Empty Room

IMG_2047Last week a friend of mine asked if I would fill a speaking slot at a local business expo/networking event this afternoon. I spoke at it last year and had a good experience so I was happy to do it again. I didn’t expect a big crowd both because of the time slot and the fact that my talk was a late addition to the program. Last year I spoke to about 20 people so I figured it would be in that neighborhood, probably fewer, this time around.

There are two more reasons I eagerly said “yes.” First, I absolutely love sharing my point of view. I relish any opportunity to speak and inspire, to challenge and to share ideas, to possibly move people to consider questions and invitations they have never considered. Nothing is more gratifying to me. Second, I learned a deeply important lesson this Spring about the risk of underestimating the potential of a talk to lead to a business opportunity. I found myself in the back room of a suburban diner about to speak to a whopping six people during a lunch meeting and I was pretty down about it. As I was being introduced I gave myself a quick pep talk, decided to seize the opportunity to learn from the experience and ended up earning a significant new client as a result. It only talks one, right?

That brings us to today. I titled my talk “Leading Change: A New Conversation With Complexity.” The time came, the time passed and nobody showed up. I should have named it “Free Beer and Snacks” because that’s what most folks were interested in. If you left work early to attend an event like this would you rather sit in a seminar about stuff few people really want to talk about or would you rather visit the booths and meet new people in between samplings from local food trucks and microbrews? Yeah, I know.

A few minutes past the starting time I was growing confident that the talk was a no-go so I decided to snap a picture of the meeting space. It’s pretty spare, a small partitioned section of a vast warehouse. Sadly, it reminds me an awful lot of how so many organizations look and feel these days. Caught up in the relentless layers of complexity and change we are all feeling and facing inertia has settled in, preventing aliveness, preventing possibility. One in eight workers worldwide – a whopping 13% of those surveyed – say they are “psychologically committed to their job” according to Gallup. I believe that’s because those places we call “work” have in so many cases ceased to be about those things we all really want: meaning, purpose, vision and being a contribution to something larger than ourselves. The organizations that will win in these tumultuous years ahead are those that will courageously reclaim the mantle of meaning. Making that change will require leaders who are willing to have the conversations no one wants to have but that must happen if we are to break out of this malaise. Those leaders will be an invitation to others through their deep commitment to speak to as many empty rooms as it takes before people take notice, before each room is brimming with the vibrant interaction of a deeply committed community of possibility.

That’s what I was going to talk about today. And I will gladly show up again tomorrow. Any takers?

Redefining the “C” Suite

What if we replaced “Chief” with a new set of “C” words? What would happen to our organizations if excellence in these domains was the price of admission to the board room?

CHARACTER – key words: self-awareness, trial, values, openness, courage

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” – General Norman Schwarzkopf

 “My greatest enemy was not those who put or kept me in prison. It was myself. I was afraid to be who I am.” – Nelson Mandela

 “If you must live an unexamined life, please inflict it on somebody else.” – Parker Palmer

COMPETENCE – key words: expertise, skill, standards, learning, teaching

“I am, as I’ve said, merely competent. But in an age of incompetence, that makes me extraordinary.” – Billy Joel

“If the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

CONNECTION – key words: trust, relationship, vulnerability, consistency

“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.” – William James

 “Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship and there won’t be an end.” – Tony Robbins

 “The influence of a vital person vitalizes. The way to bring the world alive is to be alive yourself.”  – Joseph Campbell

CULTURE – key words: values, vision, meaning, learning, engagement

 “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch

 “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” – Bill Gates

 “Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It fails because it’s too late.” – Seth Godin

Winning with Culture

I spent nearly eight years of my professional life working to bring a “coaching culture”  to life within the TaylorMade Golf Company. Alongside brilliant product creation, exceptional marketing efforts and flawless sales execution, our ability to sustain a purposeful culture of learning and development led to some truly incredible results. Hardly a perfect science, in the pursuit of a coaching culture we rarely got it all right. But that’s missing the point because culture is always unfinished business. It is a work in progress if ever there was one. But, when a company grows 4X over 12 years you can and should look to many reasons why. If you don’t look at culture you’re missing a huge part of the story.

Here’s a piece from the Wall Street Journal that does a nice job of explaining the measurable elements of TaylorMade’s rise to dominance (How TaylorMade Made Its Move). What it fails to address is one of the most glaringly obvious reasons for this historic growth: a company culture that will knock your socks off. I appreciate that the WSJ lives mostly in the land of the rational, the measurable and the known. I further appreciate that culture, leadership and learning are decidedly fuzzy and definitely “soft.” As such they don’t get discussed in the mainstream business media which is a sad reality that has to change. I know the role that culture played in achieving those results because I was there. But you don’t have to take my word for it since TaylorMade isn’t the only one linking an intentional culture to incredible results.

Zappo’s has been playing this game for a little while, also. And they also have the results to show for it as they have taken the idea of an intentional and purposeful culture to an entirely new level. Zappo’s leaves no room for doubt that it is the squishy stuff like culture that took them to a billion dollars in revenue.

I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters last December and it is obvious from the very moment you step foot in the place that there is nothing “squishy” about what’s going on there. For as much fun as they seem to be having they are dead serious about maintaining a culture that allows them to deliver exceptional business results. Again, it is their culture that allows for the results to follow. This is on purpose for one simple reason: it works.

I appreciate your skepticism. The media never talks about it because they haven’t figured out how to do so. I suggest you go see for yourselves. The good people at TaylorMade and Zappo’s are waiting for your call.