Lead, Follow or ?

Where have all the leaders gone?

Next week a colleague and I present an all day workshop on Leadership.  This will be the sixth time we are doing this. We think we have it down fairly well. The group we are doing it with is a non-profit. Large to some extent. Institutional in nature. Minimal growth.  Growth in most cases is not on the main burner. Maintaining what currently exists seems to be the primary focus.

When we do these seminars, I am always looking for new and better ways to connect with those who attend. Often it seems like we use the same words and phrases that get tossed around so that they have little meaning and are ineffective. I suspect Leadership may be in that category. Change is probably another word that gets diluted, especially these past few months.

Yet the financial events of the past week….call out for leadership and action. I suspect these events will be the real test of leadership. In presenting our ideas next week….I can only tell my story, use my experience and look for sound wisdom in others to hopefully connect with some folks that despite being bantered about:

 Leadership is critical to your business or organization.

Here are several leadership keys from John Maxwell:

  • Nothing happens until someone provides leadership for it.
  • Leadership is influence.
  • The test of leadership asks: “Is anyone following?”
  • The foundation of leadership is character, not charisma.
  • Leadership skills can be learned.
  • The moment you stop learning, you stop leading.

Another Starbucks?

Biggby Coffee

Just when you thought how many more coffee places can we have, up pops another new brand. Even more interesting is that Starbucks is closing several hundred locations. And to top it all off, this new brand originated in Lansing, MI with a new location opening in my hometown, which just made the latest list of highest unemployment rates in the country. So who is Biggbys?

Biggby’s was founded in Lansing MI in 1995 by Bob Fish. The newest Biggby in Muskegon is #102. There are locations in 10 states. Biggby’s is franchised with local ownership. So do we need another place that competes with  Starbucks?

Yes, if they provide a different/better experience.

The location for the latest Biggbys is excellent….right between a new Wal-Mart Supercenter and a remodeled Meijer Supercenter. The owner is a Subway franchisee with 16 locations and from my experience they are well managed. So my best guess….this will be a very good Biggbys. When I visit Muskegon next….this will be my first stop for coffee.

What’s the bottom line?

  • The product must be excellent
  • The experience must be great
  • There is always room for a better brand

While the web site is only average. Bob Fish, the founder, does have a blog which is fun to read as he visits all the Biggby locations. They are still small enough for hands-on management.




Back to the Future

Edge of Chaos

This past week has been chaotic in the financial markets and in particular Wall Street. I was educated and believe in the free enterprise system and that markets will ultimately correct themselves. However in the case of the past week, government had to step in and bring order to the turmoil.  One expert stated that was exactly why the Federal Reserve System was created. From a leadership perspective, the government took immediate action.

So how does this all play out for businesses and organizations.  Our only response is to look forward. Looking back isn’t going to help. There will plenty of blame to go around. I find it hard to comprehend billions and billions of dollars and the complex sub prime package loans sold to investors.  Business cannot drift along.

Leaders get on the controls and move the ship forward. Only by moving forward do we emerge from a chaotic business cycle.

My suggestions:

  • Stay your course
  • Get all the tools to manage effectively 
  • Reexamine to be better 
  • Develop customers continually

The future is always brighter than the darkness.

Duck Lineup

Herb Kelleher + NUTS! + Action

My daughter’s career is in a high profile environment  My son and daughter-in-law started their own small business. They both like having their ducks all lined up when it comes to their work and business.

Not only must they be lined up….they have to all be quacking at the same time. Now some may not be ready to get in line. None-the-less these little guys better get moving.

I think you get the picture here….of someone that is in charge and takes action.

Several years ago, I changed work direction and decided to rethink business and how it really works. A book came out about Southwest Airlines. Nuts! Southwest Airlines Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success. Nuts! redefined how a company can grow, develop a positive culture and perform in a very competitive market. The proof: compare SWA to other airlines.

One of Herb Kelleher’s, long-time SWA CEO,  quotes is a call for action:

“We have a ‘strategic plan.’ It’s called doing things.”

The last few days have seen significant changes in the banking industry and the impact on the economy. Yes, we may be on the downside of a business cycle. Remember business cycles are just that….peaks and valleys. While not a big fan of Bank of America….they did take action in the purchase of Merrill Lynch. As well as the responsive action by Barclays to takeover Lehman Brothers.

Lesson Learned: Every day is an “action” day!

To learn more about Nuts! and the authors click on:





Wall Street-NY

An acquaintance wrote regarding today’s Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch business headlines:

“What’s happening here, and the larger movements they signal, compel us to abandon business as usual. We must re-think everything we do.”

Seth Godin wrote:

The stock market is going to be bonkers today.

And for most people, it won’t matter so much. Because most of us aren’t focused on flipping assets. We’re building value by creating interactions that work, by writing stories that spread or by designing products and services that actually create something worth paying for.

That sounds like a treacly mission statement, but it’s easy to get distracted by external noise instead of focusing on what counts. Hint: They started Google in the middle of the dot com melt down.

So what does this all mean for our businesses:

I belive we must be continually thinking about business/customers/product and service value and about how we position our enterprises in the future. The future-not years in the distant….but the next six months….the next year. Too often folks are willing to be content either with what exists or an unwillingness to face reality.

Thinking is the hard part. Once we had our business processes down….it was easy.

The real leadership/management challenge is:

  • Thinking about where we go next
  • How are we going to get there
  • What help and resources are needed
  • Getting the right people on board



Move On

I met with an individual last week to talk about a restart/startup venture. After our discussion I reflected on what we talked about. This also revolved around my participation in this endeavor as I saw it.

Here’s what I heard….rather than being something completely new, innovative and creative. This effort, as was described, was more of an evolution. Sort of morphing into something different. There did not seem to be a crystal clear sense of purpose or a defined encompassing mission. As for vision, nothing that I could discern.

Passion is an overused word. Yet in things that we really believe in, there has to be a extremely strong desire to make this restart work. Team effort, no I didn’t sense that. Seeking other resources that have done something similar….no, I did not hear that either. Any type of growth strategy….nope! Perhaps our discussion was a little premature. However, this group has to define its purpose soon or the folks that remain will dwindle quickly. Is this enterprise even willing to change into something better?

Lesson Learned:

  • Change takes moving in a whole new direction. Even leaving what currently exists.
  • Change almost always comes from the outside.

Customers Rule

Adapt or Fail

A comment by a loyal reader made to one of my recent posts….indicated that I should mention some things that don’t work….mistakes made….or enterprises that are drifting into an uncertain future. The idea is to apply: learning through negative reinforcement.

My approach to business is to take “new/better” ideas and than apply them to business situations. Always looking for a positive direction and outcome. Yet there are times, when we also have to look closely at what has not worked. In military terminology, this is called the AAR (After Action Report). And most folks don’t do this. The reason for the AAR is not to dwell on mistakes, but to identify them so that we can do better next time and don’t repeat the same mistake. If you do….you of course get the same result.

Two examples of negative reinforcement:

1) We worked very hard in our family business to develop loyal and satisfied customers. Yet on one occasion I failed completely to satisfy a customer.

She came to purchase a nice St. John’s china for her home. I had not represented the item as clearly as possible in our newspaper ad and tried to explain that….of course to no avail. She left without making a purchase. I not only lost a sale….but more so a loyal long-term customer. And even more so…. her negative feedback to others. And all of this for a few dollars.

I learned my lesson very clearly….It’s all about customers. Customers make a business survive and prosper. I never made that mistake again!

2) I do some work in the non-business organizational area.  I have seen this one organization grow and develop to a significant level. However in the past few years….it has declined dramatically. There have been some external influences. Yet without a clear purpose and vision it has drifted along….unwilling to adapt….content to be satisfied with what currently exists. These folks have gone from an outward focused group….reaching new folks (customers)….to being an inward looking club.

While this may be somewhat subjective….the results speak for themselves with very few new “customers”.

Lessons Learned:

  • Adapt – to new customers….new ideas.
  • Fail – if we don’t recognize mistakes or are unwilling to take action.