Recently posted quotes:

"There is no distinctly American criminal class - except Congress." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“Be thankful we're not getting all the government we're paying for.” -Will Rogers (1879-1935)

"Stability in government is essential to national character and to the advantages annexed to it." -James Madison (1751-1836)

"Liberty must at all hazards be supported." -John Adams (1735-1826)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leadership - Part 10 – 30 Jun 09 – Relating Military skills to Civilian

I was listening to an interview with LTG William G (Gus) Pagonis, author of “Moving Mountains” and the overall logistical commander during the build-up and conduct of the Gulf War in the early 90’s. He had some interesting points to make that very well parallel my own thoughts.

The interview was directed to former military members who are trying to land jobs or just relate their experience to civilian employers. This has always been a very hard accomplishment. It is next to impossible for one that hasn’t served in the military to understand just what a military logistician can do and has done during their tenure.

During my twenty-five plus years in manufacturing operations at every level of those organizations, junior to very senior management; I never once came close to the level of authority and responsibility I had even as a very junior Second Lieutenant in the United States Army. I worked in organizations from as few employees as eighty to well over six hundred and fifty.

There just isn’t any real correlation to the levels experienced by most military logisticians to that of their civilian counterparts. The routine scope of civilian operations is just too narrowly focused to begin to compare.

LTG Pagonis stressed that those with military backgrounds should “emphasize their leadership traits and abilities. This is somewhat hard to do and must be thought through very carefully. One must be sure that the degree of aloofness is not so condescending to put off the hiring manager in a way that it works against you.

Remember that any organization’s most important asset is its people-strength. The hardest obstacle to overcome in the civilian world is the “time to train”; it hardly exists. In the civilian world, they want to buy in the “trained” and not spend the time doing so. I believe this to be, in mot cases, a major mistake. The time spent in training and mentoring is much more important than the dollars spent in getting there. The bonding and camaraderie that takes place is of vital importance and pays off for long periods of time. Don’t underestimate it!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iranian protestor still at it!

The war of words keeps going back and forth at the very top of both governments: the US and Iran’s. Neither can give in at this point; but it seems that the US is getting the best of the Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami and President Ahmadinejad. The Iran guys have definitely not done well in the eyes of the world leadership, the world press, and don’t even give the populous the opportunity to comment.

With Senior Iranian Cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami threatening that some protestors should be dealt with “harshly” and some even “worthy of execution”, there is little wonder that Iran is fighting a PR battle that they can not win; but in their minds, they probably don’t even care. They are trying to become the spiritual and ideological leaders in the Middle East by promoting their tangent Islamic form of religion and justice. They only have to survive as a government to win the battle in their minds.

President Obama, backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has only to continue to take the “High Ground” by responding to jabs from a government that has taken the position it has against its own citizens. The Iranians in power have made a mess out of the entire situation with the entire world watching them do so. Do they understand this? Who knows?

On the other hand, President Obama has stated that “Mousavi had captured the spirit and imagination of the Iranian people who want a more free society.” While this may be true; we have only the media’s word for this. Our leadership, in an effort to stay neutral, has not released any statements on what intelligence they actually have on the situation. I don’t know about you guys, but I am extremely uncomfortable taking the word of the visual media in almost any occurrence. The size of the spirit and imagination is really hard to measure from this distance; especially in thirty second sound and video bytes. Of course, there may be a better observation point at the level that President Obama sits; I certainly hope so.

Keep in mind that one on the ruling council opposes and has spoken out many times against the leadership and their actions, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He even saw his daughter detained for a short period earlier; more than likely in an attempt to send a message to him. Rafsanjani chairs the Assembly of Experts and has the power to remove Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami from his position; a real “outta the box step” for Iran.

Watch Rafsanjani. He’s the dark horse in the Big Gamble.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Where is Iran headed?

Pay attention to what happens at the end of this Iranian hoop-de-do. Everything just might work out completely different from where we all are being lead by the media. You just never know.

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." Thomas Jefferson.

While Thomas Jefferson had reason to utter the foregoing; it might be a little too far fetched for this day and time. Newspapers admittedly have some agenda; but they are much more adept at the real news than the “short-byte” visual media. Thirty seconds just isn’t long enough to get to the bottom of anything.

The major problem we have with the Iran situation is that it is becoming more difficult to get the news out of Iran as each day passes. This might lead the visual journalist, under the gun for a sound byte, to “report” what they are spoon fed regardless of their integrity.

Republicans in the US are assailing the President for his lack of toughness on the Iranian protests. This is their best challenge to the Islamic Republic since the bad guys took over from the Shah back in 1979 – you remember that, don’t you.

Don’t be surprised if there is more behind the protests than election results; camouflage is not exactly transparent as it might seem. Look for Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to come out of this with more power than he went into it with; even with his daughter’s involvement – more here also than meets the eye.

Mir Hossein Mousavi may not become President, but some other big change just might take place.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Leadership - Part 9 – 17 Jun 09 – Better and Efficient

As follow-on to yesterday’s discussion, I would like to briefly comment on “getting better” and how one goes about doing so. Part of that idea of being consistent has to be the effort a leader puts into “getting better”.

Leading an organization indicates that the group is going somewhere; not necessarily geographically, but somewhere other than where they are today. That could be somewhere philosophically, somewhere software wise, somewhere in the direction of new products; but never standing still, so to speak.

Hopefully, the direction the organization is headed is better than where they are today; always better. Maybe a more efficient operation is the only current goal. That’s lofty enough for anybody at any time. But more efficient at what cost, you might ask. Cost is always a relative term and only applies to the here and now. Costs are constantly changing; technology improves, costs come down, competitors go out of business – whatever the case, costs are always changing.

Leaders must never, never be satisfied with the status quo. They must always be looking forward. Sometimes forward is not straight ahead. It is often off on a tangent to the current direction.

Change must be the guiding light, somewhere out there in the future. Hopefully, its not accompanied by a train whistle at the other end of the tunnel; but a beacon out there in the stratosphere of the unknown world of “better”.

Heading down a new course, leaders must consistently be observing and evaluating the process and results. They must be ready to change course when the time is right. Constant changes in course are not always good. The followship may begin to believe the plan is “not up to snuff” and decide to jump ship, at least in believability – this is not good. Constant reinforcement is required. Information becomes king and is deserved by one and all.

Change, for the better, should be one of the organization’s central goals.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Leadership - Part 8 – True, Fair and Consistent

What part does truth play in leadership?

For my money; it may just be the number one element. My experience has shown me that when told the truth about the goings-on, those that follow will do so almost unquestionably. When “leaders” don’t tell the truth and the followship discovers this to be the case; it can take next to forever to turn the situation around, if at all.

Tell them the truth. If you aren’t able to relate the entire truth, due to confidentiality or some other hindrance; tell them that you are not able to divulge the entire situation. I have found that in these cases, if you have been telling the truth all along, the followship will understand and accept your offering and not press any further. But, if you have a record of not being forthcoming consistently; they will be very wary and this leads to a bad situation that is also hard to overcome.

Can you be fair?

Of course you can. It takes very little to be so and the rewards are great, intangible, but great. It is almost always possible to be fair and followers expect it; in fact they demand it. It may not be evident on the surface, but its there nonetheless. When the circumstances limit your ability to be fair; explain it to the followship. In most cases they will understand; that is if you have been truthful all along. There’s that “truth” sneaking in again.

How does consistency play a role in leadership?

Consistency is the long term report card of leadership. This wraps up the “truth and fairness” aspect of leadership into an umbrella trait. If you are consistently the truthful and fair player; followers will always know what to expect from you in these arenas. This takes a lot of the “gamesmanship” outta the entire world of management. When you play the role consistently, you inspire others to do so also. Play the role less than consistent and your subordinates will do so also; an unacceptable situation one might add. Consistency can also rub off on peers and other managers//leaders in the organization.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Leadership - Part 7 – A Leader’s Effect on Attitudes, Beliefs and Values

What effect can leadership have on attitudes, beliefs and values? This all depends on the quality of leadership and what you are working toward.

We all know that managing people is not easy; but when you also have to deal with attitudes that are a little different, beliefs that are not your own, and values that don’t come near matching yours; it becomes a real chore. Most experts will tell you that you can change these three areas of individual viewpoint only the slightest.

If this is so; where does that leave the leader in today’s “split down the middle” workplace? To repeat: it’s a chore.

People come into the workforce with a whole bundle of preconceived attitudes, beliefs and values. These have been developed over long periods of time and passed on by those that they have held dear to them, some more and others less. These outside influences have no place in your workplace; but they are there and do exist no matter how hard you might try to ignore them. They can not be set aside. You must face them straight on.

What you might be able to do is weaken the influences by setting an example that can not be competed with. The strength of the outside influence is the only thing appropriate to challenge.

The best attack is to establish skill sets that encourage the individual to be just that; an individual. This is only the beginning. Time is not on your side; but the longer you have their attention, the better progress you will be able to achieve.

Attitude is probably the easiest of the three to influence comparatively. A positive attitude is contagious and takes very little work to propagate. Just work at it everyday. The spreading effect is also on your side. The example you set here is truly important. Don’t ever let down. The slightest setback can undo a world of progress. Make the most of each setback as a learning experience and expand the knowledge of those affected by the happening. Never miss an opportunity for the group to learn.

Don’t forget: slipping backwards is a lot easier than going forward; its just human nature to do so. People have to be removed from an undesirable environment for a long period of time for real change to take place and hold on.

Beliefs can only be changed by success and it has to be continued success at that. Short term success will have very little impact on beliefs. A belief that come around over time will be set in stone; that’s the same way they developed the other belief. Don’t look for miracles and be pleased with minor advances.

Stress is the biggest deterrent to allowing progress to be maintained. Look for ways to release stress as it builds. One of the best ways to combat this that I have used over the years is the “group lunch”. People tend to open up more over food mixed with camaraderie than any other situation I have found. Try it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leadership - Part 6 – Got it Tough?

As a leader; do you think you got it tough?

Consider those in the military who contend with as much as a 33% turnover in personnel every year – year in and year out. How would you like to train or operate in that environment? With the standard enlistment and normal personnel rotation, they survive with a turnover rate that would drive a civilian operation batty.

So what is it that makes their situation tolerable and yours not?

I call the answer to this situation: the Pontiac model – GTO.

Right, GTO; that’s guidance, training and organization.

The military works off guidance. How can this be one might ask. Leadership, or management depending on your viewpoint, gives out mission oriented orders that realistically stand as guidance. This guidance is then put into practice up and down the chain of command gaining more and more detail the further down the chain the orders travel. There is absolutely no room for micro management here. They relay the guidance and then get out of the way and allow subordinates to operate. A certain level of authority is passed along with the guidance, it has to be, that allows the subordinates to make decisions on the spot and refer up the chain only that that needs to be referred.

They can operate this way because they have trained to do so. From the basic training structure, right through the advanced individual training courses post basic and then into the unit training environment; while doing their job, they are always training. Training, then training, and when that’s finished; they train some more. Yes, and it’s all accomplished while doing their job. There is absolutely no room for micro management here. They train and then get out of the way and allow subordinates to operate.

The next logical question is: how can they afford to train constantly? Well, the answer is in the way they are organized. Isn’t it great how Pontiac, even though they might be going away, gave us an acronym that just perfectly fits this model? Organization is where the entire ability is derived from. They know and understand the organization; everybody up and down the chain understands the organization. Everybody knows their job and how doing, or not doing their job, fits in with the overall unit’s accomplishment of its mission.

The intangible here is the camaraderie that is built up by the closeness that these units operate under. This is extremely difficult to duplicate in the civilian environment – next to impossible one might think. Not necessarily so. Consider the times and how close an organization becomes once they have been through a few reductions in force, or layoffs? There is a bonding that takes place. It comes after they have breathed a sigh of relief and then achieved a frame of mind that allows them to think about work and not about those that are no longer around. They have to go through this process; it’s natural. The quicker leadership gets them through it the better. They bond, they pull closer, they are more open to others that they might not have been open to before and the entire organization benefits from the experience.

This time is the perfect time to organize better for the coming future. Some organizations will not make it and that’s OK. Most that don’t make it will tend to be the weaker of those that existed prior to the business downturn. A certain culling always takes place during a downturn; a sorta thinning of the herd and redistribution of assets and opportunities. It’s to be expected.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Moral Compass and Purchasing from China

What does your moral compass tell you about purchasing goods and products from China?

Where does your compass reside on this controversy?

Does you organization have a policy concerning domestic versus foreign procurement? Where do you go for major raw material purchases?

How do you decide when the numbers tell you one thing and your compass says something different?

I had just this situation a few years back. Plywood out of the Northwest kept getting higher and higher. Another supplier, a US supplier at that, offered us a program supplying product from China. Our initial investigation showed the product to be inferior to US//Canadian product even at huge cost differential.

Further investigation developed a suitable source in China with a much higher level of quality control – these guys were good. Then came the formaldehyde scare; this caused some significant delay. After we were satisfied that the formaldehyde emissions were under control, all seemed to be on the right track.

Our main concern was that the Chinese were trying to buy the business and the subsequent price would jump to levels comparable to the US//Canadian pricing. This was a major concern.

After all, how could these guys buy logs from the Pacific Northwest, ship them to China – stripping the veneers in route, apply veneers to plywood core in China plant, ship finished containerized product back to west coast, transship containers to Texas, warehouse containers and still have a better price than the US//Canadian suppliers? On top of this, the quality of the end product was higher than that supplied by domestic suppliers; a quandary that defies logic.

So, you make the call. How would you decide? Take the deal or pass it up?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Leadership - Part 5 – Have a Good Time

For my money, having a good time is at the top of the list in consideration for positions requiring leadership. If you aren’t having a good time, or better; there is hardly any reason to be there. You just gotta enjoy what you do; not necessarily every little bit of the day. You have to be able to look back at EOD and say to yourself:”Wow, how about that ……….?

They wouldn’t call it work if every single part of the day was totally enjoyable. There has to be some tough times, some stress, some strife mixed in with what you do. I will bet you that when you look back in retrospect the times you remember the best and most fondly are the tough times. That’s what made you who you are or can be.

It doesn’t make much different how tough the times were; somehow they turn out to be the good times.

You will also find that there is always a “we” that made the times memorable.

We all get our real excitement from different angles. Don’t be timid about looking for that next challenge. Regardless of where you have to go to take it on; seek it out. Expand your horizons; look to where you have never been before. Don’t be afraid to go where you haven’t been before. You have no idea just what might be around the next corner.

I was lucky enough to have made that exact decision when I accepted my first assignment in the Army and spent the next four years in Alaska. The lessons I learned there and the friends I made will last a lifetime; if only in my memory. The times were tough and the lessons weren’t always easy to learn or endure; but I survived and so did those I had the opportunity to lead.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Leadership – Part 4 - Cycles in Business Leadership

If you aren’t watching, the “stuff” you fixed a year or so ago can become unraveled. You have to continuously go back and check on the “Fixed Stuff”.

Due to the constant change that takes place, subordinates will tend to forget policy and end up ignoring rules and procedures put in place that kept things right in the past; it’s only human nature. What is important now is what is important now.

Think about posting a board where everyone can observe the “what we just fixed” areas of concern and periodically refer to certain items during staff meetings. Review their importance and why they got put on the “board” in the first place.

What’s broke today is important, but what used to be broke can be just as important if you don’t keep it in sight.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ref: AAS Article - It’s a gas at the Texas Capital

Chaos is a good definition. I usually think of it as the best entertainment in town when the circus isn’t.

How can 1400 bills be disposed of but they didn’t see to the real business of running the state? The voter ID and guns on campus doesn’t come before the continued operation of state agencies. What are these guys using for a brain – Dorothy needs to search over Kansas a bit better.

It might just be possible that the Dems are smarter than the Repubs when it comes to the rules of the road. As the article said; the Repubs were “a solution in search of a problem” and nobody else was searching there.

If a special session is needed, Article 3, Section 40 states: “When the Legislature shall be convened in a special session, there shall be no legislation upon subjects other than those designated in the proclamation of the Governor calling such session, or presented to them by the Governor; and no such session shall be of longer than thirty days.”

It’s now up to Gov Perry to show what he’s made of; will he limit a session to the actual business of the state or play party politics?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Leadership – Part 3

What’s the danger of going outside the organization to find a departmental leader? This is a tough task and one that can not be taken lightly. Usually, you have only the word of the candidate to base decisions on. Unless you just happen to have a mutual contact that will shoot straight with you on qualifications and background, you are stuck with one viewpoint – the candidate’s.

So! What are your options? There aren’t many.

I was once tested using the method I am going to describe to you as a possible option for the hiring manager.

I reported to the interview on a Friday morning around 8:30 AM. The hiring manager was the Vice President of Operations. I have no real idea how many other candidates he had discussed the position with prior to my interview; but I discovered later that there were more than a few.

I sat down with the VP for about an hour discussing one thing and then another. He probed my background while I probed the organization, the reason for the vacancy, and the organization’s future. This phase of the interview went fairly well; I thought at the time. This is when he must have decided that I was worth a longer look. He told me he wanted me to stay the entire day, spend time with each department and several of the key players within the company. Well, I had to do some quick rearranging of my expected day. I had not planned on the interview lasting any longer than three hours at the most. I had lunch plans and another place to be that afternoon. I made a couple of calls and we were off to the rest of the day.

The next hour I spent in the warehouse learning their procedures and asking questions on how and why they did certain things certain ways. After the hour, the warehouse supervisor ushered me on to the purchasing department. I found out later that he reported to the VP just as soon as he had dropped me with purchasing.

On it went; next production control, then to shipping and receiving and right after lunch I was dropped with the production departments. Later in the afternoon, I spent time with sales, customer support and then time with HR. Each department picked my mind and then reporting to the VP with their thoughts.

Just about 4:00 PM, I was returned to the VP’s office, where we discussed the day, what I had learned and what ideas I had that could help improve the operations of each department. I was very frank with the guy and told him just what I thought in each case: where the strong points//players were and where I thought there was room for improvement.

The organization was on the verge of a huge expansion and I must have said the exact right things because he offered me the position before I left for home. I had basically worked the entire day “off the clock” and gave direction where I thought it was needed. I had met and passed the “can we work together” test with a wide variety of the organization’s vice presidents, directors, managers and supervisors. I had made my thoughts and ability to think ‘on my feet” very evident. I passed the test; good thing I was wide awake when I arrived there.

This is probably one of the best methods of working out a candidate from the outside I have every come across and have been put through. It works; but your interviewers have to be somewhat skilled to be able to test the candidate and have a great deal of openness to both sides of the struggle. Openness is of extreme importance in this interview process. You have to weight some areas greater than others unless the skills of each are just as strong as the skills of the others.

If you have the opportunity; give it a try.