Archive for June, 2009

Supreme Punting

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

There was some hullabaloo yesterday about the Supreme Court ruling in the discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano. The mainstream media did a fine job of obfuscating facts in an attempt to breathe new life into what had become an almost dead controversy surrounding Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Selling newspapers or advertising on cable TV news new requires shrill noises to attract the attention of a US citizenry obsessed with the antics surrounding Michael Jackson’s recent passing and reminiscing about his halcyon days twenty-five years ago.

News outlets clamored that Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination was now in jeopardy. According to left-leaning media, the Supreme Court did catastrophic damage to decades of civil rights progress and in the process spanked Sotomayor.  According to right-leaning media, which has been maligning much of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions, the Court finally got something right and Sotomayor was a sullied candidate.

Nonsense. The Supreme Court actually didn’t decide anything of substance yesterday. Because I have been an ardent advocate of diversity throughout my career, I actually waded through the 93 pages of opinion on this case. I wanted to see for myself what was really going on.

Justice Scalia said it best. He writes, “I join the Court’s opinion in full, but write separately to observe that its resolution of this dispute merely postpones the evil day on which the Court will have to confront the question: Whether, or to what extent, are the disparate-impact provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 consistent with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection? The question is not an easy one.”

Indeed it is not an easy question. The dispute in this case stems from a classic catch-22 situation: a firefighter promotion exam was conducted in New Haven-Connecticut as is the normal procedure. Because minorities on average didn’t score as well as whites on the exams, if the city used the test results to rank candidates for promotion, the city faced a discrimination case. On the other hand, not all minorities did poorly. If the city threw out the test results, they still faced a discrimination case from those who did well on the tests including whites who would claim reverse discrimination. The city threw out the tests and lawsuits were promptly filed by those who had done well on the tests.

The Supreme Court did not touch this catch-22 directly. The majority opinion simply pointed to the city’s rationale for discarding the tests and found their arguments wanting. Therefore, the city must use the test scores as originally planned – to rank the candidates for promotion based on scores. The Court did not rule on a constraint for Title VII. The Court did not resolve the inherent conflict between the Constitution’s guarantee of equal rights and Title VII’s bias toward minorities.

I have seen terrible bias every day. I have lived in Chicago, Washington DC, near Philadelphia. I have travelled all across the US. The bias against Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans is prevalent and even here in bland Seattle I have seen pockets of virulent bias. We may have a black president but we are very far away from a land of equal rights blind to race, creed or color. Until then, we must be willing to argue forcefully and vigilantly against bias against minorities. I for one am thrilled that Sotomayor is the nominee. The Court may yet face this ugly question squarely and when it does, I hope there is much debate and passion to preserve a balance of power among our many races, creeds, and colors in this country.

Meanwhile, Ms. Sotomayor should keep clear of this noise and wait for the next celebrity fiasco to take public attention away from meaty matters like civil rights and who gets to sit on the nation’s highest bench.

Leadership is not about you – Ahmadinejad as an object lesson

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Most successful leaders begin their careers yearning for success, fame, power, or wealth. There is nothing unusual about this motivation as a starting point, but our decisions and actions as leaders are intertwined with the lives of those we lead. Leadership is an intricate web of relationships. Build them and you succeed. Break them and you fail. Focus your effort on the greater good, and you help build a better world. Focus on your own well being, and you destroy far more than goodwill.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  is a stark object lesson on this topic.

The controversial President of Iran had a humble beginning as the son of a blacksmith, worked hard on his education and served in very difficult assignments in both the brutal war with Iraq and in his early political career.  Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist message. He effectively leveraged the anti-American sentiment reignited by then President Bush in “axis of evil” speech. Ahmadinejad also promised the people of Iran a government of principle, in particular focused on using their nation’s oil wealth to improve infrastructure, education, and healthcare.

Once elected, Ahmadinejad promptly revealed his true nature. In the past four years, we have seen a man drunk with fame. He has continued to beat the drum of anti-American, and by extension anti-European and anti-Israeli rhetoric, in an attempt to inspire through bravado and conspiracy theories. He has not invested oil wealth into infrastructure, education, or health care for Iranians. He has invested substantial money and effort into creating a nuclear capability in a vain attempt to lift his own stature at home and abroad.

Whether you believe the election of 2009 is a fraud or not, his actions to suppress allegations of improper voting and calls for a new, fair vote make it clear that he is not working for the benefit of those he leads. If the election were not a fraud, he would have sponsored a fair and transparent investigation to demonstrate that he is the legitimately re-elected President. Instead, he has ruthlessly suppressed criticism and debate. He isn’t using the power of his position to create a better world for Iran.  He is using his power to retain his position—at the bloody expense of his own people.

History has shown us time and again—in politics, business, religion and every other field of endeavor— when a leader arrogantly pursues exclusive privileges for the few at the expense of those being led, it ends in failure. Kenneth Lay of Enron, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois, and Governor Spitzer of New York are just a few recent, home-grown examples that reiterate this point. The demise of Ahmadinejad is all but certain without a sudden and radical shift in his focus and action.

For all of us who lead, this object lesson teaches us a core leadership principle. Consider why you are in a leadership role in the first place. You didn’t achieve a leadership role because you are special. You attained this role because the people you lead want you there. Perhaps, they need an opportunity to further their career. Perhaps, they don’t have the confidence or desire to lead. Perhaps, they like you or your ideas. Regardless of the specific motivations of the people you lead, your leadership role is not about you. It never was. It’s about them. If you are sincere and thoughtful about your leadership role, then you are already investing the majority of your waking—and some sleeping—hours in leading your organization. Why are you doing this? Is it for your fame? Your wealth? Your personal satisfaction? Your professional development? Only that? Why not aspire for something more? Are you afraid to take it on? Are you unwilling to make the effort? Please note, the higher the aspiration and the more inclusive the benefit of your ambition, the more you create a sustainable and successful effort that outlasts your own personal investment of time and energy. Anything less is a waste of your opportunity, and if you insist on serving your own self-interests, it will only lead to disaster.

Of stinger missiles and sheep testicles

Friday, June 19th, 2009

In the 1980′s I had the pleasure of travelling all over the Middle East.  Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Egypt, etc.  Among the many interesting projects I worked on, I was particularly in love with a crazy experiment to slurp radar data from AWACS, E2C, and missile systems in the forward area (that’s where all the scary noise is) and munge all that radar data into one complete picture locating the bad guys and good guys and displayed neatly onto a metal suitcase version of a laptop.  I think it was made by Compaq and looked something like this.

Mind you, in 1988 “laptop” meant something very heavy and very lame compared to what it means today. We gave those 14 pound laptops (with a whopping 8Mhz clock and all of 16MB of RAM…) to stinger missile teams. Now those guys are each already packing at least 60 pounds of gear per person into the forward area. They weren’t too happy with this new piece of heavy gear to lug.  Until of course they saw what it did for them.  You see, a stinger missile team normally had to use binoculars (or their Jedi mind training) to anticipate where MiG’s or F15′s would appear in order to shoot them down. These jets were able to go from the horizon to over your head in about 1.5 seconds.  This new piece of iron showed the stinger teams where the bad guys were long before the bad guys were at the horizon and therefore long before they could pose a threat. Advantage Stinger Team, 100.  Bad Guys, 0.  The already heavily burdened stinger teams lugged the new iron.

So I was in Egypt.  My team was tweaking a missile firing test to show our hosts how well it worked in the desert. We had some down-time to visit the pyramids. That was very cool (and a story for another Friday…) Then we packed into transport trucks and headed well north of Cairo into an empty expanse of sand and dirt in the Sahara and we promptly shot down the test target. Extremely cool. The generals were impressed. We were elated.

By this time in my career I was an old hand in the Middle East.  I could read and speak and even write a bit of Arabic.  The food was familiar and so were the customs.  We finished off the trip with a well deserved celebration meal, held of course by the host.  The most senior host suggested we dine at the The President’s Club.  Of course we agreed. We had visions of arriving at The Intercontinental Hotel in a tux to eat and drink a first-class French meal. This was welcome especially after a week of eating MREs in the dirt and if we were lucky, local shawarmas.  Instead, we were hauled via a harrowing cab ride (another story for another Friday…) into a seedy section of Cairo.  The pub name was indeed The President’s Club, which was inscribed above the door not in English nor Arabic but as we had hoped, in French. Only bits and hints of the gilt and black lacquer that once adorned the creaking, carved, wooden sign (carved when Rommel still roamed these parts) were still there.

In this basement hole in the wall, we sat among wealthy, well dressed locals.  Some in fine Italian, handmade suits.  Some in a silk and wool dishdash, equally well tailored.  We were served Johnny Walker Black by a nice waiter in a tux and we skipped the ice or water because it was, after all, Cairo.  Not one bottle.  Not two.  We had three bottles of Johnny to serve five people.  That certainly took the edge off.  We ate a kind of Egyptian tapas.  Sheep’s brains served raw in lemon juice, or boiled in a bit of saffron broth, or deep fried.  Nice choice. We had goat skewers and mutton skewers. Better.  We ate tomatoes and cucumbers and hummus.  And then came a nutty, crunchy tasting substance that had the texture of a bamboo shoot in Chop Suey.  Except a little chewier.  After asking my host what it was, he slurred whiskily that they were yummy sheep testicles. They were like their sheep brain appetizer cousins served raw in lemon juice, or boiled with saffron, or deep fried. No tartar sauce.  Too bad.  Messr. Walker urged me to keep my mouth shut, jut my chin firmly, smile, and eat a second helping like my host. I chewed merrily and washed it down with some more Johnny.

The next morning, I was on a long plane flight back to the states. I had little sleep and was still reeking of whiskey and burping up occasional whiffs of nuttiness as my cab took me to a friend’s birthday party. We ate his favorite meal:  Maryland Blue Crabs steamed in the bushel, served with corn on the cob, cheddar cheese and a massive amount of Old Bay Seasoning leaving nothing but fire and thirst in its wake.  The sheep were long gone.

And it was indeed, good to be home.

Book Review: More Than A Minute

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Amazon.com Link to More Than A MinuteHolly is a friend of mine and a talented strategy faciliator. She is a highly qualified authority on management techniques after serving for many years as a consultant to major corporations around the world.

Holly reprises and enhances the original tools for supervisors and executives explored in The One Minute Manager more than 25 years ago by Ken Blanchard.  As president of The Ken Blanchard Companies, Holly was able to work closely with Ken on a broad range of business challenges and she saw first hand what works and what doesn’t.

Holly applied her considerable experience into writing this book and offers both techniques and practices useful in today’s complex and highly volatile business environment.

Get the book at amazon   More Than A Minute

Iran Case Study: Power & Leadership

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

The situation in Iran serves as a sharp object lesson. Every leader at every level in every organization faces the test of power. The best will will use the power of their position to create a better world, even if it means sacrificing themselves. The mediocre will use that power to retain their position.

The situation in Iran is intriguing because whether the recent election was a fraud or not, we are learning just how  mediocre Ahmadinejad really is. If the election is a fraud, then he is conducting a raw grab for power and the citizens of his nation are not fooled and will not easily be repressed. If the election is a fraud, then his desire for rank, fame, and power is more important than his ambition to represent the interests of his people and the region in which they live. There is a delicious irony in watching our passionate Persian cousins shouting and marching against one of their own flawed leaders rather than buring American flags and effigies of one of our flawed leaders.

If the election is not a fraud, then Ahmadinejad is a deluded fool. If he did win this election fairly, then he would gain far greater power and credibility in his own nation, in his region, and among world leaders if he merely asked for calm and called for a swift investigation into the allegations of fraud. By using his power and leadership role to drive an open, public, and independent evaluation of the election process and count, he would have cemented his position and his opponent would have shunken to nothing.

In either case – whether the election is a fraud or not – the situation has touched a nerve in the Iranian psyche. Echo’s of “Yes we can” and “It is time for a change” ring amidst all the shouting and anger on the street. Again, if Ahmedinejad were a leader worthy of the title, he would be listening carefully and adapting quickly.  There is no evidence of listening.

There is only evidence of power to retain position. And a failure to lead when his nation needs a leader most.

My only hope is that this story ends with leadership rising as it did in Polish Solidarity rather than power clamping down in Tiananmen Square.

Naked in Helsinki

Friday, June 12th, 2009

ice on baltic in finnlandAs a young man, I had often heard tales of the hearty Finnish appetite for vodka, for cross country skiing, and for swimming in icy waters. They all seemed like tall tales to me. Oh how wrong you can be.

When I was working for Real Networks a few years back, I was fortunate enough to inherit the fledgling games business. We purchased a company that made fun games to play on your cell phone. The company was called Mr. Goodliving, which seemed an odd name to me but I wrote it off as a translation error. Oh, how wrong you can be.

During my first visit to this business unit, I arrived after a nine-hour flight to Copenhagen which led to a layover that felt more like a hangover, and then another flight to Helsinki. I was so looking forward to settling into my hotel room. Oh, how wrong you can be.

Our hosts picked me up and took me to dinner. We packed five people into a small car, drove for an hour or so outside of the city to a small house—a shack really—where I was told there would be a locally renown chef to provide us highly personalized service. First came the vodka. Then came some beer. Then some more vodka. Then it was time to get naked.

You didn’t read that wrong. You see, the shack was actually a sauna house with a dining room. I got naked with my hosts, sat in a 160F heated room, and talked business, family, and other “getting to know you” topics. Of course they insisted on dousing the hot rocks with water to keep the air from drying us into Folgers crystals. I was sweating bullets or the vodka was condensing on my skin. I tried not to think about the fact that my first staff meeting was being held in the nude. This situation brought a whole new meaning to the term penis envy. Fortunately, I was sufficiently inebriated not to care too much about measurements. Besides, I was the boss, so my ego wouldn’t let me be embarrassed or act the least bit surprised by any of this.

Just when I thought I was going to die from heat exhaustion, jet lag, and alcohol poisoning, it was time to go swimming. It was December. The Baltic Sea is salt water. It has to be below the freezing point of water to become solid. There were chunks of ice floating in the sea. It was 10pm. Thus far for dinner, there had been only alcohol and heat and as yet, no food. My judgment was impaired. So I agreed to go swimming with these hearty Finns. They jumped in with glee. And yes, I jumped into water that was 30F and only a minute after having been in a cedar box blazing 130 hotter. I didn’t die. It actually felt refreshing, and brought on an appetite of epic proportions. I thought maybe my Dad’s Lithuanian blood did in fact still course in my veins.

We finally ate. We ate a lot of great food. We drank more vodka. We sang a few songs. And then we went to the bars to celebrate our new post-sauna-trauma brotherhood, where we found even more vodka, some of it dark black and tasting like a bag of licorice had been slowly dissolved in grain alcohol over several years of curing. The Mr. Goodliving gang lived up to its name. Until of course the next morning, when those Folgers crystals came in handy.

Book Reviews for Inspiring Excellence

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Book: Inspiring Excellence

This new take on leadership as a learned behavior is now available on amazon.com  They have it online and it is fully searchable.  So far, the book has received strong endorsements.

Jeff Seely CEO  Recruiting.com

I’ve read a number of management science/behavior books (many!) and I found Schutzler’s book to be a useful, refreshing and insightful read. He captures aspects of leadership in a clear and direct voice, and he uses great real-life vignettes to make his points in a fun and easily understandable way. This is a quick read, and unlike so many of the business books I start, I finished this one, and with a smile on my face. I recommend it to any business professional looking to refine his or her style of leadership.

Jim Wiggett, CEO Jackson Hole Group

Michael Schutzler takes you through a journey of experience and a broad range of leadership dimensions. Inspiring Excellence is both comprehensive and insightful. I highly recommend the book for leaders who want to up their game.

Sandy Gould, VP Human Resources Linden Lab – creators of SecondLife

Inspiring Excellence is a lightning strike of clarity and simplicity. Michael Schutzler distills the profound principles of great leadership into basic and clear precepts of action and relationship. His model
draws from what we all experience and know but can’t seem to pin down. He does!

Paul Goodrich, Managing Director Madrona Venture Group

This well-organized, thoughtful book distills a broad topic down to very specific, actionable, and practical tools for sharpening leadership skills. I intend to keep a copy in the top drawer of my desk for handy reference and as a periodic reminder of the blueprint for effective leadership.

Aaron Finn, CEO AdReady.com

Michael Schutzler has done a great job explaining leadership skills and practice in a way that applies to any situation, including the way a person leads his or her life. Inspiring Excellence is filled with great
examples of applying real leadership skills in real situations.

Brett Thompson, SVP Human Resources Classmates Online

Michael Schutzler took his many years of real world experience and learning and translated it into a compelling must-read. I am recommending this book to everyone in my professional network.

Tom Donlea, Executive Director Merchant Risk Council

Inspiring Excellence presents an approach to leadership that works even in the “double bottom line” setting of a non-profit organization.

Michael Vick Deserves A Second Chance

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

 

Michael Vick as a Falcon QB Tens of millions of people are glued to their televisions every autumn to cheer their  favorite NFL team to hit, shove, and grind their opponents into the dirt. We openly and  eagerly celebrate the physical spectacle of football—a sport that rewards the most agile of  men with the roar of 100,000 adoring fans while brutally punishing the rest. The NFL is  filled with young men trained to withstand and deliver severe pain week after week. Yet  we act surprised when those men fail to instantly transform into gentlemen of  compassion when they walk off the field of approved violence. We wag our fingers at those who find it hard to turn off the aggression and cruelty we so enjoy watching on the gridiron.

 

Michael Vick responded to this hypocrisy in 2005 by flipping off an angry mob bellowing from the stadium. It was a childish gesture but rooted in honesty. Like so many of his NFL peers, Michael Vick loved the spotlight, the bravado, and the money. And like so many of his NFL peers, he became addicted to the power of his position and failed to mature into a man of character. Armed with the arrogance and cruelty that had become second nature to him on the football field, he created a forum in which dogs were forced to mimic the same aggression and physical violence. And for this particular act of cruelty to hapless animals he has been punished. Some would argue not enough. However, he is financially bankrupt. He has served two years in prison. In short, he has received punishment far harsher than most any other convicted dog fighting operator.

 

Commissioner Roger Goddell has made it clear that a return to the NFL is contingent upon Michael’s demonstration of genuine remorse. It seems a fair and reasonable condition, even if it’s a highly subjective criterion. However, the real question is whether Michael has developed humility in prison or if his time there merely served to deepen his sense of entitlement and persecution. If he is to succeed as a quarterback, he must first accept that leadership is relationship. His teammates will only follow him if he listens more than he talks. His fans will only support him if he embodies both raw power and disciplined control—on and off the field. His coaches will only play him if he enhances their status in the community both as an athlete and as a citizen. Michael has already taken a first step in remaking himself by working with the Humane Society. Some claim it’s a public relations stunt, but those same critics would condemn him even more if he had not begun to work with an animal rights cause.

 

Michael Vick has paid the dues we as a society have deemed necessary. In fact, he has been punished more than almost any other who has been convicted of this particular crime. He has only a few years left as an NFL athlete. If he is fortunate enough to re-enter this brutal sport in the near future, he deserves the opportunity to redeem himself as a man, as a professional athlete, and as a leader.