Sunday, December 18, 2011

Goal Setting

Over the past few months, my management team and I have been working on our 2012 Operating Plan. We are in the process of defining our goals, metrics, and budgets for 2012. This process, which we do every year, is always a combination of analysis, strategic thinking, constructive conflict, and some educated guesswork.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Difference Between Winners & Losers

The following story illustrates a difference between winners and losers in the modern global economy.

A new VP who was just promoted was settling into his new corner office when he noticed that his trash can was full. When he arrived the next day, the trash remained. After a week, with the trash can still full, he decided to seek out the building manager. The building manager said that he would look into it, and came by later to tell him what had happened. A janitor had stopped by his office each night, found the door to locked, and gone on his way. The locks had been changed when the VP got his new office. The building manager said that the problem would be rectified immediately.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Leadership: Introvert or Extrovert

The Leadership trait of extroversion or introversion is a topic that comes up often. In his book "Execution" (co-authored by Ram Charan), Larry Bossidy states the he would hesitate to hire a leader who was quiet and reserved. On the other hand, Lisa Petrilli's new book "The Introvert's Guide to Success in Business and Leadership" argues that introversion is a leadership strength that should be cultivated.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Today I went riding on a windy day. There was a 20 m.p.h. headwind as I started an out-and-back ride. On the way out, I just had to keep my head down and grind. There wasn't much else that I could do but exert maximum and constant effort. When I reached the furthest out point and turned back, suddently things were effortless and I felt like Superman. Even climbing the hills seemed easy.

At present, our country is facing some strong headwinds. Things are tough and have been for some time. Every success seems to be met with new resistance and there is little momentum to be gained. This thought also made me realize that things will turn. The economy, unemployment, and even the political climate are cyclical. In times like this, we forget that it will not always be a struggle. It is healthy to remember that things will get better.

As I was riding my bike back home, I decided that I will plan ahead for better times. I will be prepared to take advantage of the tailwinds when things turn. In the meantime, I will keep my head down, fight against the prevailing headwinds, and look forward to that time when the tailwinds are once again driving us forward.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Honoring Those Who Serve

On this Veteran's Day weekend, I remember and appreciate those who serve. I honor those men and women in our armed forces who sacrifice in service of country. In wartime, this service comes at extreme risk and personal sacrifice. We Americans are truly grateful to our Veterans and their families.

Service occurs in other ways as well: non-profit organizations, local community organizations, and simply donating time or resources to help others in need. Volunteers in the Red Cross and Peace Corps serve people in need all over the world. I believe that our best government leaders are those who pursue government service through a desire to give back.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Stop Pandering!

Our political system has deteriorated to a point where our leaders are constantly pandering. They tell us that we deserve an easier path and that someone else should shoulder the challenges that we face. They offer us favors and special treatment in order to gain our support.

Do our leaders think so little of us and believe that we only care about ourselves? Do they believe that we need to be bought with favors and handouts?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Dream that is America

Last night when "God Bless America" was sung during the 7th inning stretch of the baseball game, I found myself moved with emotion. It was not anything specific, nor did I consciously understand what brought on the emotion. The emotion came first and made me consider it.

My reaction reminded me of the premise of Start With Why, the premise that great institutions and leaders define a purpose that connects with us at an emotional level. When we have an emotional connection, we use reason to rationalize the beliefs that the emotions inspire. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Don't Lose Perspective on What Truly Matters

When my oldest son Luke was born almost 9 years ago, it should have been one of the happiest days of my life. Instead, that day was fraught with fear and concern because Luke was born 2 months premature after a very difficult pregnancy. He was delivered by C-section and had to be rushed into the NICU because he could not breathe on his own.

While my wife recovered from surgery, I was alone with my tiny son who was connected to all sorts of sophisticated machines to keep him alive and monitor his vital signs. As I sat there in the NICU, I remember reflecting on my life and had a momentous, life-changing realization.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Great Managers Enable Exceptional Performers

Most everyone wants to perform well in their work. Very few people wake up in the morning wanting to fail or do poorly. Occasionally you will find someone with a bad attitude, which can be easily resolved by removing that person from your organization. More often, those who do not perform at the highest levels are missing one of the following:
  1. clear expectations on what is required of them.
  2. the necessary training or procedures to know how to do their work correctly.
  3. the materials and equipment necessary to perform well.
  4. the proper fit into a role at which they can excel. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Optimism and A Can-Do Attitude

I have been accused of being an eternal optimist. This may be an accurate observation. Recently after returning from a funeral, I found myself commenting that "funerals are great because we get to see family and friends who we haven't seen in years." It all depends upon your perspective...

I do not know if optimism is learned or genetic, but I find it mostly to be a useful trait. I suspect that I am naturally wired for my glass-half-full perspective. I enjoy just about everything in life. Also, I believe optimism to be the foundation for my can-do attitude. I do not let pessimism and naysayers keep me from taking on new challenges and achieving my best. I remember being told that I could not do any number of things. Fortunately, I did not listen and found that I could accomplish most anything that I set my mind to. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Entitlement vs. Personal Responsibility

The word entitlement has a negative connotation. It implies a right to something  whether that something is earned or not. Entitlement thinking can be defined as a selfish concern for oneself without regard for the burden it places on others. I firmly believe that entitlement thinking is NOT the norm. It occurs when people do not feel connected to and responsible for the organizations to which they belong. I further believe that we all want to take personal responsibility for ourselves and will do so if given the opportunity. Most people do not desire handouts, but most appreciate a helping hand when they are in need of one. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Start With Why

Simon Sinek's concept about "Start With Why" provides a compelling perspective on culture and values. Sinek argues that all people are driven by a why, also known as a purpose or cause. He supports his theory with a biological argument that decision-making is centered in the limbic system at the core of the brain. The limbic brain is the most primal part of the brain and is responsible for emotion, behavior & long-term memory. If the limbic brain is responsible for decision making, then all decisions are emotional. Language and reason occur in the more developed part of the brain called the neocortex. We use reason to justify and rationalize our emotional decisions, but all decisions are based on emotion. Sinek argues that great companies start with a why, and this why incites emotion within the limbic brain from workers and customers alike.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I Am Too Busy To ...

Yesterday, I bought a new road bike. I know this sounds trivial, especially considering I have three mountain bikes in the garage, and ride 4+ days every week. It is significant because I have been saying that I want to purchase a road bike for more than two years. I never found the time to make this purchase. I have just been too busy.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

In this Economy, It Sucks to be Small

Recently, Bank of America (BofA) announced plans to lay off 3,500 workers and perhaps as many as 10,000 over the coming months. While I feel very bad for the newly unemployed BofA workers, it is hard to feel any sympathy for BofA as an institution. BofA received taxpayer-funded bailouts totaling $45B in TARP funds and $118B in loan guarantees. BofA was heavily exposed during the mortgage crisis due to its own bad loans and those that it acquired from Countrywide Financial & Merrill Lynch. According to those who make such decisions, BofA was too big to fail.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Being an Entrepreneur is Hard (or is it?)

I recently met a friend for lunch who is interested in launching a new technology business. He is finishing up his MBA and works as a middle manager in a medium-size division of a large company. He is itching to try out his new-found business and management skills within a startup environment. He plans to partner with a technologist who has been part of a successful startup. His would-be partner helped launch a company that grew to $12 million revenue in 3 short years and achieved liquidity through acquisition. My friend plans to work nights and weekends to get their new company launched and then quit his day job when the company achieves some level of cash flow through revenues or government grants.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Marketing: Value or Pain?

Every time I discuss our value proposition with a serial entrepreneur friend of mine, he stops me to ask "where is the pain?" And, he is absolutely correct. His point is that alleviating customer pain is a much more effective strategy than just offering value. Think about it. You will act immediately to avoid pain, but may put off something that adds value. Value can be a nice-to-have whereas relieving pain in an immediate need-to-have. Pain will absolutely cause customers to buy your products or services.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Leading from the Front

Alexander the Great is one of my favorite historical figures. I admire Alexander, not because of his exploits and conquests, but because of his greatness in leadership. The stories of Alexander show what it takes to lead from the front. During battle, he was the first one over the wall. He would lead the way, placing himself in great peril. How inspiring is that? Yes, Alexander died at the age of 32, but in his short lifetime he conquered most of the known world and is considered one of the greatest military leaders of all time. Leading from the front has risks, but also results in extraordinary dedication and efforts, and can lead to great accomplishments.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Leadership is Needed to Solve the Debt Crisis

The national debt is a big problem, a very big problem, perhaps the greatest threat to our national well-being in many generations. The problem extends beyond the debt ceiling deadline of August 2. The S&P credit rating organization has repeatedly warned that it may downgrade U.S. debt if any deficit-reduction deal is not robust enough to change the trajectory of the country's future debt growth. A downgrade may come even if officials agree to raise the debt ceiling. Any downgrade would drive interest rates through the roof. Ask the Greeks who now must pay 26.6% interest on 2-year government bonds (the interest on 2-year U.S. bonds is 0.46%).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What is Work?

Understanding the nature of work is necessary for effective leadership. Work has changed dramatically for today's workforce due to two influences: (1) automation and (2) computer networks. Understanding this shift in the essence of work helps a leader to shape a highly creative and motivated workforce.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We are Building a Temple

The story of three stonecutters is a fine example of the power of vision. As the story goes, a traveler comes upon three stone cutters working in a quarry. He asks the first one what he is doing and the stone cutter replies “breaking rocks.” He asks the second one the same question and gets the response “doing my job, cutting stones.” Finally when asked, the third replies “I am building a temple.” Who do you think works with more passion, drive, dedication and achieves excellence?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Need for Vacation

As I vacation with my family on the island of Kauai, I reflect on the importance of vacation. I realize that these moments away from work have great importance in life. Too often we get caught up in the day-to-day and lose sight of the larger perspective. What are most important and memorable things that we do in our short lifetimes?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You Are What You Practice

Most of us take for granted that practice is essential for excellence in athletics and the performance arts. I find it odd that we don't devote the same amount of effort to develop interpersonal skills and behaviors such as leadership. I strongly believe that we need to practice anything at which we want to excel.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Restore the American Dream

Like most people, I am worried about the current economy and the fiscal burden that we are leaving to our children. I pray that we are not the last generation in America to be more prosperous than our parents. I have followed the ongoing debate about our fiscal problems and both options seem short-sighted to me. One party wants to add more stimulus through government spending. The other party wants to provide tax breaks to spur business spending. Both solutions are politically difficult because both would exacerbate the record debt load imposed upon our children. But even worse, both solutions are unlikely to cause any real long-term prosperity in America.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

5 Things a VC Can Do for You

I am sure that you have heard stories of heartless Venture Capital firms taking advantage of heroic entrepreneurs. I certainly have heard my share of depressing tales from colleagues. In stark contrast, my experience with VC financing has been very positive. Over the past few years, I have raised capital three times  to accelerate ZTEC's growth into new markets. In retrospect, I was very lucky to team up with an excellent VC. Our partnership works well because our goals and interests are aligned. We are dedicated to building stakeholder value through the creation of a great, highly successful, lasting company.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

You Get the Organization that You Deserve

As a manager, you have full control over the organization that you lead. Whether you are a CEO, a department head, or a team leader, you shape the team that you lead. As the leader, you have the ability to select the members of your team, to delegate anything and everything, and to choose how and where you spend your time and efforts. Your organization is the result of those choices. You get the organization that you deserve.

Organizations mirror the styles of their leaders, and management style is reflected in the makeup and morale of the team. Here are two extreme examples that illustrate my point:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

5 Reasons to Blog

I am new to blogging.  Until recently, I paid little attention to social media.  I thought that I was getting an informed and balanced perspective from a wide cross-section of conventional media. About two months ago, I decided to write a blog and began reading others to learn the unwritten rules and protocols. What I found is astounding: there is deep value and insight in the many voices, and there is a vibrant virtual community out there.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mission-Oriented: Between Startup and Big Company

I have seen entrepreneur colleagues hit ceilings in their effectiveness as leaders.  I have also seen VCs unsuccessfully replace entrepreneurs with “big company” executives. In both cases, there is a mismatch in the skills of the leaders and the needs of the organization. I believe that there is a middle stage in the life cycle of a growing company that requires a fine balance between flexibility and structure. In Steven Blank's excellent book on company building entitled “Four Steps to the Epiphany”, he defines this middle ground between startup and big company as the mission-oriented company stage.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Teamwork Brings Out the Best

After mountain bike racing for a decade as an individual racer, I lost all motivation to train incessantly, travel to events, and punish myself on weekends during race season. I quit racing completely, but when a friend asked me to join a 4-man team for a 12-hour endurance off-road mountain bike event, I decided to give it a try. After just one race, I was hooked. I quickly developed a passion for team mountain bike racing for the same reason that I am passionate about building a great company - winning requires exceptional teamwork and is more rewarding than individual success.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Play to Your Strengths

Although we often focus on fixing or improving our weaknesses, we would be better served by building upon our strengths.  We cannot excel at everything, but we can excel at something for which we are particularly well suited.  Excellence in any area is rare and valuable.  This applies to individuals, leaders and organizations.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Execution Matters More (than Strategy)

What is execution?  Execution is the ability to get things done and to drive results, even in the face of unexpected obstacles.  It is the ability to make decisions and solve problems that ultimately result in achieving strategic goals.  Strategic goals focus activities on success, but single-minded attention to flawless day-to-day execution is how success is achieved. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Strategy Matters

Having well-defined goals and a strategy to accomplish those goals are critical to any achievement.  Without goals, you are on a journey without knowing your destination.  Without a strategy, you are on a journey without a map.  Lacking either, you will not get where you are going, and you will not know it if, by chance you get there. Unfortunately, I had to experience the consequences of not having a strategy in both mountain bike racing and in business.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Leadership Lessons from Mountain Bike Racing

Although I never quit my day job to race full-time, I have ridden my mountain bike regularly for over 25 years.  I raced competitively for more than 10 years in the amateur circuit and now ride on a team in endurance races.  I am particularly drawn to the combination of hard physical effort and high-speed adrenalin involved in off-road mountain bike riding and racing.