Archive: August 2010

Imagine a business world without rules and legislators.

August 27th, 2010

Mastering the Rockefeller HabitsThe summer is reading season for many of us, that rare time when “the tower of guilt” on my nightstand gets reduced to a manageable inch or two. I have always been a huge fan of Verne Harnish, Mastering The Rockefeller Habits. This is an incredible book for small business owners, chock full of tools and ideas that unleash your inner entrepreneur without limiting you. The “tower of guilt” euphemism is in fact borrowed from Verne!

This summer I decided that if my favorite business book today is about Rockefeller and his habits that I would go right to the source and read about John D. himself through the book, Titan. (Yes, it is seven hundred pages.) Rockefeller was, well, quite a force as a businessman, father, philanthropist, investor, etc. He gave more money away than any man alive. His family started colleges, medical research and national parks. He also made more money in his day than any other Robber Baron or business figure in modern times!

I thought it might be fun to share what I think our John D’s top few “habits” and how they might apply to your world today.

  1. First and foremost know the numbers. John D. started his career as a bookkeeper. He always knew his figures for his companies and for any business deal. He always did his homework and had the information to make informed business decisions because of it.
  2. Demand excellence. John D. was ruthless in many ways and his reputation legendary in how he did anything to gain market share and hurt a competitor. The greatest impact his story had for me was to expect excellence from your people. John D. expected his staff to work within his culture and to win. If you were into many of life’s vices, he had no time for you. If you did not do your job, you were asked to leave. This is easy to read and understand. By today’s business standards I see many business owners and managers struggle with something so basic. Establish expectations. Inspect what you expect and be direct in your feedback about it.
  3. Always having a contingency plan. With staff, in an acquisition, in a negotiation – John D. always worked many chess moves ahead. He had backup plans. He had strategies. Most importantly he was in control of the details with his business.
  4. Be adaptable. John D. was the world’s original change agent. Well before “who moved my cheese” sentiments he was able to adapt to the changes around him and use them to his advantage. For 60 years John was a fiercely private man and ran the world’s largest business that way. He protected all trade secrets fiercely; only a handful of top executives really knew about his broad reaching plans. Yet later in life he became more comfortable and learned to use media to his advantage. His company started the first Public Relations Department ever in business.
  5. Never be “owned” by your funding source. John needed bankers early on to fund his business and thousands of acquisitions in the oil business. He built great relationships yet always detested the process of needing them. Over time Standard Oil became their own bank keeping high cash reserves on hand to do their own lending to the business! John D. was in advocate for running a business in a conservative fashion; he would be “fashionable” today.

There is so much more to say about John D.! Send me your notes and emails on what books have captivated you this summer!

Open Source Leadership

August 12th, 2010

If you like technology or have had to buy it for your business, you know there are two camps. Camp one: pay for a license to use the software and have the privilege to leverage it for business gain. Camp 2: the world of open source software. There are pros and cons to both. Software choices can also be applied as a metaphor for styles of leadership.

There are those that “license” leadership. They keep information close and use it as a source of power and ultimately control. These leaders believe in traditional social mores in business. They see teaching as a job for a trainer, not a leader. Learning and knowledge are not “free” nor encouraged, unless it helps the employee make more widgets. Structure and process trump organizational speed and creativity. For a license leader things like salary, bonus, and other perks act as strings to be yanked to demand and expect high levels of performance. For the employee, performing for the license leader often requires a compromise on who they are and who they want to be. I have often heard they are corporate actors expected to perform in scripted corporate ways.

Now contrast this with my concept of “open source leadership”. The great thing about open source software is that the masses make it better — all that contribute own it. In most cases it is very equal for users and contributors. You can pay to use it or simply make it better. Innovation and problem solving can excel here. For an open source leader this means that you can have the “source code” as an employee. There are no secrets and information is always available; control and responsibility are given out to all. It means that as a leader you embrace that business is complex and the way to manage it is by getting all to be an equal part of the business. You really have the most control when you hand it out to your employees. When you give up control, will the end result be exactly what you wanted? Probably not, which is most likely a good thing. New thinking, more folks involved, more eyes and ears paying attention are a benefit to everyone.

Now let’s lay out the truth — it is really, really hard to be an open source leader. It is hard to change just for the sake of change. There most be a compelling business reason, such as better results, more profit, more of something. Guess what? It will happen for you. Just not right away. And not every day. All Leaders have bumps in the road. It is how you smooth them out that really matters. And open source leadership is not for all. It is a challenge to trust and hand it out all of the time. It is amazingly hard to get the company communication thing just right.

It probably would not surprise you that my company utilizes open source software products. I was an early adopter as they say. I can tell you it is not perfect. Far from it. Just like any chosen leadership style. Yet for me it is the tool of choice. Fast, fair value, transparent, adaptive. These are things I want to be as a leader everyday.

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