Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

GE’s Immelt on leadership …

August 9, 2017

On his last day as GE’s CEO, Jeff Immelt sent a message to all GE employees.


Here’s my key points extract from Immelt’s remarks

Learning is a part of the DNA for all good leaders.

At GE, I never stopped learning.


Here are some of the lessons Immelt said that he learned:


Ethics: This is Quantico, not Harvard, sir …

February 6, 2013

Punch line: Studies have shown that executives with military experience are less likely to be involved in fraud. 

Students and executives are trying to learn from these leaders through courses taught on a USMC base in Quantico, VA where they face intense ethical challenges.

* * * * *
QUANTICO, Va. – Sunlight was filtering through the trees as the team trudged up yet another hill to the final objective of the morning.


The mission was simple. The team was to meet with a local village priest and establish a relationship.

The plan quickly fell apart when the group realized the solemn ceremony they had been invited to was a forced “wedding” in which a bride whose hands were bound by rope was carried screaming into a tent.

Now they were faced with a choice.


Government gone wild?

April 16, 2012

The past week has been like a bad reality show: “Government gone wild“.

We’ve had — in chronological order —  the GSA scandal mocking government controls on spending, Demster Hilary Rosen whacking away at Ann Romney,  and the Secret Service “incident”.

Though I’m a b-school prof and I worked in the real world for a couple of decades, I don’t claim particular expertise in  management leadership or ororganizational behavior. 

That’s ok, because this one is so obvious …

Organizations observe their leaders – what they do, not what they say – and act accordingly.  Consider …

  • If the President wastes billions on shovel ready projects (“ha ha”), why should the GSA squeeze every dime?
  • If the President shovels billions to his bundlers (think Solyndra), why shouldn’t the GSA buy a couple of iPads for each other?
  • If the President takes day trips on Air Force One to campaign, why shouldn’t GSA folks take day trips to Hawaii for ribbon cuttings?
  • If the first lady parties with the girls inVegas,why shouldn’t the GSA party in Vegas? 
  • If the President mocks folks for their “guns and bibles”, why shouldn’t Hilary Rosen mock Ann Romney for “never working a day in her life”?
  • If the President has a constant stream of rock stars to the White House for private parties, why shouldn’t his Secret Service entourage have some party girls over every now and then?
  • If the President openly disrespects our higher institutions (think Supreme Court), why shouldn’t the Secret Service disrespect our higher institutions (think, the Presidency)?

Obama should take the last point most seriously.  He’s the role model and sets the tone for government employees.

Maybe, his “people” are just acting  the way he’s acting

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Mr. Sculley, what makes a good manager?

October 27, 2011

An interviewer asked John Sculley, former Pepsi exec and Apple CEO;

Mr. Sculley, you’ve said you aren’t a great manager. What makes a great manager?

Sculley’s answer:

Really good managers want to turn one-off projects into as much of a routine process as they can.

I am a project-centric leader.

I like to work on projects and solve tough problems.

Whereas a really good manager will say, “How do we replicate the processes so that when a problem comes up like this again we can routinely solve it?”

That is a very different skill set.

It takes both to run a successful company.

I always tried to complement my creative problem-solving skills with people on my team who had more process and management skills, so as a team we were very successful.

It’s important to understand what you are really good at and weak at so you can fill out the leadership team with all the needed talent to be successful.

So, are you project-centric or process-oriented?

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Sculley on Jobs … notable quotes

October 24, 2011

In one of the many tribute pieces to Steve Jobs, Business Week published a note from John Sculley.

A couple of lines caught my eye …

On PLC management:

When I first joined Apple, my priority was to squeeze three more years of cash flow out of the near-end-of-life Apple II so Steve would have enough cash runway to create and launch the Mac.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

Steve would say the hardest decisions are what to leave out, not what to put in.

He was the ultimate systems designer.

Always simplifying.

Everything began and ended with the user experience.

Simplify the steps. “Look, we can do it in three steps. … Not good enough, do it in one step.”

The master impresario:

The advances in technology over these years are extraordinary, but Steve wasn’t an engineer.

As an artist he barely drew anything recognizable on his white board.

But as a master impresario, the clarity and brilliance of his creations was genius.

Great companies, noble causes

Great companies must have a noble cause.

Then it’s the leader’s job to transform that noble cause into such an inspiring vision that it will attract the most talented people in the world to want to join it.

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One of the uncelebrated blessings of American capitalism …

September 5, 2011

Interesting snippet from a WSJ tribute piece on Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs both created the PC revolution and was created by it.

The PC era can be seen as the extension of the superhuman will of this one brilliant, mercurial and far-seeing figure.

Every generation produces a few individuals whose will to restructure the world in their own image is so powerful that they seem to distort reality itself.

They change the world …

That in the U.S., they often choose to pursue entrepreneurship and industry rather than politics is one of the uncelebrated blessings of American capitalism.

Ken’s Take: I’ve often said that – in my business career – I worked with dozens of men & women who are far more capable to lead than those who get elected to Congress or the White House.  Too bad that the Potomac has become so polluted that they can’t be lured to high gov’t positions and we’re stuck with hacks …

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Let’s end amateur hour … please !

July 9, 2010

I was surprised that – in 2008 – folks were able to brush aside Obama’s complete lack of operating experience.

I was told: not to worry.  He’s really smart (I still would love to see his transcripts) and he surrounds himself with strong people (pick one: Biden, Holder, Napolitano, Salazar)

This guy hits the nail on the head …

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Excerpted from AOL: It’s Amateur Hour in the Nation’s Capital, July 1, 2010

While decorum can be imposed by fiat, it is genuine respect that prompts teams to achieve in all fields, and which must be earned.

In recent years, we have seen many situations where those with little or no pertinent experience or knowledge impose their views upon the country and in the process undermine respect for major institutions with their ineptitude.

For example, In House hearings on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we have noted experts in petroleum engineering — Reps. Henry Waxman and Edward Markey — making determinations as to which well-drilling method was preferable.

And, we have a treasury secretary with no private sector experience and who had trouble filing an accurate tax return.

If our country is going to get back on track, we need to redevelop confidence in and respect for our leaders and institutions. This means first and foremost electing and appointing people who command this respect by virtue of their bona fide achievements and not simply their paper credentials.

In recent years, far too many people with prestigious degrees and titles have made far too many horrible decisions that have caused great harm to Americans everywhere.

We need people who have shown through their actual performance in business, the military, government or academia (preferably in multiple areas that pertain to the problems we face) that they can and will handle pressure and act at all times with integrity and good judgment.

The time for on the job training in lofty positions is over.

We need to be led by those who genuinely command respect.

Full article:

20/20 Hindsight: Obama’s critical mistake … coming from me, this will surprise you.

June 17, 2010

Here’s a take I haven’t heard from the pundits …

Obama is getting slammed – justifiably if you ask me – for flailing (and failing) as an executive.

Even Lib Dems are raising the competency issue.  Much chatter about his complete lack of executive experience and his entourage of lawyers, academics, and politicos. 

Not a business exec or “operating person” in sight … think goofy Joe Biden dishing stimulus money to non-existent zip codes or creepy Ken Salazar threatening BP or clueless Robert Gibbs spouting nonsense about what corporate boards do.

Obama fashions himself as a CEO. 

My take: he’s more akin to a non-executive chairman of the board … think Tony Hayward’s boss at BP.  A mega-high altitude thinker who occasionally prods the organization for better performance.

But, I’ll give Obama the CEO title.

What he’s missing is a strong, operations-oriented COO reporting to him.  Somebody who’s into details, has mental toughness, and has a propensity to get things done.

Somebody like – here it comes – Hillary Clinton.

Can’t you imagine her on the Gulf right now – kicking butt without waiting for a committee to tell her who to target – working 24 hour days to make stuff happen ?

I disagree with  Hillary on practically all policy issues and question her motives, but I’ve always conceded her aggressiveness and qualifications.

Obama ruled her out as VP because he felt threatened by her (my opinion) and because he didn’t want to operate in Bill’s shadow (Obama says).

The irony is that now Obama is counting on Bill to save the Dem’s butts in the November elections.

Imagine what the Obama administration would be like with Hillary running the operations …

"What are your weaknesses ?"

June 7, 2010

Predictably, the NY Times praised President Obama’s press conference last week.

After all, he fessed up to a mistake and admitted that he was wrong — something Bush would never do. 

What did he do wrong?

“I was too trusting of the information that we were getting from BP.”

That reminds me of a typical job interview question “What are your weaknesses ?”

Classic answer: “Sometimes I get impatient with people who don’t share my high quality standards”.

Isn’t it a breath of fresh air when people can step-up and be self-critical.

* * * * *

P.S. Don’t give the above answer in a job interview or your candidacy will be squashed before your very eyes.

Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson ?

June 4, 2010

This caught my eye because I frequently use the characterization in references that somebody can (or can not) take a punch.

For me, it’s shorthand for how a person deals with unexpected adversity and criticism.

It’s a gauge of character …

* * * * *

David Axelrod was reportedly concerned about candidate Obama’s “willingness and ability to put up with something never before experienced on a sustained basis: criticism. I don’t know if you are Muhammad Ali or Floyd Patterson when it comes to taking a punch.”

  • Note to non-sporters and young folks, Ali could – Patterson couldn’t

Last week, there were none too flattering characterizations of Obama floating around: thin-skinned, defensive, whiney, blame shifting … and one TV pundit quipped “America wants a president, not a princess”.

Paraphrasing MLK: A person’s true character is revealed in not times of prosperity, but in times of adversity

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The Federal budget … precisely explained in 98 seconds.

April 16, 2010

A former colleague of mine at McKinsey used to to classify people into two groups: simplifiers and complicators.

In most situations, simplifiers are effective … complicators are ineffectual and annoying.

Complicators cannot distinguish between the pertinent and the irrelevant.

Simplifiers know what’s essential and what’s extraneous.  They have the ability to cut to the core of issues and communicate in clear, simple terms.

Here’s an example …

In this short video that’s been viraling, a college student explains the Federal budget and puts President Obama’s proposed budget cuts in context.

It’s a quick tutorial on the Federal budget … and a nice example of communicating effectively by simplifying.

Click pic or link below to view video


Thanks to JNH for feeding the lead.

Moving forward in uncertain times … 4 success factors.

November 23, 2009

Excerpted from: HBR, How to Get Unstuck, by Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian C. MacMillan, May 2009

A lot of businesspeople seem to be frozen in the headlights, paralyzed by uncertainty, fear of failure, and lack of trust.

In studying how leaders prevail in uncertain times, we’ve observed four practices you can use to get yourself, your people, and your firm moving again.

1. Decrease uncertainty.

  • Rather than wait until you can clearly see the entire route to a distant goal, focus on getting to the next bend.
  • Identify a series of near-term goals that can serve as checkpoints along the way, indicating your progress and illuminating the best way forward.
  • As you proceed down the path, you can stop, change direction, or continue on the same trajectory, depending on what you learn en route to each checkpoint.

This approach is cost-effective and reduces risk because only relatively small investments are required to move from one milestone to the next and because it reveals false starts early.

2. Reduce the fear of failure.

  • People fear failing, particularly in a downturn, when they think any misstep might cost a job.
  • As a result,they tend to freeze because it appears that the easiest way to avoid failing is to do nothing.
  • To spur action, shift your emphasis from cutting the rate of failure to minimizing the cost of failure.
  • To reduce people’s anxiety, give them permission to be wrong but not to make expensive mistakes.

Silicon Valley’s famous discipline—fail fast, fail cheap, and move on—applies here.

3. Hedge your bets.

In some cases, the shortest route to the goal involves investing in simultaneous experiments whose outcomes are mutually exclusive: Try A, B, and C in tandem; whichever succeeds first necessarily negates the others.

4. Create momentum.

Once you’ve settled on a course, two further steps can give the final push needed to get moving:

First, remember that the more uncertain things are, the more people prefer to stick with comfortable and predictable routines. Leaders need to insist on substantial, coordinated changes that depart from obsolete practices and make business-as-usual impossible.

Second, they need to defang or otherwise neutralize the people who persist in resisting change.

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Must read: "Americans feel increasingly disheartened, and our leaders don’t even notice."

October 30, 2009

Ken’s Take: I’ve said many times before that I love reading Peggy Noonan — even though I don’t always agree with her .  (For my more  liberal friends, keep in mind that she was onboard the Obama train in ’08.)

What she’s always able to do is dive down beneath the superficial and get to the core — the philosophical and emotive stuff that most other analysts miss.  She invariably provokes my thinking … and, she’s a wonderful writer to boot.

* * * * *

Excerpted from WSJ: We’re Governed by Callous Children, Oct. 29, 2009 

The new economic statistics put growth at a healthy 3.5% for the third quarter. We should be dancing in the streets. No one is, because no one has any faith in these numbers.

Waves of money are sloshing through the system, creating a false rising tide that lifts all boats for the moment. The tide will recede. The boats aren’t rising, they’re bobbing, and will settle.

No one believes the bad time is over. No one thinks we’re entering a new age of abundance. No one thinks it will ever be the same as before 2008.

Economists, statisticians, forecasters and market specialists will argue about what the new numbers mean, but no one believes them, either. Among the things swept away in 2008 was public confidence in the experts.

* * * * *

The biggest threat to America right now is not government spending, huge deficits, foreign ownership of our debt, world terrorism, two wars, potential epidemics or nuts with nukes.

The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington, most especially those in business.

It is a story in two parts. The first: “They do not think they can make it better.”

The most sophisticated Americans, experienced in how the country works on the ground, can’t see a way out.

This is historic. This is something new in modern political history … Americans are starting to think the problems we are facing cannot be solved.

Part of the reason is that the problems—debt, spending, war—seem too big.

But a larger part is that our federal government, from the White House through Congress, and so many state and local governments, seems to be demonstrating every day that they cannot make things better.

They are not offering a new path, they are only offering old paths—spend more, regulate more, tax more in an attempt to make us more healthy locally and nationally. And in the long term everyone—well, not those in government, but most everyone else—seems to know that won’t work.

* * * * *

And so the disheartenedness … of even those who have something.

This week the New York Post carried a report that 1.5 million people had left high-tax New York state between 2000 and 2008, more than a million of them from even higher-tax New York City. They took their tax dollars with them—in 2006 alone more than $4 billion.

You know what New York, both state and city, will do to make up for the lost money. They’ll raise taxes.

I talked with an executive this week.   He was thoughtful, reflective about the big picture. He talked about all the new proposed regulations on industry. Rep. Barney Frank had just said on some cable show that the Democrats of the White House and Congress “are trying on every front to increase the role of government in the regulatory area.”

The executive said of Washington: “They don’t understand that people can just stop, get out. I have friends and colleagues who’ve said to me ‘I’m done.’ ” He spoke of his own increasing tax burden and said, “They don’t understand that if they start to tax me so that I’m paying 60%, 55%, I’ll stop.”

Government doesn’t understand that business in America is run by people, by human beings.

Mr. Frank must believe America is populated by high-achieving robots who will obey whatever command he and his friends issue.

But of course they’re human, and they can become disheartened. They can pack it in, go elsewhere, quit what used to be called the rat race and might as well be called that again since the government seems to think they’re all rats.

And here is the second part of the story.

While Americans feel increasingly disheartened, their leaders evince a mindless callousness.

It is a curious thing that those who feel most mistily affectionate toward America, and most protective toward it, are the most aware of its vulnerabilities, the most aware that it can be harmed. They don’t see it as all-powerful, impregnable, unharmable. The loving have a sense of its limits.

When I see those in government, both locally and in Washington, spend and tax and come up each day with new ways to spend and tax—health care, cap and trade, etc.—I think: Why aren’t they worried about the impact of what they’re doing? Why do they think America is so strong it can take endless abuse?

They don’t feel anxious, because they never had anything to be anxious about. They grew up in an America surrounded by phrases—”strongest nation in the world,” “indispensable nation,” “unipolar power,” “highest standard of living”—and they are not bright enough, or serious enough, to imagine that they can damage that, hurt it, even fatally.

We are governed at all levels by America’s luckiest children, sons and daughters of the abundance, and they call themselves optimists but they’re not optimists—they’re unimaginative.

They don’t have faith, they’ve just never been foreclosed on.

They are stupid and they are callous, and they don’t mind it when people become disheartened. They don’t even notice.

Full article:

Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders

October 8, 2009

HBR, Ten Fatal Flaws That Derail Leaders, by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, June 2009

Poor leadership in good times can be hidden, but poor leadership in bad times is a recipe for disaster.

Based on research, here are the qualities of the worst leaders:

1. Lack energy and enthusiasm.
They see new initiatives as a burden, rarely volunteer, and fear being overwhelmed.
They  “suck all the energy out of any room.”

2. Accept their own mediocre performance.
They overstate the difficulty of reaching targets so that they look good when they achieve them.
They live by the mantra “Underpromise and overdeliver.”

3. Lack clear vision and direction.
They believe their only job is to execute. 
Like a hiker who sticks close to the trail, they’re fine until they come to a fork.

4. Have poor judgment.
They make decisions that colleagues and subordinates consider to be not in the organization’s best interests.

5. Don’t collaborate.
They avoid peers, act independently, and view other leaders as competitors. As a result, they are set adrift by the very people whose insights and support they need.

6. Don’t walk the talk.
They set standards of behavior or expectations of performance and then violate them.
They’re perceived as lacking integrity.

7. Resist new ideas.
They reject suggestions from subordinates and peers. Good ideas aren’t implemented, and the organization gets stuck.

8. Don’t learn from mistakes.
They may make no more mistakes than their peers, but they fail to use setbacks as opportunities for improvement, hiding their errors and brooding about
them instead.

9. Lack interpersonal skills.
They make sins of both commission (they’re abrasive and bullying) and omission (they’re aloof, unavailable, and reluctant to praise).

10. Fail to develop others.
They focus on themselves to the exclusion of developing subordinates, causing individuals and teams to disengage.

* * * * *

Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity and clarity …

August 21, 2009

Ken’s Take: I admire the way Peggy Noonan writes – even when I disagree with her positions. In this article, regardless of your POV on ObamaCare, there’s a powerful, portable lesson on leadership and rhetoric …

* * * * *

Excerpted from WSJ:  Pull the Plug on ObamaCare, Peggy Noonan, Aug 21, 2009 

Every big idea that works is marked by simplicity, by clarity.

You can understand it when you hear it, and you can explain it to people.

Social Security: Retired workers receive a public pension to help them through old age.

Medicare: People over 65 can receive taxpayer-funded health care.

Welfare: If you have no money and cannot support yourself, we will help as you get back on your feet.

These things are clear. I understand them. You understand them.

The president’s health-care plan is not clear, and I mean that not only in the sense of “he hasn’t told us his plan.” I mean it in terms of the voodoo phrases, this gobbledygook, this secret language of government that no one understands—”single payer,” “public option,” “insurance marketplace exchange.”

No one understands what this stuff means, nobody normal.

And when normal people don’t know what the words mean, they don’t say to themselves, “I may not understand, but my trusty government surely does, and will treat me and mine with respect.”

They think, “I can’t get what these people are talking about. They must be trying to get one past me. So I’ll vote no.”

Full article:

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Ken’s Take II: Biz world examples from my B&D experience:

1) At one point, B&D power tools were being one-upped by Makita – a Japanese “encroacher”.  The prevailing internal strategic mantra became “Kill Makita”.  Very clear. Very emotive.  Very personal.  Compare that to trite, amorphous slogans like “Commitment to Excellence”

2) Best product name I was ever associated with was the “automatic shut-off iron”.  The name itself conveyed the product benefits in a very emotive way.

That’s what I mean by “portability” of a concept …

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