Category: Leadership

Some (MORE) (Very) (Important) Stuff

I have broken up my Golden Bay New Zealand
beach walks with more additions and edits to
"Some (Very) (Important) Stuff"—all in all about a 25% expansion. WHICH I HOPE YOU FIND OF USE! I have also added a second/alternative title page: "50 Ways (Inspired By Twitter) to Accelerate Your Journey Towards EXCELLENCE." Not sure which one we'll end up with.

Have at it!

Or, rather:


Hmmm. Maybe that oughta be the title? was very nice to Bob Waterman and me. Their 27 January piece suggests that we anticipated (In Search of Excellence) most of what's going down even today. They're overly kind—but what the hell. Makes an insanely great morning in New Zealand even better.


By the time you read this I'll be winging my way to Kiwi-land. But, before I left, I made a last gasp to really (for now) revise like hell and tie down my "Some Stuff" piece. Ended up with 35 parts, 104 pages,12,629 words.

For the moment, I'm happy. To steal from my own title, I think it is ultra-wide-ranging (really) (important) "stuff." I think odds are pretty high you'll find ... SOMETHING ... to put to use.

At any rate, enjoy!

Some (More) (Really) (REALLY) (Important) Stuff

I am off this weekend to New Zealand for several weeks. (Tough life—there, I said it first.) I have been madly updating my "Some Stuff" piece before departing. Here's the latest—with, among other changes, two new parts: a 100+ book reading list; 47 questions for newly anointed CEOs.

(I do hope you can find SOMETHING of immediate use.)


I continue to revise and update "Some (Very) (Important) Stuff." I have done so again, adding Sections XIX and XX. The latter is on the topic of corporate culture. You will also see it below.

In a revision a few days ago, I included a paper titled "Acknowledgement." This time I am appending a paper titled "Systems Have Their Place: SECOND Place." The argument is that systems are indeed important—but their impact is largely negated, or worse, if the supporting culture is not in place. There are 10 case studies, from the U.S. Air Force to Mayo Clinic to Toyota. I've made this paper available before, but I have also just significantly revised it.

Culture Comes ... FIRST

WSJ/0910.13: "What matters most to a company over time? Strategy or culture?" Dominic Barton,* MD, McKinsey & Co. "Culture."

Bill Walsh,* NFL Hall of Fame Coach: "Culture precedes positive results. It doesn't get tacked on as an afterthought on the way to the victory stand."

Lou Gerstner,* former CEO, IBM: "If I could have chosen not to tackle the IBM culture head-on, I probably wouldn't have. My bias coming in was toward strategy, analysis and measurement. In comparison, changing the attitude and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of people is very, very hard. Yet I came to see in my time at IBM that culture isn't just one aspect of the game—IT IS THE GAME."

(*Note that all three of these CEOs are/were Charter Members of the Hardass School of Management. This was a realization that emerged for each one over time, but is stated here—UNEQUIVOCALLY.)

Culture With a ... 100X BANG

"I am hundreds of times [repeat: 100s of times] better here [than in my prior hospital assignment] because of the support system. It's like you are working in an organism; you are not a single cell when you are out there practicing."—Dr. Nina Schwenk, Mayo Clinic*

(*One of the two core values instilled by Dr. William Mayo in 1910 was, effectively, practicing team medicine. Designing the practice around the patient, or "patient-centered care" as some call its rare manifestation today, was the other core value. At Mayo, upon occasion prominent M.D.s have been asked to leave because of their inability to fully grasp the team-practice concept.)


There is a ton of high falutin' stuff written about "corporate culture"—hey, I've written some of it. But the unvarnished stuff appeals most to me. Former Burger King CEO Barry Gibbons is a pal. He orchestrated a magical turnaround at a troubled firm. And the heart of the matter, which he largely achieved, is described—UNVARNISHED—here:

"I didn't have a 'mission statement' at Burger King. I had a dream. Very simple. It was something like, 'Burger King is 250,000 people, every one of whom gives a shit.' Every one. Accounting. Systems. Not just the drive through. Everyone is 'in the brand.' That's what we're talking about, nothing less."

Problems Therewith

Bottom line 1: "Best practices" are to be learned from, NOT mimicked/treated as dogma. "Best practices" must ALWAYS be adapted to local conditions!

Bottom line 2: When pursuing "best practices," DON'T "benchmark." FUTUREMARK. Tomorrow's stars are already out there. Find 'em!

Bottom line 3: DON'T benchmark. OTHERMARK. E.g., a tech company likely can adopt a WOW service practice from a local restaurant or car dealer.

Bottom line 4: Make benchmarking EVERYONE's biz. Ask all to collect best practices from "everyday life." Share WEEKLY.

Corporate governance: Healthcare's service standard shouldn't be other HC providers. It should be Zappos.

One of VA's biggest breakthroughs apparently started with a nurse's observation from local Burger King. (Use of barcoding.)

Adam Jacoby: "Examples of excellence are everywhere. The art is in customization & execution. Don't settle for other's best."

But need not be grand! Can also learn a powerful tidbit from the corner store! (If eyes are always open.)

Lots of small biz owners are refugees from big business—trying to right "worst practices" they were muzzled by.

Corporate governance: Yes, and I discovered my corner shop owner was a PhD in economics and an MBA. Talked for full hour on service!

Sandy Maxey: "As currently used, benchmarking is a tool of self-reinforcing smug complacency—not about innovation."

[Ed.: The above entry is another collection of tweets on one topic from Tom's tweetstream. It's included in the latest (01.07.14) Some (Really) (Important) Stuff PDF he's been updating regularly. Our thanks to all his fellow Twitter denizens who've contributed to the conversation and, thus, the document.]

2014: Getting Started

As you know, I've been translating subject matter tweetstreams into organized and slightly edited text. We have now accumulated over 6K words on 20 topics. I have somewhat cheekily titled it: Some (Really) (Important) Stuff. My defense-of-title? I think it is really important.

'Tis the time to launch the New Year—with, one hopes, a bang. In addition to Some (Really) (Important) Stuff, I've included a reissuance of what I think is a (really) (important) paper. Titled, simply: Acknowledgement! "Simple" acknowledgement may be the most powerful force in the universe—at least in the leader's universe. Please read this. Please apply it. Now. As I say in the new introduction: It ain't exactly rocket science.

Happy New Year 2014!

Topics Of Current Interest

In the week between Christmas and New Year's a series of topics made their way into my tweetstream:

New Year's Week

This week you get a twofer. An ending and a beginning. Beginnings and endings are all important. Act accordingly.

Good or not so good results, most folks have done their bit to contribute. Show your appreciation this week.

Pope Francis has made an enormous impact on enormous institution with his way of being. Apply to your wee corner of the world this week.

Bad year? It happens. Be a paragon of grace and thoughtfulness.

Good year or not so good year, end it on a high with an un-showy show of energy and enthusiasm and appreciation and joie de vivre.

As the year closes, emphasize that we are a team moving forward. Use the word "we" per se until you're blue in the face.

Leadership 2014: "The Year of the Ear." [Listening rules!]

May each and every one of those you are privileged to lead have a 2014 marked by accomplishment and growth.

Make 2014 the year of committed servant leadership.

Thought for 2014 for those not in formal leadership slots: Every day, on or off the job, offers up a plethora of leadership opportunities! Go for it!


Remember (per me): Excellence is not an "aspiration." It's the next five minutes. Or not.

John Miller: You are only 5 minutes max away from Excellence.

Excellence is not a "culture." It is your next email or IM or 30-second chance meeting in the hall.

If you are a big cheese, excellence that translates into $$$ is about your elevator ride to the top floor.

If ever there were a day for Excellence via MBWA, it's tomorrow.

Remember, excellence is the work that gets done on the real or metaphorical "lower floors." Camp out there this week.

MORE Excellence

Personal impact:

Out work 'em.
Out read 'em.
Out last 'em.
Show up.

Vala Afshar: The Foundation of excellence is:

Extreme politeness

Vala Afshar (or TP?): Excellence is:

Learning people's names
Holding doors open
Greeting people with a smile
Being on time
Being prepared
Front-line Leader Primacy/Training/People First

FIRST place to look re performance deficiencies is excellence (or not) of full cadre of 1st-line leaders.

"Why do companies fail to let underperformers go?"
TP: First priority: Get rid of/reassign least effective 25% of 1st-line leaders, watch what happens.

TP: Often as not, many/most of organizations declared "underperformers" are poorly trained and have truly shitty 1st-line bosses.

TP: First priority: Get rid of/reassign least effective 25% of 1st-line leaders, watch what happens.

Tim Walker: The disparity in skill for those 1st-line leaders is immense, shocking.

New Year's Resolution #1: By end of 2014 we will have made phenomenal progress in improving the quality of our full cadre of 1st-line leaders.

New Year's Resolution #2: By year end 2014, neutral outside evaluators will agree we've moved 10 Big Steps down path to Training Excellence.

New Year's Resolution 2A: We will aggressively invest in training excellence. It will by and large take precedence over CAPEX.

Admiral Chester Nimitz on what the U.S. Navy needed more of, early in the Pacific War [World War II]: Training, TRAINING, MORE TRAINING. [punctuation Nimitz's]

"Tom, what really bugs you these days?"
TP: The "forever problem": Making "putting people 1st" more than lip service. (Maximize mid-/long-term profit via maximizing people development. Q.E.D.)

Vala Afshar: "In a connected economy, an employee investment is also a company brand investment."

TP: As never before! Carve that one into stone!

"Suck DOWN For Success"

"Little" people can get big things done in big places if you master the network; make "low level" pals in key places.

Remember, excellence is the work that gets done on the real or metaphorical "lower floors." Camp out there this week.

My motto: Suck DOWN for success!!!!!

Criticism, [Severe] Limits Thereto

Remember: Criticism poorly given rarely leads to correction. It leads to evasion—avoiding the task in the future.

Joel Heffner: Coaching is like walking on eggs; any dope can criticize.

Try Ed Schein's book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help. Helping is far more delicate than neurosurgery.

Vala Afshar: Most people will do better work and put greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.

Wendy Maynard: Positivity goes a long way, as does asking people what they think went well.

Wendy Maynard: There's just been too much emphasis in management about "constructive criticism"; it can easily be abused.

Rich McDonald: Why many bosses stink—they watch too many military movies and forget that in-your-face degrading remarks never work for anyone.

Wendy Maynard: Most people were criticized unfairly as kids. As managers, they simply repeat the bad patterns.

Overdoing "Strategy"/Dealing With Strategic Disruption As An Individual

"Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics."—General Omar Bradley

Great 12/28/13 FT book review: Britain Against Napoleon: The Organization of Victory. Chalk up the win as due to superior management/logistics.

Former McKinsey MD to team, on over-emphasizing strategy: "Don't forget the implementation part, boys. It's that all-important 'last 99%.'"

Jack Welch on "strategy": "Pick a general direction and then implement like hell."

TP: Could we call it WTFWUT* rather than "strategy"? [*WhatThe F*** We're Up To] Strategy is too grand a word for me.

Glen Taylor: Like sports—your competitors already know your strategy Success = execution; focus on that to win.

Clay Christensen [and his obsession with disruption] be damned; message for you and me: FIRST, get so frigging good at something that you have reason to worry about being disrupted.

If you spend your life worrying about disruption, you won't have time to get good enough at anything to be disrupted.

Friday Rituals/Twitter

In keeping with this week's posts, I thought I'd offer some "Friday suggestions." Herewith:

Have you prepped for your 1st meeting with your team today with the same care you'd put into a presentation to your boss? THIS is MORE important!

Bosses: 1st ten minutes sets the tone for the day. PERIOD.

Bosses/Repeat: MBWA for 1st 15-30 minutes after arrival at the office.

Bosses: MBWA, for the last 15-30 minutes of the day/Friday. Thank a minimum of THREE people for something they did this week.

Bosses: Take someone new and different to lunch today.

Bosses: Re MBWA, saying thanks a couple of times, etc, how about a "daily rituals" list carried in your pocket to remind you of this stuff?

Bosses: How about a promise to yourself not to email/text/etc. any of your team this weekend?

Bosses: Like my old White House boss, set aside a half hour this afternoon to CALL 3-5 "outsider" folks who gave your team a hand this week.

(WH boss) was the busiest guy I ever met, yet he did (his late-in-the-day "Thank you" ritual) EVERY day. And most calls were "down" to someone who'd offered a helping hand.

Lot of (my WH boss's) calls (this was the old days) were to secretaries/PAs of those above him. His secretaries network was his secret weapon.

Bosses: FACT: projects succeed/fail because of cooperation from OTHER functions. Find 2-3 of those "other function" folk to thank today.

Bosses: Remember: Suck DOWN for success! (It's the network "below" you that makes you a hero or a goat.)

[REPEAT: IT'S THAT IMPORTANT] Bosses: Remember: Suck DOWN for success! (It's the network "below" you that makes you a hero or a goat.)

I wrote In Search of Excellence about ONE thing: MBWA. Being in touch, being human, emphasizing "soft" factors, which are in fact true "hard" factors.

So, it's 8:50AM EST, are you doin' your MBWA yet????????

5 Suggested Top-of-the-Morning Rituals

I launched the day (Tuesday) with a few quick starter-to-dos for bosses. They were vigorously re-tweeted, so I decided to post them here. FYI:


Take someone in another function to lunch. TODAY. DAMN IT.

Thank someone for bringing a SMILE to work today. Do it in the next ... 30 MINUTES.

Boss: Observe yourself closely over the next 60 MINUTES. Did you LISTEN more than you talked?

At the beginning of your next meeting THANK two people for SOMETHING.

THANK YOU for reading these tweets. Have a great day.