2013 in review — more blogging promised in 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people. While that’s a lot of views, I feel I owe it to fellow Mushers to publish more in 2014. Best wishes for a prosperous New Year! Dave

Click here to see the complete report.

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Mushing Millenials

My wife, who has returned to the workforce, recently expressed to me a real consternation with some of the younger people she has had to work with as peers and subordinates. While at first I just assumed that her frustration was mostly associated with simply re-entering the workforce after twenty years of raising children, I realized after further conversation that she is talking about “the Millenials” – both as individuals, and as a workforce vintage. I’ve previously blogged about the challenge of a new workforce vintage entering the job force, but I have not spent extensive time thinking about the problem until a dinner party conversation wherein a woman I respect offered that “we as mature (or more senior) workers have an obligation to meet the Millenials halfway – there’s much to be learned by everyone” — which I thought was in and of itself a pretty mature reaction to the overarching frustration that many have shared with me about these workers who range 18-28 years old.

I have been thinking about the challenge of managing the next generation of workers, based upon the characteristics that many of them exhibit, the source of that possible behavior, and how the Musher methodology might create a “connective bridge” which allows these young individuals and their new ways of thinking and doing to be effective within current management constructs which are in many ways valid, not only because they are the status quo, but because they have proven to work.

First, let’s describe the “problem”. A side bar article in the Friday, March 22nd 2013 Wall Street Journal, which restated the findings of the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania perhaps stated the issue(s) most succinctly when it reported that “recent college grads lack professionalism”. At a high level the most obvious issues were:

  • A sense of entitlement
  • Arrogance
  • Inappropriate appearance
  • Lack of punctuality
  • Irregular attendance
  • Dishonesty
  • Attentiveness
  • Sticking with a task through completion

Last, and perhaps most keenly observed, is the inappropriate use of social media (Facebook, Twitter) and mobile technologies (texting, emailing) during work hours — especially in meetings where these technologies are being used to contact non-work friends and family.

While these behaviors can be immensely frustrating to non-Millenials, my thought is to address behaviors directly, through the setting of expectations and immediate feedback, rather than through admonishment. In the right hand column below, I’m suggesting a strategy to manage through or counter-act the negative behavior in the left column.

A sense of entitlement Instilling a sense of progression (you are here, xyz position is there); explicit career pathing
Arrogance Ask the employee if they feel they are under-employed in their current role. If they feel they are, ask them what role they believe the are better suited to. In the event they are (likely) too inexperience for that role, be specific about the gaps you perceive in their experience and expertise to be in that role. Thoughtfully explaining what failure may or does look like and setting expectations as to how real leaders behave within the culture.
Inappropriate appearance Explicitness around your belief in the connection between professionalism and appearance
Lack of punctuality Encourage peer-based pressure to be punctual; cancel meetings if all are not in attendance; call out late-comers; have an open, “no excuses” policy
Irregular attendance Same problem, ask the employee if s/he understands the lack of respect shown to others demonstrated by irregular attendance
Dishonesty Simply make it a zero tolerance policy and that dishonesty is a short-to-medium term terminable behavior
Attentiveness Start with private conversations – “It seemed like you weren’t with us – is everything okay? The group notices that you are not really with this project. Should you be reassigned?” Move from there to openly demanding attentiveness. In meetings, you must set the example – “phones down, laptops closed” being one such example that you yourself must follow.
Sticking with a task through completion Be explicit that the completion of the assignment is the goal, and that incomplete, or late work will not be valued.

Now, to take the Millenials point of view, let’s go back to my colleague’s suggestion that we as mature executives should strive to meet the Millenials “in the middle”. Gary Hamel recently blogged in “The Facebook Generation vs the Fortune 500” that there are at least twelve dimensions of social, “on-line life” which are not only a reality for the Millenials, but which are also behaviors or phenomenon which have merit in their adoption in modern business:

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.

On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.

On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.

clout reflects the freely given approbation of their peers. On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.

On the Web, every leader is a servant leader; no one has the power to command or sanction.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.

The Web is an opt-in economy…people choose to work on the things that interest them. Everyone is an independent contractor, and everyone scratches their own itch.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.

On the Web, you get to choose your compatriots…Just as no one can assign you a boring task, no can force you to work with dim-witted colleagues.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.

On the Web, human effort flows towards ideas and projects that are attractive (and fun), and away from those that aren’t.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.

To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content…Online, there are a lot of incentives to share, and few incentives to hoard.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.

The Web is a near-perfect medium for aggregating the wisdom of the crowd—whether in formally organized opinion markets or in casual discussion groups.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.

The only way to keep users loyal is to give them a substantial say in key decisions.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.

…human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.

12. Hackers are heroes.

..online communities frequently embrace those with strong anti-authoritarian views.

For many managers of my vintage, some of these concepts are unnerving, insofar as they represent an upending of much of the command-and-control management philosophy we were largely trained in, conditioned to, and rewarded by. But there is a certain elegance to these newer concepts as well, as the democratize much of how we think about running a business, making it more about the employees — individually and collectively — who actually make the business run, rather than the political power apparatus of hierarchy which often derives its strength, and longevity, from conformity and fear. The Millenial workforce vintage may well represent an end-state to a five hundred year progression from autocracy and monolithic power to individualized, decentralized, network-based societal and work organization.

Clearly, the key to bridging the gap between newer and older workers is explicitness. Mature executive managers need to make their intentions clear to Millenials. “What are we fighting for? What’s important to this company?” are questions that this younger generation feels entitled to ask — they see it as a fundamental dimension of why they should work for one company over another, in one industry versus another. Explicitness also is important to Millenials in that they have spend most of their youth being parented in very structured, explicit ways — they have had much of their lives programmed. As employers we really can’t undo this: we need to accommodate and co-opt it.

In many ways, Millenials are better “sled dog stock” than we older executives were when we were young — Millenials want to know where they fit, how they fit, and what is the program. They want to be part of a team, and want to rely on a team to make them successful — but sometimes to the detriment of individual accountability. Arguably, these employees might prefer to be in a “hive” business model versus a “dogsled” business model, and perhaps in twenty years they will have the executive responsibility and latitude to create that sort of business culture and operation. In the meantime however, business will be mostly run using current conventions. I agree with my friend: it is incumbent upon Mushers to meet Millenials “halfway,” helping them understand that while you as the leader celebrate the power and potential of the team, you will nonetheless judge an individual on his or her own merit and personal production, as much as on the team’s overall results.

Therefore there can be no hiding in the pack.

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Good Shepherds can be Good Mushers

1.2 billion Catholics, and most of the rest of the world waited anxiously for the arrival of a new Pope.  In Pope Francis I, they appear to have a leader who is in many ways appears to be a Musher.

Peggy Noonan, who often writes for the Wall Street Journal, exhibited a palpable excitement of the new Pope and his promise to Catholicism and the world at large when she wrote:

I’ll tell you how it looks: like one big unexpected gift for the church and the world.

Everything about Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election was a surprise—his age, the name he took, his mien as he was presented to the world. He was plainly dressed, a simple white cassock, no regalia, no finery. He stood there on the balcony like a straight soft pillar and looked out at the crowd. There were no grand gestures, not even, at first, a smile. He looked tentative, even overwhelmed. I thought, as I watched, “My God—he’s shy.”

Then the telling moment about the prayer. Before he gave a blessing he asked for a blessing: He asked the crowd to pray for him. He bent his head down and the raucous, cheering square suddenly became silent, as everyone prayed. I thought, “My God—he’s humble.”


Yes. This is a kind of public leadership we are no longer used to—unassuming, self-effacing. Leaders of the world now are garish and brazen. You can think of half a dozen of their names in less than a minute. They’re good at showbiz, they find the light and flash the smile.

But this man wasn’t trying to act like anything else. “He looks like he didn’t want to be pope,” my friend said. That’s exactly what he looked like. He looked like Alec Guinness in the role of a quiet, humble man who late in life becomes pope. I mentioned that to another friend who said, “That would be the story of a hero.”

One of the most interesting management lessons in the election of a Pope is the phenomenon of “first among equals”.  I have commented on this phenomenon previously. The Pope is selected from within a peer group of Cardinals to become the leader of the Church.  Immediately the selected Cardinal is transformed from an “esteemed colleague” to “revered Father”.  Equally, the Church’s global congregants estimation of this Cardinal pivot from an admiration of “a man of the cloth” to “ a descendant of the Apostle Peter in direct communion with Christ”.  A lofty promotion indeed.

There is a distinct corollary to the new Pope in the instance where a CEO has been promoted from within.  How that CEO responds to that transitional moment may arguably define his or her entire tenure and their legacy as the CEO.

In his first moments as Pope, Francis I appears to eschewed the trappings of the Papacy, putting substance and humanity, values and transparency above the institution of the position of Pope.  As Peggy Noonan again notes in her blog “The First Days of Francis“:

It really is quite wonderful, what we’re hearing and seeing from Rome. The plain shoes. The plain watch. The slightly galumphy look as he does his walkabouts. The reason he took his name: “How I wish for a poor church, and for a church for the poor.” The report I received of his taking the employee elevator in the Vatican, not the papal one— “Your Holiness!” exclaimed a surprised Swiss Guard. His kissing of the hands of his “brother cardinals” after they would attempt to kiss his ring. The sweetness of his plunging into the crowds. His stopping the jeep Tuesday morning when he was riding around St. Peter’s Square: He saw a disabled man being held by a friend, and stopped to show affection and gratitude. The surprise walkabout Sunday at church. The surprise phone call he made to thousands of Argentines who held an all-night prayer vigil for him Monday in Buenos Aires: “Thank you for praying, for your prayers, which I need a lot.”

Francis I believes that the Church must heal itself from the inside out.  He does not appear to think that the Church can excuse itself of its past issues, or current issues, by simply putting a new leader in place; rather, it appears Francis I believes that the observable substance of that leader is critical to the transformation of the culture.  Person over position, as it were.

There have been several popular books which advise what a new CEO should do in the first 90 days in the role.  The concepts there are generally very sound, but few publications seem to focus on the “first 90 minutes,” as it were, of a new CEO.  These 90 minutes are, metaphorically, what may define the new CEO in the eyes of the employees and other stakeholders.  They will be an open, authentic expression of values held by the CEO, and observable both through word and deed.  How will the business be run under the new CEO?  How will challenges be addressed?  Will he be inclusive?  Will she be outcome-based and visionary, or execution driven and tactical?  Will he commit to “change for the better”?  Listen before speaking?  Demonstrate a genuine interest in the opinions of others?  In short, how will she inspire followership?

A consistent theme throughout Musher Management is that it is not about you as the CEO; it is about the Dogs – the employees, the customers, the stakeholders, the parishioners.  You have been entrusted with the Sled, you have been entrusted with the well-being of the Dogs.  Musher Management suggests that reaching the CEO post is not a culmination of professional journey; rather, it is the beginning of a period of servitude.  Francis showed the world in his first 90 minutes, his first 9 days, how he intends to lead, and to serve as Pope.  The work of transforming Catholicism, and particularly of the Church itself, will arguably take 9 years, or longer.  It will be a long road, often plagued with setbacks.  Likewise, although business texts suggest 90 days is the “make or break” period for a CEO to establish himself or herself, business transformations also take years, not months to execute.  So really the “break in period” for a new CEO is about “walking the talk” and demonstrating values which will win the hearts and minds of the Dogs.

We Mushers can learn a lot from this Shepherd.

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A Field Report: Dogs with Backpacks

Recently I had the opportunity to join ten other “alpha dogs” in a hike across the Grand Canyon, from the south rim to the north rim in one day.  Known as the “Rim to Rim,” this is a pretty grueling hike, as you cover 22 miles in 12 hours (+/-) and descend from the south rim at 5,500 ft (above sea level) to the canyon floor, where the Colorado River runs at about 2100 ft.  The ascent from the valley floor to the north rim is a 6,000 ft ascent (to approximately 8,000 ft above sea level) that you cover over endless switch-backs in the final 3 miles of the hike.

Frankly, I had no idea what I was in for.  People die each year in the Canyon, principally from heat exhaustion/heart attack. The weather was mercifully cool (low 90’s), and we managed to stay out of the direct sun for 75% of the duration of the hike.  But it was nonetheless exhausting.  We began at 3AM hiking with headlamps and finished at 3PM.  How did a bunch of 50ish, amateur outdoorsmen successfully complete this journey? Because of the presence of a great Musher.

Our Musher is an unassuming guy, a medical services executive, who also happened to be a retired Navy SEAL sniper.  I’ll call him “Bob”.  Bob had been on a number of these hikes before, and has actually completed a “Rim to Rim to Rim” hike (nearly 24 hours elapsed time) – twice.  He is an ultra fit, highly competitive individual with deep capacity for focus, and an exceptionally even disposition.  Equally, he exudes a quiet confidence, and grace under pressure.

So why is this individual a Musher?  First, he knew where this team needed to go, and although he had traversed the terrain numerous times, he once again planned the route carefully.  Second, he quietly but persistently insisted that each of us participate in various types of training regimens, weight loss programs, and regular exercise, including long practice hikes some which began in the middle of the night.  He made us understand that we were each our own enemy in our possible failure to take the preparation seriously.  He impressed upon us that if one of us got into trouble, the whole group would be in trouble.  He showed up at people’s homes late in the evening, after finishing dinner with his family, to check on sprains, pulled muscles, blisters, and the like.  Was he a paid guide?  No, he was just another one of “the guys”.  However, he became the unanointed, but very real, titular head of our “pack”.  Why?

Bob’s leadership during the course of our preparation was eclipsed by his selfless behavior on the trail itself.  Always at the rear of our column, he watched each of us closely and carefully for signs of fatigue or equipment trouble.  I knew even in his casual conversation he was watching how people stepped, how they breathed, how regularly they were taking water.  His training as a sniper certainly was evident in the fact that you always knew he was there, but never really knew where he was.  When a couple of our members began to struggle in the last quarter of the hike, he was quick to administer aid, taking the pack from one of our crew, and offering to take the pack of another, who declined.  He refused numerous times to “go on ahead” and leave his position at the end of the column.  And he did this without fanfare, without any desire for recognition.

It was great to see a true Musher in action.  It was equally great to see how these high-powered bankers, lawyers, and businessmen automatically deferred to Bob’s implicit authority.  We respected him because he was better trained, was experienced, knew the route, had a plan, had numerous backup plans, and had prepared not just for his own successful completion of the hike, but for all of the group.  You just don’t often see a group of large egos offering the mantle of leadership to an unassuming, quiet guy in the rear.  Bob instilled a confidence in us before and during the hike which became exuberance as we rose over the crest of the final switchback — all eleven of us — dusty and exhausted, grinning from ear to ear.

So Bob is a Musher because he:

  • Developed a plan and communicated it often
  • Knew the terrain, and knew where he was going
  • Prepared sufficient supplies
  • Ensured that his team had the training, capacity, and capability to be successful
  • Constantly monitored the health and overall performance of the team and its individual members
  • Insisted on a pace and held the team to it
  • Was amiable and cheerful, quietly confident, and exuded grace when under pressure
  • Was prepared to sacrifice on behalf of any individual team member to ensure the success of the overall team

You can find Musher behavior in virtually all walks of life. Become a student of it and learn to know it when you see it.  Remember its power and its effect on you, and on others.  Then put it into practice yourself.

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Good Mushers are Good Dogs

When I owned my first business, I became critically aware of how dependent I was upon my employees to be successful.  Not just in the sense of a future exit or some wealth creation, but in the execution of daily work.  I went home each night thinking “my employees make a choice each morning as to whether they will return to work for me – what am I doing to make sure they want to pick me and my company?”  I realized early on that it couldn’t be simply that they just wanted to come back to work for me.  That would result in a cult of personality that would be difficult to maintain and dangerously unstable.  They had to want to come to work for some higher purpose, and as important, want to come to work for the others in the organization.  That is, there was a symbiosis between the employees – they came to work for each other, united by a common vision of the future and a common purpose.  Having seen the light in the infinite scalability of this leadership model, I then worked diligently to instill the same thinking in my executive managers – which wasn’t always easy, and which wasn’t universally adopted.

It took me some time to realize, and some courage to implement, that I had to calibrate measurements of success for my executive team around my expectations that they adhere to my newly found management philosophy.  Over time, most leaders who could not, or would not adopt my philosophy and practice it self-selected out.  Fortunately, I only had to let one executive go.  I saw it as some vindication that other executives who left self-selected:  they inevitably were  underperforming in terms of performance and had the highest attrition and turnover in their own  organizations. I further witnessed that most of these failed executives struggled with their own relationship to their position, authority, and responsibility within the organization.  They saw their job — principally in terms of their title — as something they earned and which gave them some sort of hall pass with regard to their own accountability to the health of their group, and their reliance upon that same group to make them, and keep them successful.

This leads me to the “follower problem”.  In an op-ed piece for The New York Times by David Brooks titled “The Follower Problem”, Brooks deliberates on the challenges of monument construction in Washington D.C., asking “Why can’t today’s memorial designers think straight about just authority?”   He goes on to say:

 “But the main problem is our inability to think properly about how power should be used to bind and build.  Legitimate power is built on a series of paradoxes:  that leaders have to wield power while knowing they are corrupted by it; that great leaders are superior to their followers while also being of them; that the higher they rise, the more they feel like instruments in larger designs.”

It is this concept of being an instrument in a larger design that I think describes an leader who is enlightened enough to be a Musher.  A Musher is also critically aware of the delicate balance between authority and autocracy.  Again, Brooks:

“Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following.  Democratic followership is also built on a series of paradoxes:  that we are all created equal, but that we also elevate those who are extraordinary; that we choose our leaders but also have to defer to them and trust their discretion; that we’re proud individuals but only really thrive as a group, organized and led by just authority.”

In Musher parlance, this thinking goes back to the Musher who brings the dogs into the tent when the night is particularly harsh and cold.  The Musher understands his or her reliance on the dogs for his success – if not survival.  Metaphorically, the Musher is the executive who has been raised up from the ranks to lead.  S/he becomes superior to the ranks even as she is one of them, and in that promotion she is bestowed with “just authority”.  But equally important, the Musher now becomes  more reliant upon the ranks for his or her success.  The Musher who disdains “bringing the dogs into the tent” is the executive who fails to understand how precarious his career will be without the support of their subordinates.

As I said in my previous blog,

“Executives who are “in charge” but who act demonstrably for the betterment of the company, who create a culture of interaction, transparency, and mutual respect and support, will win the hearts and minds of the younger generations”

and here I will add “of all generations” within the enterprise.   To be a good leader, remember what inspired you to be a good follower.  And practice it.

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Calling all Mushers 40 and Older

A recent article in Forbes authored by Josh Bersin, titled “It’s not the CEO, It’s the Leadership Strategy that Matters” reinvigorated my thinking about Musher Management and its suitability to the challenges of modern employment and management.  In the article, Bersin quotes an internal document of Accenture wherein they describe the “inverse pyramid” of leadership as both critical to the formation of an agile enterprise, and equally that it creates a culture wherein managers “leave work each day making Accenture a better organization”.

However, the article’s explanation of this concept falls short by failing to exploring the “inverse pyramid” as fundamentally a demonstration of the managerial philosophy of stewardship (or as I’ve termed it, “self interested care-taking”).  For instance, Accenture managers should not only dedicate each day to making Accenture a better organization and company, but they should also be committed to making Accenture a place to which workers want to return the following day.  In other words, not just better business, but also a more attractive place to work.

Modern employment has become more fluid, and an employee more fungible than ever.  Many modalities of work exist today which create options for employment – even in these post recessionary times.  Franchising, consulting and contracting, employment by non-domestic entities, web-enabled business models, blogging and social media enabled businesses, import/export/distribution (to name just a few modalities) all create employment alternatives for an employee.

So why I have targeted this blog post for 40 year old managers and older?  Because, as we have evolved though Generations X, Y, the Z (sometimes also known at Millennials, and which would include my own sons aged 12 to 20 years old, and which often lumps in GenY), their overall expectations of an acceptable work environment are still forming, but are considerably different than the preceding generations.  Those of us who are 40 years old and older could be called the tail end of the baby boomers, perhaps even Generation Xers, which it is generally thought to end with the 1975 birth year. Millennials are highly connected, value community, value individual expression (as amplified by the internet), and have a fluid concept of employment.  They will be managed most directly by Generation Y employees.  Generation Y employees came of age in highly prosperous times.  They value individual satisfaction, and up until the economic crisis, typically simply moved from one job to another when their needs were not met by the culture of an employer.  Ironically, GenY managers will be a critical lynchpin in the formation and perpetuity of a stewardship culture, but these are the same managers who have spent much of their career concerned with “it’s all about me”.  Extra focus will be required to ensure their adoption of the stewardship philosophy and its contribution to their own success.

Managers above age 40 typically have the remnants of the command and control business cultures in which they were originally employed – first jobs being late 70’s and early 80’s.  These management cultures were often authoritarian, hierarchical, and fraternal in the sense that you had to “earn your stripes” to advance.  Today’s Millennials wholly expect to be placed on a work team with a senior-most executive because of a perceived sense of or desire for “flatness” in an organization.  Each member contributes what s/he knows and is capable of, regardless of age or position.  They work for the cause, and for each other.  Not for “the Man”.

Musher Management can accommodate and leverage behaviors, attitudes, and expectations of the Millennial generation.  Executives who are “in charge” but who act demonstrably for the betterment of the company, who create a culture of interaction, transparency, and mutual respect and support, will win the hearts and minds of the younger generations.  The corner office, to which most managers older than 40 have physically and metaphorically aspired, will still be there, with all its perks and its prestige.  But in the modern workplace, both in this decade and in the 2020’s, expect young people to stop by and stop in without fear or intimidation.  And expect that, as the Musher leading these newer, younger dogs from the rear, you will enjoy the culture you’ve created.

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Dogs on Bicycles

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of riding alongside Mark Stephan, a low-functioning quadripalegic, and a group of his friends, across the inhospitable landscape of southwestern New Mexico and the west Texas panhandle.  What I witnessed there was not only an amazing instance of “self-interested care taking,” but also phenomenon I’m calling “inspired followership”.

As the leader, or Musher of this group of nine alpha males, Mark was remarkable in his conviction about the worth of his mission, his dedication to daily progress, and his attentiveness to his guests (although the daily physical challenge for Mark is something really beyond all our imagining).  We the dogs simply assembled each day, eager to join Mark on his ride.  Mark would announce the general distance he intended to ride, usually earmarked by a specific town where we could find food and lodging for the Stephan Challenge entourage.  We would kit-up, get on our bikes, and start to ride.  Mark kept the pace for the group, which for most of us was much slower than we usually ride; however, no one ever shot off ahead because they wanted to “go faster”.  Without instruction, each rider naturally would ride up along side Mark, who always held the lead (being in his recumbent tricycle, low to the ground, his view, unlike a Musher’s, would be of another rider’s rear sprocket).  After some period of unplanned time, that rider would fall back and another would take his place.  And so on.  When traffic started to thicken, riders would automatically begin to take a piece of the road, behind and to the left of Mark, to shield him from potential danger.  I marveled at how automatically this was all executed by a bunch of amateur cyclist.  Equally impressive, this behavior went on for hours and for scores of miles.

I also noted how each individual would ask Lincoln, Mark’s major domo, how we could each be helpful.  There was no ego, no sense of entitlement.  We changed pedals, we depleted hotel ice machines, we made sandwiches, we lifted Mark out of his trike at breaks.  Riders who hadn’t changed a bicycle flat since they were boys stopped to help one another, pondering over the advancements of the past forty years in bicycle tires, tools, and pumps.  We took care of each other, and Mark took care of us. Every evening we would stop, un-kit, and enjoy a cold beer outside the RV, telling tall tales of the day’s ride.  Mark would be sure to connect with each guest, asking after him.  He showed a genuine concern for each of us, and sincere gratitude for each rider’s presence.

We were participating in something very special.  Would our behaviors have been so optimal, so selfless, in a more mundane situation?  Would we have devolved into a group of alphas vying for leadership of the group?  Perhaps.  But in the presence of a truly dedicated, inspired, committed man like Mark, we each became inspired followers.  And this is the essence of Musher Management:  self interested care-taking has as its corollary, inspired followership.

I encourage you to follow Mark on his journey.  Follow his blog, or his tweets (@SChallenge), and you will witness a bonified instance of Musher Management happening daily – replacing sleds with bicycles.

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Not all CEO’s are Mushers, and not all Mushers are CEO’s

A close friend, Mark Stephan, endured a horrible cycling accident a number of years ago which left him a quadriplegic.

Mark’s wife, Margaret Ann, was told to expect the worse — she was told Mark would “likely be like (and end like) Christopher Reeves”.  Mark never saw his future that way.  And his grit, and willingness to subject himself to intense physical exertion, pain, and frequent disappointment was complemented by tremendously advanced medical care at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC).  Fast forward, and Mark now walks — albeit haltingly.  Further, he can pick up a wine glass and serve himself.  Mark is nothing short of a medical miracle.  But as important, Mark is a fascinating example of a great Musher.  Mark was vision-oriented from the very beginning of his rehabilitation.  He convinced others that his objectives could be met.  He pushed, and continues to push others — often knowledgeable medical experts — to believe that more could be achieved, and that he was the one, with their help, who could achieve it.

Many people in this situation would feel so helpless, and might blanch at the need to build and rely upon a team of family, friends, and medical institutions and professionals to realize an audacious vision of being able to walk again.  But Mark showed everyone the way, while demonstrating an unbelievable sense of caring for his team.  A great example of self-interested caretaking.  Mark’s a true Musher.

Now Mark is embarking upon yet another a personal  undertaking which most would say is audacious, let alone ambitious.  His intention is to ride a reclining tricycle 3,129 miles across the entire southern United States — from San Diego, CA to St Augustine, FL— over a three month period.  Riding along state routes, Mark and his entourage will get to reconnect with a portion of America which has largely become overlooked since the interstate system was put in place.  The ride, known as The Stephan Challenge , is not only for Mark to “prove he can do it,” but equally to raise money for the RIC.

After many months of careful, thoughtful planning, the ride’s begun!  I encourage you to visit the website and get a better sense of this remarkable man and of his incredible journey and cause.

If it sounds like I’m impressed with Mark, I am.  I am so impressed that I intend to join him for several days of his ride in late April and early May.  My portion of riding along with Mark will end in beautiful El Paso, Texas.  Then I’ll fly home.  But Mark will still have approximately 1,657 miles left to complete The Challenge.

However, with an inspirational Musher like Mark, he will always have a new team of fresh dogs to keep him company.

Posted in Leadership, Organization, Self-Interested Caretaking, Uncategorized, Vision | 2 Comments

The Musher Co-Authors Again

All, I’m a bit behind on my blogging, what with all this unseasonably warm weather in the north.  My next blog will be provocative, I assure you!

I’m pleased to announce the release of my second co-authored book, this time with an old friend and Acorn colleague, Terry Walsh.  The book is titled 99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals: How to Manage Successful Sales Teams Just by Asking (and Answering) the Right Questions and may be purchased on Amazon.com.



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Knowing the Dogs from the Sled – A Cautionary Tale for CEO Recruiting

A recent article in Forbes “The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives”, provides a great example of the danger of narcissism in the corner office.  Virtually all the examples provided damned the CEO in terms of his or her focus upon herself, or on their purported market or industry expertise.  As a consequence, CEOs will inevitably damn the company to a direction which perhaps once worked for the CEO, but isn’t likely to work again.   This should be a cautionary lesson for Board members who may be contemplating an opportunity to fill a CEO or other senior leadership role within their organization.

Why?  Because the narcissistic CEO is not open to the inputs and knowledge of his/her organization.   The figure below shows in the left column the original observations made by Sydney Finklestein, (the Steven Roth Professor of Management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, whose book “Why Smart Executives Fail” is the article’s point of reference), and in the right column, complements to these failures as provided by article author Eric Jackson of Forbes:

In Musher parlance, these would be examples of the Musher focused upon themselves or the sled, but not the dogs and the team.

Over the past several years, perhaps the majority of the past decade, I have observed the executive recruiting industry, and Boards they serve, consistently falling into a trap.  Further, I think it begins to explain why CEO tenures are becoming briefer and briefer.  When an executive opportunity opens up in a consumer packaged goods company, the marquee recruiters in the CPG industry are called and counseled.  Rolodexes are spun, and the usual candidates from the same, or nearly the same, industry are contacted and recycled.

To follow the Musher metaphor, this all involves undue concern with the sled:  the sled being the business, and its context — who knows whom, who is known to whom, who can make a phone call in the middle of the night about a merger and it gets answered.

But Boards don’t seem to be saying, “what are our challenges, and how can our people — with their knowledge, passion for the industry, and commitment to the company — be properly led to overcome them?”.  This alternative view would provide a focus on a Musher who understands the dogs.  Sleds do not move of their own accord.  Mushers cannot move sleds (at least not far!).  Only dogs, teams of dogs, can move the sled. A Musher that understands, who is committed to understanding dogs, and who is committed to unleashing their power, can move a sled optimally.  So why isn’t there more focus on the managerial and leadership ability of executives in their recruitment?

During the recession (I use an historical tone, as I’m declaring the beginning of the thaw), “best athletes” or “people executives” were often passed over as candidates in favor of executives who had “deep industry expertise”.  Statistics show that these recycled executives have under-produced, both in terms of competitiveness and results, and this is reflected in their abbreviated tenures.

If you are Board member who witnesses some of the shortcomings listed above, ask yourself if your CEO is really capable of leading from the rear, of performing the hard work of motivating an organization to change and transform to become more competitive.  If you are a Board member contemplating an opportunity to fill a CEO role, I encourage you to look for candidates who know how to properly organize, manage, lead, and inspire a workforce.  You should be developing nuanced criteria to better glean candidates’ abilities along these lines.  Worry less about how many years they were at XYZ Corporation, or how well they are known in your industry.

Find Mushers who know and love dogs.

Posted in Leadership, Musher Management, Organization, Vision | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment