Thursday, January 17, 2013

My blog has moved to better connect both my work and my blogging. Please continue the LEAD2020 journey at the Mitchen Leadership and Organization Development Blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are you reacting... or strategic?

My new word is FOCUS!  Yes, it is common and not especially exciting, but FOCUS says it all for me. Focus = Prosperity! Look at any great leader.. or great company and you will find they are focused!  Their focus is narrow and their actions are strategic. All the great stories of success have at some point in the journey a desire to focus on doing a small number of things well.  From an organization point of view, this is difficult and there are two common struggles I see often:

  1. Some organizations demonstrate great commitment to focus on strategic opportunities. They do environmental scans, talk to experts, engage their work force, but ultimately they lack the courage to make a choice between competing products, programs and services. They often end up looking much like they always did before their discussions and have no focus for growing their future. This happens most often when one is scared to be authentic about the challenges an organization faces or seeks to protect their own vested interest. It is an interesting dynamic, but one that can be broken with external facilitation help. 
  2. The second challenge to being a focused is common. It is where you simply live in a tactical world and never have strategic discussions.  Avoidance of the greatest kind. Often, it is due to a failure of the 1st kind above.. where an organization has had poor strategic discussions in the past and now struggles to even start the discussions.  Give me any organization and you will find back pressure against being strategic.. and often, it comes from those you would have expected to be most strategic. An example might serve us here... 
Henry Ford was quite the innovator. You would have to call him a strategic leader given  the innovation of the Model T and optimization of the assembly line in manufacturing.  But when Ford Jr. want to enhance the Model T with new features, to maintain market share against new "feature enriched" automobiles, it was the old man that said no.  Nearly destroyed Jr. and set back Ford at a time when they should have controlled the market for years. What causes this move to tactical behavior? Consider the following:

Ego & Uncertainty - The more accomplished we are at a task, the easier it becomes to be tactical. Through these tactical actions, we maintain our status and psychological need to feel purpose. We remove uncertainty, but we also blind ourselves to reality over time. That's what happen at Circuit City.. that's why Borders missed the online market shift... Ego.. and a need for certainty.

Jumping without a parachute - Most of us, but not all of us, are wired to think of safety first. It is what makes our hairs stand up when we are in a dark alley and we hear a noise. We are naturally wired to survive, but behaviors that allow us to survival now... may lead to death in the strategic future.  New markets emerge.. new ways of doing business take hold... Just look at the video rental market.. box store to video machines to Online deliver.. Blockbuster survived for years as their market eroded, when they could have evolved and changed.. They could have been strategic.

There are those that will say it is all chaos.. and that no one can strategically define their future. This is simply not true when you review the research. Focus.. built off of intelligent and strategic discussions leads to a far better future. Just ask Cirque Du Soleil.. or would you rather invest in Barnum and Bailey?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Group Link and Politics

This is a great description of the effects of group think (although a bit long). At about the 7 minute mark he goes into the impact of hearing a message over and over. Seems if we hear something enough times, we have a tendacy to believe it to be true.. It explains why how political campaigns and even news interviews can distort reality.  More importantly, it is a warning to leaders to ensure dissent (one of  four (4)conversations of the elusive high performing team) when ideas are being discussed. Watch it and reflect. Post comments on your own thoughts on group think.

Friday, July 13, 2012

PSU - Not just about football

Reading this news this morning, I came away with tremendous dissapointment in the press and their coverage of the Freeh report on the Sandusky matter at PSU.  Yes.. I am dissapointed in Joe Pa.. and the entire administrative team, but I am saddened by how poorly this is being reported. Yes.. he was a football coach..and yes it happened within the football complex, but this is not an issue of football leadership.  Again, this is not about football.  This is about the academic model of leadership..  this about authority and culture, a culture that may need to consider how it should evolve.

Most large universities have a signficantly distributed leadership model. Professors are entitled to freedom.. the ability to explore and discover in areas that they (because they are considerd the expert) deem most important to the field of study they work in. Full professors maintain signficant influence and power over the operations of their departments. Department Heads are more facilitative leaders, even servants to the needs of the majority of professors (some heads only serve a short term, or are only called Chairs). Deans lead, but only through budget allocations and position approvals, but much of the day to day operations is delegated. (Do you see where this is going).  Senior administrators have power, but it is culturally used only in signficant matters.  They shape the university over time, but they rarely involve themselves in personnel matters.  There is a culture of empowerment that goes well past anything corporate america has even imaged.   Of course, this culture extends to all areas.. Presidents, Chancellors, Provosts, etc, operate at a level where they delegate most of the issues to Deans, Directors, and yes Coaches.  This is the culture at most significant universities..not just PSU.

Now, we know this culture has been one of great innovation. It is not surprising that american universities are some of the greatest research engines in the world. This culture of autonomy and freedom has allowed researchers to defy the norms of their field and explore areas outside the traditions of the past and create new products that we all enjoy. Many of these products have some piece of their evolution in a lab somewhere on an University campus. Just ask University of Penn how the world would have been different if not for the ENIAC. So we could argue that this culture should be preserved, but we could also argue that it is a cutlure that breeds the kind of innovation that Sandusky practices. Someway we need to control the Sanduskys' of the world.

In my practice, I have already seen an increase in hierachial decision making at land grant universities. New colleges have been created. Departments merged. this is a trend brought on by budget issues in some cases, but it is evolving the university culture. A culture change that is not always viewed as positive. The trend raises questions for today's university presidents, chancellors, provosts and deans. Here are just a few that come to mind this morning.

How do we ensure effective personal conduct of faculty, coaches, and all others and still maintain an empowering culture?

Do I have an obligation to discover the ethical lapses (hopefully less criminal) occuring on my watch?

What organizational systems need to be in place to ensure the safety of all our faculty, staff, students and visitors?

If faced with an incident, what mechanisms need to be put into place to ensure the rights of the vicitms.. and the accused?

That's enough for this post.. I will end with a message to my PSU friends. You are not alone.. this is not a PSU problem.. it is a higher ed problem. Continue to discover the new PSU you are developing.. continue to be the academic leader you have always been.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Constant CuriosityTM.. linkage between the art and science of truth!

"I believe that the distinction between an [artist], we generally use the word artist to be visual arts of some sort, but there is very little distinction between an artist of that type and a scientist or engineer of the highest caliber.

And I have never had a distinction in my mind between those two types of people.  They, just to me, have been people who pursued different paths, but basically kinda headed to the same goal which is to express something of what they perceive to be the truth around them, so that others can see it, so that others can benefit by it. 

The artistry is in having an insight in what ones sees around them, generally putting things together in ways that no one has and finding a way to express that to other people who don't have the same insight so that they can get some of the advantages of that insight, that makes them feel a certain way or allows people to do a certain thing." 

- Steve Jobs,  April, 1995 [40 years old]

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jobs... His most signficant influencer

I purposely have avoided starting Isaacson's  book on Steve Jobs  until this month. Intuitively, I think I might have been biased by the hype after his death. I primarily read biographies to understand both the strengths and weaknesses of leaders and I have found that they are best read when I can be distant from the actual subject. 

From my early reading on the first 100 pages of the book, I find Isaacson's book an excellent read due to the transparent way he describes Jobs.  I have already had one profound thought emerge from the pages of Job's life.  I have noticed that most of the reviews I have read over look the real impact of his father on Job's success. Oh, they acknowledge his influence on craftsmanship and the need to make a product look good both on the inside and outside. What I have not noticed until reading the book is a much more signficant impact I believe his father had on Jobs.

Job's father was a pretty good handy man. Seems there were few things he couldn't fix or build. Whether it be a fence, or car, a chair or whatever, a theme emerges of a dad who pretty much took care of things himself and rarely had to rely on help from others. He also seemed to always make ends meet. Even the idea of paying for Reed College.. Dad figured it out.  He also was not a career employee at a time when most were. Through a series of jobs and his own "fix it up" jobs, his father managed to do quite well despite his lack of an education.  One might say, his father may have been the most resilient person Job's would ever know. 

Reflect on that word.. resilient.  Not the first word we hear in discussions of Job's successes. No, we hear words like innovator or creative. Words like smart or visionary.  What sometimes we forget is that Job's had as many failures as he did successes. Now it would be unfair to say that others have not metioned this. I remember thinking how great he was to have left and then returned to lead Apple. In the past, I maybe attributed too much to his intellegence and vision... but after just 100 pages, I am willing to reshift my view.

Steve Jobs was alot of things, but maybe the most important thing was he was an explorer who sought to try things. Good things, bad things, he kept exploring. Just like his father, he was a fix it man, looking for the next opportunity. We know the successes like Pixar and the iphone.. but he tried for years to create an apple tv... how many iteration.. who knows. But he kept pushing through walls. Trying new ways and new projects. What I do know is he has a resilience learned from his father to keep trying things. Where there are creative people and visionary people, what Jobs brought was the reality of the fix it man.. just keeping trying and eventually, you will find you way... So maybe there is a good reason for father's day instead of just to sell socks and ties.  Thanks to all the fathers, mine included who teach us when we are not looking...  Now..back to the book...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.

Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serous in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.

Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to continue to grow."

- William McKnight, 3M Chairman, 1948

- As shared by Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Leadership failure of accountability...

I have waited several weeks for the news cycle to slow down on the Penn State tradegy with the former assistant coach. You see other incidents emerging at other places now where other individuals have not been called out for behaviours that can only be described as the worst crimes possible. The behaviours of these individuals is grave and more horrible than anything I can imagine. A couple of thoughts first about the issues raised by these incidents:

This is not a sport's issue...

This is not even an higher education issues...

This is also not just about the abuse of youth...

No, this is an issue of failure to hold leaders accountable at all levels or all sorts of stuff. A culture of as long as someone else up the food chain can be held more responsible.. then I need not act like a leader... I can just pass the buck. Whether it is something as bad as abusing children or as light as looking the other way when an employee cheats the company, have we allowed a leadership culture that looks the other way to become dominate in our organizations? Some questions about your organization to ponder...

Would leaders step in to fix a wronged individual if it wasn't their turf?

Would leaders call out an individual who verbally abuses others?

Would leaders risk losing a customer if that customer violated professional standards?

That's just a few.. but ask yourself.. where do leaders at my organization stand when the culture needs to be shifted back to a more ethical and professional way of doing business?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lessons in Greatness

Life imitates success in the business world often through how we deal with personal challenges. Rory McILroy demonstrated the grace of humility this weekend while still balancing what will also be known as one of the greatest performances in US Open Golf history. Despite breaking records in the double digits, when asked to reflect on lessons that prepared him, he spoke distinctly of what will no doubt be one of the greatest collapses in modern golf history.

Think back.. May of this year, 2011. You're 22, and in a country not of your birth. Your leading what can only be called the most signficant tournament in your short career by four strokes. The Masters, Augusta Georgia, every golfer's dream to win. As you make the turn at 10, you are still in the lead by one stroke and then it happens. A collapse so devastating, you end up in a tie for 15th. You end up shooting an 80... a score so high it is unexplainable except that you Choked. Ouch. The tournament was your's to lose.. and you lost it big. How would you handle it:

Not only did Rory talk to reporters for 10 minutes.. he was respectful, honest and pragmantic.. My favorite quote.. came later the next day or so... and was somewhat telling...

"I think it's a Sunday at a major, what it can do. This is my first experience at it, and hopefully the next time I'm in this position, I'll be able to handle it a little better. I didn't handle it particularly well today, obviously, but it was a character-building day. Put it that way. I'll come out stronger for it." - Rory McIlory - May 2011

Now.. it is several months later. You're faced with the same task. You're up 9 strokes coming into the last day of the next major tournament. Think of the pressure you would face. You choke now, and your labeled for life. Think of Greg Norman in the history of the Masters. Every golfer knows this and the presure that comes with this moment. But this time is different.. this time, not only do you handle it, but you thrive. Winning at a record margin. You have mastered the field. How would you respond when ask what made the difference this June. Would you point to the hard work you put in, to how you have honed your putting in ways you hadn't before, or maybe point out that the collapse in May was fluke. Not Rory.. no.. just honest and direct...

"Augusta was a very valuable experience for me. I knew what I needed to do today to win and at Augusta I learn a few things about myself and my game. I put a few different things into practice and it paid off." - Roy McIlory - June 2011 - US Open Champion

It is rare, to have failure and success happen so soon, so similiar and yet so visible to the world. It is even more rare to find a leader who can face his failure in a public and humble way. This Sunday we were blessed to see an example of this that reminds us that our best growth comes through failures. Our best learning and much of our success is due to a honed skill of facing our less than graceful moments. Reflection is an action!

Here's toasting a pint to Rory's great example of leadership!

Monday, May 30, 2011


I am developing a new tool for a workshop I teach.. could use some input from you. Answer the following questions choosing one answer for each of the seven questions and then send me an e-mail with your answers.. just list the question number and your letter answer for each of the seven questions. Email to




1. I get my best ideas by

a) Watching people to see what they prefer and want from my work

b) Just trying things out until I find an approach that works

c) Investigating the problem that needs to be addressed very carefully

d) Finding others who may have good ideas on how to do things

2. To overcome problems, I usually like to:

a) First focus on having the right environment where I can think best

b) Seek out solutions by studying approaches not normally related to the issue

c) Like to bring together a group and facilitate team solutions

d) Examine how the problem affects humans to find solutions

3. I am most creative when:

a) Tackle the situation and just start trying things

b) Identify barriers to success and attack them with all my knowledge

c) I find someone who has lots of great ideas that I can learn from

d) I have the right setting to think and work in

4. For me, innovation most often comes from

a) Bringing together sciences that are different to find new solutions

b) Getting groups together who can be creative

c) Studying human nature to explore better ways of serving people

d) Implementing several ideas until one works

5. When faced with a difficult task, I am most likely to:

a) Get motivated by the difficulty and do it on my own for satisfaction

b) Find some experts who may have dealt with this task before

c) Find an environment that allows me to think best

d) Study unrelated sciences to get new ideas on how to address the task

6. I am most productive by

a) Bringing together a group and facilitating discussion and consensus

b) Focusing on people and their needs when developing solutions

c) Trying solution after solution until one works best

d) Identifying impossible tasks and then working toward achieving them

7. The best ideas are gained by

a) Finding experts in the area your working in and learning from them

b) Having the right working environment so you can do your best thinking

c) Seeking out and studying unrelated sciences to learn new ways of doing things

d) Bringing together your team and brainstorming to get the best ideas of the team