Play Ball!

Play Ball

My senior in high school I made a deal with my friend Diane: she would give volleyball a try and I would give basketball a try. Anyone with a bit more wisdom than the two of us would have seen immediately how this was going to work out. My friend was short and very close to the floor – actually the perfect build for a point guard. I was tall and gangly – a perfect ball striker. Or center.

She hated volleyball. I LOVED basketball. Under the tutelage of the coolest teach in school (a young handsome male teacher) we ended up finishing in the championship games, and I ended up with a basketball emblem for my letter sweater.

We both chose Seattle University for college. I went there because they gave me a scholarship – I’m not sure what Diane’s reasons were but the school is forever changed because of her. Her passion for basketball was much deeper rooted than mine, so when she found out that the university only offered an intramural basketball team for women she was outraged.   They used pennies for uniforms and dribbled the lopsided balls rejected by the men’s program. Completely unacceptable in her estimation.

Now, as luck would have it, the honors program I was in was headed by Sister Rosalie Trainer. It seems Sister Trainer was also the Head of women’s athletics. Given her advanced age of at least fifty at the time, the thought of progress seemed a bit hopeless to us. But I used my academic “connection” with her to gain an audience for Diane and I, wherein we presented our absolutely PERFECT pitch on why SU should have a varsity women’s basketball team.

Sister Trainer was a total buzz kill. She completely disagreed. First she pronounced that there weren’t enough women interested. And besides, even if there were, there was no one to coach and no money to pay for one should we dig up someone interested.

This all happened in 1975. What also happened in 1975 was the first failure of a Seattle School District levy in ages. Schools were forced to cut programs and lay off teachers. The young ones without seniority were first to go. Which left our handsome basketball coach from Ballard High School magically unemployed. Diane and I took our pitch on the road. When I imagine us making our case of how great it would be for him if he threw in with us, I’m not sure how he could have said no. He agreed to coach the SU Varsity Women’s Basketball Team. For Free.

Sister Trainer didn’t have much left to protest about, with the exception of her belief that there was no interest. We made her a deal – we would have a meeting and see if enough people showed up to make the scheme viable. If not, we would go away.

More than 60 women came. She was surprised, but kept her part of the bargain. And that’s how the Seattle University Women’s Basketball Team came into existence.




Get Outta Here!

I have identified a particular goal that every successful leader embraces: Cultivate an environment that allows your employees and managers to SAFELY send you back to your office when you stick your nose into their business. And when they do, know they are right.

If this sounds “soft” and simplistic, it isn’t. It is a very systematic approach to creating success in your organization. The commitment isn’t insignificant – it is about building a culture. It must hold the forefront so the goal informs decision-making at every level of the company. Here are some considerations to getting there:

Consider first your people. Not only do they have to be the right people, they have to be trained to perform, communicate, and look around corners. Teaching them the technicalities of a job is the easy part. Mentoring them on how to think and make decisions is an ongoing journey that you all take together. Their training is based in the reality of your day-to-day issues, and the time you spend guiding them transfers your finesse to them.

Consider next your management reporting systems. Stepping up and aside does not mean you should adopt a “trust me” culture.  Your systems have to be structured to provide you with information that clearly shows the intersection of all the moving parts in your organization. Budgets, KPI’s, feedback processes, and third-party input are just a few examples of the things you need to monitor in order to remain above the fray.

Last but not least, consider yourself. Are you comfortable having others be better at their jobs than you are? Can you let their decisions drive actions even if they are different than the way you might proceed? This system thrives on trust; ego and fear have no place. Your comfort level will grow over time; it is the logical result of the right people combined with the right systems.

I think I’ll go back and rewrite this post. Consider yourself and your role first.



The Olive Bar

The other day I decided to indulge myself in one of my favorite vices – blue cheese stuffed green olives. So I wandered up to the olive bar at my local grocery store and reached for one of the little plastic containers. Lo and behold there were none, which isn’t all that uncommon. Most times I would interpret this as a sign from the universe that I don’t really need this delicious little snack. This day I decided to ignore the sign, if indeed it was one, and head to the counter to procure a container.

The nice lady behind the counter was more than willing to help. When I told her of my need, she grabbed a whole stack of containers and handed them to me en-masse.

I was a little confused as to what I should do. It seemed I had two choices: I could be a jerk and tell her I only wanted one, or I could take the whole stack and set them on the olive bar. I chose the latter, but left scratching my head wondering how to judge the customer service component of what I had just played a part in. I certainly know how I would have reacted if she had done that in my shop.

How about you?

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part II

(When we left off last time, our Well-Heeled CEO (a.k.a. me) was having a conversation with the chairman of the board)

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” The chairman  was saying,

“…with a six-month trial period to see if it is working out.”

It took me about two seconds to identify and analyze the risks:

Risk 1 – give up my currently well-paid, well-defined executive job for a trial job whereby my success would be based on the whim of a room full of old men. Risk 2 – accept risk 1 while assuming the responsibilities of a turnaround, knowing that significant impact wouldn’t be measurable in six months.

I laughed out loud.

The chairman was shocked. I guess the board figured I would be so honored at the offer that I would throw my common sense out the window. So I posed a question to the chairman: “Just how, exactly, does the board intend to make this six-month determination?” His enlightened expression was enough to show me that he understood my laughter. So I laid down my terms.

“Here’s how we do it. Give me my goals. Get out of my way. Fire me if a screw it up.”

So they did, and they kind of did, and when the time came I left on my own. But that is getting ahead of the story…..

What’s the point? I have no doubt that I received a conditional offer because I am female; I can’t imagine any group of men extending such an insulting offer to another man. A trial CEO position? Really? How on earth could that even work? My apologies if you are tired of hearing this, but there is still a significant amount of gender inequity in corporate America and I think it is criminal for us to pretend otherwise. Ask any woman trying to break the glass in financial services or tech, just to name two particularly notorious industries.

I have lots more stories to tell if you are interested in hearing them. If you’re not, don’t tune in to The Well-Heeled CEO.

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part I

I had no aspirations about being a CEO. Being the “Inside Guy” was enough for me. Just by being in the building every day I was had impact and influence in all of the key areas of the organization. So I didn’t immediately jump at the chance to be the CEO. My reason for finally throwing my hat in the ring was less than lofty – I wanted to save myself the trouble of having to train yet one more “Big Banker” on the realities of Community Banking.

So into the ring went my hat, along with a list of why I was ridiculously qualified. With the exception of my non-existent golf game, my skill set was unquestionable. I promised to go get a swing, and I was given the nod.

Of maybe half a nod ….

The board chair came to my office after the deliberations and took a seat at my desk. I noticed I was holding my breath.

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” he said.

I exhaled.

“…with a six month trial period to see if it is working out.”

I inhaled.

How would you have felt about this officer? What would you have answered?

Stay tuned for Part II.

Step Back to Move Forward – Five Reasons NOT to Micromanage

Whether you are the owner-operator in your business or an executive with a talented team, your business will be postured to move forward when you consciously move back.

Here are some reasons you should learn how to monitor without having to be “in” all the time:

1. You hired people to do stuff. Let them do it. And let them do it their way. Don’t insist they do it your way if the end result is the same. Who knows – maybe it will even be better.

2. If you insist on things being done your way, no one will be able to make a decision without first consulting you. Depending on how many “consultees” you may have, this could be a 24/7 job. That leaves very little time for strategic thinking and guarantees sluggish growth.

3. Your employees will never grow in their own skill sets because their job is guessing what you would like to see rather than performing or producing.

4. The really great people will leave. They will go to a place that allows them to grow.

5. And then you’ll be stuck doing the day-to-day work while you look to replace your team. See the vicious cycle?

How do you answer this question: What would happen to my business if I were run over by a bus (or won the lotto – your choice)?

Your goal should be able to answer “My business will continue to thrive because I have put the right systems in place and have the right people managing them.”

Do The !*& Math

I just finished judging three business plans submitted to a local university contest. It was great fun to read how these young folks want to make money, create a happy world, and save the environment all at the same time. It was discouraging to evaluate the financial analysis.
Each team of three “founders” had at least one graduate with a BS in finance, business, management, or the like. The other two founders were typically experienced in the craft of the business. Not a one of these contestants produced a financial statement indicating an understanding of cash flow, equity, and (gasp) profitability. In one case, the math was even incorrect.
I know we quit creating winners and losers in our kids’ sporting events in order to be able to teach that everyone is a winner. And I know that winning and losing as an adult often times (rightly or wrongly) is based on the accumulation of money. Did we take the “Everyone is a winner” attitude too far and forget to teach them how to count, hoping perhaps that if we de-emphasize money we can all feel like winners in the real world? Are we too focused on sustainability and community to figure out how to make a living in our businesses? Or have we just quit demanding the basics in our college programs?
Small business is the backbone of the American economy. I have spent over thirty years supporting business owners in their quest to create profits and consequently jobs. They are my heroes, and their contribution to our collective well-being is grand in both scale and social value. Somehow the thought of a business actually making money has become a bad thing, with social considerations touted as more important. But society can’t benefit without a strong economy, and a strong economy comes from thriving, profitable business.
Maybe I am unreasonable to expect that a BS in business would confer an understanding of basic business economics. Maybe I should be more supportive of the young entrepreneur’s dream to make the world a better place by offering their talents despite an inevitable failure. It just becomes confusing to me as to where in that process these young dreamers get their “I’m a winner” trophy.
Let’s do all of our kids a favor and teach them how to do the math. In and of itself, the numbers carry no judgment.