Friday, September 27, 2013

Follow the Leader...

Whatever you are, be a good one...
~ Abraham Lincoln
Can you imagine an army with only generals... all coaches with no players... how about all teachers with no students or all CEOs with no workers?
Everyone would be barking out orders... no one would actually be doing any of the work...
Anarchy would rule... and nothing would get done...
Although we’ve been instructed all of our lives to be leaders and not followers, the fact is, at one time or another each of us will be leaders and each of us will be followers... we can’t lead all the time and in every situation... sometimes our role is to be a part of a team rather than to lead the team...
So while there are mountainous volumes of material on how to be a good leader... there seems to be a void of information on becoming a good follower...
Why is that?
I suppose that history is written about leaders... not followers...

...but in the end... it’s the followers that ultimately get the work done...
Followers need great leaders... and leaders need great followers...

So what is it that makes a great follower... here are seven key attributes of a great follower:

1)    Loyalty

A follower is loyal to their leader and/or to the cause, mission and/or goal. 
Once a clear direction has been defined, followers should not continuously try to second guess or undermine the leader. They should do their very best to achieve the best outcome as a team.
Even if you might personally disagree (barring of course a blatant breach of morality or ethics) with the decisions that are being made, you need to soldier on to help achieve the team’s objectives.
Being a good follower doesn’t mean that you’re a "yes man". It’s perfectly okay to disagree with the boss but good followers never do it in public.
Public loyalty leads to private confidence and influence.
Simply put... a leader doesn’t want to be second guessed and wants to surround themselves with those team members who are loyal to them and their cause.
2)    Solutions not Problem
I have a simple policy at OptiFuse that I try to adhere to... don’t bring me a problem unless you have a possible solution.
Anyone can point out the multitude of potential problems in a complex set of tasks. A great follower will help the leader to assess those problems and provide them with possible solutions to solve the issues.
It is essential to members of the team to create solutions, not more problems.
3)    Discretion
Good followers understand that some information is sensitive and should be treated as such. 
If a leader trusts you enough to give you that information it shouldn’t be discussed outside of their presence or in front of other people (unless given permission to do so by the leader).
There are indeed occasions where the leader wants his followers to discuss an issue off-line (brainstorming various solutions to a particular problem perhaps)... however remember... you were selected by the leader to be a part of the team because you can be trusted... never break that trust.
4)    Take charge
Great leaders are typically not interested in micromanaging the details of the team.
Leaders are charged with creating goals and/or initiatives and expect the team to implement the path to accomplish those objectives.
A good follower knows what to do when the ball is handed off to them. They find ways to get the job done with very little direction or supervision.
Members of the team also understand that it takes the participation of the entire team to accomplish great things and will find ways to get and keep other members of the team involved.
5)    Communication
Creating a clear channel of communication between the leadership and the rest of the team is crucially important.
An effective leader must be able to clearly outline the goals and objectives to the team, however the leader needs constant feedback from the team members in order to make tactical changes to the plan and initiatives as necessary.
It is also essential that the team members provide facts and data rather than strictly opinions and conjecture (or at least clearly identify which is which).
6)    Be a peacemaker
It is more than likely that somewhere along the way there will be some dissention among the ranks for some reason or another.  This can be a certain unhappiness with the leadership or conflict amongst the team itself.
It is imperative at this point for other members of the team to continue to support the leadership and reiterate the team’s goals. A good follower will remind the team that achieving the ultimate goal is the team’s true objective and that each member of the team has a particular job in making those goals a reality.
They work for "the good of the whole" and help to remind others of this key concept as well.
7)    Resist playing the blame game
Eventually, something will go wrong... it always does.
Sometimes failure has nothing to do with bad decisions, bad execution, or efforts put forward by the team... it was just a bad outcome. The reasons for failure could have been bad timing, uncontrollable outside forces (acts of God), market perceptions, or simply because someone else’s team wanted it more than your team.
Much of life is about winners and losers (contrary to the "everyone gets a trophy" concept). Sometimes we try our best and we still lose.
At this point it’s easy to start pointing fingers at the leadership and/or other team mates for the team’s failure.
However, it is at these times when a leader needs their team to work even harder together in order to solve the impending problems and hoping to find a better outcome in the future.
It’s definitely not easy being a leader... but having a great team behind you makes it that much easier and enjoyable.
Some of the best leaders have started out as great followers... they have learned leadership skills by watching and learning from leaders they have worked with...
Consequently... some of the best followers were at one time great leaders who understand just how difficult it is to lead. They understand what makes a great team and try to help the team along from below...
It’s important to understand that many times the leadership and team members are all in the same boat... a boat in which we all rise and fall with the impending tide... 
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we always hope to lead our field... but we also hope to follow you to your success...

Friday, September 20, 2013

Help Wanted...

"Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ’What’s in it for me?’"  
~ Brian Tracy

George and I have been friends for about 15 years now. George is one of my trusted mentors.

I first met George when I found myself involved with an international peer-to-peer group called Young Entrepreneur’s Organization or YEO.
George was a member of another peer-to-peer called WPO, whose membership generally consisted of retired or semi-retired executives.
George and I happened to meet at a local business conference and struck up an idea to match members of his organization with members of my organization in a mentor-mentee capacity.
The idea was well received by both groups and approximately 25 formal mentorships were created.
Naturally, George ended up becoming my assigned mentor after all was said and done.
George’s business background was in advertising... specifically... product packaging. He was an original "Mad Man" working on New York City’s famed Madison Ave during the heyday of the 1960’s. After selling his business, he became an investment banker at a large European bank, where he was able to travel the world (he lived in Europe for about 15 years) and break bread with captains of global industries.
Although, he had no direct experience in my particular field nor was he a technical type person, he understood the business of business and what it was that it takes to make a business work.
George and I would meet every month or so for breakfast just to touch bases. He rarely asked me about the minute details of the business but rather he focused his attentions (and mine) on the bigger aspects... what were our plans to grow each year?... where were new sales coming from?... what were we doing to offset increased market activities from overseas competitors?...
He very seldom would offer any opinions of what I was doing but instead just questioned me intensely about the business and what I was doing to manage it. Epiphanies often came to me as I formulated answers to his questions...
Every so often, I would have the opportunity to reciprocate his generosity by offering him computer and/or smart phone technical support so I was at least contributing something to the friendship.
As George has gotten older (now into his mid-80’s) he no longer is able to get around much and has battled a variety of health issues over the past couple of years.
Ultimately, this means that our visits are becoming less frequent so the time has come for me to explorer the possibility of find a new mentor.
As any successful person can tell you, it’s crucially important to have perspective from outside observers... be it a coach... mentor... or business contemporary ...  
This is important for sports, for performing arts, and for business...
The people who are performing at the highest levels are just too close to the action to actually be able to step back and evaluate their performance.  They need a different perspective to give them feedback so they can improve.
So where can a business person turn to in order to get some valuable training and feedback?
Here are a few ideas that I’d like to offer you if you happen to be looking for ways to improve your performance...
Work with your supervisor or manager to improve your at work performance
It might sound simple... but the simplest solutions are also the ones that tend to work well...
Typically, a foreman, supervisor, or manager has worked in a similar job to yours at one time or another. More than likely, they were successful at it and were promoted somewhere along the way (not always).
There are very few bosses who would turn down a subordinate’s request for honest feedback and ways to improve their performance. 
If a current manager seems a bit too close for comfort... try contacting a former manager or supervisor...
Find a mentor
As people’s careers come to close, they still want to feel as though they are being useful.
They want to feel needed and appreciated for the knowledge that they have acquired over their life time.
Although they may not understand the most current technological devices, jargon and gizmos, but they still have years of experience in business and life. More importantly, they now seem to have an excess of time as their responsibilities and commitments have waned.
A good mentor doesn’t need to be a billionaire business tycoon... just someone who has a lot of real life experiences and who is willing to share some of it with you.
Finding the right mentor isn’t hard... a bit of networking can generally help you to find the right person...
Your local chamber of commerce or small business association probably has a program in place to help match mentors with mentees.
Hire a coach
A good coach will help you to first determine what exactly it is you want to accomplish.
These could be business goals, individual pursuits, or helping you to find more balance in your life.
Once you determine where exactly you want to go, a coach will then help you to establish a road map and a plan of action in how to best get there.
The "road map" is simply a series of goals with a corresponding timeline.
Once your plan has been established, your coach can help you to measure your progress and hold you accountable.
A private coach can cost a lot of money, but the cost might be offset with potential increased earnings. 
Join or create a peer-group
There are a lot of formal organizations that exist where its members meet in a small groups (sometimes called forums) to share experiences and work on individual business issues.
These groups might include organizations like Vistage, EO, Young Presidents Organization (YPO), Executive Roundtables, SCORE, and Renaissance.
Many times a forum may have an outside moderator who will help to keep the group focused and on point.
These organizations are peer-to-peer so the true benefits typically only come from having a high caliber membership. 
These organizations tend to be a bit pricey and have strict requirements for membership so many of them are not appropriate for most people.
A better approach might be to start your own peer group.
This can simply be done by inviting a few friends and associates with similar interests to meet once a month for lunch or dinner. 
A topic can be nominated and a lively discussion can take place with everyone offering an opinion or idea about the subject at hand.
The cost of such a group might be limited to the cost of your lunch or dinner once a month.
The key point I’m trying to make this week is that we all need someone to bounce ideas off, someone to help keep us focused on our goals, and someone to help bring new ideas to the table.
There are a multitude of ways to achieve these ends... so there should not be any excuses as to why it can’t be done.
The most important thing is to take the first step in making it actually happen...
You need to reach out and find the right coach/mentor/group that works for you...
... but don’t wait... make it happen today.
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we are always here to help you in anyway we can...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect...

Practice doesn’t make perfect... perfect practice makes perfect...
             ~ Vince Lombardi

I’ve been playing the guitar now for about 32 years... and if you heard me play, you might think that I was fairly good...
However after those 32 years comprising hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of practice, I currently know exactly 22 songs by heart... maybe about 30 or so chords formations... and a few simple scales...
The songs I do know are relatively simple and mostly well-known by people of my generation.
I typically learn a new song about every other year... but recently I haven’t really learned anything new for about the last 5 years...
I took my first guitar lesson at about the age of 10 at a group class at the local YMCA. I enjoyed going to class and learned a few very basic lessons.
After the class ended in about 6 weeks, I asked my parents to allow me to take private lessons at the local music shop.
Once a week, my mother would drive me and my old guitar down to the music shop for a half-hour lesson. I repeated this each and every week for about a year... after which time I could actually play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
I didn’t have a learning disability... I had a practice problem.  I never practiced outside of my weekly class...

For some reason, I thought that I would somehow magically learn to play an instrument without making a real effort to practice...

It wasn’t until I was in college, when I asked my roommate to show me a few things on his guitar (he was actually an accomplished player who DID practice regularly). 

He agreed to teach me a few things and at night, I would take the time to practice daily on his guitar until I was actually able to play a few songs.

Soon after, I bought an old second-hand guitar at a pawn shop and practiced every day on my own instrument. I not only practiced playing songs... but I took the time to challenge myself with more complex exercises (like closing my eyes while trying to play).
During this time, I decided to take a few additional "formal lessons" from an accomplished teacher who extended my knowledge about musical theory and techniques.

Within a few years, I became somewhat proficient at playing through practice, dedication and hard work.

So what changed in me from the time when I was 10 to the time I was 20?
When I was younger... I wanted the results... but I didn’t want to do the work... by the time I was 20... I truly wanted to learn how to play the guitar and knew that it would take work to learn how to do so.
Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, once said, "The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary."
The only reason I was finally able to play the guitar was because I took the time and made the effort for deliberate practice. I forced myself to get better and better because I learned to repeatedly push the limits of what I could do so I could actually show improvement and get better.
After a few years, I no longer practiced deliberately. I fell into a comfort zone repeating things that I already knew. I played mostly to entertain myself and others but rarely took the time to learn new skills.
My experiences playing the guitar are not isolated. I have a colorful history of quickly and enthusiastically learning a new set of skills only to back off the intensity once I have become fairly proficient at it...
These skills have included cycling, skiing, crossword puzzles, computer programming, golf, chess, cooking, engineering and mathematics and accounting... just to name a few...
My well-worn path of learning consists of the following steps:
  1. Ignorance
  2. Apprenticeship
  3. Mediocrity
  4. Proficiency
  5. Return to mediocrity
Once I’ve become proficient at something... I grow bored of it... and move on to something else altogether... and end up losing the skills that I had worked so hard to acquire.
I’ve never taken the time to ever truly become an expert at anything!
So what does it take to become an expert?


This topic has been studied and written about quite a bit over the recent years including Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller "Outliers" and Geoff Colvin’s excellent book "Talent is Overrated".
Both authors cite numerous studies and experts, but the predominant authority appears to be Dr. Anders Ericsson, a renown professor of behavioral science at Florida State University.
According to the volumes of data collected by Dr. Ericsson and his staff, a person can become fairly "proficient" at a given skill by performing about 1,000 hours of deliberate practice.
The key words are "deliberate practice"...
Deliberate practice refers to a form of training that consists of focused, grueling, repetitive practice in which a person continuously monitors his or her performance, and subsequently corrects, experiments, and reacts to immediate and constant feedback, with the aim of steady and consistent improvement.  
Although one can considered "proficient" after 1,000 hours of deliberate practice; in order to truly be considered an "expert" in his or her field, they must amass a staggering total of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in that particular field.
It’s no wonder I’ve never taken the time to become anything more than proficient at anything...
If I were to have practiced deliberately for 2 hours every day... seven days a week... 365 days per year... it would take me almost 14 years before I would be performing at an expert’s level...
Dr. Ericsson, through his numerous cross-discipline studies, has determined that the 10,000 hour rule is the same whether it’s a particular athletic skill (such as golf, tennis or bowling), playing a musical instrument, writing and/or a professional skill such as programming, accounting, engineering or sales.
Becoming a true expert at anything takes time, focus, and a lot of work.
All of the data seems to suggest that the biggest contributing factor of so many people’s overall success is not necessarily due to their pure intelligence or other God-given talents but rather the sheer amount of time and deliberate effort that they have made over the years at honing their craft... working a bit harder and longer than everyone else...
We all have the ability and talents to become proficient at something (and perhaps one day we can even become an "expert" if we are willing to do the work it takes to become such a person).
Maybe Coach Lombardi was on to something... maybe it does take perfect practice to make perfect...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where each day we’re deliberately practicing at becoming the best supplier of overcurrent protection products in the world...

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Art of Business...

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
This past Sunday, I was reclining on the sofa doing the latest New York Times crossword puzzle on my Apple iPad.
As my mind raced to solve the next clue, I stopped for a moment and took notice of the iPad’s well-thought-out design.
What I saw in front of me was a highly functional and powerful computing machine with very few buttons or moving parts that consisted of an on/off switch at the top, a volume control rocker switch on the side, and a selector button on the bottom face.
That’s it!

The design qualities of most Apple products include being slim and sleek, monochromatic (all my Apple devices all happen to be black), a high-quality look and feel (all metal and glass... with no cheap molded plastic parts) but most of all, all their devices seem to be esthetically pleasing to the eye.
Apple must be doing something right as it is currently the most valuable company in the world (market cap of nearly $400B).
Now back to the crossword puzzle, I head to Google’s home page to search for an obscure reference to help me finish the puzzle.
When the Google home page was fully loaded, I was again taken by the simplicity of the Google home page... it
contained a total of 34 words that day (the words change slightly from day to day)... there were no pictures that were loaded (unless you want to consider the Google logo a picture).
Yet, with only 34 words, Google is the number one website in the world with 900M unique visitors each month and boasts a market cap of nearly $300B.
The next clue in my crossword puzzle was a four-letter word... Swedish retailer... IKEA of course!
IKEA is the world’s largest retailer of home products and sells ready to assemble furniture and home accessories.

Everything that IKEA sells is easy to make (it has to be... since all of their furniture needs to be assembled by the purchasers), is generally very cost effective, highly functional, and classically stylish.
Sales at IKEA now exceed $30B worldwide and are growing at a rate of 12% each year.
The common thread in the highly successful companies profiled above is their simplistic artistry yet highly functional designs.
I have been a loyal customer of Apple, Google and IKEA for years for exactly these reasons.
I recently had a discussion with my daughter Sarah regarding higher education. She is a recent graduate from college who is still trying to find her suitable place in the workforce.
Although being in the top of her class throughout her educational career, she decided against pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related degree. Instead she opted for a liberal arts education, as she believed that college was intended to teach people how to think rather than how to do.
While I was at first somewhat disappointed with her decision (especially when I thought about her prospects for post-graduation employment), I began to look around at the world and have determined that the most valuable people in the future are not necessarily those people who can do... but rather I believe that the world will soon highly reward those individuals who can actually think.
Sarah lamented that so many schools have now abandoned a well-rounded curriculum that includes social and behavioral sciences, art, and humanities for that of strictly a STEM curriculum. She explained that college majors such as art, music, philosophy, foreign language, sociology, and history were on a severe decline at most universities around the country.
She believes that school boards should be considering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programs rather than just STEM programs.  By adding art to a typical STEM program, schools can help students to develop their innate creativity.

As I thought more and more about her proposal, it began to make more and more sense to me.  The goal of most products is to become simplified not overly complicated.

Steve Jobs was a genius because he made very complicated items very simple. He wasn’t an engineer or a scientist... he was an artist...
Bill Gates on the other hand is a computer scientist... when we think of Microsoft, we hardly think of simplicity... rather we think of large complicated programs that need constant patches and upgrades to keep the code working.
Most engineers are technicians not designers (I know this to be true as I’m an engineer)... the job of a typical engineer is to incrementally improve an existing product not re-define the product or usage...
As I illustrated a few weeks ago... people who buy drill bits are NOT really buying drill bits... they are buying holes... and once someone can find a better way to produce holes... the drill bit companies will no longer be...
Kodak made great film... until there was no longer any need for film...
Sony made great Trinitron TVs... until the world switched to HDTV Plasma / LED screens...
IBM made great typewriters... until the world changed to word processors and laser printers...
The only hope for survival for these companies and the thousands of companies like them is to create new products and services... and to do that... a company needs thinkers... creatives... and people with new and fresh ideas...
I believe that we need to be considering expanding areas that foster creativity and artistic expression not phasing them out in lieu of a strict diet of scientific method...
Great new ideas come from giant leaps in thought not a steady stream of incrementally better products.  If this wasn’t the case we’d still be continuing to make better horse drawn carriages... better telegraphs... better quill pens...
Art gives us simplicity... creativity gives us new ideas... critical thought allows us to understand the human experience...
Eliminating these things in lieu of science and technology doesn’t necessarily make us a better society... at least not in the long run... 

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where our goal is always to foster the creative spirit in all of us...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Making the Cut...

"Maybe there is no "I" in Team... but Initiative, Improvement, and Innovation, start with "I"... " 
~ Arnold Glasow
With the start of the NFL football season nearly upon us, the last of the exhibition games are being played this last weekend of August.
At the start of the regular season, each team may carry up to a maximum of 53 players on their respective rosters.
When the training camps opened back in July, each team could invite up to 85 players to try and compete for a spot on their roster.
Now there are just a bit more than 1 million students-athletes playing high school football in any given year.
From that total, only about 65 thousand will go on to play Division I football (about 6.5%).
There are currently 32 professional football teams in the NFL each with 53 players for a total number of 1,696 players. That’s it... no more.
All of the 85 players who were originally invited to a training camp are extremely talented football players by any measure... yet nearly 40% of the most talented players in the world will eventually be cut before the beginning of the season.
Football is a business... so are other professional (and some college) sports organizations. Only the very best play...
Is it fair that so many fail?
Talent alone isn’t the determining factor as to whether or not someone will succeed in the football business or not.
Sure... it helps if you can run the 40-yard dash in 4.0 seconds, bench press 700 lbs. or throw a football 100 yards on the fly... but there are reasons why world class sprinters, weight lifters and javelin throwers typically don’t play in the NFL.
The same can be said as to why every person over 7-foot tall doesn’t play in the NBA...
Becoming a professional football player involves more than just raw talent or natural gifts.
A professional football must possess quickness, agility, balance, good foot work, the ability to think and react quickly, good peripheral vision, a keen sense of awareness and a vast knowledge of how the game is supposed to be played.
Not only must these attributes be innate, they must also be developed, honed and polished so they become refined into assets needed to succeed on the football field.
Regardless of how much natural talent a player might have to begin with, a great deal of effort must be made each day and everyday to continue to take those raw talents and refine them into becoming a better player.
Their natural talents must be turned into skills.
When you’re a professional football player, you’re either moving forward by acquiring new skills or refining old skills or moving backwards by doing what you’ve always done in the past.
It is a given that there will always be someone else who is willing to work hard to develop a better skill set and try and take your job each season.
That’s the nature of the professional football business.
So this now brings me to the other 7.1 billion people on earth who are not professional football players.
We like the fact that we aren’t necessarily competing to keep our job each day, week and year.
We aren’t constantly looking over our shoulders to see who is lurking around ready to replace us at a moment’s notice...
... but maybe we should be...
Each of us possesses some God-given talents... maybe we can think quickly, are detail oriented, can think laterally, find it easy to talk with people and/or exchange ideas, are patient and don’t become flustered easily, can process and analyze numbers, can imagine things that don’t currently exist, have a lot of energy, and/or lead people.
The above aren’t skills... they are talents... in the same way that being 7-foot doesn’t mean you can play basketball.
Talent is simply a raw material in which to work from... talent needs to be refined into skills... the same way that iron ore and carbon are made into steel... and steel is made into giant skyscrapers... 
Most of the population attended school when we were young in order to transform our natural-born talents and turn them into certain skills.
Some of us learned some additional skills in the workplace.
We turn our talents into skills such as engineering, accounting, sales, welding, assembly, carpentry, marketing, treating and curing sick people, and a variety of other skills.
We eventually became so good at these skills that we are now able to sell our skills to others willing to purchase them.
Some of us believe that we are selling the purchasers our time rather than our skills, but in reality, a purchaser is not interested in buying someone’s efforts... rather they are looking to purchase results... the results of using our skills.
If we hire a contractor to build a house... we expect them to deliver a finished house...
We don’t expect them to tell us that they tried... they put out a good effort... but in the end they couldn’t actually build a house... and now we should pay them for their efforts instead of the house they were supposed to deliver.
... while it is true that we have skills that we have developed in the past...

... it is safe to say that most adults have chosen not to acquire new skills or enhance the skills that they already have as they’ve grown older(or at least at the same rate as they did when they were much younger).
Unfortunately, it is the belief of many people that the skills that they have acquired and developed in the past will continue to serve them well into the future.
The problem for older workers is simply that there are younger people who have fresh new skills who want to take the jobs of the older workers.  Their skills are more up-to-date and more technologically advanced than their older counterparts.
In addition, they are willing to sell their better skills for a lower cost than someone who has had the position for many years.
The people who have failed to learn new skills have now found that there are very few purchasers willing to pay them for their old skills.
The key to success is always to be learning and developing new skills.
I’m not advocating that someone needs to be working around the clock in order to find success... however it does make a certain amount of sense to take some time each day... each week... each year to try and develop additional skills that a purchaser will want to buy from you in the future.
Today is the best day to prepare yourself for tomorrow...
The time is now to do what needs to be done in order to make the cut...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we try each day to learn new skills to better serve our customers...