Zero Sum Games

Sorry again for another lack of updates. I’ve been keeping myself busy with vacation, some busy work days, and my sister moving to college. I have found some time to join some discussions on LinkedIn, and one of the topics I keep finding threads leading to is teamwork – How can I make my team more cohesive? How should I measure my team? etc. While the discussions are in the context of technology projects,  all walks of professional life make mistakes when trying to answer this question.

Compromise, collaboration, and cooperation have become the new “dirty c-words.” Look at our political system. As many drift further toward extremes in the political spectrum, we begin to create scenarios where one must lose for the other to win. In today’s game of mud-slinging, it’s the individual with the least dirt (note, I did not say the cleanest – there are not many who are clean) who wins, and the other who loses. And ultimately, anyone who is not in complete alignment with the winning extreme, loses. In the context of the discussions we had on LinkedIn, where both teams were measured on the defect count, the developer had to lose for QA to win (high number of defects identified) and QA had to lose for development to win (low number of defects identified) – and people wonder why they don’t seem to trust and collaborate with one another? They are actively incentivized (sorry for the made up buzzword) not to.

In economic theory, (and incentives are certainly economics) a zero sum game is defined as a situation where one participant’s gain can only be balanced by an equivalent loss from the other participant. Rankings, at-odds metrics, and performance appraisal curves (possibly even performance appraisals in general – but that thought needs its own post) all encourage another “c” word that should be dirtier than it is – competition.

Competition is healthy, to an extent. But today’s business world is increasingly complex – it requires cross-functional collaboration and high efficiency to be successful. If your metrics encourage competition, you may find that your senior staff members hoard the knowledge that makes them more efficient than the newbies, keeping the learning curve high and efficiency low. Even something as innocuous and seemingly harmless as individual performance measurements based solely on individual contributions can discourage sharing. It may not be defined in my project role, but I may have information that could help avoid a potential pitfall if I share it with the team. I’m not necessarily purposely hoarding the information. But if I’m not measured on the overall success of the project, just my individual contribution to it, I likely won’t involve myself in meetings or conversation around this topic since I’m not accountable – we’re all busy, after all (I say “I” and “my” universally in this context). But if I know that, regardless of the success of my individual project workstream, I will not be counted as “successful” unless the project is successful, I’m more likely to lend my expertise to areas outside of my defined role and be a true team member.

One of the participants in our LinkedIn discussion exemplified this in a unique example of a teambuilding exercise. Imagine you are at a bowling alley with your colleagues, all split into several teams. Your first instinct is to absolutely crush as many other teams as possible. But the rules for this game have changed – no one gets a reward at the end unless all of the teams successfully finish at or above a certain milestone. Now, if you’re a bowling expert, your instinct is not to crush other teams, it’s to share tips on how to release the ball, where to aim, etc. because you’ll be rewarded for their success. Ultimately, your focus will be on the success of the entire team, not your team.

I’m not suggesting that team measurement is the silver bullet to team success, or even team cohesiveness. It is simply one variable in the equation, among trust, respect, understanding, and a genuine interest in the project. But team measurement has broad applications. Even in a Sales environment where individual measurements have reigned king for several years, there are benefits to be reaped here. Salespeople sharing their successful pitch, customer knowledge, efficiency tips, etc. are unlikely if I know that sharing these tips and making another salesperson more successful means that I will be viewed as comparatively less successful.


People Don’t Buy What You Do, They Buy Why You Do It

A timely video of Simon Sinek in a TED Talk from 2009 relating to the idea of believing in what you do and how it impacts others. I love TED Talks, and I watch a few each week, but a friend sent this one over to me after reading my posts about personal values and mission statements.

The only thing in this video I don’t like is the ending. He makes a distinction between “leaders” and “those who lead,” but I think his definition relates more to titles than it does the capacity to lead. At some point trying to distinguish “managers” vs. “leaders” vs. “those who lead” vs. “people who lead people” or other definitions just becomes a word game. The point is taken, though, that leadership is not synonymous with power.

WordPress won’t let me embed the video, but check it out on the TED site. And if you have never been here before, browse around for topics that interest you. This is a great resource to give your brain some exercise.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Have a great (and safe!) 4th of July weekend! I’m off to the Outer Banks for the weekend.

The Mission Statement

Since my post about personal values and guiding principles, I’ve been wrestling with my personal mission statement. Like a good little MBA graduate, I wanted it to have the classic elements of a good mission statement (Thanks, Dr. Parente), like my purpose, my “key stakeholders,” and “my business.” It also needed to reflect my values and my guiding principles so there is line of sight from my mission statement to the core of what makes me tick. So, after laying the groundwork for the values I ran through some exercises to put the foundation of a mission statement together. I dug through my MBA toolbox and started a stakeholder analysis. I won’t bore you with the details, but ultimately I ended up with the stakeholders you see in the mission statement (family, friends, community).

So, here is the result of more balled up note cards and post it notes than I care to admit:

Personal Mission Statement

I am on this earth to make a positive difference in the lives of others. I will bring joy, loyalty, and friendship to those who know me. I aspire to be worthy of the respect and admiration of my friends, family, and community. I will use my skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life as we know it today.

Short and sweet. It addresses the people who are important to me, contains elements of all my values and personal guidelines, and serves as a constant reminder that I’m on this earth for a reason. It’s very broad reaching, but I think that’s good because I don’t want to set limits on what I can do. Of course, this can and will be revised, just like a company’s mission statement, as I grow personally and professionally. I’ll probably have a wave of ingenious in the middle of the night several months from now and rework this again, but for now I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.

I strongly suggest everyone go through the values, guidelines, and mission statement exercise. It really adds perspective and helps you get to know yourself.

Leadership Starts with Leading Yourself

In my post last week, I talked about how Disney hires employees that fit in well with their values and culture. This benefits not only the company, but the individual being hired as well. When you are forced to work outside the realm of your own values, there will be cognitive dissonance at play that can make your work frustrating, boring, or even downright depressing. It’s impossible to be a good leader if you don’t believe in what you’re doing. If you wouldn’t follow yourself, why would anyone else?

The great leaders of the world have all had strong convictions and unwavering confidence in their causes. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Golda Meir, and anyone else esteemed enough to be considered among their peers were leading in a cause that they were passionate about and that they believed in wholeheartedly. The first step in leadership is not an easy one. As Warren Bennis, who is regarded as the pioneer in the field of contemporary leadership, puts it, “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.” It requires identifying that first spark of fire in yourself to ignite the enthusiasm of those around you. To do this, you have to understand what you stand for. What are your values? What are the principles that guide your life? What is it that you care about?

I’ve decided to take this opportunity to really think carefully about what is important to me and what my values and principles are. The approach I’d like to take is to define my values first, and then use those values to shape my guiding principles. I didn’t take this exercise lightly. After a few hours of thoughts, and more than a few words and phrases scratched out on more than a few pieces of balled up notebook paper, I came up with my personal values system. I’m sharing it here to keep myself  accountable to live within the realm of values and principles that are important to me. Without further ado, here is what I came up with as the final list of my five core values.


  • Concern for others
  • Authenticity
  • Continuous improvement
  • Fun
  • Quality

A couple of explanatory points, I think, are necessary here. First, I made a conscious effort to keep this to a list of five core values. It would have been very easy to list out 20+ attributes I’d like to see myself fulfill, but I think it’s important to get to the root of the few that are the most important to you. While this particular list of five is really in no particular order, I took care to make sure that they were the five of the many I considered that seemed the most important to me. Secondly, I thought over and over again about adding “passion” to my core values. I firmly believe that passion is an important thing to have in your life and something that has to be central in your life to be happy. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like passion was inherent in living life according my values. How could I not be passionate about doing things that are central to my very existence? That’s not to say I’d be passionate about any and all forms of improvement, necessarily, but I think the core values work best when you mix with them all together. I’d be very passionate about improving the quality of something that provided a great benefit for others – and I’d have fun doing it!

The next step was to develop my personal guiding principles. With these, I tried to make my values more actionable.

Guiding Principles

  • All people should be treated with respect and dignity.
  • I will actively seek and value the opinions and perspective of others, as they view the world differently than I do and have valuable insights to offer.
  • I will seek first to understand others. I will listen, observe, and put myself in their shoes without evaluation or judgment.
  • I will be an authentic version of myself. I am who I am, no matter where I am or who I am with. My words and actions will be synonymous. I will strive to keep my commitments to others and myself.
  • I will foster an environment of continuous learning, growth, improvement, and innovation for myself and those around me. I will share my knowledge with others and seek their knowledge to grow collectively.
  • Fun will be a central part of my life. I believe life is too short not to have fun. I will integrate fun, in some way, shape, or form, for myself and others into everything I do.
  • I will hold myself to the highest standards of quality in everything I do. I expect the same quality from myself as I would from anyone else.

So, that’s that. The next thing I want to do is develop my personal mission statement, but since I’ve been working on this for hours now and all I have to show for it is scrap paper, I think that might have to wait for another post!

Great Service Starts with Great Leadership

Before I left for vacation on Wednesday night, I could already foreshadow a post about my trip to Walt Disney World. I could feel the topic start to emerge in my mind before we ever left the Orlando International Airport, where we were greeted on the ground level by cast members waving us in the right direction with their Mickey Mouse hands. And when the cast member checking us into our hotel said “Good evening, Princesses!” I already had a title in mind. But none of these were the moments that really exemplified Disney’s leadership potential.

I was sitting in a quiet (well, relatively) sidestreet corner of Main Street just enjoying the ambiance one night when I heard yelling. There was a cast member, sprinting down the street shouting “Cinderella! Wait!” at the top of his lungs. He slowed to a jog and finally stopped at a little girl, no older than five, wearing a Cinderella dress and tiara. He kneeled next to her and pulled a pair of (plastic) glass slippers from behind his back and said “You left your glass slipper behind at the ball!” At this point, her mother tried to explain that she didn’t have Cinderella slippers and these couldn’t be hers. The cast member, of course, insisted that the glass slipper fit on her foot so these must have been Cinderella’s! In other words, they were hers now, and without the $20 price tag that comes with them in the merchandise stores. He then whipped out an autograph book and asked the little princess if she would mind signing it. During this whole ordeal, her face was absolutely lit up. She couldn’t believe he really thought she was Cinderella! And I’m sure she probably felt like it.

I know what you’re thinking – cute story about some Disney magic, but what does it have to do with leadership? Well, let’s take a step back and think about everything that had to happen to make this little girl’s magical moment happen.

First, and most importantly, cast members have to want to make these moments happen. It’s rare that you see a frowning face on a Disney cast member, except of course at the Haunted Mansion where they’re in character. If you think that’s just a coincidence, think again. It all starts with strategically hiring candidates who align with the Disney values. You can teach skills – anyone can ring up merchandise, sell you a hot dog, or clean your hotel room. What you can’t teach are the values that Disney cast members have to share that allow them to be enthusiastic about their jobs even when it’s 100 degrees outside and kids and parents alike are at their crankiest! The first piece of leadership that it took to make this magical moment happen is making hiring decisions that support the values and the culture of the organization, because that’s how you find cast members who want to make magic happen. There’s no commission system for magical moments, it doesn’t pad anyone’s paycheck to put that extra smile on someone’s face, but Disney hires people who care about more than that – they care about their Guests.

Part two is the culture of the organization. It has to be a culture that not only allows magical moments to happen, but actively supports them. If this cast member saw this little girl walking down the street, got this magical idea in his head, and then had to jump through hoops and bureaucratic red tape just to get authorization to give away a pair of plastic souvenir shoes (er, I mean glass slippers), this little girl could have gone back home across the country by the time it could have become a reality. Disney’s culture empowers their cast members and removes barriers of bureaucracy that keep most other would-be-comparable companies in their dust in terms of service.

For this one magical moment to take place, a whole lot of strategic leadership had to happen at much higher levels of the company. The emotional capital moments like these build are very difficult to measure, and would certainly be very easy for an executive to shun. Losing merchandise profits in favor o some immeasurable emotional benefit? Not a chance in most companies! But that’s why Disney is different, and that’s why this particular magical moment isn’t the only one, it’s one of thousands that happen every day.

Service is all about anticipating the wants and needs of your customers. No matter what you do, even if you are not employed in a defined service industry, you provide a service to someone – maybe even within your own company! Think about how you can better anticipate the wants and needs of your customers. How can you meet or exceed those needs? What’s standing in your way? What recommendations can you make to your senior leadership to remove those roadblocks that keep you from providing more magical service? And, most importantly, do you care enough about your customers to go to bat for them on this? Disney does, and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them. They’re only the largest entertainment conglomerate in the world, after all.

Time Management is Impossible

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve gotten completely immersed in the start of Summer. With the pool open and the grill fired up, I just haven’t been able to get myself to sit down in front of a computer and write. But, thanks to my Kindle, I have been able to get a lot of reading done on the topic of leadership. The book I most recently finished is Stephen Covey’s classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Of all the concepts and topics this book covers, the one that stands out to me as a habit I need to work on is prioritizing my day. Covey’s quadrant framework for managing your time measures importance and urgency on the axes (pictured above). Right now, I can admit I spend a good amount of my time on Quadrant III activities, or things that are urgent but not important. Importance, of course, is relative. An interruption to a Quadrant II activity for another activity may be important to the person interrupting. But categorically, responding to an issue or urgent request from one individual may not be as important and as good a use of my time as preparation, planning, and prevention. A better use of my time may be to view interruptions as a “big picture” and, rather than respond to each one individually, take the time to plan to prevent an issue or interruption from occurring in the future. As my Dad likes to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

One of Covey’s challenges to see where you stand on time management is to measure an average day in 15 minute increments and place each 15 minute interval into a quadrant. I did this throughout an entire day (from waking to bedtime, not just a workday) and my breakdown looked like this:

Quadrant I: 25%
Quadrant II: 10%
Quadrant III: 40%
Quadrant IV: 25%

That’s definitely not where I want to be if I want to be effective at using my time. So why is time management impossible? Because you don’t manage time, you manage yourself. You can try to change the passing of time all you want, but at the end of the day the only thing you can change is the way you use it. The ideal mix spends more time on important things, whether they are urgent or not. It’s often easy to put aside very important things if they are not urgent in order to work on things that are urgent, even if they’re not important. Of course, if you push aside important, but not urgent, tasks long enough they will inevitably become urgent and you will have to be reactive when addressing them, without taking the time to plan appropriately and do them right. They’ll consume more of your time than necessary and the result will likely be ineffective as you scramble to try to get them done quickly.

My challenge for myself is going to be to flip my ratios around and try to manage my time more effectively with better planning. My goal is for my time to start looking more like this:

Quadrant I: 30%
Quadrant II: 45%
Quadrant III: 10%
Quadrant IV: 15%

I know the balance looks off with more time being spent in Quadrant IV than III, but keep in mind we’re talking about my full day. I think about 2 hours of “goof off” time at the end of the day is about right, and I’m hopeful that with more focus on Quadrant II that I can prevent some of the fires that creep up and cause so much of my time to be spent on Quadrant III today.

This week, though, a good portion of my time is going to be spent on FUN. On Wednesday night, I’m off to Disney World for a 4-day weekend. I’m not even sure what quadrant to put that in because while vacation might be seen as a time waster, I think there’s a good amount of personal development at play when you’re truly relaxed and in a place you really enjoy. I’m always so impressed with their leadership and innovation, so I’m sure I can already foresee the topic of the next post I’ll write.

“See ya real soon”…

The Dictionary is Wrong

When leadership as a concept is described, it’s frequently portrayed as a relatively abstract concept. Wrought with perceptions, feelings, emotions, and subjectivity, the concept of leadership is not universally well defined. Dictionaries classify leadership as a noun, a “thing,” meaning the function of a leader or the ability to lead. My observations and experiences tell me decisively that this definition could not be more wrong.

Leadership is most definitely an action, a verb. It is not an intrinsic quality one possesses like the feeling of being happy. Leadership is a quality that only exists if it’s manifested outwardly. Your quality of leadership is evident in everything you do. True leadership is about setting a direction and leading others, by example, toward the same end. In a discussion of management vs. leadership in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey illustrates the difference well:

You can quickly grasp the important difference between the two if you envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.

The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.

The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”

But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? “Shut up! We’re making progress.”

If you’re not surveying your environment and setting direction, you’re not a leader. It doesn’t take positional authority, like a management title, to set a direction. It only takes the will to do it and a little bit of indluence.

But setting a direction and walking away doesn’t make you a successful leader. Leading by example is a critical component of leading others in the direction you’ve set. For example, if it’s important to you that people in your department start work by a certain time and end no earlier than a certain time each day, it’s important that you set the example. If people see you paying lip-service to a mission, a value, a policy, or even just an unwritten rule without following it yourself, your credibility is damaged. Damaged credibility as a manager has much bigger consequences in the long run beyond punctuality and timesheets. People may follow your rule if their job security depends on it, but they will likely resent you for it and quickly find ways to even the score with you. Every action you take as a leader sets an example, and that example can be leading people in the direction you want them to take, or it could have the opposite effect and turn people off if you’re not really leading by example.

If you’re a leader, or trying to be, and you’re frustrated by the behavior of others — take a step back and look at your own behavior. Are you asking for 110% but only giving 90%? Are you asking people to do things they see you’re not willing to do yourself? Are you asking for professionalism without exhibiting it yourself? Every action you take helps or hurts your credibility as a leader.

If leadership is an action, what are your actions saying about you?