Archive | Leadership RSS feed for this section

Roots

22 Sep

“The roots of my raising run deep.” – Merle Haggard

I confess that I am a middle-class white kid from a small town with two parents that are still married and love me very much. This isn’t a great start for an “up by your own bootstraps” kind of life story. I am not my own sculptor. There were – and are – many people heavily invested in shaping the person that I am.

All of this was brought into focus yesterday as we kicked off the fall edition of the Housley Principled Leadership Program. I learn so much from teaching. The first class attempts to increase self-awareness by exploring the familial sources of the most marked characteristics of our personalities. Here are mine.

Extreme Work Ethic – My paternal grandfather was a welder that built many of the buildings that make up the Houston skyline and later in life ran his own shop until he was physically unable. My other grandfather ran the dairy farm where I grew up. Up at 4:00am seven days a week, he set a very visible example of what it means to truly toil. From drilling rigs in high school and full-time graveyard work in college to managing hotels and management consulting, 70 to 80 hour, six-day work weeks have been normal for me for thirty years. A 60-hour week feels like a vacation. If you are not comfortable with that pace, you can thank my grandfathers.

Academic Excellence – At report card time, a “B” has always been completely unacceptable. I received the gift of high academic expectations from my grandmothers. In a highly unusual coincidence for young women in the 1920s and 1930s, both of them went to college and one of them went on to teach alongside my mother for close to thirty years. I know that the fact that I did not follow her to the Rice Institute broke her heart. This probably compels me to study even more. So when my kids accuse me of going all “crazy Asian mom” on them about their grades, they can blame my grandmothers.

Responsibility & Reliability – My father has three boys. As the oldest, I watched him work to provide for us kids very early in his career. He taught me that any job worth doing is worth doing well. He is a stickler and a perfectionist when it comes to follow through. He used the word “half-assed” to describe the results of most of my chores and then invited me to do them over and over until his standards were met. I soon learned to do it right the first time. Accepting responsibility and then reliably delivering on commitments with excellence is a lesson I learned from my dad.

Fun & Adventurous Spirit – With fifteen or so siblings in my grandparent’s generation all centered in the same small town, the family tree had exploded by the time my many cousins and I were coming of age. Family get-togethers often had over 100 people. My mother was a force of love and fun in these events. As a teacher she also had the habit of throwing us all in the station wagon and traveling across the country every summer. The explorer and adventurer in me comes from my mother. The desire to have fun and create meaningful relationships while working hard is the result of the “work hard, play hard” ethos that permeated my early life. Thanks Mom!

We are all products of our raising. Mine included tremendous advantages. There is no such thing as a “self-made man.” The roots of my raising run deep. These examples give me the strength that I need.

Kalypsonian of the Year

10 Sep

I get a lot of email. On rare occasions, I get an email that has a meaningful impact on my life.

Seven years ago a former colleague of mine sent me such an email. It was a short note referring his younger cousin as a potential candidate for our new and growing innovation consulting firm. She didn’t have much to offer in the way of relevant business experience, but my friend assured me that she had a strong character and was willing to work hard to make a difference. We needed help, and she didn’t make much money, so we took a chance and offered her a job.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. Hiring Pamela Soin is not one of them. She joined the team as a smart, inexperienced young lady a couple of years out of college and quickly made herself indispensable. In the intervening years we have traveled the world together, serving clients in exciting cities like Seoul, Sydney, San Diego, Amsterdam and even Appleton, Wisconsin. We have shared a lot of laughs, a lot of love, and more than a few tears.

Watching her grow into an accomplished professional advisor with personal eminence and business stature has been one the great privileges of my career. Some moments in life create indelible memories. My repertoire of stories from a twenty-year career in consulting is pretty large. Pam is the principal actor in many of the best and funniest stories I have in my collection. She is one of the original Kalypso “characters with character”.

The Kalypsonian of the Year award is reserved each year for the team member that embodies the ideals of the Kalypso consultant; that leader behind the leader that demonstrates a healthy lack of respect for hierarchy and positional authority. Pamela Soin believes that innovation combined with action can change the world for the better. She is passionate about what she does and knows how to have fun at work – and after. Most importantly, she genuinely cares about the success of her colleagues and goes to extraordinary lengths to help them. Pam is a true professional and a personal role model for us all.

After seven years I am honored to call her a colleague, a friend, and our 2012 Kalypsonian of the Year.

Stelos Alliance Awards

29 Apr

We are wrapping up another great academic year tonight with the Stelos Alliance Awards banquet. We have the incredible honor to reward fourteen extraordinary student leaders for their service with scholarships and fellowships. They are the “stars” and it is our mission to make them shine brighter.

Tonight we will also honor four professionals for creating opportunities for these super stars. The inaugural Stelos Alliance Awards celebrate individuals and their organizations that support our mission by providing post-graduate opportunities for dynamic young people who assume the responsibilities of leadership while in college. The recipients cultivate a workplace that empowers young leaders and nurtures them through those first crucial years of their careers. The first award recipients are:

Each of these deserving award winners will have someone that they have mentored speak on their behalf at the banquet. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say. Thank you from all of us and those stars that you have made shine brighter.

I would also like to express my gratitude for Kim Brewskie Booker and Sandler Training for sponsoring this evening’s event. When we half-heartedly put out a general request for an underwriter, Kim said yes within fifteen minutes. Her faith in the mission of the Stelos Alliance is appreciated by us all. Thank you.

This is the fun stuff. Honoring, recognizing, awarding, and shining a light on the great work that these students and professionals do every single day. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday night.

Shine Bright!

Gratitude

21 Apr

We wrapped up the Stelos Alliance’s spring session of the Housley Principled Leadership Program yesterday on the fourth anniversary of Kevin’s death. This scheduling coincidence made the gratitude offered by the students a perfect tribute to our departed friend. The lessons learned in “Housley” memorialize a great man and set extraordinary young leaders on a learning path that will last a lifetime.

The topic of the final session is, “Service: Choice or Obligation?” This is a conversation about what we as citizens owe to our country. Is there something required beyond lawful behavior and paying taxes? Since it has now been two generations since we last had conscripted military service in the United States, even defense feels like a remote responsibility. How then do young citizens acknowledge the advantages bestowed upon them by their heritage? Is there a debt that is due to our patrimony and, if so, how and to whom should it be repaid? These are questions for us all to consider.

While we talked about the changing national ethos regarding service to country we concluded that the benefits that accrue to the giver are substantial and that systematically uniting the privilege of citizenship with responsibility is essential to preserving the long-term health of the republic. The students in the Housley program can articulate the benefits of being raised in the best country on earth. Far from being needy and narcissistic, these student leaders are prepared to dedicate themselves to serving their country and setting an example for their peers.

This is something that would make our friend, Kevin Housley, very proud. He offered himself to the community in numerous official roles and to the country in countless other capacities. He lived by the principles that we teach in the program. As the HPLP instructor and giver in this instance, I can positively proclaim that I benefit at least as much as the students. This goes well beyond the satisfaction of hearing their voiced appreciation. I learn from teaching, and it is making me a better leader. The program is both a gift from and a tribute to my good friend. It seems like yesterday that we gathered in the church to say goodbye. After four years I still miss him very much. I offer my gratitude.

Millennial Myths

16 Apr

Last month, I recommended that organizations seeking growth from innovation should “Overdose on Youth” to give them a performance enhancing boost. The response to the charge to load up on smart, talented, energetic young people was met with skepticism and anecdotes about the needy and narcissistic Millennial Generation that want everything and are not truly committed to the organization.

Then along comes an article in the latest issue of Strategy + Business by Jennifer Deal of the Center for Creative Leadership titled “Five Millennial Myths”. It lends my position some weight using empirical research into the behaviors and beliefs of those in the millennial generation. Ms. Deal found that the stereotypes are “inconsistent at best and destructive at worst.” At 2 ½ pages, you should read the entire article, but here are the five myths she identifies:

#1 Millennials don’t want to be told what to do. This proved to be flat out wrong, the young people of this generation turn out to be much more willing to defer to authority than Boomers or Gen Xers (try telling me what to do). The research says that they want to know what the expectations are at work.

#2 Millennials lack organizational loyalty. The fact is that each generation has historically changed jobs more frequently when they were in their 20s than they do later in life. Young people are looking for jobs that help them learn. When they switch it is not due to a lack of loyalty, but a yearning to grow through challenging experiences.

#3 Millennials aren’t interested in their work. No one of any generation is motivated to do the boring work that gets pushed down to lower levels. Don’t assume that younger people are not able to take on meaningful tasks. Find the superstars that are capable of doing more and whip the fast horses. If some portion of their job doesn’t captivate their imagination, you deserve to lose them.

#4 Millennials are motivated by perks and high pay. The extensive research showed no difference between generations. Yes, when you are younger and making less money, you are likely to be slightly more motivated by extrinsic rewards, but pay and perks are not going to engender loyalty.

#5 Millennials want more work-life balance. This is somewhat accurate, but is likely the result of a societal shift and related to life-stage than generation. Millennials want the flexibility to make their contributions and enjoy life at the same time. Work is more integrated into life than ever before.

This research gives me the opportunity to reiterate my recommendation to pack your organization with talented people under the age of 30. Make sure that they have interesting work to do and the opportunity to learn, develop, and advance. You will reap tremendous rewards from their contributions. Youth is like an innovation performance enhancing drug that will make the pulse of your organization beat a lot faster if taken in large quantities. I am sticking by my advice to overdose.

%d bloggers like this: