Leader 2Every day as managers and leaders, we bring ourselves to the ‘job’. We bring our standards, our qualities or lack thereof, our likes and dislikes, our preconceived ideas, the peculiar set of values and predispositions we’ve acquired, our unique personalities, values, and experience.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with what we are. It just means we’re human and we don’t leave our humanity at home when we work. But problems arise when we apply our preconceptions or values to situations at work without understanding what we’re doing — when we tilt one way or the other, not based on what’s best in the circumstances, but on what we tend to prefer. What we prefer is sometimes the right choice, but often it’s not.

When someone once said about a client, “You don’t build bridges”.  The client recognized the truth of those words — but was unable (or unable) to change. What he needed to do was against the grain of the fabric that was ’him’. It would have required a change in how he saw himself and the value he felt he added.

The first step to successfully changing ourselves is to understand who we are. Unless we understand our preconceived preferences — our “default settings” — we will be at their mercy. They will drive the choices we make every day, and we won’t even understand what’s happening. But if we know ourselves, we give ourselves the chance to stop and think: “I want to do such-and-such, but is that really the best choice here? It will make me feel comfortable, but is that the real test of what’s best?” If we can ask those questions, we give ourselves a better chance of making the right call.

All this is important for becoming an effective boss because managing and leading others, are built on a foundation of paradoxes. A paradox is a statement that’s true even though it contains contradictory elements. For example, “Effective bosses are proactive and patient” or “To manage people, you must exercise close control and give people wide latitude.”

 “The essence of management is about knowing when one side of the paradox is more appropriate — when to take action and when to wait, for example, or when to manage closely and when to give someone a long rein.”


So what are your preferences?  See below. There are no right or wrong answers. Effective managers will sometimes need to choose one way, and sometimes the other. The question is what would you prefer to do if you just followed your ‘gut’ all the time?

1- Do you prefer to include others in choices you make — by asking for their ideas and opinions or even giving them freedom to decide — or do you tend to direct others on what to do?

2- Do you prefer to focus on the work people do or on the people doing the work? In your relationship with direct reports, do you tend to deal primarily with the work, or do you prefer to interact with them as close colleagues and unique individuals?

3- Do you prefer to develop people through constructive criticism of what they need to improve on, or by praising them for what they do well? Do you let them figure out for themselves how to improve, or work with them using close contact and instruction?

4- Do you prefer to deal with your direct reports one-on-one or as a team? When there’s a problem in your group, do you tend to call everyone together and deal with it as a team, or do you prefer to go around person to person and work on it?

5- Do you prefer to focus on today’s challenges or do you prefer to think about tomorrow and what’s coming in the future?

6- Do you prefer execution, getting work done day after day, or innovation, creating new products or services or new ways of working?

7- Do you tend to work mostly with direct reports, your own group, or do you prefer to work with others throughout your organization?

8- When you have to make a tough choice, do you tend to focus on the harm that might befall someone or some group? Or do you prefer to focus on the greater good even if a choice may cause harm to some?


Include others vs. direct others, work vs. people, critique vs. praise, one-on-one vs. team, today vs. tomorrow, execute vs. innovate, direct reports vs. rest of organization, harm vs. greater good. These are some of the most fundamental choices we must make every day as bosses. If we don’t know our preferences when we encounter them, we’re far less likely to make the best choices. Going with your ‘gut’ isn’t always the best way to be a boss.



TsunamiOn March 11, 2011 an earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s, Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and crucial cooling systems, causing three reactor cores to melt and causing a release of radioactive material.

A new report says the tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant was so unprepared for the disaster that workers had to bring protective gear and an emergency manual from distant buildings and borrow equipment from a contractor.  The report shows that workers struggled with unfamiliar equipment and fear of radiation exposure.

The report revealed insufficient preparations at the nuclear plant that had not been previously acknowledged. It said plant workers had a disaster drill just a week before the tsunami and “everyone was familiar with emergency exits,” but it apparently did not help them cope with the crisis.

A fire engine at the plant couldn’t reach the unit because the tsunami left a huge tank blocking the driveway. Workers destroyed a power-operated gate to bring in the engine that arrived at the unit hours later. It was early morning when they finally started pumping water into the reactor, but the core had already melted by then.

Other workers were tasked with releasing pressure from Unit 1’s containment vessel to avoid an explosion. But first they had to get the manual, which was not in the control room but in a separate office building at the plant.  To activate an air-operated part of the vent, workers had to borrow a compressor from a contractor. And the workers, who had to get close to the unit for the venting, had to get protective gear from the offsite crisis management center, five kilometers away from the plant.

The report also said workers borrowed batteries and cables from a subcontractor on the compound to set up a backup system to gauge water levels and other key readings.

What are Systems?

Systems are a structured way of doing something that can be replicated time and time again, has proven to be efficient and maximizes production.  But as evidenced by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, ALL systems need to be consistently tested and monitored. They are not an end in themselves; they are a means. So, can you see what happens on a massive scale with regards to a systems failure in a nuclear power plant?

When Systems Fail!

Most well-intentioned systems when put in a stressful situation fail.  The frustration for business owners is when one systems failure contributes to another systems failure– just like the Japanese nuclear plans.

For example . . . A failure at the initial production level happens when the installation instructions were not followed and where quality control and oversight was not accomplished. What this means is a massive failure at the management level.  At the management level is where the oversight should have occurred, and a high level of accountability should have been instilled in the technician charged with the installation.

The ultimate impact to any systems failure is a customer service failure, a typical frustration for business owners. If the company cannot get the customer experience right, what level of confidence should the customers have in the company and their customer experience?

Customer Care

What happens when systems do not work? Worse yet, what if NO ONE CARED?  What if someone made a mistake, but no one cared enough about the problem to fix it? So, when did apathy become the norm in your business? How could this happen to you?

Let’s face it; mistakes can and will happen. We are all human, and it’s perfectly natural to make mistakes. But we have to do something about our mistakes. We need to take ownership of our actions and take responsibility for our work. Accountability breeds competence. The root of competence is care. If you’re responsive, you express that care.

Reject Systems Failures!

– Do not allow systems failures to happen in your business.

– If systems failures occur, take it to the highest level and fix the system permanently.

– Systems failures are a way to learn more about your systems, employees and clients.

– Do not allow systems failures to permeate your culture as being ‘acceptable’.

– Systems are vehicles to express how much you care about your customers and their customer service experience.

– Systems are never a be-all end-all.

– If you see something wrong with a system in your business, change the system.

– Systems exist to serve people, not the other way around.

– Systems are a means of growth.


Coaching sportsI remember my twin sons just learning to play the game of baseball when they were just eight years old.  The laughter of the parents when a child who finally hit the baseball and ran down the wrong base line– directly to third base instead of first base.

Then, there was the experience of my twins learning the fine game of soccer.  At this age, there was no real offense or for that matter defense, rather it was an entire swarm of small bodies chasing the ball, with the only player staying in their respective position being the goalie.

Finally, the basketball game when a child got so excited that he got the ball and forgot to dribble on the way to the basket, but he was so proud that he made the basket.

I have coached a number of my children’s sports teams, and learned the importance of learning the simple rules of the game. Initially, coaching involved managing the level of chaos and confusion as children learned the rules of the game.  But over time, it was profound that the once-confusing rules become second nature, and I finally watched children play together as a team without a second thought about the rules.


If you are playing a sport without knowing the rules leads to chaos, confusion, and even injury to the players and also the Coach. Likewise, in your life and in your business, without clearly defined rules, the result is disorder, dissatisfaction, and even harm. Here are some simple rules that can help you navigate life and your business. I hope they provide you with thoughts to ponder and reevaluate the rules in your life and your business.

RULE #1: Family is always first

Many leaders give lip service to putting family first, but they don’t actually practice this concept by giving their spouse or kids top priority. What does it mean to put family first? It involves redefining success. Do not measure success in terms of career accomplishments, money, cars, or a big house.  Rather, success is when those closest to you truly respect you and refer to you as a good example. Practically speaking, make sure to schedule family time before setting your work time. It is far more important to have quality family time than to have work demands that result in the continuous 60 hours per week.

RULE #2: Follow the Golden Rule

We continually ask three questions of our leaders:

1) Do they care for me?

2) Can they help me?

3) Can I trust them?

As a leader, ask these same questions of yourself: Am I caring? Am I helping? Am I reliable?  Set the example to those under you to begin treating others the way you would like to treated.

RULE #3 Take care of yourself

Doing things for just yourself is not a selfish act; it’s a critical and important act. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola said, “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them- work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls- family, health, friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

A very dear friend and mentor of mine learned the importance of this rule the hard way, through the trauma of a heart attack and a quadruple bypass. If you are not managing the necessary time to rest, replenish, exercise, and monitor your mental facilities, then eventually you and your body will breakdown. When happens then is you have no value to anyone around you.

RULE #4 Choose a positive attitude

Happiness cannot be won, bought, or brought to you by another person. Rather, it results from a conscious choice to be grateful and to make the best of life’s challenges. Whatever happens to us, we always have control of one thing: our attitude. Yes, attitudes are contagious and it is your conscious decision to chose your attitude.

RULE #5 Have a personal growth plan

The key to personal growth is to have a beginner’s mindset– remembering when you first started your business. Beginners admit they do not know everything and proceed accordingly. As a general rule beginners admit that they are open, humble, willing to learn and grow, willing to make the necessary changes, and are noticeably lacking in the rigidity that accompanies experience, success and ego.

RULE #6 Give more than you receive

Looking back over your career, make a list of those that served as your mentor.  Everyone at many points in their career reach out and ask those around them for help, but not everyone has the capacity or willingness to give and mentor others. When you stop trying to ‘use’ people around you, only then can you learn ways to add real value to your personal relationship with others and only then can your influence truly soar.


?????????????????Venture capital, business loans, and lines of credit: all this and more exists for businesses that need to grow, to purchase equipment and inventory, or expand their facilities. Much of the initial growth for small businesses is funded on borrowed money. But this leverage comes at a very high cost.

In the last few years, businesses have begun to move away from acquiring additional business debt either by choice or by circumstance. The tightening of credit, loss of access to capital, and the general tightening among potential investors, bankers and lenders have made the prospect of boot-strapping a business a much more attractive option. Sometimes it is the only viable option.

But is running and growing a debt-free business practical? What are the downsides? And more importantly, what are the advantages of building a business without borrowed money?

Starting From Scratch Or Changing Course

Financing a new business without borrowed money is challenging and it takes time. This is probably the first reality an entrepreneur has to come to grips with if you choose this route: you have to start relatively small and be prepared to take a longer period of time to reach your goals.

Another downside is the potential for seeing competitors gain market-share and grow revenues much more quickly as they take on borrowed capital to fund their capital acquisitions, marketing and production projects.  But be patient, the tables will turn down the road, and in the meantime avoid discouragement and second thoughts about maintaining a debt-free strategy.

Traditionally, businesses that use debt from borrowed capital have a completely different set of challenges when making the move to become debt-free.  For one thing, the business owner must be intimately familiar with the company’s finances. You will need to know exactly where the money goes and the business’ real profitability at all times in the business operations. The business must operate using an operations budget, and another strategic tool is a comprehensive cash flow management plan. Diligence is required as well as a total rethinking of “how we do business” if the company is going to decrease expenditures, increase cash flow and pay off the existing debt.

While business owners may find this to be an intimidating prospect, evidence proves that during economic downturns the less debt a business holds, the greater the odds of the business surviving. And when the economy is looking much brighter, the debt-free business is in the strongest position to leverage their advantages and seize many opportunities.

It’s Possible

A few years ago, an investor noticed that among a relatively random selection of stocks from high-debt companies the average year-to-date return was -6.9%. An equally random selection of debt-free companies tallied up an average return of +18%. While this was not a scientific study by any means, it does serve to illustrate the fact that companies without debt can be more profitable than those carrying a significant debt load.

One company operated from a no-debt perspective since going into business over ten years ago.  More recently, he began to diligently and consistently reinvest a portion of his monthly earnings into a “cash reserve” fund with the goal of having at least a year’s worth of operating capital liquid and available. This fund served him well during the recent economic downturn when he needed to invest in added staff and equipment in order to take advantage of new opportunities that he would not have been capable of taking on at his previous size.

His competitors, on the other hand, were in the middle of downsizing and cost-cutting while still servicing the debt they had incurred during the previous “boom” years. As their overall profitability declined so did their flexibility – they were not in a position to compete for the opportunities this business owner was able to secure for his own company.

Another tactic that has served him well is to maintain a “cash-only” policy with his customers. While he does require one-half payment on acceptance of a project and the second half upon completion, this arrangement allows him to operate in a positive cash flow throughout the duration of the projects. Furthermore, he can offer his clients a slightly lower fee since he does not have to finance receivables for 30 or 45 days like his competitors do.

The upside of all this is that business owners who are operating without business debt have a greater degree of financial freedom and flexibility, and a much lower degree of risk in the face of economic downturns and declines in business.

Sacrificing the Fast Track for Slow Growth

For the majority of businesses that opt for a debt-free model, business growth tends to be slow. Jay Steinfeld, CEO of, made it a point to get – and stay – debt-free. “It’s been our goal to grow inch by inch, never spending beyond our means,” Steinfeld said. “We’ve done it all debt-free!”

While it is true that borrowing capital enables a business to take actions or grow at a pace that would not be sustainable otherwise, it also causes that business to be less flexible and incur higher risk. The more the business borrows, the more it spends towards repayment of debt and interest– cash flow is directly impacted as well as net profit. It is a sobering reality that many companies have failed from the lack of cash and cash flow more than anything else.

Five Points to Consider

Becoming a debt-free business, or building one from the ground up, is a lengthy process. But there are some strategic points that must be embraced if you want to succeed:

1- You need to know the true cost of delivering your service or product.

2- Become crystal clear as to where the money goes and the money comes from– in other words your Cash Flow.

3- Develop and use an operating budget, and cash flow budget as a daily decision making tool.

4- Daily, know your KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for your financial condition– like cash, accounts receivable, and accounts payable. Operate your business with this knowledge in mind.

5- Consistently measure revenue, gross profit, and cash.


While there are no guarantees in life, it is certain that as a business owner you will sleep better at night knowing that your business is stronger and more secure in these uncertain times as a debt-free operation.  Furthermore, with a secure cash position in the business, when opportunity knocks you are able to quickly pull the trigger on an acquisition or opportunity.


Marketing PsInput from some of the world’s top sales and marketing leaders, as well as CEOs whose firms are seeing dramatic increases in revenue during this economic downturn, several actionable ideas have emerged which you can act on immediately.

1.) Dramatically Reduce Your Sales Cycle Time

Nothing improves cash flow and revenue more than reducing your sales cycle time. And an important technique to dramatically reducing it is to use synchronous communication throughout the sales process.

This starts with NEVER presenting a sales proposal to a customer without being on the phone or in person with them. Emailing a proposal to a customer ahead of a meeting doesn’t give you the opportunity to react immediately to potential concerns and objections that might arise as they read through your proposal. And the more time the customer has to ponder an objection and potentially pollute their colleagues with negative reactions (or spouse if it’s a business to consumer sale), the more difficult it will be to move the sales process forward.

Even if the customer is adamant about receiving a proposal ahead of a physical meeting, suggest it will save them time if you can review the proposal over the phone and that you’ll email it to them a few minutes before a scheduled phone call. What you and your sales people want is the opportunity to see, hear, or at least sense specific objections, as you review the proposal, so you can react immediately. And then you want to continue to utilize synchronous communication for the rest of the sales negotiation process i.e. if a customer emails back a question, pick up the phone and discuss with them vs. simply emailing an answer back – it gains you more clarity, builds the relationship, and avoids misunderstandings that come with email.  This single technique can reduce sales cycles from months to weeks and even to days.

2.) Price with Confidence

Of the four P’s of marketing, Price is the only one which directly puts money in your pocket. Yet I find companies setting price with very little strategy behind their decisions. And panicked decisions about pricing in turbulent times can be costly in both the short and long run.

Too many firms have gotten caught flat-footed and are using price discounts in a panic to try to keep demand that is going away no matter what they do. The firms that do this are creating two very significant long-term problems. First, they are destroying the integrity of their pricing and the value of their brands. Second, they are training their customers to negotiate for every last penny thus undermining their most valuable asset – trusting customer relationships.

Both of these ideas make it extraordinarily difficult to roll-back prices back up when the economy finally does turn. In addition, it will take much longer to bring prices back up to a level that reflects the true value of the goods and services being sold.

Look objectively at pricing as a strategic tool that must be managed systematically based on value, market demand, cost structure, product lifecycle, and capabilities. This view leads one to make decisions on the basis of preserving and gaining pricing power be it through reducing capacity to match demand, introducing low price – low value offerings, or making systematic adjustments to price lists so that list and street prices are more in line.

3.) Multiple Channels

“Place” is one of the other four P’s of marketing. Companies with more sales channels trump competing firms with less.

This means setting aside all the debate about protecting various territories and giving your customers as many options for purchasing your product as you can. In the end, you can’t dictate from whom and how your customers will purchase your products and services. They all have different preferences and will find competitors who give them their desired options.

In turn, it’s up to your various sales channels to earn their right to distribute your services. If the customer wants high touch, value-added consultative help in purchasing your product, they’ll utilize that channel. It starts with doing a thorough job of researching the benefits of your product or service.

4.) Half the Customers; Twice the Attention

You need to identify your best customers and shower them with twice the attention. Focus on your Best Buyer/Client and then create a nurturing marketing campaign that touches these customers 10 to 15 times with ‘educational’ information

It starts with doing a thorough job of researching the benefits of your product or service. For example, take one major roofing company, they found that a large percentage of the time a roof is replaced when it only needs repaired. In turn, greater than half of all building maintenance problems start with the roof. The company structured an educational campaign that reached out to the owners of large facilities every two weeks over a period of months, which dramatically improved warm leads in the Sales Funnel for the sales team to close.

5.) Web 2.0

The third P of marketing “Promotion” has taken on a new twist given the power of the Web to reach customers. Add the frustration of business owners with the confusing array of terminology and options including: News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media.


More than ever, the field of sales and marketing is undergoing a transformation while getting back to basics that have always been critical to driving revenues. It’s a mystery to me why companies cut back on learning and training in down times. Now is when more focus should be put on training and capturing all opportunities.