Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Sarah Palin on Oprah

December 23, 2009

I finally got to see Sarah Palin on Oprah.  Decent stuff.  I noticed the same thing that several conservative talk show hosts noticed as well, there was no shots of the audience.  The way it was edited, it seemed like there was no audience at all.  I’d be interested to know the real story on that.  Conservative talkers seemed to think Oprah didn’t want to show an audience full of people nodding in agreement with Sarah.

Here are a few observations I have.

1.  People need to wake up to the heavily clouded media lens. If you haven’t seen this Oprah, watch it and listen closely to Sarah’s side of story about the Katie Couric interview.  The journalistic standards in the country are very low.  I’m not saying that Couric should have taken it any easier on Palin.  But, an honest viewer has to see that the media did take it much, much easier on Obama and Biden to the point of propaganda.  I think only now, a year later, the media is starting to fidget with the idea of asking Obama some tough questions.  All you need to do is simply imagine if Palin or Bush would have been remotely tied to an organization like ACORN.  We would have heard the end of it.

2. Would-have, could-haves. When Palin explained her side of the story about her response to Couric’s question about what specific magazines and newspaper Palin read, I believe her.  She said she was frustrated.  She thought it wasn’t a question that would have been asked any other candidate and felt it was an insult to her and Alaskans.  Oprah did us a service in showing that footage from the Couric interview and Palin’s story fits with the reaction and body language I saw.  If I could do it over again for Palin, I’d just simply have turned the question around on Couric.  What magazines and newspapers do you read?

3.  Recommendation for Palin. Figure out how to clearly communicate why you stepped down as Governor.  Whatever it is that she’s saying doesn’t come through well.  I can’t tell if it’s because the attention that followed her from the campaign was hindering her ability to lead Alaska’s government or if she felt she could have a bigger impact in the U.S. in a private role.  Whatever the reason, it still isn’t coming through in a compelling fashion.

4.  Oprah? Oprah was harping hard on the degree to which Palin said she was handled during the campaign, like how she was scripted and clothes picked out and provided for her.  Oprah.  Wake up.  Your guy is handled as well.   He doesn’t pick out or pay for his suits.  Michelle doesn’t either.  He has a team of speechwriters, consultants, stylists and advisers to make him and her appear as they do.  Oprah, look at yourself, you don’t do all the work to make you look good all by yourself.  You have a rather large team to make it all happen.

But on the other, I think the handling is telling of our society.  Politicians are products.  They are made up by polls and focus groups. They are, generally, who we want them to be (or who their consultants think we want them to be).  They’re phony.  It would be refreshing to see a real person running for office.  I would love to hear a politicians say, “This is what I believe in, this is what I’m going to do, this is what you’ll get if you vote for me.  If you don’t want those things, vote for the other candidate.”


Thomas Jefferson

December 15, 2009

Leno and Conan O’Brien took cheap shots at McCain’s age.  Very clever.   I believe it was Leno who said that they recently found some letters from Thomas Jefferson thanking McCain for his support.

Those jokes reminded me of this quote from Thomas Jefferson.  Timeless and yet it seems to be very timely at the moment:

The issue today is the same as it has been throughout all history, whether man shall be allowed to govern himself or be ruled by a small elite.

The Speech Obama Should Have Given

December 10, 2009

This is exceptional work from Jamie Weinstein.

Are You Qualified for that Position?

November 18, 2009

During the 2008 elections, friends thought I was crazy when I told them that I was disappointed in both tickets.  I said the most qualified person for the job of President is the vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, because she was the only one with organizational/political leadership experience.  But, I would also say that I thought that she was still not qualified.  I would want her to have more than a few years of leadership experience before promoting her to POTUS.  Give me at least one full term as Governor, maybe two.

I’d typically hear responses like: But McCain or Biden have been Senators for so long.  Or, Barack headed up an well-run campaign.  Thanks for proving my point on McCain and Biden.  Showing up and voting on stuff isn’t organizational leadership experience.  I’ll consider some of their being in the national public eye for so many years, but I’d still rather see them go run something else.  If you want to be POTUS, go run your state for a term or two, or go run a business, military unit or some Federal department.

As for Obama, the ‘well-run campaign’ defense is a joke.  A well-run campaign?  Go manage political campaigns.

What was a bigger joke was that people thought I was crazy.

I’ll go back to the NFL head coach test.  You own a team.  You want that team to do well, make fans happy and make money.  Who are you going to hire to run it?

You’re going to look for proven experience.   You’re not going to promote the guy that’s been working in the PR department for two years (and rarely shows up to work to boot) to run your team or the other guy who has been your team’s radio announcer for 20 years.  You’re going to look for proven talent within the college ranks and professional coordinators that have a fair amount of proven, concrete experience.  Guys who can usually provide a concrete list of results and achievements such as, “led offense to highest scoring ranking for 3 out of 5 years.”

Most of us would be more discerning about our choice of head coach than we were about our choice for POTUS.  One party chose glitz (a good speech giver) that provided a historic moment in the history of the country, tempered with a less historic vice-president just-in-case (“Stand Up Chuck!  Let the People See You. What Am I Talking About?”).  The other party chose the guy who had been around for awhile and they thought was well enough liked by the other side to pull some of their votes.

When did the idea that you should have to work hard to prove yourself die in this country?  Oh yeah.  I forgot.  We’re the country that can’t really figure out if a teacher is good quality or not (so we keep them all) and we don’t want to keep score in little leagues anymore.  We graduate illiterate troublemakers so we don’t have to do the hard work of enforcing discipline.

Thomas Sowell’s Brainy Bunch

September 29, 2009

Here’s a good read today from Thomas Sowell.  Some key words:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

Such people have been told all their lives how brilliant they are, until finally they feel forced to admit it, with all due modesty. But they not only tend to over-estimate their own brilliance, more fundamentally they tend to over-estimate how important brilliance itself is when dealing with real world problems.

Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so much admired by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government.

Smarts creates a dangerous veneer of legitimacy for many.  I prefer experience, as does Sowell, but I’m also skeptical of that.  I prefer results, but take those with grain of salt.

Back in 2005, Paul Johnson wrote a column in Forbes called Five Marks of a Great Leader.  He had some things to say about smart people too.  Two of the five marks were judgment and sense of priority.

What makes a person judge wisely? It is not intelligence, as such. Clever people with enormously high IQs often show scarifyingly bad judgment. Nor is it education. When I need advice, I rarely turn to someone with first-class honors from a top university. I turn to someone who has knocked about the world and cheerfully survived “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” One man to whom I turned for his judgment was Ronald Reagan. Though not a scholar by any gauge, he almost invariably judged correctly on the few big issues that really matter.

Being able to judge well is often linked to an ability to mix with and learn from other people–not so much from experts but from common people, those who lack the arrogance of power or the desire to show off their intelligence but who nevertheless think deeply about life’s trials. A person of judgment develops the habit of asking questions of such wise people and listening to their replies.

In running a country or a vast business, one is faced with countless problems, huge and insignificant, and has to make decisions about all of them. Clever leaders (I’m thinking of Jacques Chirac) often have a habit of pouncing on minor issues and pushing them at all costs, even to the detriment of their real interests. Sorting out the truly big from the small takes an innate horse sense that’s not given to most human beings. It has little to do with intelligence, but it is nearly always the hallmark of a great leader.

Great Book

May 22, 2009

The same friend that sent me the Harvard Business Review article from A.G. Lafley recommended I read The Breakthrough Imperative by Mark Gottfredson and Steve Schaubert. 

I’m glad I did.  I recommend it to the business minded or anyone heading up any type of organization.  This book will give you ideas on how to make it the best it can be.  It’s a steal right now on for $7.99!

The authors work for Bain & Company, but don’t hold that against them.  While at times consultantspeak bleeds through, you can tell the authors benefit from the experience of Bain Capital, which invests in companies it helps manage to make money by increasing the value of those companies. 

In other words, they draw on real world experience influencing a true measure: shareholder value.  This results in very practical insights like:

From a company’s point of view, one of the most significant factors shifting [customer] behavior is simple customer dissatisfaction.


…a management team must understand which customer segments are most attractive in terms of size, profitability, and growth.  They must also make an honest assessment of their company’s capabilities to meet each segment’s needs relative to the competition.


…in fast changing markets…customers often have trouble articulating or even recognizing there own needs.

To the last quote, I’d expand that to include any market.  Customers often only have vague understanding of why they buy what they buy and aren’t often able to say everything that went into their decisions.

True Measures: A.G. Lafley

May 21, 2009

In A.G. Lafley’s, head of Procter & Gamble article about the four things only a CEO  (see this post) can do, he defined two critical moments of truth for customers.

First, when the customer chooses P&G product over all others in the store; and second, when she or a family member uses the product and it delivers a delightful and memorable experience – or not.

He changed the focus of his organization from satisfying internal processes to finding out how they could win the “consumer value equation” at these two moments.  This meant P&G employees got out of the office and lived with consumers for days to observe and think of new products or product modifications that might be useful.  He replaced paintings from local artists at headquarters with photos of consumers in the two moments of truth.

True Measures: Would You Buy It? Edition

May 20, 2009

A local news programs has a “We Try It Before You Buy It” segment.  They buy a new product, ask someone to test it out and report on what they liked and disliked.

The segment ends by asking the tester whether they would buy the product or not.  Like Reichheld’s question (would you recommend us to a friend?), this is a simple, effective measure of truth.

Often, product testers seem to like the product but then say they would not buy it.

Deciding to buy is a value judgment where we instinctively weigh the benefits of what we get against the value of what we give up.

Many people assume the value judgment is simply weighing the product benefits against its price, but there’s much more to it.  There may be several factors that are as important or more important than price.

What’s interesting is that most people can’t articulate these other factors.  They may only be vaguely aware of them.  I figured this out by thinking about my own buying decisions.

F or example, I wondered why I usually buy gas from a station further from my house (station 1)  than a station that I would normally prefer (station 2).  The answer wasn’t price, since the price was always the same at both stations.

There are two factors that cause me to go to station 1.  First, due to traffic patterns, station 1 is safer for me to get to.  Second, I’m cheap and health conscious and I found that I would tend to buy more junk from station 2.  Going to station 1 solved that problem.

How I value what I receive in exchange for everything I give up to get it (not just price) is called value proposition.  Very few people understand it.  Very few managers understand it.  Some do.   I like to invest in companies with managers who do.

“What Only the CEO Can Do”

May 19, 2009

Thanks to a good friend for referring this great article to me.  It’s from Harvard Business Review, written by leader that got his company’s stock price back on track after a fall.

In the article, A.G. Lafley, CEO of Proctor & Gamble, elaborates on these four things:

1. Defining and interpreting the meaningful outside.

2. Answering time and time again the two part question, What business are we in and what business are we not in?

3. Balancing sufficient yield in the present with necessary investment in the future.

4. Shaping the values and standards of the organization.

Leaders at all levels should learn this article and ask themselves how the things they’re doing line up with these.

It struck me a long time ago that good leaders make things simple, effectively, while bad leaders often make things more complex.  This is one of those simple, but effective, things.  Many, who prefer the complex, may scoff at its simplicity.  But, my guess is those who do will not keep their jobs for long.

As I reviewed the list and read the article it struck me that these are the very same things that well-run households do these things well too.

True Measures: Jack Welch style

May 19, 2009

I ran across a story from Jack Welch recently, I wish I could remember where.  I’m paraphrasing for now.

It went something like this:

When trying to figure out which HQ functions to eliminate, a good thing to look at is the phone records.  If the group receives a lot of calls from the field, what they’re doing may be of some value.  If they call the field more often looking for data to report, then they probably aren’t adding a lot of value.

Most corporate cutters would interview the group leaders and benchmark the operations against other companies.  In that case, the workers in that group on are the mercy of how well their boss sells them, whether they fit into a group that’s at other companies and the whims of the decision makers at interpreting the analysis.  They wouldn’t think about looking at true evidence  of their value.