Process Design in Operations Management

We all know there’s design … and then there’s DESIGN! From beautiful houses and buildings to boats – you name it – design makes all the difference in a great or just-ok outcome. Organizations are no different … design matters … a lot.

So what are some ways to maximize the chances of great organizational design? Here are 4 keys to success.

  • Think like the customer
  • Resist excessive department specialization (silos)
  • Promote the most inclusive metrics possible
  • Make money

Think Like the Customer

At times, managers (and even leaders) become too focused on the internal organization and develop ad hoc systems or processes based on isolated problems. Invariably, this slows down the product manufacture or service delivery to the customer but it covers the managers’ back sides.

The manager should not be in the organization just for a soft ride. Sure, risk management is a necessary evil but it should never be an excuse for sub-par delivery because you can bet revenue and profit will suffer as a result. This is the opposite of elegant design. Here’s a test.

When was the last time you visited your company website or store strictly as a customer? How was the experience? How many extra steps did you find in completing your transaction? What annoyed you? What impressed you? How were you treated? Did you feel human or like a loose nut on an assembly line?


  • At least monthly, test the major company services or products by walking through the maze to buy
  • Partner with a few customers to streamline the purchasing cycle

Resist Excessive Department Specialization (silos)

Someone once said, “Customer Service is not a department,” and yet the natural evolution in many companies can be where individual work areas become kingdoms to themselves. Everything within that department or division is about that department or division, not about the organization.

In order to have elegant design, department silos must be taboo. Notice I said “silos.” It doesn’t necessarily mean to go native in some sort of company commune but there must be healthy, working relationships between all areas. Yes, all. Let’s face it, customers can be mighty unpredictable at times. Excessive departmentalization increases the chances of an unhappy customer experience because the organization’s system cannot react let alone carry out the routine.


  • Make part of department head ratings based on the ability to build and maintain healthy, working relationships between departments
  • Periodically trade workers (temporarily) between departments to learn the other area as well as bring new perspective.

Promote the Most Inclusive Metrics Possible

One of the large obstacles management unknowingly (or knowingly) puts in front of progress is excessive, specific metrics. Most times a department that uses very many measurements just for its area will assure that department does not have the best interests of the whole company at heart – the narrow metrics promote a department mindset and not an organization mindset. That’s not all bad but be careful.

The next problem this sets up is a department that will easily work at cross-purposes to other well-meaning departments who also have their overly specific measurements. The sad yield is sub-standard customer service because of the designed-in conflicts and the poor client is left muddling through this mess (or not if he or she chooses a competitor). Don’t leave this area to chance or natural evolution.


  • Convene a metric-meld session. Have the department heads meet, compare specific metrics and figure ways to make more holistic measures that honor the department as well as organizational needs.
  • Hold an annual burn-the-metric meeting. Review all measurements and work hard to lower the number to the very most important.

Make Money

Making money is still the most important measurement for a business. Yes, principle-centered behavior should be expected but without profit, a business will eventually disappear.

It is entirely possible to be a profitable and responsible company. It is completely reasonable to be a fun and productive organization. It can be harder to accomplish both ends of the spectrum at the same time but isn’t it worth it to have higher employee satisfaction and great customer happiness? If you’re not making the level of profit that seems right for your company and industry, take a hard look at internal design.

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Business Scenario Planning

Ocean Horizon

Photo by jfowler27 on Flickr

Would you like to know what’s over the horizon? The truth is, nobody can precisely predict the future but we can get an idea with a handy improvement tool called “future scenario planning.” You can use scenario planning personally, in a work group or for an entire organization.

As an entrepreneur, you might want to explore if part or all of your current business approach will work longer term. As a boss, you could choose to use scenario planning to find out more about retention and morale. As a parent, you may be curious how your child-raising methods will work. Future scenario planning is a natural way to consider what might happen “out there” for these and many other possibilities.

None of us can predict the future with great accuracy. However, we can make general, high-probability forecasts with some certainty without highly specialized experience. For example, you and I could make a few general forecasts based on a scenario of steadily rising oil prices. We would probably miss several details but the main thoughts would be reasonably correct.

To maximize the value of future scenario planning, it is important to suspend limiting assumptions. For instance, if someone says, “That will never happen,” let the comment be a red flag. Some pretty crazy, unexpected things have happened in the last several years. In short don’t instantly accept or reject a possibility, examine it carefully first. But let’s step back a moment.

Brainstorm a List of Possible Future Scenarios

The first key question is “what if?” What if we continue ahead without any changes? What if we change this large variable or another? What if the market dries up? What if we start a R&D arm? You might think of this as worrying-with-a-purpose. The purpose is to consider the possibilities and then build a possible response. One caution is to not get too detailed as we are not predicting the future but simply working to consider likely scenarios. Another way to think of this exercise is like a set of computer if-then statements.

Another key part is to think long-term. You must decide what that means in you setting (days, months, years, etc.). The strength of scenario planning is to give the consequences time to emerge. The exercise can turn into fun as different ones suggest variable changes.

Shorten the List to the Few Most Likely

Look at each possibility and decide on pros and cons. If you don’t like the outcomes, play with the assumptions and see if you can improve the consequences. Now work on cutting the list.

There are several ways to do this. One simple approach is to first decide the criteria for choosing your favorite future options. Do you want use your personal or corporate values (or both)? Do you want to focus strictly on the outcomes? How do you want to tie into your personal or company purpose? Another way is to decide based on a balanced set of pros and cons. Maybe you want a hybrid of several requirements. The point is, choose what works best for you and your circumstances.

Just as too many options at the grocery store confuse some of us (my hand’s up), too many future alternatives may not help you or your organization. To bring clarity, fewer options are better. Theoretically, a person or company could have any number of scenarios but the time is better spent on boiling down all the possibilities and thoughts to a select few. I’ll explain why in a moment.

Include the Status Quo

There is a strong pull in any type of organization (or even for us as individuals) to stay with the comfortable, the status quo. Be sure and explore this possibility and what you expect as logical outcomes should the path continue unaltered. Otherwise, it will be tempting to fall for the siren song of sticking with the comfortable. In other words, the result of doing nothing differently should also be considered to make sure the choice at the end of the exercise is truly intentional.

Make a Choice

Remember the idea of worrying with a purpose? The purpose is to make changes now based on a scenario we intend to use. Notice I said “intend to use.” Other scenarios can stay on the shelf just in case but the intent is to make current changes to create more positive outcomes down the line. It’s very important to make a choice rather than be carried along with some mysterious current. As a fellow consultant says, “No decision is a decision.”

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Leading Strategies Blog Featured on

The Leading Strategies Blog is now featured on the popular site, With over 15,000 articles and growing daily, Leadership Digital is a comprehensive resource for leadership and management topics. Their site offers a free daily, weekly, monthly or annual digest via e-mail from around the leadership universe.

You will find content from many familiar names such as Goldsmith, Drucker, Cooper, Wilde, Senge, Hammer and topics ranging from leadership  and management to innovation and marketing to technology, ethics, operations, and finance.  In addition to author names, the site also categorizes posts by concepts (succession, teams, strategy, etc.), industry or type (blog, book, how to, etc.) for easy searching.

What’s not to like? Stop by and take a look!

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Sales Strategy and Management

Sales Cloud

Picture by insideview on Flickr

No matter what … everything comes back to sales. Leadership development is great. Culture shaping is critical … but without sales, these and other organization development activities are academic. However, what is interesting to this culture geek is sales strategy and management are simply sub-areas of the overall aim of an organization.

To successfully manage the sales process in a big picture sense requires planning, predicting and/or delivering in the following major areas. Leaving out any of the four areas below will mean lost revenue to the company.

  • Discover Customer Demand – The organization must have an idea of the market. It is important to study, digest and make assumptions about the target niche. Who will buy? How much? How often? Where and what are the unmet needs, wants and expectations? How can we exceed these requirements to stand out from the crowd? Without this step, sales efforts will be unfocused and ineffective.
  • Build Sales Capacity – After predicting the demand, an enterprise must decide how much of the market it wants to “handle.” What is the short, medium and long-term sales vision of the company? How does this fit with the overall aim of the organization? (If it doesn’t fit, one or the other or both must be adjusted.) Where will we find sales representatives with our values? How will we develop them for increasing success?  Without this step, customers will not know about your company or will look elsewhere when the sales staff does not engage in a timely way.
  • Create Company Capability – Now that demand and sales capacity are known, plan for and configure the company to meet the need. Some might argue for this step to be second but the needs-based company will make this the third step. Customers are why business exists. Define who the customers are, how you intend to build relationships with them and then deliver on promises. Without this step, meeting customer demand will likely remain elusive or of mediocre quality.
  • Measure – This is the follow-up or accountability piece. Be sure what is measured is relevant and keep the metrics to the absolute minimum. Most of us have probably seen places where measurement became the master instead of the slave. Have a process in place to periodically review ALL the metrics and reconsider each one. Cut regularly. Without this step, an organization will not know where to increase efficiencies for better sales results.

Now let’s drill down a bit more into the nuts-and-bolts of sales capacity and management. Management by its very nature means to find the most efficient way to deliver on an existing mindset. This is working inside the box. There is nothing wrong with working inside the box as long as it is intentional and is in a broader leadership context (reviewing the box constantly). With this in mind, to excel at managing sales operations requires successful mapping and alignment of sales territories as well as balancing workload effectively.

Mapping and Alignment of Sales Territories

Many companies choose to create sales territories. If your organization uses this model, balanced territories help with sales quota planning. Remember the need to know customer demand above? This is a key part in defining and segmenting sales territories. Of course, sales territories will not stay static so the balancing effort should be ongoing to make sure the company is putting its best sales foot forward.

After understanding the ideal customer profile, it’s time for building prospecting lists for the sales representatives. This can be an exciting step for the sales-minded as it makes the sales concept become more real! There is nothing like translating strategy into a tactic.

Balancing Workload

However, with the prospect data comes a dilemma. What are the proper sales quotas and how should the organization best spread the workload reasonably among the sale staff? Most everyone likes to be challenged but no worked too slavishly. Balance workload is the key so all feel as though they are part of the solution but also part of a team. Let’s step back to check the progression.

Company Aim –> Strategy –> Customer Demand –> Build Sales Capacity –>

Map the Sales Territory & Translate to Sales Quotas

One service option for succeeding in sales management is to use a smart technology firm like Geographic Enterprises as they can help with sales territory mapping. Most of all in thinking about sales management, please remember to manage the process but not the people. Lead them … but that’s a topic for another time.

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4 Steps to Better Culture (2 of 2)

Last time I talked about how each organization has a personality as a result of the collection of personalities within. Now let’s continue with the thought of improving that larger personality through a few common sense steps.

3. Interview any new employee within 7-14 days of starting work. People are smart and very quickly adapt to a new environment. This includes companies where a fresh face quickly blends into the culture. Many of us would like to change things but many cultural mindsets become invisible because, “that’s just the way we do it here.” The newest employee is more likely to wonder “why” and the smart cultural warrior will pounce on this information like the gold nugget it is. Oh by the way … act on the interview information.

Specific Take-aways:

  • The important part of this interview is to only do it when you are completely open and 100% non-defensive. The interviewee will take cues from your body language – good or bad.
  • Take good notes (and let the person know what and why you are writing vigorously.) Also, you must be committed to acting on this feedback or else the interview is actually a bad thing. Any boss who asks the type of questions as below is sending an implied message of coming improvement. Better to not ask and not change than to ask and then not follow through.
  • Here are possible questions.
    • What has surprised you about joining this company?
    • What has disappointed you since you started?
    • What processes seems cumbersome? What methods are really slick?
    • What is your favorite part of this job? Why?
    • Assuming the right skills match, would you try to get your best friend to work here? Why or why not?
    • What kind of training do you wish you would have more of?
    • What educational opportunities do you hope for in this organization?
    • What things would make you a raving fan of this organization for a long time?
    • If you were to describe this company as a person, what would that person look like and act like?
  • IMPORTANT: Follow up with the new employee in no more than two weeks about improvements you made based on the feedback. The more the better. Please, please follow-up. If this is not your strength, enlist the help of a colleague or sharp executive assistant.

4. Hire for a value system first before experience. See if this sounds familiar. The typical hiring process looks for X years of experience in this specialty or that. Throw in a college degree for good measure and maybe membership in some professional group. Once the hiring manager is satisfied the person has “been there, done that” long enough, the deal is closed.

All too often though, the same hiring manager will grow disgruntled with the employee in the coming weeks and months. Why the dissatisfaction? The problem is rarely a discrepancy in the experience level. (They said they had eight years experience and they only have six, for example.) The complaint is usually something about the lack of performance or some obnoxious personal trait. This is a classic case of aiming for the wrong target and hitting it! The company ultimately pays the price in lower morale, productivity and profitability. Don’t get me wrong, experience is important, it’s just over-emphasized in too many cases.

Specific Take-aways:

  • Identify the values most important in the ideal person for the position. If you can narrow the list to the top three or four, that’s best.
  • Conduct more than one interview … face to face. You can’t afford to mess up the hiring decision because it’s too painful and costly. Sorry HR, telephone interviews are terrible for making quality hiring decisions. Skype is bit better but still not as good as in person.
  • Conduct at least one interview at a local eatery or other public place requiring interaction with others. (I can’t take credit for this idea but don’t remember where I read it.) How does the prospective employee interact? Is this someone you want talking to your most valued customers?
  • Get into discussions about decision-making with the candidate to start to understanding their thinking process. What values do you think are most important to them? Would you let this person babysit your 4-year old? Would you be comfortable to introduce this interviewee to your mother?
  • If you don’t find the right candidate at first, start over. Don’t settle for second best or “just OK.” Resist the pressure to “just fill the position.” Take it from one with hiring regrets in a past life.

5. Learn to work outside the script. (OK, I fibbed a little … here is a fifth way to help build a stand-out culture.) Anybody can learn and run a business script. It’s not terribly tough to say, “Store policy is …” because it transfers the accountability to some nameless person deep in the company hierarchy. The clerk or low-level employee becomes the innocent face for a dysfunctional organization and this is doubly frustrating for the customer.

The first frustration is the restrictive policy that does not allow the customer to be completely satisfied or, heaven forbid, delighted! The second frustration is there is usually no way to give feedback on the dumb policy to the company because the person reciting policy has little or no influence. Too often, “company policies” arise out of a few isolated problems and rather than deal directly with the issues and the culprits, it’s easier to make a blanket rule and pronounce the problem solved. To the hapless consumer, it can seem as though some businesses work to find new ways of saying “no” like a “no-of-the-week” campaign.

I am not advocating anarchy or lawless minimum wage employees but surely it is common sense that team members be allowed and encouraged to think to delight customers (who are the life blood of any enterprise). After all, if the employees are that bad, why did you hire them in the first place? Why not communicate policy in a broader sense of timeless values such as respect, kindness, courage, fairness, justice, etc. This may prove difficult for the organization bent on hiring on experience alone – see the last section – but this type of employee is worth his or her weight in gold.

Specific Take-aways:

  • Resist the urge to have very many company policies. Yes, you need some rules to keep order but keep the number down and, by all means, review all the policies at least annually to cut the most annoying 20%.
  • Find a way to actively, genuinely ask for customer feedback so the lamest rules become painfully obvious … quickly!
  • Give the frontline employees some decision-making authority using broad values (respect, kindness, courage, fairness, justice, etc.).
  • Sorry to be repetitive but … ask customers, would you recommend your mother shop or work here? If yes, why? If not, why not?
  • Educate the frontline employees. Don’t just throw them into the ring and expect instant success. I have seen it and so have you. As one colleague used to say, “Pay me now or pay me later.”

All the best!

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4 Steps to Better Culture (Part 1 of 2)

Every organization has a personality and this personality is a result of the collection of personalities within. To this culture geek, the interplay of personalities that create a company persona is a source of endless fascination – not only from the what-is-it-now perspective but in the what-it-could-be department. I hope you’ll agree the possibilities are endless when we start imagining.

So what if you could make a few changes to improve this overall personality. Maybe you’re a manager who is both aware of your enterprise sacred cows and cultural improvement opportunities. As you know, culture progress will improve customer service and, more importantly, the bottom line. May I suggest the following four ideas? Perhaps they’re useful or will trigger other thoughts for your organization’s long-term good.

1. Give your receptionist a raise. Who is the first face or voice for many of your customers? Maybe it’s not a receptionist in your case. Maybe it’s an outside sales person or a repair technician, etc. Whoever this person or team, they should be rewarded on making a great first impression because this initial interaction can be very powerful.

What would you pay for customer loyalty? What would you pay for customer word-of-mouth advertising? Both of these items and more are influenced by the customer’s first contact with your organization. How much attention do you pay to the entry point of your company?

Specific Take-aways:

  • Identify who is usually your organization’s first face or voice.
  • What are the things you most want in your first customer contact beyond the traditional position description details? Communicate those expectations to the frontline employee.
  • In addition to their normal job duties, give pay consideration to this person or team for a critical public relations (PR) role. In the case of a receptionist, the duties are much more than just answering the phone or greeting a walk-in customer. Are you broad enough in the total compensation thoughts?
  • How well do you know this employee? Are there any other welcome considerations you could give for the PR role such as time off, education opportunities, cross-training, etc.?

2. Steal your senior executives’ office chairs. For a culture to grow and thrive requires activity. Not just busy work but engaged hearts and minds with the natural variety of perspective. A senior manager that asks multiple questions and does a lot of listening will learn much about what makes the culture tick and how it could be better. Most people are genuinely happy to give their opinions on most topics. Also, asking honest questions has a natural side effect of building trust; what company couldn’t use more of this commodity?

Although these conversations make look like small talk, the smart executive will be constantly on the lookout for cultural facts to include in senior level discussions. and decisions Look beyond the present discussion. What does it mean for your best customers, vendors, suppliers, and alliance partners?

Specific Take-aways:

  • Here are starter questions to ask. You are trying to discover what employees thinkabout their workplace, NOT just what they say.
    • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
    • If you could make one policy/software/process improvement in your area, what would that be?
    • If you were the boss, what would you do? OR What do you think is the right thing to do in this case? (In response to a complaint.)
    • How could we lower the use of sick days?
    • What makes you run to work and walk home? What makes you walk to work and run home?
    • Would you recommend your mother work here? If so, why? If not, why not? (Thanks to Lee Hawkins for this question.)
  • As you talk to employees, tune into their body language. How open are they? What would a casual observer say about the conversation? What can you learn on improving the culture by this feedback? How can you improve the feedback?
  • Get used to asking “why” as a discovery question, not as a preface to an accusation.

Next time, we’ll explore the final two steps to a better culture. All the best!

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Leadership Acumen

What is leadership acumen? Leadership always yields tangible business results in the long-term. Since acumen is about insight and wise action, let’s consider it in context of great leadership and excellent business.


In many ways, leadership is about understanding self and others. A leader is not very effective at leading others without first leading self. Said another way, “Do as I say and not as I do” has fleeting success. What are some overlapping areas for leadership and business?

  1. Fill Out the Team – A leader who is growing in understanding of self will know what type of people to add to the organization for a more complete team. All of us have strengths and weaknesses and bringing others in who have strengths not otherwise present in the existing group is essential for great leadership and measurable business outcomes. When looking for new team members, a leader will understand and consider a lot of personality traits, character attributes and leadership skills.
  2. Watch for Falling Paradigms – A companion insight for excellent leadership acumen is recognizing the important role of mindsets. It is possible to force behavior changes for the short-term but this tension eventually resolves itself with a mindset change or someone leaving the organization. A sharp leader works to develop tools to help discover, look at and adjust personal as well as organizational mindsets. Only then, can behaviors change long-term with the resulting improvement in culture.
  3. Demand Thinking – Leadership authority is not granted by a nameplate; formal power is – do not confuse the two. Leadership acumen demands innovative thinking be cultivated at all levels. This will require a measure of humility especially when a great idea comes from someone with a less-than-impressive title. (Here is an argument to reduce the use of titles but I digress.) The amount of decision-making authority to grant can be debated internally based on the desired culture but a healthy organization must have active thinkers with all their ideas popping out of the woodwork … consistently.
  4. Allow for Mistakes – A culture that is a one-strike environment will clearly not inspire innovation. Self-awareness on mistake-mindsets will help the leader improve and then communicate this growth to others.

Wise Action

Assuming an organization is reasonably successful at fostering the preceding environment, what is the best way to sort through all the ideas and dialogue to take decisive action? While part of the answer is an art form, there are definite limits to consider. Here are three foundational ideas.

  • What is the intended, long-term destination of the organization (vision)?
  • Why does the company exist (mission, aim or purpose)?
  • How does enterprise intend to treat people inside and outside the organization (values)?

The answers to these guiding concepts should come through extended dialogue over months or even years. Part of the process of refining these overarching ideas thoughts will help make decisions on specific ideas in the environment. Everything must tie back to the vision, mission or values … hopefully to all three if possible.

Although a bit tongue-in-cheek, the next step is to simply make decisions. When a company is struggling, there is a tendency to slow or stop making conclusions. A certain amount of caution and analysis may be warranted if cash flow is tight but a leader must be careful to not stagnant out of fear. Procrastinate too much and your competition will eat your lunch.

One important measuring stick to help continue making decisions is the question, “What is the right thing to do?” Based on everything I know about our company, what is right? Listening to my conscience, what is right? What would those I most admire advise on what is right in this circumstance? What do others on the team think is right? The answer to “what is right” can vary depending on the environment but the discussion is healthy.

Build in whatever helps are necessary: write down the list of fears, form an informal advisory board (and use them), or specifically define what will happen with no decision. You can think of other ideas. Most of all, a leader must keep making intentional decisions … other people inside and outside the company depend on it. Anybody can make an easy decision; a leader will not run from the tough choices or allow other team members to shirk similar responsibilities in choosing. Remember, no decision is still a decision.


Ultimately, results are what matter. Leadership acumen and process is great and informative but if it does not translate into action and measurable results, there is probably little linkage to business acumen. To repeat, true leadership acumen will link to tangible business results in the long-term. At times, this may take longer than the next quarterly earnings report but therein lies some of the art form: balancing the different time spectrums to have an organization that grows and produces at the same time.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

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Advantages of Positive Thinking

There is the classic question on whether the glass is half full or half empty. We could argue endlessly on a philosophical level about which outlook is more useful but let me make a practical argument for the-glass-is-half-full or the use of optimism.

The Christmas season reminds me of the power of optimism and how it can be a catalyst for other principles. (Principles meaning those things that are timeless, obvious and effective. Examples include respect, courage, consideration, service, excellence, etc.) Christmas is about new beginnings and how things can improve in amazing ways.

There are a lot of people hurting now with the sluggish economy. Layoffs continue and many are nervous about tomorrow. One of the necessary ingredients in prevailing over tough times is embracing optimism. This is not about escapism or denial; this about relentless perseverance and confidence that just happens to wear a smile (at least inside).

Optimism alone can fall short but, when used properly, can serve as a great driver. For example, when faced with a difficult problem – like job loss or other financial setback – the pessimist might be tempted to give up too soon.  On the other hand, the optimist will actively engage in finding a solution over and over and not be put down by the first few failures. Some might argue optimism is soft but I suggest optimism is tough because it’s most needed when situations are the most difficult.

While upgrading to the F-15 from the F-4, I had some struggles learning how to fight with the new airplane. Because it was more capable than earlier fighters, it was important to maneuver differently to win. This required unlearning earlier lessons and learning new ones. During this time, optimism was one of things that kept me going. Even after failing two flights in a row (a big deal), I was committed to learning and was optimistic I would do so. Optimism was not the main or only ingredient but it was sure important. (I successfully upgraded by the way.)

The opposite holds as well. I worked with a man several years ago who was consistently pessimistic. No matter how I or others tried, there was no humoring his downcast outlook away. As a result, one of the hallmarks of his work was small or incomplete solutions. If you think you can’t or consider yourself unable, you are probably right.

Here are some application thoughts especially as we think about an approaching new year and the potential for greatness in each one of us.

  1. Hold on to optimism like the treasure it is. Although incomplete by itself, optimism is of incredible value when combined with other principled actions.
  2. Optimism is a great driver to reach better solutions. When faced with choosing between bad or worse, push back and look for good or great. Optimism helps keep the head clear for fresh possibilities. Don’t settle for “just OK” as this will likely turn into regret or at least disappointment later.
  3. Optimism is practical. I must admit I have been skeptical at times of those who are overly optimistic. Just trying to “think” away a problem or challenge does not work. I was once lost in the woods and no amount of thinking (by itself) helped me find my way out. However, optimism combined with common sense action saved the day.
  4. Optimism is a choice. Whether or not you feel naturally prone to optimism, this trait can be cultivated over time and become “natural.” Great people examples come to my mind and you likely have similar role models as well. Choose optimism and you will enjoy a great number of options across the board over time.

Picture Credits

Glass with green water – Ahmad Hammoud on Flickr

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Perseverance Meaning

One of my dreams was to fly fighters. The power of this dream had carried me through many difficult things over nearly two years of Air Force flight training and education. Now it was time to complete one last hurdle … land survival training … in Northern Washington … in the dead of winter. I really had put the thought far from mind as I worked through the other flying schools. Now, the reality of survival training was here.

We began the classroom training and all seemed straight-forward enough. The instructors made many things sound logical and I began to think this training might not be too bad. I was, after all, familiar with the outdoors from earlier hunting, hiking and camping trips. Wouldn’t it be like that?

One of my early clues that this would be some different was when we began making our own “tents” from parachute silk. As we assembled the supplies, we were fitted for snowshoes. This was my second clue about the challenges that lay ahead.

The outdoor part of the training began by adjusting to being active with almost no food. We hiked more and more each day using the snowshoes which only made us hungrier. Sleeping under the individual silk parachute on top of four feet of snow was a new experience as well. The challenge was the instructors would leave us in the late afternoon with a list of several things to do before the next morning. As team leader, I became more and more frustrated as we kept failing to complete the assignments from now allowing enough time.

As we proceeded farther into the week, the demands increased as did the failure rate. We tried to improve our teamwork and think of new ways to meet the requirements but to no avail. Even worse, the instructors began breaking our team into smaller groups making the requirements more difficult yet. I eventually switched to “survival” mode and simply tried to make the best of the circumstances. This tested my patience because at times it seemed I was simply playing games. In reality, the instructors were trying to teach lessons that would help should any of us find ourselves in desperate circumstances.

I am not allowed to talk about the last few days of training but suffice to say I was fully tested mentally and physically. At times, it seemed as if time had stood still and we were forgotten. I persevered – almost mechanically. Thankfully, the dream of flying burned brightly in my mind and fueled a persistence I did not know was there. Suddenly, the training was over. We made it through. It may not have been elegant but we were now graduates and a little wiser for the hardships.

While I realize there are many military folks who have gone through more difficult training and conditions than I, Air Force survival training taxed my stamina at the time and gave me greater confidence that lasts to this day. I now believe most of us have hidden reserves that can be tapped in the most difficult times.

Committing to learn as a leader requires persistence as well. At times, the office politics, unreasonable policy demands or simple tiredness lead to less than stellar relations or decisions. One key part of developing as a leader is to learn disciplined perseverance. This requirement usually occurs when a leader faces setbacks. Conceptually, continually look for any small leverage points that will help you improve as a leader and influence others to do right as well. Here are some application ideas.

1. Re-double Preparation and Personal Growth Efforts – At times, a growing leader may feel frustrated by a lower than ideal influence at work. In times like these, when you feel like you are marching in place, re-direct the energy into your own personal development. Check out a leadership book from the library, record your difficult time in a journal including lessons learned or call that mentor you haven’t talked with in a while.

2. Look for Ways to Improve in Your Personal Relationships – If you are feeling under-valued at work, don’t take it out on your friends and family, embrace them! Re-focus the negative emotions on making your personal life even better. Exercising positive influence for those you most care about is satisfying.

3. Keep Doing the Right Thing – The natural human reaction to difficult times can be to lash out or do less-than-excellence work. Resist the temptation! Persevering means to do the right thing even when there is little encouragement in the environment. The leaders we most admire are those who cultivated and carried out an innate sense of doing good even in the face of bad stuff.

When all else fails … just persevere!

Picture Credits

Snowy Wilderness – vhhammer on Flickr

Office – moriza on Flickr

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