What is my Solstice?

The Summer Solstice officially begins at 2:46 A.M., EDT on Tuesday, June 21.

Solstice comes from the Latin — sol, sun; sistit, stands. Several days before and after the longest day of the year, the sun appears to stand still in the sky.

So what, you may ask?

If the sun unceasingly commits itself to standing for something, then shouldn’t you consider the same? Ask yourself. What is my Solstice?

It’s a question that every self-ascribed leader should be asking himself or herself this summer season. There are no right or wrong answers, but if you can’t honestly ask yourself the question, then leadership may be more elusive than you think.

Leaders & Laggards

“Leaders & Laggards” is a periodic series that examines individual corporate leaders who have used strong views and values to impact positive action versus those whom have not.


Tom Chapman, Chairman & CEO, Equifax. In a bold Old School Strikes Back move, Chapman and his PR team penned a piece on identity theft for The Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to tell where Chapman’s true interests lie – isn’t he supposed to be retiring? But CEOs taking strong stands on difficult issues are always worth applauding. Even outgoing ones nicknamed the General.

Kevin Rollins, President & CEO, Dell Computer Corp. Rollins represents the opposite of what many perceive to be leadership brand. Under-stated, subjugated ego, long-time number two, etc. But that’s just the point. Rather than making things all about himself, Rollins simply leads, clarifies and executes. Results speak volumes.

Jeff Brotman, CEO, Costco. Great company, unknown leader. See a pattern forming here? Brotman’s lazer-like focus on the small business customer has propelled Costco way past Wal-Mart/Sam Club’s. Triple the profits with 218 fewer stores. A quote from a recent Business 2.0 profile says it all: “We want to be great in 50 years.” When was the last time you heard any CEO stand for something like that?


Saul Palmisano, CEO, IBM. Faulty execution. Playing the blame game. Hiding out in North Charleston, S.C., for the annual meeting. IBM shareholders will soon break out into song, “Bring Back Lou (Gerstner) to run Big Blue.” The company’s newest branding gimmickry, “The Other IBM,” deserves words, too, but we’re out of room and patience.

Richard Reese, CEO, Iron Mountain. Gee, Wally, the turnips did fall off the truck this time. Not once but twice. In case you’re not familiar with Reese and Iron Mountain, consider Bank of America and Time Warner’s recent bouts with lost customer data. Iron Mountain physically lost back-up tapes in both cases on separate deliveries. No wonder demand exists for more secure, encrypted data transmission. A rare Laggard kudos should be granted, however, for Iron Mountain’s effective crisis management. There probably isn’t anyone outside technology circles that recognizes the company or leader.

Steve Jobs. Many will recognize this household name as a technology and innovation icon. Too bad he isn’t similarly versed in the Constitution. Proving once again that even great ones can have their moments, Jobs has been fighting to have an unflattering biography removed from bookstore shelves, including copies at Apple Computer retail stores. No books have been burned yet that we know of. Perhaps they’re just waiting for the downloadable version on their iPod?

The Pointe is produced by Point of View, LLC, a leadership brand consultancy in Atlanta. For related background, please contact Jeremy Garlington, 404-606-0637, garlingtons@msn.com or visit www.povblogger.blogspot.com.

Why Mission Statements Fall Short

Blogger’s Note: Column previously published in James Magazine

Someone needs to tell Alpharetta-based ChoicePoint that it’s time for a new mission statement.

“To be the most admired information company worldwide” rings hollow considering their current challenges with identity theft. At least they didn’t use “trusted” in place of ‘admired.’

Ok, sorry. Rather than beat up on an obvious suspect, consider a few reasons why mission statements nearly always fall short.

The first reason is broken process. Here’s how it generally works. A company CEO gets fed up with morale being “in the tank” and decides it’s time to rev up the troops. So he or she calls in a subordinate and/or outside consultant and instructs them to develop a statement that says what the company aspires to be, i.e., its vision, and how the company will achieve that vision, i.e., mission. Not much thought is given to what an intended audience may think or feel.

If those tasked with the challenge are true professionals, they’ll conduct some level of research via surveys, focus groups and/or employee interviews to gauge sentiment. Then they’ll pore over findings to decipher what will resonate. They may even test a few terms with a small control group to see what connects at a personal level.

This is where the process generally starts breaking down. Instead of thinking broadly, the mission team rushes to produce a few blanket statements solely for high-level review. Everyone proceeds to wordsmith the potential statements to death. Then, presto, there’s a mission. CEO says, “Put it on the web, send the email out and tell everyone we’ve got a mission! Project managers pat themselves on the back and sit back waiting for the mission to take hold.

The only problem is it never does, and the reasons why are never obvious.

When Lou Gerstner took over as IBM’s CEO in 1993, one of his first memorable lines was, “the last thing we need here is another vision.” What Gerstner found isn’t uncommon. The organization was literally awash in too much process and disparate agendas. They had lost track with what they were and had no idea what they were going to be.

Instead of crafting another mission statement, Gerstner led an effort to find specific focus. The company coined the term, “e-commerce” after months of review and team-based vetting. While this move was one of many, the end result was momentum behind one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history.

Obviously most companies can’t buy their way into a new arena like IBM did. But that’s not the point. IBM took the time to find focus around what they were and weren’t vs. what they were trying to become. And they used simple, timely terminology that conveyed something unique about where the business was headed.

Others make the mistake of arriving at generic statements that severely lack differentiation. Law and accounting firms are notorious for this wrong-headed practice. “To be the biggest law firm in the world” can be found all too often. While a noble goal, is there anything truly unique about that line? Take the word, ‘law’ out, and it could be any firm in the world.

McKinsey & Co., one of the world’s most recognized business strategy consulting firms, originally focused on the “best and the brightest.” What began as a mission is now a steadfast principle. Despite recent stumbles, McKinsey has managed to weather the storm by remaining true to their original calling.

Boeing, another company in the news for stumbling recently, re-defines generic with, “People Working Together as a Global Enterprise for Aerospace Leadership.” Again, drop the word, “aerospace” and the description could fit nearly any company with worldwide presence.

So what does this mean to you and your company?

Effective mission statements can be a struggle. Most efforts fall short. But it’s not usually because of technical reasons.

Actions behind statements end up speaking much more loudly than words. If anyone influential during the initial stage says things like, “c’mon, it’s just a mission statement — no one really cares,” then don’t bother with the exercise.

However, if a need exists to connect disparate groups and agreement can be reached on how to be specific, unique and energized, then try crafting a statement. Just make sure that the mission communicates unique benefits and relevance to customer, employees and other important constituencies. Then live by the words over time. Update only when absolutely necessary.

The power of many experiencing what you stand for can ultimately create immense value.

Ego vs. Conscience

It’s tempting to over-simplify what we read, see and hear every day. So we’ll try not to. Any discerning leader, however, could gain a lot by viewing their experiences through ego vs. conscience, both personally and existentially.

In “The Eighth Habit,” Stephen Covey makes clear distinctions between the two terms: Ego focuses on one’s own survival, pleasure and enhancement to the exclusion of others and is selfishly ambitious…Conscience, on the other hand, both democratizes and elevates ego to a larger sense of the group, whole, community, in short, the greater good. It sees life in terms of service and commitment…

Now, let’s consider these terms taking into account the latest high-profile CEO hubris.

No one would argue that former AIG Chairman and CEO Hank Greenberg lacked ego. But would they stop to consider whether his conscience, at different points, kept up with or outpaced his ego? Or that he needed ego to accomplish what he wanted to? Probably not. In the final measure, it’s all about where the balance lies by today’s standard. In Greenberg’s case, bad accounting may have been the smoking gun, but in the long run, failure to adapt to changing circumstances, or not sacrificing ego, is what did him in.

Turning to Morgan Stanley and its embattled CEO Phil Purcell, this dispute has all the factors associated with ego gone wild: Warring factions, dissident shareholders, hawkish hedge funds, etc. You name the factor, and this Wall Street power struggle has it. At no point has conscience reared its head. The board’s decision to spin-off the Discover unit might have qualified if the move had not been perceived as a complete flip-flop or cave-in to ego-driven interests. Even the opposition, the Group of Eight, have crossed the line with a full-scale media attack. Journalists live for big conflict and personality clashes, and this one has both going on in full display.

Luckily, a majority can manage the positive side of ego, which doesn’t get a lot of attention these days. It’s our humble opinion that anyone trying to accomplish something larger than their own self interest not only needs but also requires healthy ego and ego renewal.

The trick, however, is to know when to say when, or as Covey puts it far better:
Ego is myopic and interprets all of life through its own agenda. Conscience is the social ecologist listening to and sensing the entire environment. It fills the body with light, is able to democratize ego to reflect more accurately the entire world.

That may sound a bit lofty even coming from a guru, but it’s worth a few moments of reflection prior to your next conquest.

Leaders & Laggards

“Leaders & Laggards” will examine individuals who have used strong views and values to impact positive action versus those who have not.


Charles Prince, Chairman & CEO, Citigroup. Prince has guided the poster child for Wall Street malfeasance back to respectability through both words and actions. His commitment to ethics via a five-point plan called, “Our Shared Responsibilities” has produced a sense that Citigroup is serious about restoring trust and credibility to the company’s sprawling brand. Prince also is matching these words with individual action through a range of related involvements and business gestures.

A.G. Lafley, Chairman & CEO, Proctor & Gamble. Lafley has taken P&G’s performance to new levels while emphasizing to multiple stakeholders how they’re becoming a “connect and develop” company vs. an “invent from within” company. Nowhere is that more relevant than the company’s $54 billion acquisition of Gillette and subsequent communications describing what the new combination will offer customers.

Martha Stewart. Ok, so prison has a way of straightening out even the most domesticated. Stewart, however, has done an about face with her own standing, which had previously been left in lawyers’ hands. Stewart’s re-emergence points to a fundamental principle: If you’re headed for trouble or an out-of-touch period, make sure there’s something reliable — product, service or memorable characteristic — that customers can fall back on during an interim period.


Derek Smith, Chairman and CEO, ChoicePoint. SEC & federal investigations, insider selling when the *&^% was hitting the fan, customer complaints, litigation, etc. Did it really have to be this way? And how come the company’s board hasn’t fired Smith or held itself accountable for the mess? For a company that doesn’t understand trust — not customer information — is its core asset, something desperately needs to give in this situation.

Bernie Ebbers and Scott Sullivan, former WorldCom villains. Here’s hoping these two clowns both get life sentences for dragging everyone back through their hopeless saga. It probably won’t happen, but if there was a lagging indicator in the market that no one wants to claim, then it’s the daily Executives on Trial drama.

Harry Stonecipher, President and CEO, Boeing. Make that former President and CEO. Lured out of retirement to help restore Boeing’s standing, Stonecipher has been fired for having an extramarital affair with a female employee. Ironically, he had been brought in to restore the company’s standing following previous scandals. Can we say ridiculously bad judgment? Congratulations to the company’s board for taking prompt action.

Single Points of Failure

While the how to be more successful, self-help movement rages on, is anyone interested in the other side of the story?

Failure is a topic that no one likes to acknowledge directly. And for good reason. It’s painful, depressing and debilitating at times.

Rather than harp on the obvious, however, here is another way of viewing the issue.

Single points of failure, in the personal leadership brand context, refer to areas or attributes that everyone possesses, which can generate devastating outcomes if not managed properly. Examples: Bad tempers, poor treatment of people, cheating or, at a simplistic level, not doing what you say you will do.

Even success can become a single point of failure. Say you’re a top producer with a large client as a sole revenue source. That client, if not managed properly, can represent a single point of failure through your own doing or events out of your control.

If you are unable to relate in personal terms, consider admired companies such as General Electric, Microsoft and Wal-Mart. Single points of failure from a product or operations standpoint would probably be readily apparent. But what would be more difficult to find are single points of failure from a leadership and/or senior-level human capital perspective.

Great leaders and great companies know that if they don’t develop depth and knowledge capital across a range of competencies and industries their business will eventually cease to exist.

Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia or any of the other bankruptcy poster children prove the veracity of single points of failure. In each case, individual leaders failed miserably, and due to poor judgment, zero credibility and lost reputation, the respective businesses suffered. (Note: WorldCom luckily had turned to MCI in time to retain market value, but it’s taking awhile to figure out what that value represents. Adelphia is preparing for auction, but the company’s intrinsic value, if they ever had any, has been lost forever.)

Single points of failure also speak directly to why succession and team building are critically important. Boards of directors would be well served to study failure more closely instead of stamping their own definitions of success, or worse yet, turning to fads such as corporate social responsibility to cure their ills.

At an individual level, the challenge is to determine your own single points of failure and then identify strategies for managing the points over time.

In the meantime, keep reaching for the success stars. That remains the only surefire way to outrun failure.

Listening to Create Loyalty

Simple conclusion, right? Not so fast.

Everything that we do, every device that we rely on to do our work (computer, phone, email, Blackberry, etc.), in short, nearly everything in our daily path moves us farther away from listening. Speaking in extreme terms, our entire lives now seem set up not to listen to each other.

Why have we allowed this trend to take hold? The reasons are numerous. Listening requires more attention than any of us have on a given day. It’s hard work, which means we don’t want any part of it.

Then there’s the fear and anxiety side that usually results from dealing with difficult personalities. To paraphase Emerson, individual ego and personality often speak so loudly that it’s difficult to hear someone says.

To truly listen often means hearing what’s not being said as well as what’s being said. That skill is rare, but if you find someone who can effectively read between the lines, you’ll find a loyal following somewhere close by.

So, what can we do to listen better?

Step one is awareness. If you’re not connecting with someone or unable to leave a lasting impression, you’re not observing the basic rule of listening: Consciously thinking about what the other person is trying to convey prior to articulating your own response.

It also helps to learn first what your audience doesn’t want to hear and then work your way back to what they do want to hear. No one actively seeks confirmation for what they don’t want to know. However, when framed in a different context, it’s often possible to reach common ground without having to sacrifice your original intent.

Good luck ‘listening to create loyalty’ in 2005.

It could be the resolution that no one else has, ahem, listened to already.


P.S. If you’re still reading, please feel free to post some anonymous counter-commentary or your own thoughts on this topic.

You’re No Donald Trump

“This isn’t personal. It’s just business.”

Those words still ring in my head following a tough budget negotiation in September.

Unfortunately that’s standard procedure for some. If you fall in this category or have found yourself saying similar words recently, here’s an insight: You’re no Donald Trump.

Business is as much a personal, emotive statement as anything we do. The companies and individuals who understand this rule flourish, and the ones who don’t? Well, they may prosper but it is usually on the backs of someone else. Rarely do these actions create a position in people’s mind that says, “built to last.”

Depending on how you view the world, a majority of business people are decent, caring and understanding. They’re friends, friends of friends, colleagues, neighbors, etc. It may not always seem that way in a dispersed world. But don’t be fooled. Your circle of influence is a lot tighter and more transparent than even you may realize.

Your reputation depends almost entirely on performance and building customer/client loyalty, which is an incredibly difficult task without creating a personal stamp. One of the first steps, however, should be to drop the pretense and remember that it’s not ‘just business.’ It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Internet services, stocks or job candidates.

Now, this isn’t to say that everyone who you do business with needs to be your closest friend or confidante — or that every interaction will result in great personal connection.

As you make the rounds this holiday season, try to think personal first, business second. You’ll be amazed at the results.

If you doubt the veracity of these words, then consider a Warren Buffett line after his purchase of Borsheim’s Jewelry: “If you don’t know the jewelry, know the jeweler.”

Reputation Matters

In the 10th annual Reputation Quotient Study published in Monday’s WSJ, readers can find obvious findings. http://www.harrisinteractive.com/expertise/reputation.asp

Then come the not so obvious and what no one ever studies closely enough — how personal reptutation can either transcend or destroy a company’s standing.

Case in point. This year’s biggest loser, Disney, went from fourth last year all the way down to 16th in this year’s edition. Reasons cited include greed, ridiculous salaries and general disenchantment with the company. One respondent said, “Next thing you know they’ll layoff Mickey and Goofy to enrich their salaries.”

With names on trial such as Ovitz and Eisner, it’s clear that the company’s magic has been lost.

At the other end of the spectrum lies Coke, which remained in the #3 spot despite their well documented problems.

However, unlike Disney, Coke’s drumbeat doesn’t revolve around imperial personalities gone wild. Names such as Heyer and Daft don’t hold as much sway as Eisner and Ovitz, and for that basic fact, Coke is breathing a sigh of relief.

Coke also seems to retain an emotional connection, which is something that Disney has seen fade.

What can the rest of us takeaway from this study?

1.) Name awareness doesn’t always translate into results. It’s what you do with the awareness that makes a difference.

2.) While the public’s attitudes toward business show modest improvement, the gap between the very top earners and the rank and file remains an extremely violatile source of discontent. And outsourcing isn’t going away as an issue anytime soon.

3.) Standing for something is the best strategy to manage ebbs and flows.

Anyone interested who grabbed the top spot? Johnson & Johnson, of course. Not too shabby for a drug company. Rounding out the list at #60 was the perennial loser, Enron.

“He’s One of Us”

Sometimes there’s brilliance in simplicity.

“He’s One of Us” explains the re-election of George W. Bush as well as anything else.

Character attributes — leadership, conviction and faith — created a wave of support that carried Bush past Kerry, who in the end, suffered from a lack of consistency and perceived personal warmth.

What do all these reasons have in common? It’s the intangible, stupid.

Those whom aspire to be leaders would benefit from taking this conclusion to heart.