Friday, May 30, 2008

Leadership--Getting to the Why

How many times have you been in a situation where it seems everyone is discussing the symptoms of a situation or problem but not getting to the root cause? In my business it seems to happen all the time. We can fairly easily characterize the "What is Happening" but have a much harder time trying to discover the "Why is it Happening."

In team situations, sometimes we face a situation where a question is asked and an answer provided--seemingly the action is completed. But in digging deeper, very often the question that was asked doesn't provide the real answer to the root question because the questioner does not have enough information to ask the right question. It is up to the leader to intervene and try to determine--what the real question is. Or, get to the why!

In group/team situations it is up to the leader to keep questioning until the collective of the team is finally able to move from identifying symptoms to understanding the root cause, or the why. This may require understanding a process or a function which normally just operates without much thought being given to it.

"Getting to the Why" is the finding root of understanding.

It is like trying to understand an accident. There may be a lot of symptoms to consider and a lot of actions to understand (for example: skid marks, late turning, broken brake lines), but it all comes back to a root cause of some type: improperly trained people, or inattention to the task at hand caused by staying up too late to watch a sporting event, or excessive speed caused by being late to an appointment (of course that too may be a symptom of a larger problem).

In the business world, symptoms may be lower sales, declining profits, or reduced action on the web site. The root cause may be global economic downturn or may be that a competitor has introduced a superior product and innovation is needed to recover lost market share.

In our personal lives--we see symptoms of larger problems: sleeplessness, sickness, stress, a sense of not having enough time, burn out. Sometimes we try to address the symptom--with medicines (and in the case of a disease or sickness--that may be the root cause) , or through strict exercise regimens, or vitamin supplements. But do we need to look deeper into our lives to discover the real "why?"
- Are we out of control by trying to be everything to everyone?
- Have we set unreal and unattainable expectations for ourselves and our relationships?
- Are we searching for happiness and the meaning of life in the collection of material goods and creature comforts?
- Do we need to learn to be where we are and not always looking for where we want to be?

There are no easy answers--but the leader needs to keep asking --why? Like what my children used to do--ask a continual series of why questions only to see how far I could go in providing reasons for why things were connected. And amazingly enough--we could go pretty deep.

The leader needs to take their team deep into the "why?" Do not be content with simple solutions to shallow symptoms. Solving symptoms may make you feel good, for a while, but the underlying issue may never be resolved.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

What a day to remember. A complete gathering of the clan at the house. As always, it was a great day and the weather was awesome. It was 84 degrees air temp and by about 3PM it was 81 degrees in the pool!

It don't get no better than this.

We spent the entire day enjoying each other's company and eating. And eating and drinking and watching the grand kids as they enjoyed the sun. The day was a great prelude to the summer ahead.

Nicole really documented the weekend in her blog, so I recommend checking it out.

From my standpoint--the pool was warm and crystal clear so it was the center of the fun. The Orioles beat the Yankees in baseball and everyone at the picnic had a real great time.

Chris cooked her heart out with salads and fixings--and one really super coffee cake she made me for breakfast.

Jax was wide awake for part of the afternoon looking all around and really becoming part of the family. Jeremy was fixated on getting Ben--the Keeshond, into the pool and finally did get him in. Shortly thereafter I noticed a fine layer of dog hair on the surface of the water. I was reminded of Megan, our departed golden, who we used to shave for summer so she could swim in the pool without depositing a layer of fur across the water.
Families are great. They keep us in touch with each other and help us to learn to appreciate each other. Patrick and Tina were there too--earlier in the day we helped them get a dresser and delivered it to College Park, and they were fully part of the action.
Well, it is safe to say--on to summer!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Truck Update - Delivery at last!

For those of you following the saga of the 2000 GMC Sonoma--I have good news to report. I actually received the truck on Thursday and had a chance to rummage through the parts they took off it. Now, with new tires and shocks (still to come) it will be an almost new truck. With 113,000 miles on it.

But, having the truck back was good, too. We already used it to move furniture. All of those things that we need a truck for and which have been on hold can now be done. I think we already have it scheduled for a trip to Ithaca in June to haul some heavy equipment around and do some work at Mom and Dad's hacienda.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Went to see this movie this weekend, which is opening weekend. The movie grossed $101 million, but really it isn't a great movie. I expect the take to dwindle next week.

The movie had the great Indiana Jones lines and action. The action though is not non-stop and there were a couple points where I actually looked at my watch. The old characters are back and the film does a nice job of catching us up. Some of the relationships are trite and very predictable.

The ending of the movie is weak. It could have been a lot better.

Here is what Roger Ebert wrote: ""Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Say it aloud. The very title causes the pulse to quicken, if you, like me, are a lover of pulp fiction. What I want is goofy action--lots of it. I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys."

Rating: OK entertainment. Go see it because everyone else is. If you loved the earlier movies, this will be enjoyable. If you never saw the earlier movies, you'll wonder what all the fuss is about. Rating the three blockbusters of the month? Best: Iron Man, Next best: Narnia, and the bottom: Indiana Jones.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Truck--the story continues

Guess what? No truck.

I am told at least the engine is installed and running. It was out for a road test yesterday. So, hopefully we are getting close to having a truck.

This has been especially painful. My engine broke down on April 29th. Twenty-four long days ago. That seems a bit long to me to get a repair done--but the almost two weeks that the insurance company took to process and accept the claim, then the almost week it took to ship the engine really added a lot to the timeline.

I was supposed to have an emissions inspection done by May 21st--fortunately, I remembered and had the State of Maryland grant an extension. It is hard to get an inspection done when there is no truck to take to the inspection station. Ugh!

But I am told that today will be the day--barring any other unforseen problems. At the end of it all I think the truck will be better than it was when I got it to replace my other truck.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Continuing Saga of my Truck

So--it has been a week! Do I have my truck? No. Do I think I will ever see my truck again--even with a new engine? Yeah--but it sure has been painful and required a lot of follow-up to pull it off. I thought I was getting it back on Monday. Then it was yesterday. Now, supposedly, I will see my truck today.

It is not that I mind driving, Kitty, my Jaguar. But, it is not an everyday car and I really need to do some work on the air handling system. I have hot air when its hot out and cold air when its cold. Hmmmmm. I will say the air conditioning works great with the sun roof open and the windows down, although I can't carry on a conversation on my cell phone because of the wind.

Well--good things come to those who wait--but this is getting a bit extreme. That written, I now know when I will be replacing my truck--May 2009 as my graduation gift to myself for Patrick finally getting out of college.

It should be a great day.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Managing a Leader's Time

Time. It seems that leaders never have enough time to get everything done that needs to get done. There is always something more to do, something new to check, some outstanding item to correct. It's kind of like the mule in the picture--a bit too much in the cart to handle. We wind up in a situation wondering who is in control--the leader or the tasks? As in the picture, if we allow ourselves to become saturated and over tasked--no one is going anywhere and that especially includes our team.

What to do?

Recognize that many our nature says we want to do it all. We want to have our hands in every aspect of what's happening and be fully engaged. Then, once we recognize that our tendency is to do it all, begin to develop an action plan to back it down a bit. Remove some of the bundles from the cart and put them in someone else's cart.

In church this past Sunday, we read a story about a famous leader, Moses, who had a similar problem. He wanted to do it all. And he was trying to do it all. He actually thought he was supposed to do it all and he was becoming ineffective at leading because he had not learned the magic of delegating.

You should read the story in Exodus 18, but I'll provide some of the important aspects. Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, came for a visit after Moses had led the people out of Egypt. In Exodus 18:13-16, Jethro observes what Moses is doing--judging the people and solving disputes. People are standing around and there is a lot of nothing getting done while Moses is diluting his ability to lead the people and be their representative before God. I love what Jethro says in verse 17: "What you are doing is not good!" Basically, Jethro pointed out that Moses was killing himself being involved in the small stuff. Sometimes it takes an outsider to slap us with the obvious.

Jethro reminds Moses what his role is to be--that of representative of the people before God, not solver of petty disputes. Moses has himself tied into a role that he need not do. Jethro advises Moses to appoint others to solve the disputes to free him up to have the relationship with God for the good of the people. And a funny thing happened, Moses listened to Jethro (even though he was his father-in-law!).

Leaders--listen to Jethro. What is the most important thing that you do and that only you can do? What are you doing that someone else is capable of doing or even more capable than you of doing? Give it to them. Use your team. Don't kill yourself by being so involved in minutiae. Focus on the big stuff and off load what you can onto others. They will appreciate being involved and if you match individual capabilities with tasks, the job will likely be done better than you were doing it.

Effectively using your team members is a ciritcal aspect of team success. Effectively using your personal resources is critical to your survival and happiness. You can't do it all and more importantly, you shouldn't do it all--so why try. Use your team. That's why leading is a team sport!

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We saw the movie on opening weekend, which is what we wanted to do this time. And I can tell you the movie did not disappoint. The movie is very different from the first--which was more magical. This movie is very earthy and is about the continuing battle of good and evil as well as delving into the pitfalls of pride.

As the children are recalled to Narnia because of a crisis, they immediately resume their roles as kings and queens of Narnia without fully realizing the changes which have occurred in the intervening thirteen hundred years. Peter believes he is the natural and rightful leader and trusts in himself and his abilities. In his mind he is Peter the Magnificent and therefore because he believes it, it is or should be. His pride in his leadership abilities results in a failed assault which costs nearly half of the Narnian forces. It is not until he realizes his weakness that the story begins to turn.

The story is magical and it is violent. It has medieval sword fighting scenes—which are a bit long. There could be more interaction between the main characters, but the primary focus in on the competition between Peter and Prince Capsian. The bond between the brothers, Peter and Edmund, has developed and grown as each realizes the strengths of the other. The relationship between the sisters, Lucy and Susan, have developed a stronger bond too although it is Lucy who remembers the mystical side of Narnia and retains the strongest link to Aslan, the Lion.

The New York Times reviewed the movie with this statement: "So “Prince Caspian” is quite a bit darker than “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” both in look and in mood. It is also in some ways more satisfying. Its violent (though gore-free) combat scenes and high body count may rattle very young viewers, but older children are likely to be drawn into the thick political intrigue. The relative scarcity of digital effects in the first part of the movie allows the director, Andrew Adamson, and the director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub, to explore the beauty of the Narnian landscape by more traditional cinematic means. Its lush glades and rocky escarpments provide a reminder that the supernaturalism of fairy tales originates in the magic of the natural world."

I felt that this movie is an excellent sequel to the original. It was thoroughly enjoyable, very watchable and I did not want the movie to end—it leaves you wanting more and wanting to remain for just a few minutes longer in the magical land of Narnia to enjoy the peace and prosperity which will be the inevitable result of the defeat of the forces of evil.

Rating: This is a must see—multiple times. Buy the DVD when it comes out. Suitable for pre-teens.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Saga of my Pick-up Truck

Well--I own a 2000 GMC Sonoma with about 114,000 miles on it. I have owned it since December and I bought it with about 109,000 miles on it--after my 1998 GMC Sonoma (note the trend here) was stolen and subsequently totalled in Georgia. A long story for another day.

One day in late April, my oil pump decided to significantly reduce the oil being delivered to my engine--and since the light did not come on I did not notice the reduced oil flow until after the engine was toasted. Estimate for a new engine? $4,000. But, wait! For some seemingly unexplained reason I had purchased a high mileage vehicle warranty from CARCHEX serviced by Warranty America. And behold, since I had the vehicle for only 4,000 miles or so they actually covered the repair to the engine. My new outlay (for all the not covered stuff) about $1,000. I am having new parts installed instead of transferred from the old engine--(like the water pump, plugs, spark plug wires, etc) so it will be a new engine essentially with a 100,000 mile warranty.

Only problem is that they have used every means possible to slow roll and delay the repair process. So here it is, 16 days after my breakage and the engine was only finally delivered to my repair facility last evening. And then, it was not complete. For some unexplained reason there was no oil pump delivered with the engine--which is the part that failed and started the whole process.

So--the aftermarket service warranty is nice, but be ready for them to try to get out of the coverage. This is it--insurance companies are not in the business to pay out claims! They are in business to make money. If you buy a service policy for your vehicle, be ready to t document everything--they even did a test on my oil, in addition to an on site inspection, in addition to asking for service records. It has been a process, but (and I do not actually have possession of my truck yet) if it works out I will have a truck with an essentially new engine and still have coverage on my transmission for another 95,000 miles. So maybe it'll work out, but it's been a trial so far.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Fear--No Way to Live or Lead

Have you ever run into someone who is afraid they are going to lose their job? Or who is afraid of failure? Or who is just plain risk averse (which in my mind is another way to describe fear)? Are they usually successful? In my experience they are generally not successful or at least not as successful as they could be.

Leaders must understand risk and be able to accept risk. There are courses in risk management--but the important thing is that there is always risk. Everything we do comes with inherent risks. Driving to work in the morning has risk. If leaders are unwilling to accept risk, then they will be ineffective. Someone who is so afraid of losing their job that they refuse to take risks--will lose their job because they are ineffective. Think about it.

I have heard it said that caution and careful planning are essential. But I recently became aware of a bit of historical information that indicated that the Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War Battle of Antietam in September of 1862, General George B. McClellan, was so cautious and methodical that he missed the opportunity to soundly defeat General Robert E. Lee's outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia and end the war in 1862. As we know, the war continued for three more bloody years.

Leaders must be able to adapt to the situation and be willing to accept the risk of failure in order to be successful. I have a phrase I use to describe this approach:

High risk equals high reward!

Leaders who are unwilling to accept risk must be satisfied with mediocre performance from their teams, their organizations, and themselves.

One of the worst leadership practices I have observed related to risk is what I call: "Evaluating the Pain Factor." For each idea, the merit of the idea is determined by deciding how much pain will be caused by implementing the idea. A survey (usually informal) is accomplished of those affected by the concept and if the pain factor is too high, the idea is not be adopted regardless of the inherent merit of the idea. Why? Fear, plain and simple fear of upsetting the "apple cart" too much. How do you assess the pain factor anyway? Leaders who employ the "Pain Factor" as to assess ideas let the status quo determine their future because of fear of failure or upsetting too many people.

Living in fear of failure is not healthy. Organizations need to reward risk takers and realize that it is the risk takers who propel organizations and teams forward. As leaders, we need to ensure that we do not stifle creativity by becoming risk averse. Reward the risk takers--even when they fail because that is where the ability of the team or organization to adapt to the changing environment is going to come from.

Leader must set the vision for the team or the organization. Realize there will be risks to fully achieving the objective and either accept the risks or manage them by minimizing their effect. Evaluate ideas on their merit towards achieving the ultimate organizational goal and not through the pain factor. Reward the risk takers and encourage the risk averse to accept risk as a means success.

Living or leading out of fear is paralyzing and will only result in failure. Live free from the fear of failure and embrace failures as learning tools and as stepping stones to success.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jax - A Family Baptism

The miracle baby was baptized today at St Paul's Lutheran Church in Crofton. It was a great family day attended by family including one great-grandmother, two grandmothers, one grandfather (that be me), a great aunt, and a lot of uncles and aunts and family. It was a celebration of life and a celebration off Jax and all he has been through. He has been an inspiration to all of us and he has brought the family closer together as we all rallied during the days immediately following his birth in the hospitals (yes, two hospitals).

Each day of Jax's life since before his surgery has reminded each of us about his miracle and has served to bring all of us closed to God in our faith walk.

Today was a very special day in addition to the Baptism, it was Pentecost and Mother's Day. I think it could never be a better mix for a celebration of Jax and his new life in Christ as a Child of God. Pentecost, signifying the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles after Christ's Ascension and Mother's Day signifying the celebration of Motherhood and new life. Jax is truly blessed to have been baptized on such a grand day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Iron Man - the Movie

Went to the movies last night. We used to be busy on Thursday nights, but or lives have changed a bit and we are now free. It was really nice to see a movie and have the theater mostly to ourselves.

The movie was Iron Man and it was great. The acting was strong, the special effects were not over done, and the action was sufficient for a comic book hero but still allowed for character development and a good story line too. The movie was a good update to the story for the current time period.

The cast was strong with Robert Downey Jr leading the way supported strongly by Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrance Howard, Shaun Toub, and (the actor we knew but couldn't name until the end) Jeff Bridges.

The movie is a great ride and very entertaining. There were ZERO "watch looks" during the movie. (What is a watch look? How many times I look at my watch to see if the movie is going to be over soon, I hope). And the pace of the action was well done. Techno geeks will enjoy the computers. I wish I had a couple of his. And the robot with the fire extinguisher is especially funny.

Thoroughly enjoyable. WARNING: There is a gratuitous sex scene and some bad language in one place. Of course--people die and there is violence.

Rating: Highly recommend--see now in theaters, buy when it comes out on DVD. You might even want to see it a couple of times in the theater.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Teams: Setting Expectations

I probably got the proverbial "cart ahead of the horse" yesterday when I wrote about people problems and referenced expectations without actually having written something about expectations.

Leaders set the expectations. What are expectations? The behaviors, the values, and the ethics of the team. Teams need these to foster morale and smooth functioning. They are a reflection of the leader and the operating environment of the team.

Two important things to consider. Expectations should be clear and everyone needs to know them. Do they need to be written? Not necessarily as long as they are understood by everyone.

The second thing is--the leader needs to live the expectations and expect the team to also live the expectations. It is not a matter of enforcement when someone does something outside the expectation, it is encouraging those who work and live within the expectations.

So, if the expectation is that meetings will start on time--the leader needs to be on time.

If a value is for a safe environment--ensure the value is not violated through witting or unwitting personal attacks on team members.

I've worked places where the values and expectations are posted, but after a while they become just another decoration on the wall. It is more important to live the expectations and that is how everyone will come to understand what they are. The team will key off the leader's behavior.

Expectations should be lived. They should not be "shelf-ware" for reference only when there are problems.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Teams: Dealing with People Problems

You ever hear the phrase, "20 percent of the people take up 80 percent of your time?" It is what I call the 20-80 rule. Personnel problems are inevitable on teams. I mean, people are people and we are at all different stages of maturity and have life experiences which sometimes mean we see, think, and/or act differently from the normally established standards.

It is critical that leaders be adept at dealing with people one-on-one, especially in potential conflict or uncomfortable situations. One person, consistently acting inappropriately can destroy the fabric of a team. They can reduce productivity, destroy morale, and sabotage the working relationship between the leader and the team.

What is a leader to do when confronted with a troubling personnel situation?

First, don't get so wrapped up in the personnel problem that your relationship with the other members of the team suffers. Continue to nurture, support, and relate to everyone else. They need to continue to see the leader and to have the open communication that hopefully have been established. They also need confidence that the leader is actively working to enforce the team standards in the renegade.

Second, work one-on-one directly with the problem and the person with it. Nothing in the world is more demoralizing for a team than to have a leader send a blanket email out stating some policy intended to solve a problem that only one person has. Usually the person with the problem doesn't know it's meant for them (so they ignore it) and everyone else is insulted that the leader isn't dealing directly and personally with the issue.

This is a time for the leader to be hands-on. Sit together with the person involved and get to the bottom of the issue. There are established standards being violated--they can be written or understood. But there are standards. Leaders also need compassion. I believe it is important to assume "noble intent" on the first or second meeting. Some people just don't see how what they are doing is divisive or contrary to the team standards.

Dealing directly with people is important for leaders. It shows the team that you are engaged and willing to take care of the tough stuff personally. It demonstrates that you have a good knowledge of the team dynamics and reinforces to the team that you care about each one of them and know what their contributions are.

Hiding behind blanket emails sent to everyone about every transgression is a sign of weakness and insecurity. It sends a message to the team that you are unwilling to engage and you don't understand the dynamics on the team.

Leaders do not need to talk about the problems they are working with the team members. If leaders are in touch with the informal communications system,. they will know that the team is aware of the problems and how the leader is working them. People appreciate modesty and humility. The scary part is that everyone sees the problem. Everyone expects the leader to act. That is the best place to be in because as the leader acts, it reinforces the team standards and assures the team members that the leader cares about the team as a whole.
Leaders must act when confronted with people problems. And they must act personally and directly with the problem. That is the key to success is restoring team morale and harmony.

Cinco de Mayo 2008

Ever wonder about Cinco de Mayo? No it's not Mexican Independence Day. But it should be a North American holiday because it was the last time that Mexico, the United States, or Canada had to defend itself against an invasion by the European colonial powers. 4,000 Mexican soldiers smashed the French and traitor Mexican army of 8,000 at Puebla, Mexico, 100 miles east of Mexico City on the morning of May 5, 1862. That is why Cinco de Mayo is a huge holiday.

So last night we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with some friends. I couldn't remember the name of the battle--but I promised myself to look it up this morning and share it. I wonder why as I think about my schooling that it took until adulthood for me to figure out that Mexico was struggling for its sovereignty just at about the same time that the U.S. was in the middle of a bloody Civil War. If you want to read more about Cinco de Mayo, click on the name. Each of the sites are different and provide a different view of the day. It is important to note that it is very possible the Mexican victory and ensuing struggle probably helped keep the French from supporting the South during the U.S. Civil War and may have significantly shortened that tragic and bloody chapter of U.S. history.

Happy Cinco de Mayo and North American freedom from colonial interference.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Energized Worship

We had an awesome worship experience this week at the church we are attending. It was Youth Sunday and worship was led by about 100 of the most energized for Christ youths I have seen in a long time. They led the worship service and their energy and love for the Lord were infectious. Their energy filled the about 1000 people who had come to worship yesterday morning. It was God-filled. It was a God moment.

I was excited about worship yesterday because of the energy and passion of the youth. How great it was to see teenagers, many of them seniors in high school, excited about God. And sure enough of their faith to share it with adults. Wow. I want some of that.

In contrast, I have been confronted with adults who seem to be going through the motions or are more concerned about form than substance. Maybe substance grows from form, but I'm not so sure. Some worship teams seem to be focused upon the technical aspects of worship rather than being concerned whether the people in the congregation had a God moment. Did the people, for a short time during the Sunday service, have an moment with God that will help them through the week ahead--be it good or bad. Some small moment that reminds them, and us, that God is there and that He cares about us.

God moments can happen anytime--during prayer, during singing, during scripture reading, during the message, while walking outside on a bright sunny morning, or even while watching your grandson play with caterpillars on a bright Sunday afternoon next to the pool. But it is in Church that we need to help people experience God moments so they can recognize them and continue to experience them in their lives. We need to have a personal relationship with God and through God moments we are reminded that God too, wants to have a personal relationship with us. I think it is hard for worship leaders and teams to keep their focus on being the vessels that God is using to touch other people. It is easy to worry that the guitar was too loud, or the music too fast, or something else was right or wrong forgetting to assess the impact on the congregation.

Am I saying worship teams should not strive for technical excellence? No. What I am saying is that when the pursuit of technical excellence displaces the enthusiasm associated with being God-focused vessels then we are impeding God's use of us in His plan. Be on fire for God. Work and refine the gifts and talents that God has given you, but remember they are from God and he will use them for His purpose. And what is His purpose? To strengthen and encourage the Body of Christ, which is the Church.

And most of all--be enthusiastic. Do everything knowing that God is working through you. And He will touch people where He needs to touch them in God moments.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Pool Opening Weekend--May 2008

It is here. My favorite weekend of the year. The pool opening weekend. Yeah it is a lot of work but it marks the official beginning of summer for the Doan family!

Ugh! The pool looks worse this year than any in the past. It seems I didn't work it hard enough over the winter. But it will clear up quickly. I did a lot of the work on Friday, but we will hopefully finish it off today and it should be swimable by next week! I may even turn the heater on to help it along.

But summer it here! Bring on the lazy, hazy days!
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