18. Domesticated Service

Will you picture something for me please? I want you to picture yourself at your desk. It’s getting near the end of long, grinding day and you are looking forward to taking a joy ride in your new convertible straight after the workday. Now, in the minutes before you are ready to leave, your boss bursts into your office. She’s breathing heavily and explaining that she’s late for a pressing meeting, an uber-important summit. She wants to take your car…now! She tells you that you can find your way home and if you were a real company man you’d hand over the keys immediately. Got the picture? That’s the world of competitive cycling.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

I received a recent request from a constant listener who wanted to know if I had some thoughts for developing resilient leaders who are just entering the workforce. And my answer is yes. Yes…hand her the keys to your car. Let me explain why.

The past weekend the most grueling event in sports commenced, the Tour de France; a 21-day, 2,162 mile race through the countryside and mountains of France – and a little bit of Belgium this year. Many of you might view this event as a pack of really skinny guys in colorful spandex moving as one giant blob with rabid fans trying to run alongside. Well, you’re not far off.

But, do you know how a team functions in the Tour? It may be helpful in understanding how we need to develop as resilient leaders, at all stages of our development. The general classification rider is the team leader. This is the individual for whom the team strives to put in the position to win.  There are specialists like the sprinters and the climbers who are afforded the opportunity to attempt stage wins. Then, there are the domestiques.  Domestique is French for servant. Think of the domestique as the individual learning to become a resilient leader. That rider’s responsibility is to serve and protect the team leader. If the team leader needs water, you give him yours. If you are out of water, you drop back to the team car, get water, sprint back to your leader and hand him a bottle. If he wants the granola bar you’re eating – fork it over. During the ride, you are directly in front of the leader. Drafting is when one rider is directly behind another. Drafting reduces up to half of the wind drag from cycling. The team leader gets a free ride while you do the hard work.  You work as hard as you can, for as long as you can and give your team leader the best chance to win.

And, if your leader’s bike breaks or has a flat – without hesitation – you hand him yours. That’s the job.

Starting out in the world is very much like being the domestique; thankless work at the bottom of the ladder. You’re the one helping schlep the bikes with the team mechanic while the leader is on the podium kissing the pretty French models.

But, young resilient leaders here is the good news. The business world, like the Tour de France is an egalitarian society. If you hone your skills properly you can become a sprinter or a climber on the team, or if you become skilled in both you can become the leader with a shot at winning the yellow jersey.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on being a domestique. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Look for the elevation markers. You heard it. Look for the elevation markers. This theory has been endorsed by one Japanese, hot dog engulfing, sport changing pioneer.

The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. Ten years ago, I competed in Ironman Nice, in Nice, France. By the way, if you ever want to sell a spouse on a vacation promise to take them to the South of France for a week, all you ask for in return is one day to yourself. Works every time. Ironman Nice is noted in the Ironman circuit for having the most elevation, over 11,000 feet of climbing in total. Now, the race is 112 miles. The first 20 coming from the Mediterrean are as flat as the Mediterranean. The same for the returning 20. The middle 70 are broken this way. 35 straight up. The rest descend. So, all this climbing happens within a very short range.

Many of you know that I am not the slightest man in the world. I am a little thicker around the rump and thighs. My uncle used to call me the Crisco Kid. In short, my body was not made for climbing mountains on a bicycle. Yet, in the late June heat I was out there grinding away. The longest climb of the day was three thousand feet. To put that in perspective, it is the same as scaling the Eiffel Tower three times. The climb that would test everything I had.

The bottom of the climb is exceptionally steep with a grade of near 14% and is a place for hundreds of spectators shouting “Allez, Allez,” “Go, Go,” and similar in other languages. I pedaled through. And pedaled.

Near the middle of the 24-kilometer climb, I was passed by Marie from Norway. She was 25 and this was her second Ironman and the hills here aren’t as difficult as those in Norway and she really liked the pre-race dinner and she likes puppies and duckies. Did you know that she loves duckies? I learned all these things because she was giving an interview to the Ironman media while passing me on a 7% gradient.

I felt my legs first crack just as I noticed a stone marker on the side which read 7-5-0-M. I wasn’t quite sure what its meaning was. Mile marker of some sort. I got distracted when I was chicked by a man named “Fifi” Everyone’s name is printed on their racing number to the fans can call them out. Fifi roared by me as if I was standing still.

I put my head down and kept pedaling. Then I noticed a stone marker reading 7-5-5-m. These weren’t mile markers they were elevation markers – markers indicating how high up we were. My mind raced to calculate that this climb would be nearly 1,000 meters. I was only three quarters of the way up and feeling hopeless about my prospects to ascend. 7-6-0-m these stone markers were taunting me in 5-meter increments. Each one more painful as I passed.

Then, resilient leaders, something in my mind switched. I no longer thought about getting to 1,000, I thought about getting to the next elevation marker. If I can just make the next elevation marker, I’ll worry about the balance of the climb from there. I started counting towards the elevation markers 750, 790, 830, 910, 965 and I crested the climb.

By breaking my task into more manageable assignments I was able to complete what I thought might be impossible. Young resilient leaders – you are now on your climb. Put your head down. Pedal hard. Count the elevation markers. You will get there.

Let me make one comment about the downside of this climb. It’s fun, but by no means easy. You have to be agile and have vision to navigate the steeply pitched switchbacks. The elevation markers are still there on downside of the mountain. They still measure in 5-meter increments, but when you have momentum on your side you don’t seem to notice the same way.

Lastly, while being 50 pounds lighter than me may have helped Marie on the ascent, gravity did her no favors on the decent as I passed her 2 hours later. I quacked as I passed her, in Norwegian of course.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, share the link on your social network…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. Send me a quick message if you have an idea that needs to be looked at through a resilient leader lens.  Thanks again for listening. I look forward to getting together next week.

17. Hot Dogging It

Have you ever seen an innovation which made you think, “I came up with that idea years ago?” On Demand TV is that innovation for me. My mother took me to see The Bad News Bears, the original in its original run in 1976, at the Newport Opera House Theatre. She told me in the lobby that the boys would be using some bad words and if she ever heard me using any of them she would wedge a bar of soap in my mouth. She was right. There were a lot of words I never heard before like crud, turd and booger. The racist and sexist jokes went past me, but I clearly understood that 12-year old boys were making fun of each other. Later that night, I was watching television and thought how cool it would be if I could watch The Bad News Bears again right then. I could watch the movie over and over to memorize the jokes. “What does   Wait, I could do the same for Looney Tunes. I could watch Bugs Bunny whenever I wanted rather than assume mean?” only at 4:00 after school. This was a brilliant idea. I just mentally invented On Demand TV, maybe thirty years too early and definitely several million missing scientific brains cells too late.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

In its purest sense, invention can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. Innovation, on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Spotify is the world’s largest music streaming subscription service, and has played a key role in transforming how consumers experience music by offering unprecedented convenience, accessibility, and data-driven personalization to drive discovery and engagement. Founded in 2006 in Sweden, the company over 80 million paying subscribers. Spotify’s streaming access model reversed the industry’s declining revenue trend, unlocking revenue and adding value for consumers, artists, and all players in the music ecosystem.

Let’s remember the world before Spotify. The first wave of internet-based music services, like Napster, facilitated piracy and illegal digital distribution, significantly reducing global music revenues, which declined by 40% from 1999 to 2014. Sixteen years of annual revenue declines coupled with poor and unreliable customer experiences in pirated music created a market where both publishers and consumers were receptive to a new solution. Spotify’s streaming model was a key driver of the music industry’s inflection point; from 2011 to 2017, the streaming category grew from 9% of revenues to 72%. In 2016, global music revenues reached its highest annual growth rate in 20 years, increasing 6% to reach $15.7 billion. Spotify’s revenue represented 23% of the global music market in 2016 and 30% in 2017. More importantly, it now represents 42% of the streaming music market – the largest and fastest growing portion of the market. The company is well-positioned to scale its user base and capture revenue opportunities in recorded music and more broadly in the music industry.

You may also remember that to buy music you could go to iTunes and for a cheap $0.99 you could digitally own a song. Or, if you were really old school you could walk into Strawberry’s and buy a CD. You might have to wait behind someone buying the best of Barbara Streisand. There sure wasn’t anybody in line buying Slim Shady.

Digital music existed before Spotify. It was the innovative business model that changed the market. Spotify leveraged music’s inherently social nature to drive sharing and discovery amongst users. Unlike earlier music piracy services that destroyed value for music industry revenues with each share, Spotify created a viral loop that increased the value of the market and network with each new user. Spotify’s growth-oriented social features such as shared links, shared playlists, and aggressive integrations with social networks connected to a market ready consume music in a different way. Truthfully, when was the last time you purchased a compact disk? Do you still own a CD player, other than maybe in your six year old car?

Resilient Leaders are innovative. They are constantly seeking opportunities to build better mousetraps for their companies and for themselves. By the way, there is a misnomer that all innovation needs to be driven by technology. I contend that this statement is false. It is correct that some of the most economically altering events were driven by technology. However, we should not dismiss those innovation driven by heart and desire and simplicity.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on innovation. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Soak the bun. You heard it. Soak the bun. This theory has been endorsed by one Japanese, hot dog engulfing, sport changing pioneer.

The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. Takeru Kobayashi, on July 4th, 2001 won the Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest. To say that he just won the contest is a disservice to Kobayashi, he destroyed the field. The contest measures how many complete hot dogs a person can eat in twelve minutes, bun and all. This was Kobayashi’s first attempt at the contest and he ate fifty – 5-0 hot dogs in twelve minutes. That doubled the previous record of 25. The record was so unexpected that the organizers ran out of signs indicating how many dogs Kobayashi had eaten and had to resort to handwritten signs.

Now, most of you probably have an impression of a competitive eater as some obese biker type wearing a sleeveless t-shirt. Not so. Kobayashi is closer in size to the nerd you knew in junior high school algebra. He’s small. 5’ 8” Maybe 125 pounds. Your basic beanpole. Yet, Kobayashi took down the obese biker types in a food eating contest. The simplest question is how? Innovation, resilient leaders. Innovation.

In an interview on Freakenomics Radion, Kobayashi said, “the other competitive eaters were asking themselves: “How could I fit more hot dogs in my stomach?” I asked a different question: How can I make one hot dog easier to eat?”  A brilliant way to consider the flip side of a coin.

Kobayashi said, “The key to me was that I had to change the mentality that it was a sport — it wasn’t having a meal.” Kobayashi noticed previous competitors in the hot dog eating contest ate as if a friend had dared them to eat a bunch of food, whereas he saw an opportunity to dissect the physical action of eating and optimize it for speed and efficiency.

Kobyashi began intensely experimenting with different techniques for sausage (and bun consumption. It was during this time he crafted the game-changing bun dip, where he dipped the hot dog bun in a cup of water to break down its starch, squeeze out the excess water, and toss it into his mouth as a ball. It wasn’t appetizing (or visually appealing), but it worked.

His technique revolutionized the sport of competitive eating. He dipped the hot dog bun to innovate and dominate his field.

Man, this discussion is making me hungry. I’m going to go off on a quick tangent. This 4th of July week, I am going to have a juicy hot dog. I prefer mine with spicy mustard, some celery salt, onions on top and I’m going to wash it down with an ice cold coke. Then, I going to watch The Bad News Bears on my On Demand TV.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, share the link on your social network…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. Send me a quick message if you have an idea that needs to be looked at through a resilient leader lens.  Thanks again for listening. I look forward to getting together next week.

16. Fly In Orlando

I recently watched the Best Picture award winner, Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. The final scene is very touching. The two men are riding a bus to Florida to get out of the grimy New York street life. Overplaying the action is Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’. The song’s opening lyrics – Everybody’s talking at me. I can’t hear a word they’re sayin’. Only the echoes of my mind. It made me think about a recent business meeting. Six people at the table with six agendas. Each participant with one mouth and no ears. Side conversations took over the general discussion – everybody was talking at me. At the conclusion – well, there really wasn’t a conclusion – the meeting just ultimately ended. At the end, I was unclear what direction we wanted to follow. The messages were mixed in my mind. The intentions of the team were chaotic. Is your business chaotic or is it chaos theory?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Chaos in a system was discovered by American mathematician Edward Lorenz. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Lorenz modeled the weather using twelve differential equations. He wanted to save time on one occasion and started the program in the middle, rather than at its initial conditions, and stored computer data to three decimals rather than the usual six. Instead of getting an expected close approximation to his result, Lorenz got a very different answer.

Lorenz rationalized that a small change in the initial conditions can drastically change the long-term behavior of a meteorological system. He called this phenomenon the “butterfly effect.” In its extreme case, Lorenz contended it was possible for the flapping of butterfly wings to cause a massive storm a half world away. His 1972 paper “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?” originated the term Butterfly effect. Based on his results, Lorenz stated that it is impossible to predict the weather accurately.

Did we seriously expect endless studies to tell us anything other than when the weatherman predicts a hurricane I should look in my front closet for the snow shovel? Heck No.

Can you imagine that this happens in organizations? Can you imagine how the butterfly effect can move a company off its course? It happens virtually every day. One set of directives are passed down through the organization ranks to the next generation where they are interpreted then passed down one management level where pieces are missing and by the time it gets to the mail room the message is nothing like when it left the boardroom.

This is the same telephone game we’ve played since we were children. You and your kindergarten friends sit cross-legged in a circle. One child whispers a sentence to the next. The objective is to repeat exactly what the one before said. Exactly what they said. Do you remember how this worked out – I do – miserably. The teacher would whisper – “Sally wears red shoes in the classroom” and the sentence would make it back “Bobby pooped in the bathroom sink.” Or some variation. The difference between kindergarten and organizations is that there is a political component to the conversation.

It is hard to ignore that there are personal motivations in the corporate telephone game. I know that the resilient leaders listening attempt to steer from these obstacles, but it is challenging. Political and self-serving motivations skew and obfuscate corporate messages delivered from the board room.

Johnathan Swift wrote that “Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after.” It is sad, but it is true and to be expected that nearly every organization suffers from the butterfly effect in corporate messages. This chaos is set upon organizations with the intention to disrupt the unity and harmony of an organization. Chaos is a devious beast because it attacks us from the inside and cannot be fought with normal weapons.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on chaos. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Fly in Orlando. You heard it. Fly in Orlando. This theory has been endorsed by one highly-motivated, Jamaican born former Toronto Argonaut.

The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. Resilient leaders often face the urge to pass along data and information they gather throughout their networks. Some of this information is valuable others are just plain crap. For those organizations who are getting mixed messages from the leaders. Conflicting corporate messages that make your actual objective ambiguous?

You need to Fly in Orlando. This theory does not include mouse ears and hours in a queue with screaming children. But, you should consider flying in Orlando – Bowen. Orlando Bowen. Orlando is a game changer equipping people to get off the sidelines and make a difference. Orlando’s message of One Team – One Voice – sends a message that organizations should rally to a clear message to move forward. A clarion call for the objectives and intentions of organizations. Orlando speaks to corporate audiences with a passion reserved for rabid zealots. Yet, within seconds he snaps an audience to attention with his shout “ONE TEAM”…you were supposed to respond “ONE VOICE”  Let’s try it again. “ONE TEAM” “ONE VOICE” There, that’s better.

Too often our corporate directives – our projects devolve into corporate Towers of Babel. Quick show of hands how many of you are involved in projects where it feels like the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing. Hmmm? My Magic Mirror shows me that quite a few of you have both hands raised.

The Tower of Babel you may remember from the Book of Genesis was one of the world’s first major engineering undertakings and one of the world’s first management failures. God advised them that as long as they are one people with one language, nothing would be impossible. However, the language and semantics changed. Teams couldn’t talk effectively with each other and consequently lacked coordination. This deteriorated relationships, resulting in jealousies, with different groups isolating themselves. And the project failed. They became masters of babbling in Babylon.

If only the project manager could Fly in Orlando. ONE TEAM – ONE VOICE. Resilient leaders need to find how to communicate in a unifying voice.  One clear voice that listens to all and can speak for all. One voice that is unwavering in its intentions. One voice that can raise the bar and raise the floor at the same time.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, share the link on your social network…subscribe.  I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. Send me a quick message if you have an idea that needs to be looked at through a resilient leader lens.  Thanks again for listening. I look forward to getting together next week.

15. The On Deck Hitter

Did you watch the royal birth last month? It was beautiful, regal and proper. I was fascinated by how perfectly orchestrated little Archie Mountbatten-Windsor was fit into the family. First, the queen. She’s been the queen for over 60 years. Then there’s Charles in his fake military garb. William stood proud and tall followed closely by his children; George, Charlotte and Louis.  Next is the groom Harry. Prince Harry. In some respects this is his day. But in my eyes his still only sixth in line for the crown. Don’t you love a good succession plan?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Succession planning in the house of Windsor is serious business. Did you know that if you are one of the first six in line it is required to have the sovereign’s consent before you marry? Without such consent they, and their children, would be disqualified from succession.

The formal succession planning extends quite a bit. Did you know that the fiftieth in line to the crown is Maud Windsor?  Neither did I. Daughter of Prince Michael of Kent (48th), son of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent (37th), whose grandfather would be the same as Queen Elizabeth’s.  It get gets a little confusing. And gosh forbid you marry a Catholic. That throws the whole matrix off – except following the Succession Act of 2013, they now tolerate Catholics and will put you back in line. (No cutsies.)

That’s not how resilient leaders would design succession planning. I’m more a fan of an egalitarian approach. Succession planning based on merit rather than the lucky… club…you know which one.

General Electric’s succession planning approach requires six years to make a transition at the top. Their process starts with moving new leaders throughout the organization to give them stretch experiences.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on preparing for succession. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Kneel in the on-deck circle. You heard it. Kneel in the on-deck circle. This theory has been endorsed by thousands of sunflower chewing, eye black wearing, Louisville Slugger swinging baseball players.

The theory is simple. Here’s how it works. When an inning starts, the batter due up digs in into the batter’s box and takes his turn at bat. The next batter steps out of the dugout and into the on deck circle. The batter in the on deck circle is there for two reasons. First, to get his body loose to swing, but more importantly to take a measure of how the pitcher is pitching to the guy at bat. The on-deck batter is watching for changes in pitch velocity, determining if the pitcher is getting tired or if he’s losing control of his pitches. This is all valuable intel for the on deck batter. The same approach holds true for resilient leaders. There is going to be a time when we are at bat, when we are going to be pressed into action, when the succession plan falls to us. The amount of preparation you have for you turn at bat will correlate directly to how well you will swing when the pitches are thrown to you.

There are several predictive algorithms which can mathematically express this theory. Sorry, I can’t explain them because the math is a little beyond my comprehension, but I believe their conclusions to be true.

Quick show of hands how many of you asked more than five questions today? My Magic Mirror tells me that not many of you did?

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, share the link on your social network…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. Speaking of writing to me, I want to thank my favorite CPA, Judith Ventura Enright for giving me the idea for this podcast. Send me a quick message if you have an idea that needs to be looked at through a resilient leader lens. Thanks again for listening. I look forward to getting together next week.

14. The Book Thief

Have you ever witnessed a crime being committed within close proximity to you?  How did you react? Were you scared by the atrocity and immobilized – unable to respond? Did you pounce like a jaguar nabbing its prey ready to thwart the action? Or did you just say to yourself, “Is that guy really stealing a book from this bookstore?”

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

I was standing in a kiosk in the Louis Armstrong airport in New Orleans. I had given a speech earlier in the morning and I was flying home. The kiosk was your typical airport sundries store that included a wall of books and magazines. Unlike many of these stores, we were in the actual aisle way, not inside a store. I was perusing some paperbacks next to a 60-something gentleman sporting a thin greyish beard and wearing a sharp navy blue blazer. We stood next to each other for no more than a minute before he took the book he was examining and stuffed it inside his jacket under his left arm.

I was stunned. Did I just witness someone stealing or was he putting it there to hold it while he shopped more? Nope. He took a direct line into the aisle way and started walking towards his gate. I was appalled and angry. My immediate reaction was to do my civic duty and stop this book thief. I took three steps towards the aisle way before I realized that I was conspicuously holding a new, unpaid for book. I went back to the shelf – placed my book down – and chased after the thief.

This older man must have been skilled in the art of evading authorities because within a matter of 20 seconds since stealing the book he was gone. I hurried down the aisle searching for his navy blue blazer – his most distinguishable feature. I reached the end of the concourse and began to double back. As you can infer from this retelling, I’m no Jason Bourne. I began to double back when I saw him handing his boarding pass to the airline agent. I was prepared to yell, “Stop! Book Thief.”

In the nanosecond between thinking of my action and actually yelling a huge red flag waved in front in me reading, “People who yell in airports do not make their flights on-time.” So, I watched him board – with his stolen book.

Waiting for my flight, I was reflecting on the incident trying to understand why the gentleman, decided to go Winona Ryder rummaging through Sak’s 5th Avenue. From all appearances, he has means. So, why reduce yourself to shoplifting?

My thoughts then turned to my reaction. Why was I appalled at something he was doing? Why did it bother me that he was stealing a book from a store? I wasn’t the one stealing. I try to develop resilient leader’s mindsets, but this was a hard question and I didn’t have an immediate answer.

I broke the question down to the premise that stealing would violate my sense of integrity. And his stealing was such an affront to my moral code that I was left with the visceral response to hunt him down – and potentially handcuff him to the airplane gateway – and beat a confession out of him – with the book he stole. But, that’s just me.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on integrity.  Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Stop at the red light after midnight. You heard it. Stop at the red light after midnight.  This theory has been endorsed by one Catholic high school English teacher.

The theory is simple. My sophomore year English teacher, Mrs. Johnson, told a story about her husband that made me want to emulate him. She said that they were driving home one evening at about one o’clock in the morning and approached a light turning red. Her husband stopped the car and waited for the light to cycle back to green. Mrs. Johnson said that there was no one near the intersection. In fact, no on anywhere to be seen. She admitted that she would have gone through the light as it really wasn’t directing any traffic. Her husband chose to wait. And follow the law.

There was a message in that story about integrity for me.

Quick show of hands how many of you have driven through a red light when there was no one around? My Magic Mirror tells me that quite a few of you have? It’s perfectly rational to drive through the red light. Heck, the light’s function is to regulate traffic. There is no traffic. Hence, there is nothing to regulate. That’s the definition of Socratic logic.

But, he waited. His value system rose higher than the logic that he was the only driver on the road. Mr. Johnson displayed his integrity and respect for the law over the expedience and logic of the system. Resilient leaders demonstrate integrity. I’m not saying that every resilient leader should stop at the light at one in the morning. No, I am saying that resilient leaders have a code of ethics they follow and that they should be true to that code.

Do you know the name Andrew Fastow? This man will not be considered a resilient leader.  Fastow was the Chief Financial Officer of Enron. You remember Enron. They famously went bankrupt in 2001 shortly after their stock price hit an all-time high.  Fastow was the engineer of how to manipulate financial statements to inflate quarterly earnings while hiding the company’s true financial position. Here is an example of their shenanigans. The story is called the Nigerian Barge Deal. No – I’m serious. It’s known as the Nigerian Barge Deal.

Fastow calls his banker at Merrill Lynch on December 29th and says, “Bob, I’m going to sell you some oil tankers today.”  Bob was confused. “But, I don’t want any oil tankers.” “Oh, you’re going to want these oil tankers.” “Andy, I’m a banker. We lend money. What do I need oil tankers for?” “Bob, I’ve got these oil tankers in Nigeria that I need to sell today, before year end.  Now, here’s the deal. You buy the tankers from me today for $12 million. And, on June 1st, I will buy the tankers back from you for $15 million.  How does that sound?” “Let me get this straight, Andy, you want to sell me $12 million worth of oil tankers and you want to buy them back six months later $15 million?”  “That’s right. I will put it writing to guarantee the repurchase.”

That transaction actually happened! I kid you not. You might ask, “How does someone make money on that transaction?” Good question. Quick accounting refresher for you. When you sell an asset you record the gain or loss on that asset by subtracting the sale price from the book value. The trick here is that the tankers were fully depreciated, thus had zero book value. The entire transaction was a gain for Enron and could be recorded as such on their quarterly financials. A scam right? Not quite.

Fastow is the antithesis of a resilient leader.  Fastow was fast and loose with the rules of Special Purpose Entities and spent much of his time obfuscating Enron’s true financial position.  Fastow was the Chief Financial Officer of a multi-billion-dollar business. The position should be held by someone an appropriate level of integrity.  Not some flim-flam artist.

This chicanery was so blatant that the US government changed the rules for tax returns. Now, a CEO and the CFO sign the tax return, under the penalty of perjury, meaning that if you commit these kinds of acts then you will go to prison. Fastow was sentenced to six years in prison for his actions. And, if I were the judge I would have put the book thief in the cell next to him. – And give him nothing to read.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com.  I look forward to getting together next week.

13. Persistent Meetings

Are you a vegetarian, a vegan, pescatarian, beegan, a flexitarians? In know that many of you in my audience are. If so you are going to hate my next sentence. (breathe heavy) I love cheeseburgers. I love, L-O-V-E cheeseburgers. I order them and eat them two at a time. ¼ ounce of onion, 1/8 pound of ground beef, 1 plain hamburger bun, salt, 1 tablespoon of ketchup, a teaspoon of mustard, 2 dill pickle slices and cheese…glorious American cheese. My goodness, I’m salivating. And, even if you despise cheeseburgers, you are going to love this story about the persistence required to make these beauties perfect every time….even if you will never eat one in your life.
(Music) Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.
The deliciousness and consistency of the McDonald’s cheeseburger is the result of one man’s efforts, Ray Kroc. When I was young, I learned that Ray Kroc was the founder of McDonald’s. That’s what he called himself. Kroc was the founder of the McDonald’s corporation, but not the founders of McDonald’s. That distinction belonged to Dick and Maurice McDonald. The movie titled Founder, with Michael Keaton, one of my favorite actors, is a gem of a biopic with some great insight on the McDonald’s we know today.
Dick McDonald conceived of turning the production of hamburgers and cheeseburgers into an assembly line production to guarantee consistent quality with each product. The concept was wildly successful, the 300 billionth cheeseburger served last year. The model in on par with Henry Ford’s transformation of the automobile assembly line.
But, I don’t want this story to be about production techniques but rather how resilient leaders can model themselves after McDonalds, even if they are only ordering a salad.
Kroc struggled in developing the McDonalds brand. It was no different than what every other entrepreneur experiences – rejection is a common appetizer. Kroc thought about his work this way.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a problem. Talent will not. The world is filled with unsuccessful men of talent. Education alone will not. The world is filled with educated derelicts. Kroc simply and succinctly identifies one of the paramount traits of resilient leaders – persistence. It is through this developed trait that we can earn the title of resilient.
Kroc used his vision of a nationwide brands as a backdrop, for his short term and intermediate term goals – each of these requiring a significant level of diligence. It took months for Kroc to convince the McDonalds to allow him to franchise their restaurant. The McDonalds were content to keep running their single hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California. Kroc’s fastidiousness in his vision compelled the McDonalds to give him the franchising opportunity.
From there, Kroc learned some hard lessons. His initial attempts to find franchisees started with some of his country club brethren, who lackadaisical about running their franchises to McDonalds’s standards. Ultimately, Kroc needed to force them out and found franchisees who were seeking a piece of the American pie at the same time Kroc was trying to build a new pie. These new owners were young families, hardworking, in the mold of Kroc himself. In small cities and towns, Kroc would find these new style of business owners and develop them into strong franchisees.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on persistence. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here’s it is. Ask questions like a 5-year old. You heard it. Ask questions like a five year old. This theory has been endorsed by at least two classes of kindergartners at Primrose Hill School
The theory is simple. Kindergartner’s questions play an important role in cognitive development. When children encounter a problem with their current knowledge state –a gap, some ambiguity they don’t know how to resolve, asking a question allows them to get targeted information exactly when they need it.

Quick show of hands how many of you asked more than five questions today? My Magic Mirror tells me that not many of you did? Why is that? Do you know everything? Most likely not. Then, why be hesitant to ask questions? Many of us are probably embarrassed to admit, other than to your smartphone that we don’t know the answer to something. Children don’t have that embarrassment. Their teachers are always asking their students questions. The children think it is perfectly normal to ask questions all day long.
Have you ever spent an afternoon with a 5-year old? It’s exhausting to answer all the why questions. Children are the most persistent beings on the planet when they don’t understand something. What happened to the 5-year old you? How did you change from someone who had a thirst for new answers to someone who know most of the answers?
Resilient leaders need to get in the business of persistently asking questions to fill in the gaps of what we don’t know. Too many of us – and I will stand in front of the marching band here –ASSUME the knowledge we don’t know. We can make connections and assume. Resilient leaders should get in the business of asking questions – on a regular basis to fill the knowledge gaps we have. Let go of any embarrassment you have that you should know an answer. By asking a question you achieve two items; first you get the precise knowledge you need and second, you flatter the person you asked because it shows that you respect their knowledge on the subject.
Ray Kroc was a five-year old the first time he went to McDonalds. Ray was a milkshake mixer salesman and a small takeout restaurant in San Bernardino bought an order of nine 5-cup mixers. Kroc was puzzled how a restaurant would need the capacity to make 45 milkshakes at the same time. He pestered the McDonalds with questions about their business and their process. He was – what many of us tire over, but now appreciate – acting like a 5-year old.
One of my favorite questions is this? McDonald’s

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week.
Before we go, I have one bonus story for you about one of my first encounters with McDonalds. It’s from my book Fillet to Finish, which is available on Amazon. Enjoy

Baseball was the only sport I knew growing up. I can’t remember when I got my first glove but I remember playing catch with my Dad in the street in front of our first house on Rosedale Court. Playing catch must have been very frustrating for him. It seemed that every other throw I made was over his head or below his feet. The most vivid memories I have of my Dad playing catch with me was watching him running down the street away from me chasing my errant throw.
Baseball improved when I got my uniform at age eight. Now I was a real player – in a uniform. The front of which read McDonald’s. I was playing for McDonald’s. In my first ever baseball at bat, I hit a pop-up to the shortstop which was misplayed into a home run. I scampered around the bases as the other team needlessly threw the ball around. One player thought he was playing kickball and tried to hit me with his throw. The screaming was intense. The other team screamed for the ball and my coaches screamed for me to make my fat ass run. And, my run was the winning one.
Following the game, the dads drove us all to McDonald’s for a celebration. The workers at McDonald’s must have heard about our rousing victory as they GAVE each player a cheeseburger, fries and a small coke. The celebration carried on for hours, or maybe 20 minutes, as it was a school night.
In our next game, the other team trounced us. Adding injury to insult, I was hit in the face with a ground ball making my cheek swell three sizes. Funny though, after the game the dads took us to McDonald’s and the servers again gave us a free cheeseburger, small fry and a coke. Why we were receiving the winning treatment following our devastating loss? My dad told me that McDonald’s sponsored the team and that they would give us this food after every game. A Sponsor? I was a baseball player with a sponsor! I no longer felt like a three strikeout, two error, swollen cheeked boy. I was a baseball Phenom with a sponsor. The elation lasted all season. Win or lose, I would get the royal treatment.
The next season arrived. On opening day, I picked some daisies in center field and thought about the free cheeseburger coming my way. Following the game, the dads drove a different route to McDonald’s. We were parked in a different lot and I asked my father why we weren’t at McDonald’s. He broke the devastating news. McDonald’s no longer sponsored us. This year, we were being sponsored by the Disabled American Veterans.
Well, that explained the large D.A.V. on the side of the wall. And, for the next thirty minutes we listened to a one-armed Italian man recount how he rolled in tanks through Palermo with some guy named Patton. He gesticulated with his sole appendage as if he were taking on the Huns again. On the plus side, they did serve us apple juice. I guess sponsorship isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. I’ll see you next week.

12. The Real Mob

 

Did you know that I was connected to the mob? We don’t like to talk about that around here, but it’s true. I’m no made man or on the inside. I’ve just used my friend to handle a few sensitive jobs in…real estate. Oh, you’ve never heard of the real estate crime syndicate? Maybe because they like to keep it in the family.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. This sounds a lot to me like… the real estate industry. If you want protection in your real estate business then you need to pay for the protection of MLS, the multiple listing service. This is the database utilized by the National Association of Realtors. It was created in 1975 and had the same effect on real estate that the Volstead Act (the constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol) had on crime, both created powerful organizations with the ability to make their enemies sleep with the fishes. In MLS, each listing would be uploaded in the database and was accessible only to realtors who paid the fees for access.

Because realtors had this monopoly on information they were able to charge a healthy, standard fee of 6%. Six percent of each transaction dollar went into the realtor’s coffers as a tax for their services. Did you know that in 2005, the Justice Department sues the National Association of Realtors over anti-competitive practices? The language of the suit was the same as for racketeering. They were sued because the NAR withheld listing from web portals, they were locked in outdated business models and discouraged price competition.

Before the internet, the realtors may well have earned their fee. They might have had to drive a family around viewing houses over four or five weekends until they found one that they liked. The sellers required this level of effort to get potential buyers into their house and were willing to pay for access to the realtor’s buyer connections because they didn’t have another way to attract buyers in large numbers.

I want to go off on a tangent. My family wanted to sell our house ten years ago. It was a great house in a great town. The family wanted to live in a different neighborhood and it was up to me to sell the house. So, I call my realtor friend and told her to crank up the machine it was time to sell. She told me that because we were friends she would able to talk her boss down to only a 5% commission. I thanked her, but as a developing resilient leader I was always seeking ways to improve outcomes for all parties. I believe that people work best when good incentives are around. I’m not talking just about money there are plenty of incentives to motivate people, but in the real estate business…money is the motivator. I thought about the commission structure. My target to sell the house was $500,000. At the “friends and family” rate of 5% that would cost me $25,000. But here was the real rub. If we sold the house for $490,000…$10,000 less than target the difference would only cost her $500. That seemed insane. There was no incentive to get to my target…just incentive to get close enough. For the sake of time and effort, she could cut the price by $50,000 and it wouldn’t cost her much at all.

I thought about ways to maneuver around this disincentive and I asked her, “What would happen if I put a sign on my front lawn advertising that the house was for sale at $400,000?  “She said that someone would bring cash in a bag that day. I said right. Then, I don’t need you for the first $400,000 of the sale. I only need you for anything more than $400,000.  I said let’s make this deal… for every dollar we sell the house over $400,000 I will pay you a commission of 25%. That way if we hit the target of $500 you will be paid the same, but if you can get me even a little more, then you would be earning at a far greater rate.

I thought this was a brilliant way to improve the pie for both parties. I had a higher probability of achieving my goal and the realtor would be properly incentivized to overachieve. I may have patted myself on the back as I was describing the details. The realtor struggled to understand the concept. I explain it again and I explained it to her boss, who rejected it saying that they couldn’t do that type of transaction. Two other real estate companies rejected my idea as well. They couldn’t do it that way. The real reason is not that they couldn’t do it that way it was that they WOULDN’T do it that way. It was a choice. And, a bad one for achieving the customer’s (in this case me) objectives.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on outdated business models and restraint of competition.  Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Always face the door when you’re eating at a restaurant. You heard it. Always face the door when eating at a restaurant. This theory has been endorsed by at least three deceased members of the Colombo crime family.

The theory is simple. If you are not paying attention to where your competition is coming from it’s easy to get two in the back of the head. While the National Association of Realtors were keeping their heads down and controlling their racket, the internet developed and with it paths for increasing competition. With the advent of sites like Zillow and Trulia, buyers had options to reduce the transaction costs.

Billy Joel had it right, “the good ole days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.” Resilient leaders need to be prepared for technological and business model changes that are coming…that will be an eventuality. Trying to strong arm the past doesn’t work.

In 1971, Frances Ford Coppola was in the process of shooting the movie The Godfather. The Italian-American Civil Rights League wanted the production halted because they were tired of seeing Italians portrayed as thugs in movies. Now, the Italia-American League we no bunch of do-gooders, but rather was founded by Joseph Colombo, head of the Colombo one of the five families of New York.  Colombo’s men began harassing the production crew; sending intimidating notes, breaking windows, stealing equipment – being a general disruption. Mob controlled unions refused to let Coppola film in certain neighborhoods.

Eventually, Paramount set up a meeting with the mob to understand what they wanted. Colombo had only one demand. He did not want the movie to use the term mafia. This was going to be an easy deal to negotiate for Paramount because the screenplay referenced the term once. Once! So, the agreement was made, and the word mafia was never uttered in the greatest mafia movie of all time.

Following the deal, gangsters started showing up at production sites offering tips on how to act more gangster-like. One of the Colombo family was actually cast as Carlo Rizzi, the son-in-law of The Godfather. Progress was coming and progress was made.  The story changed a little on June 28th, 1971. As production was winding down, a hitman shot Joseph Colombo in the head.  I guess that progress doesn’t come for everyone.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. It’s an offer you can’t refuse.

11. Mule Train

Have you ever ridden a mule? Maybe taken one down the east rim of the Grand Canyon for adventure? How would you react if the mule just stopped dead in its tracks? Would you try to push him down the rim or pull him back up to the top? What if you were the mule stuck in its tracks? Who would be able to move you?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

A mule is a cross breed between a horse and a donkey. The mule gets its athletic ability from the horse and its intelligence from the donkey.  (psst. Don’t tell Shrek this.) Mules have been labeled stubborn for centuries, but it is really only an abundance of common sense and a strong desire for self-preservation that might make them inclined to resist. Self-preservation. Inclined to resist. Hrmph. Sounds like a few managers I know.

Some of our most influential and popular managers can be mules. The stubbornness is often rooted in their belief that they are right. That their methods are right. And that opposing opinions are personally motivated.

One of the most stubborn men I ever learned about was General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur famously said “I shall return” as American forces were being driven out of the Philippines by the Japanese. Did you notice that he said I versus we? That’s a concept for another episode. MacArthur’s troops retreated in one of the early humiliations of the pacific arena during World War II. As promised, MacArthur “returned” and liberated the Philippines and ultimately accepted the surrender of Emperor Hirohito ending the Second World War.

MacArthur was called to duty again during the Korean War, but this time the shine was off the apple. Following a brilliant tactical maneuver and landing at Inchon forcing the North Koreans to scatter from Seoul, MacArthur repeatedly miscalculated the impending troop buildup of the Communist Chinese. MacArthur received numerous reports of this growing issue yet was steadfast in deciding that they would not influence his path. At the same time he began to ignore the directions given by President Truman to seek a negotiated truce.

MacArthur labeled this as appeasement and began to press to have more troops, expand the fight into China and utilize nuclear weapons. This manager’s focus changed from one of a resilient leader to that of self-preservation, inclined to resist, a mule. Following public statements made by MacArthur about the “appeasement” strategy and interpreting orders in a loose manner, Truman relieved MacArthur of his command.

The story was a tragedy for the American military, but highlights a problem we often see in business; there are managers who operate outside the lines of authority and need to be reckoned with. How can we as resilient leaders manage these mules without becoming mules ourselves?

I want to go off on a tangent. I shouldn’t call this story a tangent because it directly relates to how much of a mule I can be. You can save your snide remarks that you already know I’m a dumbass because in this story I am clearly a mule.

To no one’s surprise, I struggle at spelling. It’s a good thing that my name has only one syllable or there could potentially be trouble. My mother would often quiz me about random topics when we were on car rides or when she made me tag along while she went shoe shopping. Looking back, it was like a version of Elementary School Jeopardy. The questions could be about science, or history, or geography or spelling. I remember one particular car ride where my mother had the spelling of the word wrong and I had the right version. But, she wouldn’t let it go. She insisted that I was wrong. The word was meadow. “Trent, spell meadow.” “M-E-D-O. Meadow” “That’s wrong. Try again.” “M-E-D-O-W. Meadow” “That’s still wrong. Try again.” “It’s not wrong. Meadow ends in a W.” “Well, that’s right, but you still spelled the word wrong.” “M-E-D-O-W” “Wrong” “M-E-D-O-W” As if changing the inflection on the letters would make them correct somehow. “That’s how you spell meadow, Mom. You’re wrong.” “Try again.”

This went on for quite a while. And our argument got heated. Or at least as heated as an 8-year old who was afraid of his mother’s backhand would let it. “M-E-D-O-W” “Trent, the word has an A in it.” “An A? Where?” I tried to go through all the combinations where the A would fit and couldn’t get there in my head. “M-E-A-D-O-W” “M-E-A-D-O-W? That’s Me-A-Dow. Not meadow.” The argument continued. The humiliation grew as my mother would tell the store clerks – “will you listen to my son try to spell meadow? It’s hilariously pathetic.”

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory on management stubbornness. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Use the revolving door. You heard it. Use the revolving door! This theory has been endorsed by at least one tiny piece of silicon that can manage over a billion processes in one second.

The theory is based on a company in the 1980s that was number one in its market. Dominant in its market. However, it was encountering increased competition from Japanese companies who were producing better performing products at a lower price? Quick show of hands. Anybody know this company? I will give you a tiny hint. They were the market leader in memory chips. My magic mirror tells me that not many of you are raising your hands. The answer is Intel. Yes, that Intel. During the 1980s they were memory chips. However, during the 80s Japanese company’s market share doubled from 30% to 60%. A debate raged inside of Intel. One camp wanted to leapfrog the Japanese in manufacturing. Another camp wanted to develop an avant-garde technology in this space. A third camp wanted to double down on the existing strategy by serving specialty markets.

The debate continued with no conclusion and they were losing more and more money on their memory business. They were being a mule.

After one meeting, Andy Grove, the CEO asked Gordon Moore, Intel’s chairman and the developer of Moore’s Law, “If we got kicked out of the company and they brought in a new CEO and Chairman, what do you think he would do?”  Moore answered without hesitation, “He would get us out of memory.” Grove thought about it and said, “Why don’t we walk out that door, come back in and do it ourselves?”

Here are the two people running a billion dollar business saying that they were willing to shed their company’s main source of revenue and invest in a small starting microprocessor business.  That takes some serious courage and willingness to change. In business schools, it’s called the revolving door test. The saw their environment for what it was and saw that they needed a change to grow.

Sometimes riding a mule will get you to the bottom of the canyon – sometimes it will give you a pain in the ass – or my ass. If you find yourself acting like a mule, get in your car and drive to your nearest Hilton Hotel take one revolution through their revolving door and think through your problem again.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. And from me to you I wish you some bad luck. See ya.

10. A Clean Shave

How often do you shave your legs? Make them silky smooth? Take your time to carefully maneuver around the knees with delicacy not to get any nicks? I’m sorry. I should clarify. I’m speaking to the men in the audience? How often do you shave your legs?

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop resilient leaders and navigate the difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

Okay. That was a bizarre enough question. Sorry. Here’s my line of thinking. There are three reasons I can comprehend why a man would shave his legs. He is a bicyclist. He is a swimmer. Or, he has some other fashion reason. Let’s exclude the last one for today and stick to the cyclist and the swimmer. Why are these two types of gentlemen shaving their legs? The cyclist shaves to manage the potential for road rash in the unfortunate event of an accident. Tending to wounds on shaven legs is easier and more hygienic.

The swimmer shaves his legs to gain a smoother feel in the water. By shaving away the top layer of the skin, the swimmer becomes hypersensitive to the water in an effort to maximize efficiency, reduce drag, and improve speed.

Did you notice the difference in the two gentlemen performing the same act? One shaves for prevention and the other shaves for performance. Profoundly different reasons for taking the same action. Quick show of hands to the men in the audience. How many of you have shaved your legs? My magic mirror shows me that there are a lot of hands raised, but most likely for fashionable reasons.

Can we find another place where an event like shaving occurs? Taking the exact same action for entirely opposite reasons?

Jack Welch, most notably the former CEO of General Electric, wrote in his book Straight From The Gut about the concept of differentiation. Simply put, employees should be vigorously evaluated on a regular basis. Those employees should then be slotted into one of three categories. Good/Average/Poor. The good employees, approximately 20% should be slotted into the fastest growing jobs with the opportunity to achieve exceedingly high compensation. They are going to perform at the top 20% whether they are coached or incentivized – they are just naturally that good. The middle 70% are managed differently. Welch wrote, “This group of people are enormously valuable to any company; you simply cannot function without their skills, energy and commitment. This group is all about training and positive feedback.” Finally, the bottom 10%. Welch does not sugar coat here. The bottom 10% should go. If your company has candid conversations and a rigorous performance evaluation process, this group will know who they are. By Welch’s rule you need to regularly shave off a portion of your staff.

I’m going to go off on a tangent here, but before I do I want to give you this disclaimer; the next story involves a serious psychological and emotional issue for teenagers which I neither condone nor endorse. I’m just telling you the facts…or how I remember them from 35 years ago.

During the swimming state championships in my junior year of high school, I raced in the 100 backstroke. This was a trials and final meet, which means that everyone swims in the trials and the top 16 swim in the finals later that night. The top eight in the finals and the lower eight in the consolation finals. During the trials I placed ninth. A horrible position. My coach called the consolation finals the banana heat and now I was the big banana. I was not going to swim with the big boys that night and have a shot at the podium. And, from my position the only place I could go was down if I wasn’t faster. I was disappointed and pissed at myself for not swimming faster, not trying harder, not training more, pissed because I was sixteen and had raging acne and pissed because my parents weren’t letting me drive. In short, I was a teenager.

There was four hours between the end of trials and the finals. God bless my parents. They stayed at the meet the entire day without complaint. Me? All I did was complain. That’s what teenagers do.

Twenty minutes before my race I was showering and reshaving. There was a single blade disposable razor left on the soap dish. I had already shaved myself the night before, but was now seeking an edge to win this final race of the year. I was not a hirsute teen. I didn’t have 5:00 shadow or stubble for that matter, but I did shave on occasion. I lathered up and stripped the top layer of skin off my arms, chest and started working on my legs when I cut myself. It was more than a nick it was a gusher. Blood flowed down my shin towards my foot. I put my leg under the shower to rinse and felt the sting of the water on the open wound. Quixotically, I took pleasure from the sting and the pain. I pressed the razor against my other leg and opened a cut there. The pain doubled but was drowned out by the exhilaration I felt from the self-mutilation. I proceeded to open cuts on both thighs, both arms and across my stomach. Each cut was just deep enough to allow blood to flow out at a measured rate. I dropped the razor back where I found it and strode out to the competition pool; a swimming stigmata.

As I approached the starting blocks, I caught the eye of the competitor in the lane next to me. He was my nemesis from my High School’s arch rival. The look he gave me as I approached the blocks revealed the depths of lunacy in which I was engaged. I didn’t acknowledge him. I just leaned over into his lane and squeezed a few drops of blood from my arm into the water. He watched this act and just stood on the deck questioning whether it was even healthy to enter the pool. My crimson blood dissolved quickly into the chlorinated water, but there were still traces when the starter called us into the water. I felt the electricity of being stung by eels as my seven slices were exposed to the chlorine. As I remember this scene in my mind it is becoming clearer and clearer to me…..sometimes I’m a pretty sick bastard. Let’s get back on track. But before I do there are two things you should know. First, I’m not condoning cutting as a solution to problems. It was wrong and never happened again. Second, and most importantly, the swimmer who’s lane I squeezed my blood into – became a dear friend at college – and also became the godfather to my daughter, David Hardy.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed theory on differentiation. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: Prune your roses. You heard it right! Prune your roses. It has been endorsed by at nearly all of your local FTD florists. Here’s how it works.

According to Better Home & Gardens, there are three primary reasons to prune your roses. First is health. By removing dead or damaged canes the air circulation will improve helping the continued growth of new buds. Second is appearance. Bushy Modern roses need help to maintain their compact, open form. Cutting off spent flowers encourages plants to rebloom. The third reason to prune is for control. Some roses grow with wild abandon. Trimming rose bushes removes diseased and dead stems reducing the overall size of the plant but leaving it in a stronger position to grow more beautifully.

Me? I have a black thumb. You should never let me get close to your roses. They’ll wither and writhe in fear just knowing I’m in the flower bed.

Jack Welch was a master at pruning his roses, some of that to the detriment of General Electric’s rank and file. It is hard to dispute the success he had in transforming his company from an out of control vine into a flower with a healthy bloom. Jack wrote that “failure to differentiate among employees and holding on to bottom tier performers is actually the cruelest form of management there is.” I see it as cruel to the company and the employees who have the strength and aptitude to carry it forward. And, I see it as cruel to the bottom tier employees because they might be in a place that is uncomfortable for them to work and missing out great opportunities elsewhere. Confess this to yourself… You differentiate now. You rank your employees in your head based on their abilities. You know which employee you would pick first in a kickball game. The difference between Welch and most managers is that he was willing to act on those instincts or assessments.

Resilient leaders need to be willing to wield pruning shears for the sake of the entire rose bush or at least be handy with a Gillette Mach 3 to work on those legs.

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood where we try to develop resilient leaders. It’s tough navigating life’s currents but with one tack or another we can get there together. You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com. Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment or subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your organization’s next event. Just drop me a line at. info@trenttheroux.com. I look forward to getting together next week. See you.

 

09. Wishing You Bad Luck

 

In your mind, have you ever hoped that someone would have bad luck and fail? Have you ever said it to someone out loud? Looked them right in the eye and wished them to suffer a hardship. Would you say it to a 13-year old? I can tell you about one man that did exactly that. He looked a 13-year old in the eye and wished him bad luck. It was Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

Welcome to Swimming in the Flood; a podcast where we develop the resilient leader’s mindset by navigating difficult currents in business. My name is Trent Theroux.

You should know that I revere the body of the Supreme Court. Not just how it’s presently constituted, or with who’s a liberal and who is a conservative, but rather the Court as an independent branch of government. And more so, the individual brilliance of the jurists. Their collective wisdom and their ability to cut directly through an issue to its bare essence is a great model for resilient leaders to learn from.

Justice Roberts gave a commencement speech to his son’s middle school graduation which was highly bizarre from the typical, “you can change the world” speech. He said, “I hope you suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. I hope that you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. And when you lose, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.” Wait a minute! I thought everyone got a trophy these days? Or at least a medal.

This is sage advice for every youth. As much as we want to insulate our children from exposure to harsh realities we need to set their expectations that Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia is still centuries away. Is bad fortune is coming? It might be just around the corner. Do you as a resilient leader wish bad luck to your team?

I’m going to go off on a tangent here. My family is a board game family: Life, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk — you name it we play it.  Since my children Max and Haley were young we had one rule about board games: Loser cleans up the game. Winner watches. For Max as a three year old that was a hard outcome, particularly when his eight year old sister was dancing around the room gloating. There were tears and frustration, but in time the game was cleaned up. And he cleaned up often.

Justice Roberts said in his speech, “I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved.”

I’m not one of those parents who threw the kids a bone and let them win a game once in a while. They needed to earn the win. Don’t worry, I wasn’t using Albin’s Countergambit on the chess board or blocking his shots in basketball because I was two feet taller.  (Wait a minute. I did do that. Sorry Max.) For board games, we played age appropriate ones so each had a reasonable chance to win.

Something wonderful happened when Max was thirteen. He beat me at Monopoly, two days later he beat me at Stratego and at the end of the week he beat me at chess. After each win, Max’s victory dance grew larger, louder and more elaborate. After the third win, my house looked like a Mardi Gras parade with all the trumpeting and the confetti and the beads. Wait he was thirteen, there were no beads. All through the parading, Max was gloating. I was seething (inside). But most importantly I was the one cleaning. What goes around comes around.

I think I did a fair job of teaching my children that we don’t always win. That, in fact, we will lose more than we win. As resilient leaders, we need to prepare our teammates for the prospect of losing…of defeat. We should not sugarcoat why we lost either. Direct conversations with your employees about the shortcomings of your enterprise will prove highly beneficial in their development. In your development.

Justice Roberts was right in his speech. “Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.” In some circles, wishing someone bad luck is a call for hope. In the theater they say, “Go break a leg.” I gave a speech earlier this month and right before I went on stage someone said, “Break a lip.” That was hysterical. I walked on stage with a little giggle and had to compose myself.

I am now going to give you my unscientific, non-peer reviewed, resilient leader theory of bad fortune. Are you ready? Got your pencils out? Here it is: The Agony of Defeat. You heard it. The Agony of Defeat. This theory has been endorsed by at least one Slovenian former ski jumper.

The theory is based on the iconic theme from ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Before ESPN this was our only window into sports competitions around the world. I was glued to this every Saturday at 5:00. You may remember Jim McKay’s dulcet introduction. “The agony of defeat” was shouted by my friends at every strikeout, lost board game or wipeout on our bikes.

Vinko Bogataj is the man in the Agony of Defeat video. On 7 March 1970 a light snow had begun falling at the start of the competition, and by the time Bogataj was ready for his third jump on the Heini Klopfer hill, the snow had become quite heavy. Midway down the inrun for his jump, Bogataj realized that the conditions had made the ramp too fast. He attempted to lower his center of gravity and stop his jump, but instead lost his balance completely and rocketed out of control off the end of the inrun, tumbling and flipping wildly, and crashing through a light retaining fence near a crowd of spectators before coming to a halt. Bogataj suffered a mild concussion and a broken ankle in the spill.

The video, in 1970 terms, went viral and was known the world over. Bogataj became a man associated with his defeat. But, the defeat did not stop him from soaring even higher than as a jumper. In 1991, he reached the top of the podium as the coach of world champion ski jumper Franci Petek. During an anniversary special for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Bogataj received the loudest ovation of the event including a standing ovation from Muhammad Ali.  People knew of Bogataj’s defeat and applauded him for standing tall. Are you the type of leader who can stand tall, stand above the rest in your Agony of Defeat moment?

Business books are littered with stories about entrepreneurs who failed only to succeed on a greater level. Reid Hoffman founded SocialNet in 1997. The site was a networking platform and a dating site which failed. A decade later he founded LinkedIn.  Reid said, “It’s most important to get your product above the noise so people can encounter it. If you’re not embarrassed by your version one release, you released it too late.”  I’m still embarrassed of the first released tape of me singing. I’m even more embarrassed of the second one. Anyway, Brian Acton was a vice-president of engineering for Yahoo. He interviewed for jobs at Facebook and Twitter and was rejected by both. A few years later, Brian launched WhatsApp which grew to be one of the biggest messaging platforms in the world and sold the company for $19 billion to….Facebook.

This is critical for resilient leaders.  What can we take from our agony of defeat moments and build on? And trust me…there will be agony of defeats…just like my last card game with Max.

Max and I now play card games during which he will constantly question my manhood. All the while I’m using the agony to question why I bothered bringing him into this world in the first place or worse, continue paying for his college!

Folks, thank you for listening to Swimming in the Flood. Resilient leaders face challenging currents and it is tough navigating, but with one tack or another we can get there together.  You can find more podcasts and videos on my website at www.trenttheroux.com.  Music today is from Bensound. If you enjoyed today’s show, please tell a friend, leave a comment…subscribe. I would be happy to discuss speaking at your next conference or event. Just write to me at info@trenttheroux.com.  I look forward to getting together next week. And from me to you I wish you some bad luck. See ya.