Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Setting An Example

There is no more meaningless a line in the realm of leadership than ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ One of the things that you can absolutely count on, whether you manage a Boy Scout Troop or a Fortune 500 company is that your behavior, your day-to-day actions, will be watched and copied. All of them.

All of the glossy charts on the wall, all the corporate bulletin boards – physical and electronic, all the public announcements, all the ‘town meetings, won’t matter a tinker’s damn if you don’t ‘walk-the-walk.’

And what does it mean to ‘walk-the-walk?’ Is it enough to say the right things at large gatherings, is it enough to have pertinent details about this or that activity so that you are always the best informed, is it enough to always dress appropriately, is it enough to know everyone’s name, or any of the other 101 traits that people note as signs of leadership?

The short and simple answer is: No.

The fact is that as people progress up the ladder of any organization several things happen: the first is that simply by having been in the organization for a while they know a good deal about it and about the various forces – economic, political, social, legal, etc. – that affect it. Second, they have people working for them who’s job it is to feed them information. They are ‘kept smart’ by the system. Third, if they have a decent aide or two they also have a steady stream of information coming into their office on whomever they are likely to meet today. If they are very good, there will be a list and one or two sentences on everyone in a given division if they are going to visit that division today, as well as a run-down on what the division does, it’s production numbers for the year, etc. This will allow them to not only seem to know all the details on the division as they walk through, it will allow them to seem to know many of the people. Fourth, after giving the basic two or three corporate briefs to perspective investors a dozen times or so, and having practiced it 50 times or so, the CEO has five or ten minutes of a ‘speech’ available without even thinking about it. For the average CEO to stand up and give some ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks should be as easy as breathing.

There are scores more examples of executives looking ‘good.’ It is really not substantially different than what many politicians do. All of this can be understood as nothing more than preparation and a bit of a ‘show.’ It will be enough for politicians. But it isn’t enough if you are actually going to motivate people to work hard for you.

The fact is that in the end most of the people who work for you are going to notice the little things that are big things: Are you positive and upbeat or are you angry? Do you treat people fairly? Do you take care of people or just use them? Do you hold to your word?

If you are the leader of an organization, any organization, it is accurate to say that your ‘mask’ must always be on. You always need your game face. When you are buying groceries and you bump into one of your people, when you are going to the movies, when you are dropping kids off at school – whatever it is – you have to be cheerful, confidant, and glad to see them. If you don’t remember their name, say “I’m Pete. I’m sorry, I forgot your name’ and shake their hand. Now listen to them. Pay attention, because they will say something and it is directed at you. And how you respond, the way you stand, whether you pay attention, will get around the company. Count on it.

The people who work for you, no matter how senior you are, no matter how intellectual and jaundiced you think your employees are, will notice everything about you. And here is the important point: eventually they will reflect it in everything they do. You don’t need to be perfect: no one expects that. But they do expect honesty and fairness and hard work and the truth. If you are telling the board one thing and the people who work for you another, it will get out.

The French essayist and playwright Jean Giraudoux once remarked that: "The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you've got it made." He was, of course, being cynical. In the end sincerity will either support everything you do, or insincerity will undermine it.

If you are not sincere about wanting to lead, about wanting to build a better Scout Troop or a better Bank or a better Oil Company, then you should leave. More to the point, if you don’t really care about the people of your company, they will figure it out sooner or later. It may take a while, but they will eventually find out. And when they do everything you say or do will be at risk. Decide to lead and commit to it, and commit to your people and your organization, or get out of the way.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40th Anniversary

40 years ago today man first stepped on the Moon. They were able to accomplish this because they, and a great many others, embraced the best that is in us: they reached beyond their grasp, they strove to do what was said to be impossible, they aimed for a goal that was greater than any that had come before. This spirit of adventure and the conquest of the frontier is the very core of the survival of mankind. They were successful as a result of the efforts of literally thousands of men and women, and though only 12 men actually made it to the surface, each of these thousands share in the success, though we don’t remember their names.

Nevertheless, there are a few figures who stand out. One is President Kennedy, who galvanized the nation and the world and focused the efforts of those thousands with his leadership into space. Below is that speech. Following it is the list of all the Apollo astronauts, to include the three men of Apollo 1 who died in the fire on the launch pad.

September 12, 1962

President Pitzer, Mr. Vice President, Governor, Congressman Thomas, Senator Wiley, and Congressman Miller, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bell, scientists, distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen:

I appreciate your president having made me an honorary visiting professor, and I will assure you that my first lecture will be very brief.

I am delighted to be here and I'm particularly delighted to be here on this occasion.

We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.

Despite the striking fact that most of the scientists that the world has ever known are alive and working today, despite the fact that this Nation¹s own scientific manpower is doubling every 12 years in a rate of growth more than three times that of our population as a whole, despite that, the vast stretches of the unknown and the unanswered and the unfinished still far outstrip our collective comprehension.

No man can fully grasp how far and how fast we have come, but condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power.

Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight.

This is a breathtaking pace, and such a pace cannot help but create new ills as it dispels old, new ignorance, new problems, new dangers. Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward.

So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward--and so will space.

William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.

If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.

Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it--we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.

Yet the vows of this Nation can only be fulfilled if we in this Nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first. In short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world's leading space-faring nation.

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.

In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man's history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn, generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined, will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.

Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were "made in the United States of America" and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.

The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the 40-yard lines.

Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.

We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.

To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.

The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. Technical institutions, such as Rice, will reap the harvest of these gains.

And finally, the space effort itself, while still in its infancy, has already created a great number of new companies, and tens of thousands of new jobs. Space and related industries are generating new demands in investment and skilled personnel, and this city and this State, and this region, will share greatly in this growth. What was once the furthest outpost on the old frontier of the West will be the furthest outpost on the new frontier of science and space. Houston, your City of Houston, with its Manned Spacecraft Center, will become the heart of a large scientific and engineering community. During the next 5 years the National Aeronautics and Space Administration expects to double the number of scientists and engineers in this area, to increase its outlays for salaries and expenses to $60 million a year; to invest some $200 million in plant and laboratory facilities; and to direct or contract for new space efforts over $1 billion from this Center in this City.

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year¹s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at $5,400 million a year--a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United Stated, for we have given this program a high national priority--even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us.

But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun--almost as hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold.

I'm the one who is doing all the work, so we just want you to stay cool for a minute. [laughter]

However, I think we're going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don't think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job. And this will be done in the decade of the sixties. It may be done while some of you are still here at school at this college and university. It will be done during the term of office of some of the people who sit here on this platform. But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.

I am delighted that this university is playing a part in putting a man on the moon as part of a great national effort of the United States of America.

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there."

Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Thank you.

The Apollo Crews

Apollo 1
Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Commander
Edward White, command module pilot

Roger Chaffee, lunar module pilot

Apollo 7
Walter Schirra, Jr, commander

Donn Eisele, command module pilot

Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot

Apollo 8
Frank Borman, commander

James A. Lovell, command module pilot

William A. Anders, lunar module pilot

Apollo 9
Commander James McDivitt, commander
David Scott, command module pilot
Russell Schweickart, lunar module pilot

Apollo 10
Thomas P. Stafford, commander
John W. Young, command module pilot
Eugene A. Cernan, lunar module pilot

Apollo 11
Neil A. Armstrong, commander

Michael Collins, command module pilot

Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., lunar module pilot

Apollo 12
Charles Conrad, Jr., commander
Richard F. Gordon, command module pilot

Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot

Apollo 13
James A. Lovell, commander

John L. Swigert, Jr., command module pilot
Fred W. Haise, Jr., lunar module pilot

Apollo 14
Alan B. Shepard, Jr., commander

Stuart A. Roosa, command module pilot
Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot

Apollo 15
David R. Scott, commander

Alfred M. Worden, command module pilot

James B. Irwin, lunar module pilot

Apollo 16
John W. Young, commander

Thomas K. Mattingly II, command module pilot
Charles M. Duke, Jr., lunar module pilot

Apollo 17
Eugene A. Cernan, commander

Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot

Harrison H. Schmitt, lunar module pilot

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It may be the most unpleasant thing any of us does: evaluate those who work for us. It is also probably the most important thing we do. How then should we approach evaluations?

First, let’s set some ground rules: don’t use a screwdriver to drive nails. By that I mean evaluations are for evaluating the performance of someone. They are not recommendations for promotion. If you conflate the two you will get a less than optimum answer (and in the end, probably a poor answer – see below.)

There are those who say that evaluations are a negative influence on the organization, and if used improperly, they are. So, the second thing to remember is that the point of an evaluation is not to simply tell someone that they aren’t doing well. The real worth of the evaluation is to use it to improve someone’s performance. If you are not using it for that purpose, you - and it - are already negative influences.

Every member of your organization is a member of your team. Consider them as such. Imagine if you were the manager of the Boston Red Sox. You don’t critique a new pitcher by telling him how poorly he is doing. Rather, you watch his performance, his warm-up, his practice, how he pitches when ahead, how he pitches when behind, you take notes, and then you talk to him. If he is trying to throw sliders and the other team keeps hitting his slider, you need to work with him to find another pitch, or work to improve his slider. Maybe he is rushing his pitches; maybe he gets distracted when there are base-runners. You, and the pitching coach and the catchers and the older pitchers work with him to make him a better pitcher. You invest in him to make him better because making him better makes your team better.

It is EXACTLY the same at your company. Just as with a baseball team, if you have someone who doesn’t fit the company, who isn’t going to help you win, you need to let them go, no matter how good they are. But, if they fit, if they can help, then you need to invest in them so that they do help.

The evaluation process then is a way to identify strong points and weak points in anyone’s performance. It is your job to not only identify the strong points and the weak points, but to also take advantage of that knowledge, to the benefit of both the organization and the employee. Where it is possible to train or educate someone to eliminate a weakness, do so. Where it is not possible to train or educate them, then you need to realign tasks as much as is possible so that your people play as much as possible to their strengths and, as much as possible, avoid their weaknesses.

Which leads to the third point. If one of your employees is repeatedly evaluated with the same weaknesses it’s not their fault, it’s yours. If the same issues keep arising, you should have done something about it. That you haven’t isn’t their fault as they are still saddled with the same responsibilities, responsibilities assigned by you.

Let me repeat the three key points about evaluating your people:

1) Evaluations are NOT to be used to recommend people for promotion or bonuses or whatever. This is stated first because it is the major mistake most organizations make when it comes to evaluations. When you conflate evaluations and promotion/bonus recommendations, you will first end up short-changing both, and eventually you will find yourself without a tool to improve performance.
2) Evaluations should be used to improve individual performance, and eventually team performance.
3) Evaluations are as much about your performance as the person being evaluated. If your system doesn’t recognize that, then there is something wrong with your system. A good evaluation system should identify individual strengths and weaknesses and allow you to improve the overall performance of the team.

I’ll close with a warning. Many different management systems want to establish metrics for every facet of the organization. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But, there is a great danger if you let the metrics become all-consuming. This is particularly true if you become caught up in meeting your quarterly forecasts. This can drive you to make sure you make ‘today’s numbers’ irrespective of future costs to the organization. We have all seen executives squeeze every last drop of ‘blood’ out of an operation in order to meet their numbers and then depart in triumph, only to pass a broken organization on to the successor. In many cases their behavior was prompted by evaluation systems that rewarded ‘meeting the numbers’ irrespective of costs. It is better to have no evaluation system at all then one that rewards breaking the back of the organization.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

You Don’t Communicate Enough

You don’t communicate enough.

I don’t know you, but I can with a great deal of certainty make that statement. In fact, I have never met anyone who was in a position of leadership who communicated enough. I have led any number of organizations, and with one exception, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t communicate enough. I have also served in many different organizations and can say quite safely that there was never enough communication.

Communication is how you translate your vision, your goals, and your plan into the vision, the goals, and the plan of the rest of the organization. The people need to not only understand the vision, goal and plan, they need to hear it and understand it in such a substantive way that it becomes their vision, their goal, their plan. As the leader you must ‘convert them.’ And you will do that by talking to them and listening to them.

One of the great leaders of the last several centuries was the great Royal Navy leader, Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. Nelson had none of the physical attributes that are commonly held up as necessary for a leader, he was of average height, slight of build, had a quiet voice, after the battle for Corsica in 1793 was blind in his right eye, and lost most of his right arm in 1797 at the battle of Tenerife. But he was a leader of unparalleled ability. And at the center of his leadership, the ‘Nelson Touch’ as it was called, was his ability to communicate with his officers and sailors.

And how did he do this? Very simply, he talked to them. And he talked to them again and again and again. Nelson would have long dinners with his officers during which he would both instruct and entertain them, dinners in which not only did he talk at length about tactics and operations and the running of a ship, but also during which he could evaluate each of his officers ‘at close range’ and learn what made each ‘tick.’ He learned about his men even as he instructed them. So well did he instruct them and train them and drill them that he knew that he could trust them when he led them into battle, trust them to make informed decisions without the need to turn back to Nelson and ask.

And the key to it all was communication.

This example applies to any organization, no matter what the ‘product’ and no matter what the size. I remember Robert Townsend telling a story many years ago when I was in college, about taking over a company and moving his desk out of the executive suites and onto the shop floor (it was a manufacturing company of some sort). He placed the desk on a major ‘thorough-fare’ where everyone walked past him. He would stand near the desk every day and say hello to people and they would stop and talk. And so he explained his goals for the company, and he also heard all that worked and didn’t work in the company.

So, if you ever overhear someone saying ‘I think he means…’ and it isn’t right, the fault is yours. And the solution is: Communicate.

My father used to quote a line from Ted Williams that went like this: “Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice. And when you think you are done, practice some more.” The very same can be said for communication:

“Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. And when you think you’re done, Communicate some more.”