Monday, June 30, 2008

Gut Check--Take Care of Yourself!

On Sunday as we were driving home from NY, I had a real gut check--I received a call from work to inform me that one of my colleagues and friends had a heart attack earlier in the day. He was doing well and was in the hospital. He is younger than I am and in good health. It hit everyone I work with real hard on Monday. We are a pretty tight group.

Our jobs can be real high stress and are always fast paced. We often fail to take care of ourselves--and I'm not saying that he didn't, but in our business we really need to focus on stress relief and cardio conditioning to stay on top of the challenges we face every day. His experience is reinforcing that for everyone. I had one guy I used to paly racquetball with even get a court for the afternoon and we played for the first time in over a year.

I went and visited him in the hospital Monday evening and he is in good spirits. He said that he was real happy to be able to be talking to me. As it turned out--he was aware of the warning signs and didn't wait on getting to the hospital--good on him which is why he will have a quicker recovery. I, given the same circumstances would probably not have fared nearly so well, as my experience with my recently discovered shrimp allergy will attest.

Tim Russert's recent death has had a profound effect on many middle-aged men; hopefully for the better. His death and my friend's experience makes me face my own mortality, despite my best efforts to ignore it. I guess we each need to face our mortality, it is a humbling experience to know we don't control the number of days we are alloted. Live each day to the fullest and make sure you tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. It may be the words they need to get through the rest of their lives.

E armed with a camera

OK--it was a great weekend in upstate NY attending Troy's graduation. And we had a great time. Did you ever wonder what would happen if a three-year old were armed with a camera? During the family party for Troy, to celebrate both

his graduation from high school and his 18th birthday, Ethan decided to take some pictures. He has an interesting perspective on the world. He was fun to watch, because he would look into the viewfinder and click the camera and when the image showed he announced: "Got it!"

Well, here are a couple of Ethan's photos to give you an idea of his very different perspective. The world is very different when you are three. And I am glad that Ethan captured his view of the world for us at the party this weekend. At least Jackson didn't seem to mind the attention. And we will all be able to remember E's feet and toes. He does have a movement issue when he snaps the images, but seeing these images reminds me how much fun he was to watch looking for things to take pictures of.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Change of Pace - Music

I was listening to oldies radio the other day and a song from the early 70's came crashing through the mental fog associated with driving home after a long day. The song was Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" and I was reminded of the problem I had with the song when it came out. Perspective.

Here are some of the words to remind you of the song:

Lyrics by: Carly Simon
Music by: Carly Simon

You walked into the party

Like you were walking onto a yacht
Your hat strategically dipped below one eye
Your scarf it was apricot
You had one eye in the mirror
As you watched yourself gavotte
And all the girls dreamed
That they'd be your partner
They'd be your partner, and....
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you? Don't you?

I still remember that I never understood the words--

I'll bet you think this song is about you

Because, it seemed pretty obvious to me, at the time, that the song was about the person walking into the party, and flying to Nova Scotia to see the eclipse. I mean who else is it about?

And what in the world is gavotte? Ever wonder that? An old French dance?

As I listened to the song though the other day, and I know I had not really thought too deeply about it in over 30 years, it suddenly dawned on me who the song is about. It is about the writer (Carly). It is a matter of perspective which was getting in the way of recognizing that.

I went to a site that has a discussion board about the song, just to see if I was potentially right. And here is what I found:

The song ultimately is about her and how she was used. The irony is that the vain person is only going to hear how it's about him because that's the essence of vanity-that everything revolves around "you." I still think that vain person's a single guy. If so, couldn't someone just figure out who owned a horse that raced at Saratoga or went to see an eclipse in Nova Scotia unless that's altered.

Suspicion confirmed! And so the song is really very deep.

How many times do we read or see or hear something and think it is about us when in reality someone is trying to tell us something about themselves in the context of our relationship with them--only we don't hear it? We're too busy being about ourselves. Because our world is all about us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Believe in Your Team

Teams are resilient. Teams have a sense of purpose and along with that a sense of ability and what I call "identity." Teams project their ability--confidence or incompetence to outsiders. Teams need to believe in and be confident in themselves, that they can overcome obstacles and more importantly that they are not victims but rather in charge of their destiny and their situation.

The role of the leader is to build the team to believe it can overcome obstacles. There needs to be a sense that when working together, the team will succeed in any situation--whether it's true or not, a defeatist attitude becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The difference between the word "will" and "can" is very important. "Can" almost always has an "if" attached to it. "Will" stands alone!

Leaders who practice the philosophy of tearing down team members in order to rebuild them do a disservice to themselves and the whole team. As part of the whole process of individual development for team members, leaders need to encourage their team members to believe in their strengths and to recognize their weaknesses. Then, continue to develop their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. As a leader--using the individual strengths on the team for the good of the whole team will provide success. The process of tearing down instills doubt which may not be overcome with the result being that the team loses the benefit of the individual's strengths.

I'm an Orioles fan. And most everyone who looks at the 2008 team recognizes they are not the best team in baseball on paper. There are some glaring weaknesses--shortstop, starting pitching, catcher, and first base to name a few. At the beginning of the season the team was estimated to lose over 100 games (and they still may, but I hope not). But as of today, 74 games into the season, the O's are 2 games above .500. No one, but the O's themselves believed at the start of the season that they would be able to post success in the toughest division in all of baseball. What's the difference this year than last? They believe they can do it. Night after night as they have been coming from behind the post game reporters are hearing that the team never gives up and that they always believe they can and will win. And then someone, a different guy every night it seems, picks the team up and they win. Leadership continues to instill that kind of winning attitude and for now it's working.

In our own teams, it is up to the leader to instill the winning, can-do type of approach. Put people in position to succeed and develop the team's sense of character. One way leaders encourage this is to build the team members up and empower them to take risks--they may not always succeed, but it is in the trying and the taking of risks that people learn that they are a lot more capable that they thought they were. And in taking risks as a team, combating adversity, teams learn they are more capable than they thought they were, too.

Believe in your team--they won't let you down. Teams reflect their leadership, build them up and they will begin to accomplish what you thought was unimaginable yesterday.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Teams - Avoid the Drama

Have you ever been in a situation that when you get together with your team (whatever team whether you are the leader or not) there is some sort of drama. And it seems there is always drama--someone changing something or upset about changes to something. It becomes an initiative killer after a while.

What do I mean by drama?

Drama is when there is always a crisis causing the team to change directions from what they were doing. Drama is caused by personnel turbulence or problems. Drama may be tied to secretiveness to allow the leadership can shoot for effect on new ideas. Drama is characterized by a continual state of upheaval where no one really knows what's going to happen next.

What else is drama? Constant changes to the direction of a project or task. Deciding that although one approach was planned, another approach is necessary. While this will happen at times through the natural course of events, once it becomes the norm, the drama factor is high.

Drama is a leadership issue. It is a control related issue and may also be related to bad planning or communication.

Weak leaders believe they can control the team better by ensuring that no one but them has a clue of what is happening. Constant changes allow only those in the know to be able to set policy and direction.

In some cases, drama may simply be the result of poor planning and inefficient communication. Better planning and more intra-team communication may reduce the apparent drama level.

Drama caused by non-leaders on a team is an attempt to control the activities of the team.

Stamp out drama. Drama causes team members to expend emotional energy and work time to adapt to the changes. There is a resultant loss in productivity due to the replanning necessary to adapt or to the changes. Recognize drama for what it is--negative energy seeking to disrupt the team.

How to reduce drama?

If it is a leadership style--change styles. Recognize that continual drama is sapping individual team member creativity and reducing productivity. While it may appear to the leader that creativity is being infused into the team, recognize that last minute changes or unprogrammed schedule changes causes team members to expend energy to adapt.

Leaders often do not notice the energy team members expend adapting to drama because they are looking at the problem from the top down rather than the bottom up. What is the job of a leader? To make sure the team has the personnel, resources, and guidance necessary to accomplish the task. Secondarily, the job of the leader is to provide an environment where the team can function to accomplish its mission. Drama disrupts the environment.

If drama is being caused by a team member--deal with it. Don't let it continue. Find out the root cause or the "WHY" and address it. Be careful and recognize it may be a challenge to your leadership style, so be prepared for a deep and potentially difficult discussion.

Drama is OK in the theater, but in a team setting over time it will drain the emotion and creativity out of a team. Team drama stems from a control problem--either weak leadership skills or a challenge to the team leadership. It must be addressed or the team will suffer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Make Another Rainbow Pop-pop

The blue eyes, highlighted by the red hair pierced deep into my soul as I was standing outside talking to a neighbor after just showing Ethan the beauty of rainbows following an afternoon sun shower. He stood there looking at me and said: "Make another rainbow, Pop-pop!" The rainbows had faded, being replaced by the dark clouds. Ethan was fascinated by the colors of the rainbows and he correctly named each one. Many times. It was something different and occurring so closely on the heels of defeating three dragons, an alligator, and a wolf it really made for a memorable afternoon.

What do I say? I was momentarily panicked. Here was this three-year old thinking I could do anything, if I wanted to do it. I had pointed out the rainbow to him when I saw the shower appear. And it was a rare triple rainbow with another rainbow above it--they were truly something special. The family had gathered on the front step of the house to look at the rainbows--Ethan, me, his mother, Chris (gramma), and baby Jax .

Wow--I thought quickly, I really need to say the right thing. Those blue eyes still peering intently at me, waiting for an answer. And then it hit me--tell Ethan the truth.


Ethan, I said, Pop-pop can't make rainbows, God makes rainbows and he made the ones we just saw. And sometime soon you will see another rainbow. And God will have made that one, too. Enjoy it when you see it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ethan -- Dragon Hunter

Yesterday, I took a short walk through a jungle near Piney Orchard. Jungle in Maryland, you ask? The jungle was in the mind of Ethan, my three-year old grandson, but we were on a real walk around the neighborhood and along a path through a thicket of trees. During our short outing, Ethan single-handedly saved me and his grandmother from three dragons, a huge alligator, and a wolf. There may have been a brief encounter with a dinosaur--but I don't remember many of the specifics.

Interestingly, you can defeat fire-breathing dragons by spraying them with water--they shrink--much like the wicked witch of the west. It was a scary experience (and a lot of fun) running through the ultra creative mind of a three-year old. He was very brave in attacking and defeating the fierce fire-breathing dragons. He charged forward like a knight from the old tales into the jaws of fire armed with only his hose.

Ethan marched on into the jaws of impending doom--only to vanquish the evil and fiery dragon. Then, after defeating not one, but three dragons were were attacked by a giant alligator. Ethan sensed that the alligator would not be defeated by water alone, so he chose a different course of action--RUN! And we did. We only outran the alligator after leaving the jungle and returning to the placid neighborhood where he lives.

But wait--then a large wolf chased us and threatened to blow not only Ethan's house down, but the whole block! Unfortunately for the wolf, Ethan was prepared and he outran the wolf into the safety of his waiting mother's arms--who was unloading groceries. It was an experience not to be missed and helped to change my outlook on another stressful day. At least I'm not facing three dragons, a giant alligator, and a giant wolf at work! Whew! I bet Ethan slept well last night after all of that hard work!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Orioles Magic - The Season of Magic Continues

So I am a huge Orioles fan. There is no doubt that my current favorite player is Brian Roberts, the Second Baseman--I wear a jersey with his number on it to every game.

I was lucky enough to be in attendance last night, June 17th, when the Orioles pulled off another “come-from-behind” victory in the bottom of the eighth inning. And our closer held the victory in the top of the ninth. Baseball has always been a love of mine and I have been a true Orange Orioles fan through the past ten years of less that stellar performances. The team this year just excites me. The are fun to watch. They never quit. They believe that can win. And the fans are really beginning to believe in them, too.

I don't know what the rest of the season will hold for the O's, but there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy this team right now and celebrate their enthusiasm.

So I decided to learn the words to Orioles Magic-- the song. First I had to find them--and here they are

Something magic happens, everytime you go
You make the magic happen, the magic of Orioles' Baseball!

When the game is close, and the O's are hot
There's a thundering roar from 34 to give it all they've got

And you never know who's gonna hear the call
Every game there's a different star
That's the magic of Orioles' Baseball!
Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
O - R - I - O - L - E - S !
Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!

Something magic happens, everytime you go
You make the magic happen, the magic of Orioles' Baseball!

When Weaver moves and we score the runs
Nothing could be more exciting
Nothing could be more fun!

There's a love affair between you and the team
You're the reason we win when we win
And you know what the magic means!

Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
O - R - I - O - L - E - S !

Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!

Orioles Magic! Feel it happen!
Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!
Something magic happens….

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

End of the Year Party

We hosted the end of the year party for the Seventh Grade Team at Lime Kiln Middle School yesterday. Unfortunately, a passing thunderstorm ended the party early--but it was a great celebration of the year and there was much talk about next year--already.

But it's only June, you say! Yes, but for the Howard County teachers, the school year is thankfully over and summer is upon them. I, of course, am not a teacher--but I too enjoy summer and having Chris around more to do the things that she finds important. What does she find important? Well, she's off to Salt Lake City on Saturday for five days with our daughter Nicole.

Then when she returns next week, on Thursday we are off to Ithaca for our nephew's graduation from venerable Ithaca High School. Coincidentally, we were going to attend our 35th anniversary of graduating from Ithaca High School that same weekend--but the two party's clashed and we decided the new trumps the old.

We return from Ithaca on Sunday, June 29th and on Saturday of that week--July 5th we are off to Florida for two weeks and our favorite spot in Jupiter. And I love Jupiter and getting away from it all. And get this--since we were bugularized within the past month, we don't even need to worry about the house. All the good stuff is already gone!
We return on the 18th of July and head off to a wedding on the 19th. And then, I guess, Chris gets a couple weeks of rest. Of course, I go back to work!
Ah, summer vacation. Where is the rest and relaxation exactly?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Co-Leadership - A Failed Experiment

I recently have completed a failed experiment in co-leadership of a team. Yeah--sounds complex? It is.

Let me define for a minute what I mean by co-leadership. This is a leadership situation where multiple people (in my case it was three) attempt to lead a team. Multiple people are recognized as the empowered and official leaders. In the case of the team I was involved in, I was convinced that this situation could/would/should work. The leaders knew each other and we thought we actually liked each other and that we could work together. The co-leadership situation existed for more than three years before becoming apparent that it was not the optimal approach for the team or the three leaders.

Co-leadership is different than delegating tasks to individuals to accomplish, or empowering people to oversee specific areas. It is also different than having a leadership team with a leader, co-leader, and assistants. In this case, the three leaders were responsible for the total oversight of the team, in all areas to include setting strategic direction and policy, as coequals. A better situation would have one leader and a small (two person) set of advisers who met and worked behind the scenes.

Now understand--this co-leadership situation had some great moments. But, ultimately the experiment failed because of fundamental flaws in the concept that co-leadership could work in an extended situation for a long time.

What are the problem areas? Strategic vision, lines of authority, decision making, a sense among the leadership that the other leaders are constraining the success of the overall team, and accountability.

The problems or pitfalls of co-leadership:

Strategic Vision. This is an area where it is critical to have a clear vision for the end state or destination of the team. It needs to be a single, clear vision. In a co-leadership situation there can never be a single clear strategic vision. The leaders may believe they have the same vision, but each interprets the vision differently and the natural differences in style will cause problems in implementing the vision. This is an area where a single leader is best suited to work collaboratively with the team to formulate the strategic vision, but implementation is essentially as interpreted by THE leader.

Lines of Authority. Or: Who is in charge. Or who do the team members believe is in charge. This will cripple a team if it is not clear. While three people may believe they can function as one, they can't. While we should be able to work in a situation where team members can adjust to a co-leadership situation, from my recent experience this is very difficult for people to embrace. Co-leadership creates a sense of unsettledness and, if communication between the co-leaders is not instantaneous, it can create information voids. Information voids ultimately are responsible for reduced productiveness which contributes to team under performance.

Decision Making. This was an incredibly difficult area--especially when dealing with innovation and new ideas. Normal day-to-day decision making seemed to work well--but when confronted with opportunities or innovation, the co-leadership process almost ground to a halt because of the different levels of expertise and understanding. Whereas in a single leadership position the leader can evaluate the opportunity and make a reasoned decision about implementation fairly quickly, in the co-leadership situation even a simple decision about what to include in or on a website can become and intense negotiating opportunity. Co-leaders want to have it their way and when dealing with an equal it is hard within the bounds of civility it is hard to say--please, let's just try to do this my way, this time! It sounds weak.

The other guys are standing in the way of success. Sadly, every time a concession is made to the other co-leaders in an approach or decision, a nagging thought may come--if only it could have been done my way, we would be more successful. That, over time, can create a sense of disillusionment with the entire process which leads to disengagement which will lead to the crumbling of the structure of the co-leadership situation. Situations develop where one of the leaders always feels they have to defend their position and rarely see their ideas implemented. Or another of the leaders becomes passive-aggressive when discussions of mundane team management issues drag on for extensive periods of time. Things that with a single leader would disposed of quickly become topics for lengthy discussions resulting in intense negotiation. Leaders generally are strong character and believe in themselves and their abilities. Experienced leaders know success based upon their experience--a co-leadership situation rather than improving the chances for success ultimately grinds the creativity and enthusiasm out of the leadership.

For instance--one leader may have a radical new and potentially innovative idea only to discover that the other leaders don't want to do the work or take the risk. What happens in the ensuing negotiations spells either the success or failure of the co-leadership experiment. And it usually isn't good. It is a no win situation. Someone is going to be unhappy about the outcome.

Accountability. Team success is based upon accountability. So who is accountable? For success? For less than success? And this is what it really all comes down to. A group of people cannot be accountable. Someone is accountable. Authority and responsibility are delegated to persons. When co-leaders are so busy trying to accommodate each others disparate views--they cannot each be individually accountable for the performance of the team. Even down to the hiring and removing of team members and enforcing performance standards on the team. The finger of blame gets pointed as soon as there is a problem: Well, it was YOUR idea! or Why didn't YOU take care of that?

It has taken me a couple months to finally wrap my thoughts around the whole idea of co-leadership. I admit--there is a bit of emotion still in the writing because, well, I'm a passionate person and take leadership situations seriously. And when a vision becomes clear for direction, it is very hard for me as a leader to accept, in the absence of empirical data to the contrary, that the direction and the vision laid out are not the best ones.

Advice? When asked to be a co-leader or if you are considering a co-leader situation for a team with a lifespan of more than about three months--avoid it. Address the underlying reasons that a single leader situation is not being considered. Don't believe it's best not to hurt someone else's feelings and agree to the co-leader situation. If they don't want to lead--then you lead, but don't accommodate their insecurity and agree to a co-leadership situation. Their feelings are going to be hurt anyway--just later in the process.

I would hope that there are ways to implement a co-leader structure for an enduring team situation, but based upon my recent experience I cannot conceive that the team or the leadership will be well served.

What to do if you are in a dysfunctional co-leadership situation? Get out. Resign, walk away! Swallow your pride and your vision and your passion whatever is keeping you there.

Because of an inherently flawed design, a co-leadership arrangement is not "fixable." The only viable approach is to terminate co-leadership. Either the co-leaders must step down or you must be willing to resign your leadership. In my view, if I'm not willing to do something, then I probably shouldn't ask someone else to do it for me--so I must be willing and comfortable with leaving the flawed leadership situation before I ask others to do the same.

If you can leave--and are willing to accept that the team will be better off without your input complicating the leadership situation, then the best advise is to leave. Is it hard? You bet. Do people get hurt? Yeah--but look at yourself, you are probably carrying a lot of hurt about the situation anyway and you will show compassion on the other leaders by reducing their stress at the situation and allowing them the opportunity to lead and follow their vision.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day - 2008

A day to celebrate Fathers. And my family really knows how to celebrate.

My Father's Day celebration began on Saturday night at the O's game with Jeremy. He bought everything that evening to make me happy. Beer and meat! What more do I need to say.

The celebration continued Sunday when my lovely wife made me breakfast in my favorite chair (I hate eating in bed--you sleep with the crumbs for days). She also bought me a beautiful, and manly watch. It has palm trees on it. You get the message. She also made my favorite cake--pineapple upside down.

After church the real celebration began. Tina and Patrick cleaned, waxed, and detailed the Jaguar (formerly known as Kitty). That was a very appreciated and unexpected gift.

Nicole and Mike bought me a cool, new O's T-shirt--which is really important since most of mine are old and I've used them to work on the cars. You get the picture.

The family assembled for the day--everyone was there, excepting Jeremy who works Sundays (he sent Ben as a stand-in). The grandsons were both in good moods for the day and Mike and I watched the O's lose--another heartbreaking Sunday loss. Patrick, Tina, and I build a hood for their fish tank and Chris--she cooked all day to make everyone happy. Nicole and Nicole watched the boys and helped out.
The pool was awesome and we all had a great time in the fantastic weather.
Thanks everyone--you made the day special.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Last Week - One to Remember!

The first week of June proved to be a very trying week. It was busy at work and in my home life as well. In fact, the roller coaster never ended until Sunday--June 8th.

First off, I was hosting a conference for work with about 140 attendees. No small task that required endless planning and activity associated with that. I was also working to ensure the presentations were in place and ready to go on time AND acting as the on stage coordinator and part-time joke teller. The good news is the conference went very well. It was my second year and i learned a lot about how to make a conference run smoothly. So all of that happened for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Wednesday, June 4th was an especially unique day. For the conference I was hosting a social gathering at The Greene Turtle in Columbia starting at 5 PM. Severe thunderstorms blew through about 3:30 PM and took out the power, so on my way to the Turtle about 4:15, Chris called to tell me the house had been burglarized. So instead of going to the Turtle, I went home to make a police report and assess the storm damage. We lost a huge walnut tree which took out an elm and a tulip poplar tree when it fell. Although there was not damage, the pool was thoroughly trashed from all of the junk being blown off the trees. The loss in the house was not huge--it was just very disturbing that we were the first burglary in our neighborhood in many years--and we really don't know why.

Friday--was a highlight day. The weather was HOT! But I did a staff ride (as it is called) to Antietam (or Sharpsburg as the Southerners call the battle). We were sponsored by work and a historian went with us as well as two reenactors--both a federal soldier and a confederate soldier. It was a great and long day--but I learned a lot about the battle as well as the leadership styles of the various commanders, especially Lee and McClellan. We also focused upon the intelligence support that each of the commanders received. I was left with the appreciation that despite his best efforts, Gen McClellan of the North commanding the Army of the Potomac, almost ended the Civil War in 1862. For the South, Gen Lee was lucky and had good control of his forces with Gen A.P. Hill arriving from Harpers Ferry just in time to save the day, literally for the South and the Army of Northern Virginia. We went all over the battlefield and were treated to very insightful discussions and gained a much fuller appreciation of how the two opposing forces were different. I really urge everyone to take a look at this battle--which is still the bloodiest day in the history of America.

Saturday evening was also a new experience. We went to the Comedy Factory in Baltimore. We went with friends and had a good time. Some of the comedy was really funny--but some was just a routine. Either way, it was an entertaining evening and a new experience.
My Zimbio
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