Don’t let self limitations hold you back

The first [leadership lesson] I learned in the jungles of Bangalore, at an elephant camp. When you visit such a camp you see these gigantic elephants tethered with a small stake. I asked the trainer: ‘Why do they stay tethered when they could so easily pull up the stake?’ He told me: ‘Well, the elephant is tethered as a small calf; when it tries to … [ Read more ]

How to do Training

In 1991, we put some 900 people through a basic seven-step problem-solving course, using two approaches. About half the employees came to our central corporate training facility for standard classroom training. The other half were trained in teams, on the job. This group didn’t get trained until they were part of a team that was working on a real problem. When they got to a … [ Read more ]

Would we bet on it?

Gordon Bell, a prominent investor who funds start-ups, is very blunt with executives of firms in his portfolio. For instance, when someone makes predictions for company performance, Bell will zero in on one number and ask the CEO, “Wanna bet? A side bet, you and me, for $1,000.” If the CEO gulps, Bell knows he or she has doubts. At least once, when an underperforming … [ Read more ]

How does your organization deal with mistakes?

There’s the story about a top salesman in the aircraft industry who messed up. He lost a $5,000,000 contract. At his desk the next morning he starts going through his papers – tidying them up, clearing his desk. He gets a phone call from his manager,

“Have you got 5 minutes? ”

“Sure” he mumbles and slowly makes his way up the stairs to his boss’ … [ Read more ]

The Balloonist and the Engineer

Realizing he was lost, a balloonist dropped down to ask directions. “Excuse me, but I’m a little off course” he shouted. “I promised to meet a friend an hour ago, I don’t know where I am.”

A woman hollered back: “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re at exactly 40 degrees, 22 minutes, and 21 seconds North latitude and … [ Read more ]

Emphasizing the Positive

In 1982, University of Wisconsin researchers who were conducting a study of the adult-learning process videotaped two bowling teams during several games. The members of each team then studied their efforts on video to improve their skills. But the two videos had been edited differently. One team received a video showing only its mistakes; the other team’s video, by contrast, showed only the good performances. … [ Read more ]

You never really know someone until you see the choices she makes.

Like many photographers before him, Richard Zaltman was visiting remote areas of the world to capture images of people living lives far removed from those in the United States.

Here’s what made his experience different.

One morning, while walking through an isolated village in Bhutan, he suddenly got the idea of turning his camera over to the locals to see what they would consider significant enough to … [ Read more ]

W.L. Gore’s vision of “Freedom”

At W.L. Gore, with its vision of “Freedom,” the decision-rights of associates (as all members of the organization are called) are determined by the “water-line” principle. Employees envision their enterprise as a ship on which they all sail together. If someone occasionally bores an accidental hole above the ship’s waterline, it’s not calamitous; after all, innovative organizations must make allowances for some mistakes. A hole … [ Read more ]

People Live Up or Down to a Leader’s Expectations

“Tell me about the people at the organization you just left,” said the senior manager who was screening candidates to fill a key leadership role. “They were uneducated and lazy,” the candidate responded. “You always had to keep an eye on them because they were constantly trying to goof off or rip off the company. They were lousy communicators, resisted change, and only cared about … [ Read more ]

The “Sneaker Game”

The date was December 9, 1934. The New York Giants were playing the Chicago Bears for the championship of the National Football League. The two teams were thought to be evenly matched, but there was a special factor that day that changed the dynamics of the game: heavy rains and cold temperatures had turned the field at New York’s Polo Grounds stadium into a virtual … [ Read more ]

Remind people (gently) of how much you’ve done for them

There’s a cardboard box company in Illinois that I ran into years ago. It was just phenomenal in terms of responsiveness. They were always on time or ahead of time, and they took on the tough orders. Their track record was brilliant. About a half dozen years ago, the guy who runs the company added two simple, innocent little columns to the end of the … [ Read more ]