Funny, But True: Lipstick, Vacations and The Pope

In November 2015 Tesla lowered its delivery goal from 35,000 cars to 33,000 cars. While it did meet production goals for the quarter, they weren’t able to deliver all the cars to buyers. In a letter to shareholders, one of the excuses the car company gave included that “customers were on vacation.” I guess they had forgotten to call Tesla to put a vacation stop on their car, right after calling the newspaper.

Macy’s once missed its fourth-quarter earnings, and claimed it was due to competition from off-price stores. According to CFO Karen Hoguet, “We did some consumer research, and the customer said she likes going to the off-price retailers because she doesn’t have to put lipstick on.”

I had not known that women divided the world into two categories: places where lipstick is needed, and places where it is not.

When the restaurant chain Cosi’s stock fell in 2015, they had an answer. It was the pope’s fault.

whats-your-excuse“Business interruptions resulting from the pope’s visit on Sept. 22–26, 2015, negatively impacted 30 percent of our company-owned restaurants,” the company said in a release. It seems when Pope Francis visited DC, Philadelphia and New York, his followers stayed away from purchasing items from their restaurants. I would have advised them to follow the lead of a restaurant in DC. Just prior to the pope’s visit, Rumors created a sandwich called “The Pope’s Favorite Sandwich.” Or Cosi’s could have created “The Pope’s Daily Bread.”

Leaders can always find excuses when things are not going well with their companies. Admitting mistakes or acknowledging that sales goals or quarterly earnings were not met can be seen as something shameful, so leaders try to hide the facts. Or get creative in explaining what happened.

The same thing goes when criminals are caught, which actually is shameful. In a previous blog, “Excuses for Fraud: Now We’ve Heard It All,” I wrote about some of these folks who got caught and tried to explain their actions.

One of my favorites was the evil twin excuse, most likely from a guy who had watched too many soap operas. A man from Glasgow was accused of identity and benefit fraud. He claimed the authorities were really looking for his evil twin brother, who also had children born on the same days with the same names as his listed on his passport. Talk about coincidence!

Read more outlandish excuses in the blog, including the guy who gave himself the raise he thought was denied – stealing exactly that amount of money every month. For 20 years.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

3 Ways to Discover Your Super Powers and Your Kryptonite

 

If leaders want to succeed they need to be self aware, a topic I covered in the recent blog, “What to Grow as a Leader? Become This.” A study I referenced found that a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

A good leader needs to know what his super powers are. And his kryptonite.

As Anthony Tjan wrote, “In my experience — and in the research my co-authors and I did for our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can do to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making.”

To grow as leaders, we need to know what our strengths and weaknesses are, or as Tjan puts it, your super powers versus your kryptonite. So how do you go about becoming more self-aware?

  1. Feedback Analysis

In his popular book “Managing Oneself,” management consultant Peter Drucker recommended the process of Feedback Analysis as the only way to identify your strengths. Write down your expected outcomes for key decisions, then compare that with the results 9-12 months later.

This method will show you within a few years where your strengths are, which is the most important thing to discover about yourself. For example, he wrote, “The feedback analysis showed me, for instance—and to my great surprise—that I have an intuitive understanding of technical people, whether they are engineers or accountants or market researchers.”

  1. Assessment Instruments

Tjan recommends you take personality tests to learn more about yourself. Think about it – many businesses use assessment tools to test potential employees. But what about testing yourself and your senior managers? Here are three he mentions.

  • The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment. This simple test is designed to determine your four core behavioral drives: dominance, extraversion, patience and formality. You can then identify patterns of behavior and motivations.
  • Myers-Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator identifies basic preferences in four areas. Are you more introverted or extraverted? (E or I) Do you prefer to look at logic first or interpret facts and add meaning? (S or N). When making decisions, do you look at logic or take into account people and special circumstances? (T or F) And lastly, do you prefer to make decisions or leave your options open? (J or P) Answers to the questions will determine which of 16 personality types you are with a four-letter code, such as INFP, ENTP or ESFJ. (A friend once told me she thought she was an ESPN. I told her to take the test again.)
  • Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test (E.A.T.) Tjan developed this test that measures the four key drivers for entrepreneurial success he wrote about in his book: heart, smarts, guts and luck. This brief survey measures your HSGL distribution with a graph showing the percentage of each trait.
  1. Ask for feedback from co-workers

This method can be a bit trickier than just taking a test or assessing yourself. People, especially those who work for you, can be reluctant to be honest in their feedback.

In the article “How to Get Feedback When You’re the Boss,” James Detert, associate professor at the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management recommends constantly asking for feedback with requests for specific examples. If someone recommends you communicate more with employees, ask them for a suggestion on how to do that.

Or turn to a few trusted co-workers with this question, recommended by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: “How can I do better?”

And when you get the feedback, listen without interruption. Ask for clarification where needed and thank them for their comments at the end of the discussion. Responding gracefully to their feedback can encourage them to continue to offer it. And putting their suggestions into action when advisable sets a good example to them of a leader working to grow and improve.

You can also enlist professional help in this area, especially as anonymous feedback is generally more honest.  Hiring a qualified professional counselor or coach can help you elicit feedback by sending out anonymous evaluations and compiling the answers for you.

With all this information, you can learn which are your super powers and what is your kryptonite.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Funny, But True: Shaking My Pom-Poms

I never fantasized about being a cheerleader. But there I was, in a court of law, waving my pom-poms wildly with the rest of the courtroom.

I’ve done a lot of things in my career I never would have predicted. Handing out pom-poms to a judge and to everyone in attendance in a courtroom ranks high on the list of unforeseen events.

Cheerleader Supply was a $65 million a year revenue business, selling cheerleading supplies and uniforms. When the company’s financial situation was in dire straits, I was brought in for a Chapter 11 restructuring. That was early in my career and I learned a lot from working with that company.

It was a tough fourth quarter at the Super Bowl for Atlanta Falcons fans. But those Falcons cheerleaders never stopped yelling and waving their pom-poms.

It was a tough fourth quarter at the Super Bowl for Atlanta Falcons fans. But those Falcons cheerleaders never stopped yelling and waving their pom-poms. (Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports)

One of those early lessons is no matter how bad things are at your office, as CEO, it’s your job to be a cheerleader for your team. You have to keep up the morale of your team, no matter how bad things look. Your team members will be looking to you for inspiration during the fight to keep your company growing and thriving.

With Cheerleader Supply, my job as leader was made easier by the fact that everyone involved wanted to see the company succeed – the judge, lawyers and bankers were all on board with my restructuring plan. It was a lot of hard work, but we made it. On the day we emerged from bankruptcy, I gave everyone in the courtroom and the judge pom-poms to celebrate our win after coming back from so far behind. I still have that pom-pom in my office as a reminder that no matter how tough things get, one of my major roles in working with companies is that of cheerleader.

Dr. Robert Gerwig, who writes the Lead Strategic blog, wrote, “Great leaders are cheerleaders. If you’re not one, start today. You don’t have to be an extrovert to provide encouragement, support, recognition and inspiration. Do it your way, do it authentically, but become a great cheerleader. You’ll be amazed at the results and long-lasting benefits.”

I was recently looking at the bio of the leader of a company and saw this: “John serves as CEO and Cheer­leader for his busi­ness.” That’s a line that should be in every CEO’s bio.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Want to Grow as a Leader? Become This

I was speaking with a friend about our experiences with interviewing and hiring. He once interviewed a woman and asked her what mistakes she had made and what she had learned from them, a fairly common interview question. “I haven’t made a mistake,” she responded.

That would be the end of any interview for me. That woman demonstrated she wasn’t self-aware enough to know what mistakes she had made, much less learned anything from them.

We all have unique strengths and weaknesses, and if you want to grow as a leader, you need a firm grasp on what yours are. The single best way to grow as a leader is to be truly self-aware. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Observe all men: thy self most.”

Self-awarenessOnce you know your own strengths and weaknesses you can leverage and maximize your strengths to the best of your ability. As for your weaknesses, identify the ones you can improve on and take steps to improve those skills. Then hire people who excel in those areas you have identified as weak for you.

I’ve written about the Disney brothers before in Famous Sibling Partnerships That Worked. Walt Disney, the more famous of the two, was the visionary. The creator of Mickey Mouse, the most famous mouse in history. But his vision would never have become a reality without his co-founder, his brother Roy, who was the money guy and the one who made Walt’s visions a reality.

The results of a study done by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 2010 emphasized the quality of self-awareness and its importance for a leader. The study examined 72 executives at companies with revenues from $50 million to $5 billion.

One of its findings? “Leadership searches give short shrift to ‘self-awareness,’ which should actually be a top criterion.  Interestingly, a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own.”

Erika Anderson is a business coach and writer and says when people with low self-awareness want to grow, “it’s like someone who wants to travel to New York and he thinks he’s starting in Philadelphia – but he’s actually in Botswana.  The steps he would take to get to New York, thinking that he’s in Philly, will definitely not work for him (that pesky ocean is going to be a big shock).”

It’s only by being brutally honest with yourself about your own weaknesses that you are able to find people to fill in those gaps to help your company grow. I have an entire section in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me” on leveraging the talents of others to your advantage. It’s critical when growing a business, which is why you hear that interview question about strengths and weaknesses so often.

Focuses on our weaknesses may not be fun. Author Aldous Huxley said, “If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion.” But those pleasures of illusion do nothing to help you grow as a leader.

Knowing herself even helped a World No. 1 professional tennis player.  “I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion,” said Billie Jean King.

Coming soon: How leaders can become more self-aware, and how high self-awareness affects team performance

Funny, But True: Give a Second Thought to That Second Chance

You have an employee who makes a big mistake, but comes to you to admit it and offers a solution. So, you forgive him and move on. We all mess up sometimes, and this employee handled it correctly. You give him a second chance.

As Warren Buffett said, “I make plenty of mistakes and I’ll make plenty more mistakes, too. You’ve just got to make sure that the right things overcome the wrong ones.”

But some mistakes aren’t forgivable and employees who make them don’t deserve a second chance.

publishing-scamI once worked with a company whose sales manager was running a scheme. He would sell their widgets to a customer who was a partner in his crime. After the sale, the sales manager would issue a credit, reducing the price of each widget by $1 to that customer. The sales manager and the customer split the extra $1.

The scheme went undetected and over time amassed both the sales manager and the accounts receivable manager a lot of money.

The fraud was only detected because the sales manager accidentally sent a credit to the wrong company, which reported the error. The fraud was uncovered and both managers were fired. But they were not prosecuted for their crimes. (I always advise business owners to prosecute thieves. Read more about that in “Why You Should Always Prosecute Fraud”)

And it turns out the sales manager was actually really good at sales, and once he left, sales declined 25 percent. The CEO couldn’t find a suitable replacement in the following year, so what did he do? He hired back the thieving sales manager.

The CEO’s explanation? While the sales manager never paid any of the money back, he said he was sorry. During that past year, he had found God, repented his sins and begged for forgiveness as a friend and long-term employee.

He lasted six months, until he moved. To jail. Where he was sent for stealing again.

Beyond the obvious lessons of prosecuting fraud and not rehiring people who steal, the other lesson is that some people deserve a second chance and some don’t. As a business owner/CEO you need to know the difference.

 

 

 

The Value of a Successful Failure

A successful failure sounds like an oxymoron, right? Like jumbo shrimp, open secret or one of my favorites, only choice. So, what is a successful failure? It’s an endeavor that did not succeed at its original goal, but its failure taught you lessons that you turned into a success.

Apollo 13 has been referred to as a successful failure. As you may recall from the popular movie about the mission, aptly called “Apollo 13,” the spacecraft launched on April 11, 1970, the third spacecraft destined to land on the moon. But the landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after launch. After hearing, “Houston, we have a problem” from the astronauts, NASA then spent several tense days working through multiple problems to return the crew and the spacecraft safely to earth.

Mission Control in Houston dealing with the explosion onboard Apollo 13. (Photo courtesy of NASA.org)

Mission Control in Houston dealing with the explosion onboard Apollo 13. (Photo courtesy of NASA.org)

The mission to get to the moon was a failure. The recovery of the crippled aircraft and saving the lives of three crew members was a success.

“A ‘successful failure’ describes exactly what 13 was – because it was a failure in its initial mission — nothing had really been accomplished,” said Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 as reported in an interview. But he called it, “a great success in the ability of people to take an almost certain catastrophe and turn it into a successful recovery.”

I have dealt with several successful failures in my turnaround career. By the time I’m called in, many companies are on the verge of total failure, and we are often able to salvage some value out of the company, resulting in a successful failure.

I like to think of the quote from Nelson Mandela who said, “I never lose. I either win or learn.

Read more about Successful Failures in my two-part series, “How to Have a Successful Failure.” You’ll love the story of the college drop-out who started a business and become a millionaire, then bankrupted that company. Using the lessons he learned from that failure, he started another business and became a billionaire. Now, that’s what I call a successful failure.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.

Leftover Vacation Days and the Impact on Your Business

Americans did not use 658 million vacation days last year. For the first time ever, more than half of Americans (55%) did not use all of their days off, according to a study done by Project: Time Off. We are becoming the “No Vacation Nation.”

While Americans used to average three weeks of vacation a year in 2000, in 2015 they only took 16.2 days. That represents a loss of almost one week in 15 years.

Why would people essentially volunteer a week of their time every year for their company? The two biggest factors cited in the study were fear they would return to a mountain of work (37%) and that no one else can do their job (30%).

Unlike other developed countries, in the U.S. employers are not required to give employees paid time off. Employees in the European Union get a minimum of 20 days a year.

While a business owner or CEO may appreciate that their employees didn’t take their allotted time off, research shows their productivity may actually be lower when they don’t take breaks.

Studies show that when employees take time off, their productivity increases. “There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources. When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks,” said Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University in the article “The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off.”

In a Wall Street Journal blog, Dr. Kathleen Potempa wrote, “In addition to mental and physical stressors, long periods of work without vacation can lead to reduced productivity, diminished creativity, and strained relationships. Americans seem to believe that logging more hours leads to increased output, but respite deprivation can actually increase mistakes and workplace animosity—in addition to prompting or exacerbating stress-related illnesses.”

CEOs and business owners should look at their own calendars and clear time for vacation as well. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, takes six weeks a year. “I take a lot of vacation and I’m hoping that certainly sets an example. It is helpful. You often do your best thinking when you’re off hiking in some mountain or something. You get a different perspective on things.”

COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg says she was able to write her best-selling book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead” because she took all of her vacation days. (I’ve written a book, and would be on the side of people who argue that’s not quite what I’d call a vacation.)

Tony Schwartz, the president/CEO of The Energy Project and author of “Be Excellent at Anything” says at The Energy Project they teach “the greater the performance demand, the greater the need for recovery.” Feeling burnt out one year, he went on vacation and completely disconnected from digital distractions. “By the end of nine days, I felt empowered and enriched. With my brain quieter, I was able to take back control of my attention. In the process, I rediscovered some deeper part of myself.”

Mark Douglas, CEO of the marketing and advertising company SteelHouse, recognized the need for his employees to take vacation and offered them unlimited vacation when he founded the company in 2010. But perhaps due to the reasons stated above, people weren’t taking much.

So he decided to pay them. To take vacation. He pays his employees $2,000 a year to go anywhere in the world. They can split up the money for more than one trip, or use it all at once. Employees who request the money in the form of a bonus are turned down. They must spend it on a vacation.

As a result, his turnover rate is extremely low. Out of 250 employees, only five people left the company in a three-year period, with three of them leaving for reasons unrelated to the job.

So if you are feeling a bit anxious when you see all the empty desks and email vacation notices at your company over the holidays, think of it this way: they are recharging their batteries and will come back more productive than ever.

Take some time off yourself. And enjoy.

My book “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned from CEOs’ Mistakes,” is now available as an ebook.