Tag Archives: Excellence

Leading With Pride (The Good Kind)

Johan Santana waves to fans after throwing the first no-hitter in Mets history. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

It is said that “Pride goeth before the fall” (Proverbs, 16:18).

There are countless examples of this maxim in the worlds of politics, business, and our own daily lives. At the same time, there is a spirit of pride (and determination) that can lift up and inspire.  That’s the kind of pride that this story is about.

What Happened

Last Friday evening, at Citi Field, in the working class borough of Queens, in the City of New York, Johan Santana threw a no-hitter. While a noteworthy accomplishment on its own (there have only been 275 no-hitters in the major leagues since 1875), it is not why grown men cried at the feat and an entire city was elated for days afterward.  To understand that part, you need to know the context.

Backdrop

Santana pitches for the New York Mets—a team nicknamed “The Amazins” not for their stellar play, but for their sometimes historic ineptitude punctuated by periods of break-your-heart, so-near-and-yet-so-far brushes with greatness (cue the song, “Ya’ Gotta Have Heart,” from the classic musical, “Damn Yankees,” and you’ve got the picture).  The past five years have been a microcosm of the team’s 50-year history:

  • They came within one pitch of the World Series in 2006 when they had the best team in baseball (losing in the bottom of the ninth of the seventh game of the League Championship Series with the bases loaded, a 3-2 count, and their best hitter at the plate).
  • They suffered two of the greatest collapses in baseball history at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons, missing the playoffs in almost inconceivably excruciating fashion. Continue reading

Good HR vs. Bad HR

Can a fresh set of dry erase markers and a clean whiteboard really be tools for "good HR" (and bad)?

I had an experience this week that provided an “a-ha” moment for me about the power of “good HR” – HR support that helps bring ideas to life in ways that help organizations progress.

Scenario

I was helping a small team come up with a list of performance traits that denote excellence in their field.  They plan to use these characteristics through the full HR cycle of events, from interviewing and selection to performance evaluation and professional development.

The same group had gone through a similar exercise a few years ago.  At that time, they accomplished the task – i.e., they put words down on paper – but (and this part won’t be a surprise for anyone who’s spent any time in HR or organizations in general), the document then sat on a shelf unused for years, to the point where people even forgot it existed.

An Example of Bad HR

This is a good example of “bad HR” that we unfortunately fall into in many of our organizations from time to time.  Good people Continue reading

Falling Leaves and Tidying Up

Autumn provides the opportunity to tidy up our haven't-quite-gotten-to-it lists before the rush of the holidays is upon us

The falling leaves — announcing the changing of the seasons — have brought to mind the question of “wrapping up” certain activities and preparing for what’s ahead.

Tidying Up the Sidewalk
Earlier this week, I stepped outside to stretch my legs and enjoy a moment of the beautiful autumn afternoon, the sunshine giving off a golden glow. Passing a row of twin homes near our office, I exchanged greetings with an older gentleman I often see on my walks. A distinguished fellow of dignified bearing, I noticed that he was attending to the manicured patch of grass and sidewalk in front of his home with his usual care.

It struck me that my neighborhood friend’s task was symbolic of good advice for all of us this time of year – tidy up, and prepare for the next season.

Wrapping Up … Doesn’t That Feel Good!
I would venture that most of us have a few things on our I-haven’t-quite-gotten-around-to-it list.  Things that aren’t necessarily the most pleasant nor enjoyable to do – but which if we finally got them done, would take a mental “load” off our minds.  No one ever gets to everything on their list, of course … but here is some encouragement to check off a least a few items!  (C’mon … you can do it!).

Keeping things on the professional side (but realizing we all probably have a similar list in our personal lives, as well), below are a few examples of things-not-quite-done.   The list will vary amongst HR generalists and VP’s, front-line supervisors and CEO’s, of course.  Regardless of position, though, there are still 6 or 8 weeks left before holiday parties and celebrations with family and friends are upon us – time enough to make a dent on things like …

  • HR Generalists: the I-9, or COBRA, or FLSA audits that need to be done but – since “we haven’t gotten sued yet” – for which higher priorities have arisen every time we “meant” to tackle these tasks.  Checking one of these off the list will help protect your organization in a very meaningful way.
  • Recruiters: the hard-to-fill job for which you’ve almost convinced yourself qualified candidates don’t exist.  Taking a fresh look and making a renewed effort on this opening would take a great weight off of two people – yourself, and the hiring manager who really needs the position filled to move his or her operation forward.
  • HR VP’s/Leaders: the global PHR certification exam that you’ve been meaning to sign up and sit for.  You’ve been dealing with international issues for years.  You’re confident in your knowledge.  You know it would be a nice final element to cement your professional credentials. It’s true that the XYZ project is coming to fruition right when the exam is scheduled.  Sign up anyway.
  • Organizational Leaders: the under-performer on your team you need to address.  You know you have a highly-competent, exemplary leadership team … except for Harry, who’s a great guy and a trusted friend – just not a skilled manager.  You’ve been meaning to have “the conversation” with him.  They’ll never be “a good time” and it’s impossible to “let him down easy.” Have the conversation any way.  The team will improve; so will everyone working under Harry.  You’ll feel better … and so will he.

Looking Forward

If we don’t take a few moments – or hours, or days – when the time is available, we risk having snow cover the fallen leaves, making it all that much harder to clean up, put in order, and clear a path for the future. Consider this a huge dose of friendly encouragement – and a nudge or two – to do what we need to do.

What Managers Can Learn From Dental Hygienists


Sitting in the dentist’s chair during a routine appointment this morning, it struck me that in almost four decades of dental visits,  every dental hygienist I had ever met had  almost exactly the same demeanor.  Not one single time had a hygienist been anything other than upbeat, personable, attentive, and caring.

That’s quite remarkable, I think. Like everyone else,  I’ve had waiters who were personable and engaging, and those who were grouchy and withdrawn; sales clerks who were enthusiastic and helpful, and those who were sullen and unaccommodating; etc. What could account for this consistency among hygienists?  I think that part of the answer, oddly enough, may help managers increase the performance of their team members.

 Characteristics Held in Common

Given this commonality among their temperaments, I have to assume that hiring hygienists is directly based on these characteristics (after considering their technical competence, of course).  However, that’s not the thing that is necessarily instructive.

As dental hygiene is a care-giving field, it only makes sense that it would attract care-giving personalities.  I suspect, though, that there must be other factors coming into play to sustain the near-universal contentment that hygienists seem to bring to their work – such as:

  1. A positive outlook — coming from their knowledge that Continue reading

Making Your Boss Look Good

Telling "gentle truths" is a way of fulfilling with integrity the "job requirement" of keeping the boss happy by making him or her "look good"

As I was helping a manager write a job description recently, he leaned over and said, “Wait.  There’s one more ‘requirement’ we need to add.”  Waiting a beat, he smiled:  “Ability to make boss look good.”  We both laughed  – but we both recognized the truth in what he had said, too.

While the blatantly “political” (one might say, “Machiavellian”) nature of this idea is uncomfortable for me, there is no doubt that this represents a cold, hard truth in many if not all organizations. It might not be necessary for getting the job, but “making the boss look good” is often a de facto requirement for keeping (or succeeding in) a job long term.

How can one do so with integrity, serving the best interests of their organization, their boss, and – admittedly – their own career? Three “rules” come to mind.

NOTE: The following examples concern qualified, good-performing bosses. Incompetent and “mean” bosses are another case entirely – and, as they say, a story for another day.

#1: Invite them into situations that play to their strengths

We once had a CEO who, while surprisingly quiet and shy in one-to-one or small group settings, was a very engaging speaker in a large room.  Therefore, when we invited him to kick-off a “Welcome to the company” orientation presentation on the day of an acquisition, we were quite surprised when he struggled mightily in telling the company’s story to the crowd.

We later realized our mistake: Continue reading

September 11th Leadership Lessons

A New York City fireman calls for 10 more resc...

In the hours after the towers came down on September 11th, servant leadership was on fullest display (Image via Wikipedia)

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a great deal will be written about the political, religious, and societal impact of the events of that day.   It has oft been noted that —  like the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of FDR, and the assassination of JFK — anyone who was alive that day will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of the first plane hitting the tower, and everything that occurred thereafter.

Certainly that is the case for me.   For my part, I wanted to share a few brief thoughts on leadership lessons learned from heroes — most who were “famous” only to their own families prior to that beautiful and awful morning — who answered the call of duty that fateful day.

First Responders: Leading Without Saying A Word

If to lead one must serve, can there be any greater definition of authentic “servant leadership” than someone who runs into a collapsing building when everyone else is running out?  And yet, that is exactly what hundreds of fire fighters, police, emergency personnel, and other first responders did that day — seeking to get as many people to safety as they possibly could.  They saw the task before them, and they acted — not in consideration of their own interests, but of those they were charged with serving. Many thousands lived because of their actions … countless millions more have been inspired by their bravery and selfless service.

Flight 93 Passengers: Observe, Plan, Act … NOW

As we all know now, while events were occuring in New York (World Trade Center) and Washington (Pentagon), another drama was playing out in the skies above western Pennsylvania.  There, a quick-thinking group of individuals — forming one of the most remarkable ad hoc “leadership teams” in history — was determined to do all they could do to influence the unprecedented (and almost wholly incomprehensible) events in which they were now participating.

Observing the unfolding events, they quickly gathered all available data, pieced together a plan, and acted. They didn’t wait for “perfect information,” didn’t wait for others to clear a path through unchartered territory, and didn’t miss their window of opportunity.  They formed a simple and powerful vision with clarity, gathered others onboard, and acted.  We may never know exactly what greater destruction their actions that day saved us from.  We do know that there may never be a greater example of leadership “in the moment” than their stepping forward as “Let’s roll” was declared.

In grateful appreciation.  May their example always serve to uplift and inspire.

The Values We Bring To Work: A Shoemaker’s Tale

The author's grandfather in his shoe repair shop, circa 1986

A chance encounter with a friendly shoemaker in New York City earlier this week got me to thinking about the personal values we bring to work.  This gentleman — who, to my amazement, offered to fix my shoe while I waited (!) … and then proceded to do exactly that, with great care and expertise — reminded me in several ways of my late grandfather, who began his career as a shoemaker as a 9-year old boy in Sicily.  He emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s, opening his own shoe repair shop in Elmhurst, Queens a few decades later, which is where our story begins …

Leather dust, Italian opera, and lunchtime culture lessons

My grandfather was a kind, proud, hard-working, happy man with strong hands, and fingers blackened by 75 years of working with leather.  He enjoyed his work, and put his heart into fixing his customers’ shoes to “as good as new” every time.  But leather soles, heels, and taps weren’t the only things on offer in his shop — or even the main reason many of his regular customers came by the shop. 

With operatic music in the background, he was always eager to share a story, ponder a bit of philosphy, or inquire about your family — in heavily accented English accompanied by a warm smile. While shoemaking was his profession, helping people — with a word of support, a twinkle in the eye, or a hand of friendship — was his vocation, and he practiced it every day, day after day, year after year, well into his eighties, in that little shop in Queens.

Succeeding Generations, Same Values

It was that vocation — of using his work to help people in ways large and small — that he passed down to my father, who passed it down to me.  Though the context has changed — from a shoe repair shop, to  Continue reading