Book Review – Winning Well

I recently read the book “Winning Well” by Karin Hurt and David Dye. The authors are leadership consultants, after having careers in business and at not-for-profits and government. I think this book could be summed up by a theme of “win-win” for your career and your teams. Usually, win-win is a concept used in negotiations, but I think it fits here because the authors argue that the concepts that lead to winning well aren’t concepts that have tradeoffs, or need to balance against each other. Rather, they argue that by following some key principles, you can win at business, win in your career and win with relationships.

I like that notion, it prescribes that there is a certain way to treat each other that will make us all better. I think the other aspect of “Winning Well” that I liked is that the authors provide very practical tools to implement the strategies they outline in each phase of the book.

The book covers the concept of winning well by defining four manager types. It’s four quadrants, with the axes being results and relationships. Winning well managers focus equally on both, and use each to enhance the other. The pleaser manager may feel good to work with, but without results the business doesn’t move forward; plus they are likely to not deal with their poor performers, causing their best people to leave. User managers get results at any cost, usually with a focus on short-term results. So the business suffers from a deficit of long-term strategy, and the team will get burnt out. Finally, the gamer manager fails on both ends, usually because they are only focused on their own career survival and advancement. They are manipulative and play politics.

The last piece of the opening section is on measurement, and using key metrics to drive results and keep the team focused, but not drown them in endless data and reports. We saw this concept in spades in the book “MOVE” by Patty Azzarello, and the authors do a good job of providing their own reasons and tactics for implementing key measurements. The key learning for me: Focus on the behaviors you are trying to drive, then measure how the team is doing on those and those alone.

The second section of the book covers specific tactics for the manager, like leading good meetings, getting the team to support decisions, better delegation and accountability, and terminating someone with grace and dignity. The keys for good meetings? There is a purpose, ideally a decision to be made, rather than an information dump; and the meeting flow is maintained with quick-paced comments from each attendee; building commitments into the end of the meeting, so something actually happens with the results of the meeting (like what needs to be done, by who, by when, and how will we know it’s done?).

The third section covers ways to build the team, covering areas like creating confidence, getting feedback from the team, and building credibility and influence with the team.

Asking for and receiving feedback has been a topic among my team, after we received some upward feedback that generally showed we weren’t asking for feedback often enough. So we are working on a short “training” course to help us get better at feedback. The authors define six keys to success – ask for truth regularly, say thank you, respond/acknowledge the feedback, don’t shoot the messenger, find truth tellers, and self-reflect. They then give a method for specific feedback sessions (both giving and receiving) – things like visualizing how you will react to the feedback (maintain posture, eye contact, open gestures, etc.), organizing your thoughts, asking questions, and others.

There was also an interesting discussion on how to build confidence in the team, linking results with relationships. The authors suggest a “burst” – spend an entire day on one key skill – host trainings, make it high-energy, and have everyone work on one thing. Given the intensity, the idea is that the team will see immediate results, and it can create momentum for results going forward.

The final section covers potential pitfalls, like if your boss doesn’t want to win well, or if you lose or lack motivation.

I thought the book was a good read, again largely because it was practical with specific action plans at the end of each chapter and lots of stories used to emphasize the points in the book.


business, leadership

Why it is important for everyone to understand the vision

In a recent post, I mentioned some things I heard and learned from Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A. One of them was:

“The bigger the vision the easier to sell to your team. Small dreams don’t inspire others.”

That got me thinking about vision and why it might or might not be important for everyone on the team to understand the vision.

I believe Dan Cathy would say it is important for everyone to understand the vision. He didn’t say it directly. But the way he spoke about service, and culture, and what we know about the company and its service culture, leads me to believe that he wants every employee to feel passionately about their customers and go the extra mile for them because of that understanding.

It certainly is consistent with many/the majority of leadership and business writings today. Simon Sinek built a foundation for it with his book “Start with Why.” Articles and books about transformation point out how a leader can make the transformation successful if they are relentless about speaking to their teams about the vision and modeling the expected behaviors. And we know the most successful companies are the ones where employees are empowered to act on the customer’s behalf, with the trust that they know the vision and will therefore make decisions in line with that vision.

It’s so hard though. There is so much noise. At least a couple of times a week my team catches itself realizing we’re frustrated that someone hasn’t heard a message – only to realize after discussion that the well-crafted and clear message was only delivered once, via email. And of course we then start to develop a more robust communication plan. Communicating vision effectively requires a relentless, maniacal repetition to as many people in as many ways as you can muster.

But the reward for that investment of time and energy is a team that feels motivated. A team that feels empowered and ownership in their work. A team that will fight through the inevitable failures and setbacks because they know where we are trying to go. Vision gives people hope and purpose. And those are two things we can definitely use more of!


business, leadership

Lessons from Dan Cathy

I had the privilege of attending the College Football Playoff Championship game in Atlanta. It was an amazing game, for the third straight year. I went as part of the NACDA (National Association of Collegiate Athletic Directors) leadership event, where we pair the game with meetings and presentations from outside speakers, as well as for us catching up with other key stakeholders in college athletics.

One of the presentations was an interview of Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, by their Vice president of Community Affairs, Rodney Bullard. It was an engaging session, with Mr. Cathy providing lessons he has learned in life and business, tacking them directly and frankly, and being very open. Here are some takeaways I noted:

• Favorite quote: “I love competing against companies that know more about their financial statements than their recipes.” This reminded me that we must stay focused on what matters to our customers, which is our product. This was followed by…
• “Hospitality is the most important thing in business. Service is the differentiation point.” So in two simple sentences, I was pretty convinced I understood fully what Chick-fil;-A’s strategy is. I aspire to articulate my group’s strategy that simply.
• As you may know, Chick-fil-A is a family-controlled business and their culture is very spiritual (closed on Sundays, for example). It was interesting to hear Mr. Cathy’s take on that, and how it has led to their strategy and driven decisions they have made. For example, he referenced that they learned their service culture from scripture, in the book of Matthew chapter 5, verse 41. Most people (companies) will walk the first mile, and provide what others basically expect. But those who stand out go the second mile (Jesus walked the second mile with people). Mr. Cathy believes people of all ages and affiliations are hungry for hospitality, and that allows companies willing to invest more in service to excel. He mentioned his belief that service is the most profitable element of their business, because it doesn’t really cost the company any more for a staff member to go the extra mile, but the value in loyalty and return business is massive.
• Restaurant comes from a French word, restoration. Calories yes, but emotional/experience.
• Leaders lead – so wen there is a big problem (he referenced restoring the west side of Atlanta). Two lessons – don’t let things happen “on your watch” when you are big enough and powerful enough to do something about it. Also, build a team to tackle big projects, you can’t do it alone.
• He discussed vision and strategy, saying that vision needs to come from you as the leader. The leader should be captivated by the vision, it should have a sense of calling, the leader must be passionate about it, an inspired sense of where we need to go as a group. He also mentioned that he believes visions should be big, huge. “The bigger the vision the easier to sell to your team. Small dreams don’t inspire others.”
• Mr. Cathy mentioned that every year during the holiday period he travels to somewhere distant, and exotic, where he can have his senses engaged and reflect on the past year and plan for the next year. This year, he traveled to Tokyo, to think about how he could improve personally in 2018. I thought it was a great lesson for all leaders – if someone with as much on his plate as he must have still takes the time each year for this sort of personal reflection and development, then surely we should as well.
• Finally, Mr. Cathy spoke about finding common ground with others, instead of fighting over the things we disagree on. He gave the example of the LGBTQ protests several years ago, and how he invited the leaders in to discuss and find common ground, knowing there were differences in philosophy and beliefs.

leadership, personal

Checking in on affirmations for 2018

I feel like having a daily affirmation really helped me last year with my leadership and interactions with others. I dealt with a lot last year, but also realize that “stuff” won’t stop coming at me so I need to be sure to be disciplined about my leadership, to be ready for the inevitable challenges. Therefore, daily affirmations will remain a part of my routine for 2018.

But it is a new year, with a new one word and some new resolutions. So I want to be sure my resolutions have the maximum impact, and see if any need to be revised or new ones created.

2017 Affirmations 2018 Affirmations
Today is the day that matters. Today I will treat others w/ kindness, respond w/ patience and mercy, and above all clothe myself w/ love. I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others.
I will be a positive leader. Adversity will come, lots of it. But it won’t stop me from encouraging, listening to, and appreciating others. I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable.
I will build rapport and relationships with others. I will put myself “out there” to the point where I am uncomfortable. Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them.
Relationships are what matter. I will learn more about those around me, and share my story with them. I will be disciplined. I will focus only on what is important, and help those around me succeed by allowing them to focus and execute.
I will ask, not tell: I will ask questions so others learn; I will not give them the answers or do the work myself.

I have tried to focus on relationships, given it’s my one word and a big part of my focus for 2018. The “positive leader” affirmation remains my most used affirmation, and the one I resonate most with, the one I reflect on when I get stressed in an effort to calm myself down, and the one I get the most response from others on. Finally, a new one around discipline around priorities and focusing on the important versus responding to the urgent.

The first affirmation does not continue, so I will have to change my pinned tweet. It was purposeful for the start of this journey, and made it possible for me to start in the right direction. But the other affirmations are more important now to keep me going and growing.

I’m contemplating adding one around my diet, but will wait to see how the first months of the year go.

business, education, leadership

Attending a conference

Attending a conference is a great privilege. A chance to learn valuable information about your field of study, industry, or specialized topic. A chance to meet a diverse group of new network contacts, and build further relationships with colleagues from your company or folks you may have worked with in the past. A chance to learn, hearing how others think, how others are tackling issues.

But attending a conference is not a right. You don’t have the right to party all night with the same crew you always hang out with. You don’t have the right to skip sessions with relevant info because you’re tired or you’d rather clear your inbox sitting in your room. You don’t have the right to attend without the responsibility of bringing the information back to your workplace and sharing with your teammates.

Here are a few simple tips to maximizing the benefit of attending a conference:

  • Sit with others. Assuming you go to a conference with one or more colleagues from your company, split up at all opportunities. Sit with people you don’t know at the opening dinner, or mingle around the room at the opening cocktail reception. Attend different breakout sessions than your colleagues so you get more educational information out of the conference.
  • Meet others. Bring lots of business cards. Trade them relentlessly. And follow up with the people you met where the relationship can benefit either party in the future. Make sure your business card is backed up by your story – an easy way to think about the conversations (especially if you are more introverted) is to focus them around the conference itself. So talk about why you are attending the conference, ask others what they want to get out of the conference, and generate conversations around speeches or topics you saw at the conference.
  • Share with others. Take lots of notes at the sessions. Make notes of the people you met. Make notes of the interesting products at the trade show. Whatever was interesting and informative needs to be captured. And more importantly, when you return back to work, arrange a brief session with your teammates to discuss what you’ve learned. And don’t just regurgitate all your notes, frame a discussion around key topics to get their input. Some of the things you heard could be game-changers for your company, get them talking about them, set some follow up action items to do more research.

Maximizing the value of attending conferences can benefit you and your team and your company. I hope 2018 is full of learning opportunities for you, including attending a conference.


business, leadership

Stop doing tasks

Have you ever noticed that when you take a vacation, or get pulled into a big project unrelated to your normal work, that the work still seems to get done? Did you ever switch departments in the company or even leave a company and stay in touch with folks, and magically that department or company is still doing fine?

 I noticed it again this holiday season, when I took some time off. I noticed I received and sent a lot less emails. Yet when I came back, we still had events, we still got marketing plans done, we still booked new programming, we still accounted for our operations, we still moved projects forward.

There are a few lessons in this, like humility, and recognizing that this works best when you are developing a succession plan and bench strength, to fill in for you during temporary or permanent absences.

The biggest lesson is not one I will spend time on here, which is to ensure the team understands the objectives and goals of the group at the highest level. There are plenty of writings on this you can check out, but it is critical to long-term success of any group that the team hears clear, concise and consistent messages around what we are trying to accomplish.

The lesson I want to spend time on here, is to stop doing tasks. What I really mean, of course, is to shift our time allocations from the tactical to the strategic. But what I noticed during my short time off is that tasks always seem to get done. Directionally, they get done on time and efficiently when the team has that clear direction I mentioned above. But even without that, any group that cares about their work will get tasks done.

Many leaders, including myself, have a hard time letting go of tasks. We still do too much work ourselves. We know we can do it better and faster, so we do it ourselves and miss the opportunity to teach and train and coach. This is a mindset issue, and is difficult to change without high levels of discipline. This is a great area to seek mentors and ask those around you to be truthtellers and hold you accountable – basically call you out for doing work yourself.

Many leaders aren’t great at reviewing others’ work. I was blessed to work in public accounting where you are trained to review others’ work, and there is a disciplined approach to work product review. This is an area where leaders can get training to build those skills.

Finally, we have to ensure that incentives and expectations are consistent and reinforced – that the strategic work we need to do takes priority over tasks. We have to be willing to sacrifice some near-term “success” (finishing a task) for the bigger picture and stay on track to move forward strategically.

Randomly, as I was writing this, I got to the chapter in the book “Winning Well” that discussed this very topic. The authors noted that the inability to delegate might be driven by control issues, belief the team can’t do the work, you get frustrated quickly when things aren’t on plan, or you feel like you are chasing the work when the team doesn’t follow up.  They then identify three possible root cause for bad delegation – you delegate process, not outcome; you don’t define the finish line; you don’t hold people accountable. I recommend this book for a variety of insights, but this one fit the theme for sure, so I will let you check it out and see their recommendations for overcoming these issues.

Please don’t’ take my post title too literally, but if you try to move your time and your team’s time from the tasks to the projects and strategic thinking, I believe you will have more success as a team.

leadership, personal

One Word 2018 – Relationships

One word. It’s amazing that it can mean so much. And have so much impact if you let it, and pay attention to it, and work hard at it. This is my fifth anniversary of selecting a “one word” for the year.

If you need a refresher on One Word, see: http://myoneword.org/book/

One word has become a staple with me and folks around me at work. I’ve carried it from my last job to my new (OK, it’s been almost three years, so need to stop calling it new) job, and the folks I’ve shared it with in my current role have really embraced it in ways I hadn’t seen before. It is used to frame issues my operations team is facing, and they share their one word thoughts and progress with each other regularly through the year. And it has made its way to being the theme of our “coffee chats” (simple sessions led by me or one of my leaders where the group has interactive dialog across departments and levels about a particular subject) as part of our leadership development for 2018. It’s great to see others enjoy the benefits of the focusing and harnessing power of the one word.

I have written posts on WordPress the last two years discussing my word for those years – given it’s a milestone anniversary, let’s be sure to reflect on the last four words.

Year 1 – Relax. I somehow think this word will always be necessary for me to have in my head and my heart. Life (or God depending on your beliefs) will eventually force you to realize you aren’t in control, and that your issues aren’t really that significant in the grand scheme. Usually those realizations come way too late and hit really hard. They end in drama and pain, like broken relationships, health issues, lost jobs, addictions, etc. But if you work at relaxing, and keeping perspective, you can manage through. This year I went through several tough times, but one thing I’ve felt good about through those times is that I feel I’ve kept perspective, and used the difficult times to ensure I realized the “other” stuff in my life wasn’t worthy of the mental energy and stress I was associating with those things. I know if those who were around when I did my first one word – those I worked with when we started that journey – knew me now that they would never use the word “relaxed” to describe me. No one likely ever will, it’s not my nature. But I think they would say I was more relaxed than I was then, and for that I have my first one word to thank. I hope I always move in that direction.

Years 2 and 3 – Priority and Patience. These words frankly carried that “relax” theme to specific things that were going on in work and in life during those years. They helped me successfully navigate several big initiatives at work, a job/function change, reconnections with important friends, and a marriage. Those years also saw me re-commit to being at church and thinking of what my Leader would want from me in life, which has helped keep that perspective I mentioned earlier.

Year 4 – Foundation. Again related to specific goals at work and at home. We put in place several elements of a sustainable group at work, and Joyce and I made a solid start to a great relationship. I also had a lapse in my leadership progress during the year, where I lost that perspective, made too much of small things, and generally wasn’t fun to be around. I believe I’ve been able to get back on track thanks to some solid feedback from my team and truthtellers, and my three (yes I am high maintenance) leadership coaches I hang around. Side note – best advice I can give you is get to know leadership coaches. They will be the most honest people in your lives, tell you just the right thing right when you need it, and are always thinking of you. If you are lucky enough like I am to call some leadership coaches your friends, you will probably be able to manage through life OK. Foundations are meant to last a long time, and I feel like this word was a great representation of the idea I said earlier where the “relax” mindset would have to be a common thread through my existence.

Year 5…and the one word is…RELATIONSHIPS

This year, my focus is outward. I want to build relationships with others, understand them, work with them to win at life and at work and at home. To do this, I will have to continue to rely on my first word, and my other one words. I have always been a bit of a “loner” – able to work in large groups but finding it more difficult to build strong, 1-on-1 and small group relationships. I feel like everything in life, I’ve evolved, but now it’s time to make a step-change. I will need to be incredibly patient, with myself and others. Listen more than I ever have. And focus on putting myself in the shoes of others, forsaking personal concerns and desires. I feel like this will carry through all aspects of my life, so I will also have to have fortitude and discipline and stamina, to ensure I don’t turn this on and off. This could be the most challenging one word yet, but no risk no reward, as they say.

I hope you also find your one word for 2018. Whether it’s your first or your fifth, I hope it helps you navigate life and ensure that 2018 is the best year it can be, regardless of what life throws your way.