve never needed more.

Bush moved on with his life… to Astros games and skydiving and watching his children and grandchildren reach the highest levels not of power, but of service.

Scripture says you will know a man by his fruit. Regardless of your political agreement with 41 and his offspring, you cannot argue their high moral character.

Our nation lost an honorable man Friday. We should follow in his civil and stately footsteps.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

What Reagan might say about the caravan

Outgoing leaders often save their best for last. In quiet reflection on their years of service, they concretize what matters most in their final addresses to those they led.

The superfluous, the peripheral and the minor take a backseat. What the leaders really believe comes forth.

President George Washington’s farewell address in 1796, with its warnings against political parties, is one example. President Ronald Reagan’s final address in 1989 is another.

Reagan knew when to stand up to bullies and when to let down his guard. Reagan challenged heavy taxes, big government, and communism. He also disarmed his political opponents with wit and respect.

At the conclusion of his farewell address to America, Reagan spent several minutes clarifying a concept to which he had long referred: pilgrim John Winthrop’s description of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as “a city upon a hill.”

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it,” Reagan said.

“In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity.

“And if there had to be city walls,” Reagan continued, “the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.”

Reagan concluded that America is “still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

Today, a caravan of central Americans waits at our southern border. Having travelled thousands of miles, many on foot, these sojourners clearly had “the will and the heart to get here,” as Reagan said.

Many of the caravaners started in Honduras, a country marked by poverty and crime. My sense is a vast majority of these people have good intentions. They are not criminals looking for easy prey. Evil doesn’t flee from evil.

They’re coming for opportunity, for freedom, for the best America has to offer. If they could have come with proper papers through an efficient, legal and understandable pathway, they would have.

Three years before his final address, Reagan had signed an immigration reform law that legalized more than 3 million undocumented immigrants who were living in the United States. He was likely thinking of these people as he put flesh on his vision of America in his farewell message.

He may have also been thinking about economics. He knew vibrant economies need expanding workforces. They need substantial labor to expand infrastructure, make manufacturing competitive and keep services affordable.

If the Gipper were alive today, I think he would say, “Welcome the pilgrims. America can effectively incorporate them into its democracy and into its economy. It has many times over for more than two centuries.”

And if Reagan were to give us a one liner about immigration, I think it would be this:

“Don’t just talk about the walls. Talk about the doors.”

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.

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.

The high cost of entrepreneurship

It was the week before Christmas and I was on vacation two states away. My customer called me from outside his company holiday party. I could tell he was pacing apprehensively.

Even in the bright lights of the season, he was enduring a dark night of the soul, the latest in a lengthening string.

He described a haunting reality. His busy season hadn’t produced enough nuts for the winter. Bills were mounting while billings fell. Checks were set to bounce. Lives were about to change. His company teetered on the edge of collapse.

He called as much for support as for money. His left brain knew I had no more money to lend. His right brain still held out hope – hope that something could be created from nothing. He is, after all, an entrepreneur.

Doubt deepened within him. Yet, inside the party, he had to maintain a sense of normalcy and control, as if the year could not have gone better and the future never looked brighter.

For entrepreneurs, perception is often reality. They specialize in impression management. It’s not that they’re fake. They can be as authentic as apple pie. They just have faith.

They believe they can move mountains. And often they do, dirt contractors and landscapers, in particular.

But the pressure of entrepreneurship can take a toll. On one hand, a self-employed entrepreneur diversifies her risk by serving a plethora of customers, not just one employer.

On the other hand, an entrepreneur’s risk is concentrated in himself. He is a “key man.” Only the key can unlock success’ door. Therein lies the burden and the root of emotional disorder.

In an award-winning 2013 Inc. Magazine article entitled “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” Jessica Bruder quotes Dr. Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist who has studied the mental health effects of entrepreneurship.

Freeman notes that “people who are on the energetic, motivated and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states” (e.g., depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation and suicidal thinking).

In other words, the chemistry that takes you to the top can also bring you down.

Psychologist John Gartner takes the biology a step further. He claims that because the United States was founded and populated by daring, “self-selecting” people (i.e., immigrants and their children), many of us have “hypomanic” traits in our DNA. We are driven and inventive but also depressive and instable.

Combine genetics with the financial and management strains that come at the top of the organizational chart and you get a roller coaster worthy of Fiesta Texas.

But Bruder describes the increasing willingness of entrepreneurs to open up. Obviously, no leader is going to spill the red ink on the annual report, but showing some emotions at work can make a leader seem more human and trustworthy. It can also provide much needed ventilation.

Other recommendations for business folks in the crucible include staying close with friends and family, taking care of oneself (sleep, diet, exercise) and building an identity outside of one’s work.

As a small business banker, it’s a high honor to venture vicariously through my entrepreneurial customers. Though their risks are high, I often pray their rewards are higher, and not just in monetary terms.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas Hill Country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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