Monday, March 11, 2019

The "Silver Arrow" dynamic in planning

It may seem an odd place to start, but this essay comes from an experience I had at a boy scout camp in Western Pennsylvania as a kid.  The setting is the early 70's, I was a young scout and my brother was five years older than me and an emerging Eagle Scout ( who also earned the "Order of the Arrow" which is quite a distinction) and my dad was the Scoutmaster of our troop in Murrysville Pennsylvania, my home town.  Every summer the scouting calendar was very active with hikes, campouts, etc. but  every year we went as a troop to a local boy scout camp,  Camp Conestoga in Somerset County.  This lesson on planning comes from an experience I had there on the archery range more than forty years ago!!

Unlike my older brother who excelled in scouting, I was always a bit more of a plodder.  While I worked on my merit badges, outdoor skills and the required knot tying and first aid activities, I was a more "middle of the pack" scout.  One area where I did have some unique proficiency was on the archery range, which stemmed from my dad owning archery equipment and us all learning how to shoot as young kids.  When I got to Camp Conestoga that summer and realized they had a serious archery range and a "end of camp"  competition, I was all set!  Early in the week I signed up for the camp wide archery competition and was excited for the event to start at the end of our time at the camp.  While not a widely attended event, I was excited to see a good number of other scouts coming out to shoot and to watch the event and was exhilarated to learn that the winner of the event would win "The Camp Conestoga Golden Arrow Award"( note gold not silver) and the winner and his troop would be announced at the end of week all scout campfire!!  Now that was big-time!!!

The event was set for each shooter to have three arrows to shoot, and to shoot those arrows from three different distances, with the low scoring scouts dropping off as the distances increased.  The first set-up was very easy, maybe 10 yards, and I had three great shots and advanced easily to the next distance.  The second position was from 25 yards out and while harder, I knew that distance, adjusted my trajectory and made three good shots and made it to the final round.... the long distance shot!  Now I would love to say that the third position was 100 yards or more and while it felt like a mile, it was probably in the 50-75 yard range.

My first arrow flew and dug into the ground well short of the target, a total miss!  My second shot hit the edge if the target, but just barely, and glanced off .... zero for two!  My third shot actually hit the target but was in an outer ring, nowhere close to the bulls-eye!  The two or three other scouts who made it to the third distance were also challenged, but one fellow got two of his three arrows to hit the target, and one stuck pretty close to the center.... I had come in second and was to receive the "silver arrow" (no plaque and no camp wide announcement) which was a pretty generic aluminum shafted arrow....pretty disappointing after all of my buildup!!

While not a very high-water mark in my scouting career, that experience at Camp Conestoga taught me an invaluable business lesson that I have reflected on often.   At the third and longest distance, In order to be successful in actually hitting the target, one needs to imagine the arrow's flight in the air and actually aim for the curve of the flight, not the target itself, in order to be successful.  I really needed to imagine a series of hoops in the sky that my arrow needed to fly through in order to be successful .... the exact same discipline needed to be proficient in business planning!!

I am in the middle of a project currently where we are focused on hitting key five-year metrics, and instead on being myopic on those specific out-year results, I keep reminding myself to focus on the annual and quarterly metrics in years 1-3 (the hoops in the sky) knowing that the only way we can achieve those results in five years is to meet and exceed the closer-in targets/"hoops."  It may seem overly simple, but across my career I have been part of or consulted with too many groups that get inspired by but at times consumed in "destination planning", myopic on the end results completely forgetting the "required flight" of the business required to accomplish that destination.

My advice today is to stay focused on and active in the discipline and work of planning in your business. Take the time to look out to the horizon and imagine/dream about where you are trying to take the business/department/team that you are responsible for but always remember the "silver arrow."  Before you start shooting your "professional arrows," refocus/re-aim on the "hoops in the sky" and insure your close-in action plans will guide your arrow to the farthest target!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

"Optimism, a force multiplier for Leaders:" Redux

A number of years ago I wrote an essay on the powerful impact that "optimism" has on organizations and how "optimism" is a powerful tool for leaders broadly. ( see more at   )The center point of the essay emanates from a quote of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on how he felt that a military force's impact and effectiveness was enhanced or "multiplied" by the level of "optimism" of that organization.  This idea continues to ring true to me today, in business and across political/ cultural leaders more broadly!  "Optimism"is an important tool for leaders, and one that seems to be in short supply broadly today.  In this essay I want to connect this concept with the most recent "Annual Letter" published by Bill and Melinda Gates.

I have made it a habit over the past few years to read the "annual letter" as soon as it is released.  I always find it a interesting, data filled, thought expanding read and I am frequently triggered by new learnings and insights highlighted in the letter.  If you haven't had the chance, please take a moment to read this years letter in full (  In the closing section of this years letter, I was struck by a passage that related directly to the idea of "optimism" and how the Gates Foundation broadly, and Bill and Melinda Gates personally, were working with this dynamic:

"We get asked a lot these days whether we're still optimistic about the future. We say: Absolutely. One reason is that we believe in the power of innovation. But an even bigger reason is that we've seen firsthand that for every challenge we've written about in this letter, there are people devoting their ideas, their resources, and even their lives to solving them.

When we're feeling overwhelmed by negative headlines, we remind ourselves that none of us has the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to keep getting better. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to push it in that direction.

In that way, we've found that optimism can be a powerful call to action. And it has a multiplier effect: The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic."   (the bold/underline highlights are my addition.)

These closing paragraphs ring deeply true to me!  The idea of feeling "overwhelmed by negative headlines" is a weekly reality that I personally share, and yet the letter reminds us that "none of us have the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to get better."  We all have to take action to create a future that is different and better than today.  We all have to find our own ways to be "optimists" in the face of negative headlines, world occurrences and political rhetoric.  We all need to find ways to be join the fight and be "optimistic" leaders, whether in the organizations where we work, community groups where we volunteer, or in our day to day activities in our neighborhoods and cities.

Take a second and re-read the closing sentence from the quote above....

"The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic."   

I want to encourage all off us to join in this "optimistic" push forward and to be part of a growing group of "optimistic" leaders driving for a better future!

note: I am proud to highlight that my brother-in-law,  Jan-Willem, works for the Gates Foundation and his involvement has opened my eyes to their work, approach and significant global impact!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Seat 27D... a lesson in disciplined pre-planning!

Its seems hard to believe but three years ago this month I had knee replacement surgery.  Today, three years later, I am doing great and my knee is strong (much stronger than before the surgery!!) and I am more active today than before the surgery.  Like many of my knee replacement brothers/sisters, the recovery process was VERY challenging and I am so thankful to have friends and close family members who really took care of me (physically and emotionally) in those first few weeks/months after the surgery.  It may seem far fetched, but its in this context that I want to explore the elements and focus points of "disciplined pre-planning!"

My surgeon and his team had been very clear with me, "no driving for 6 weeks, no flying for 8 weeks" and while I heard those words, I was "certain" that I would be an exception and already started thinking about car trips and flights ahead of that schedule; wow was I wrong!!  Once I came home from surgery, I was blown away by the pain management issues and the mobility/flexibility limitations so after a few days I forgot all about "beating the timetable," and started trying to imagine how I would every be able to navigate a car, or an airport again.  While at that moment it seemed a distant aspiration, I dove into my PT regimen and really started feeling better and more myself after four or five weeks.  It was then, that I booked my first flight, ATL-PHX (atlanta to phoenix) and started working on really "pre-planning" the details of that trip.

Let me pause to say that I am so fortunate to have a trusted friend and work partner, Cathy, in my life now for over 22 years!  Cathy and I have worked closely together in numerous work situations, back when I was at Coke, when I was at Bolthouse Farms and most recently over the past four years with Levisay Consulting.  Wherever I am working/traveling, I try to start the day with a checkin with Cathy to get grounded on the issues and priorities at hand.  I am deeply appreciative for the past 22+ years and am looking forward to many more ahead!!  Back to the flight , ATL-PHX.

Cathy and I worked on the travel logistics together for that trip and I was obviously nervous and worried.  I was moving around without a "walker," but needed a cane for support at that moment and knew I wasn't going to be able to run or even walk very fast to make a flight.  In addition, my knee was VERY tender and any bumping or banging was going to be a disaster, so lots to consider when making arrangements.  Cathy worked on the travel logistics and got me into a large, exit row aisle seat (27D if I remember correctly) on the Delta 757 and the trip went without a major hitch!!

The reason for this story comes from my flight last week to LA where I sat in seat 27C of the same kind of airplane and had a fellow passenger coming down the center aisle of the plane completely banged into and jammed my right knee, my surgery knee!!  While painful and surprising, it wasn't devastating since I have had such a good recovery over the past three years.  While no big deal last week (I felt fine the next day actually,) it did make me wonder what would have happened if that had occurred on that ATL-PHX flight back in 2016!  It would have been devastating and a total mess and as I was imagining the pain (yow!!) I realized that it probably wouldn't have happened at all since I was in Seat 27D, not 27C on that historic flight.  Think about it, 27C is an exit row aisle seat with my right knee open to the aisle..... right in the action zone, where 27D is an exit row aisle seat where my right knee is protected from the center aisle and adjacent to the middle seat passenger.

This may all seem trivial and a bit technical, but it struck me last week how we ( probably totally Cathy!!) had really thought thorough the planning for that trip back in 2016 and insured that i not only got a exit row seat with a lot of room, but also one where my "weak knee" would be protected from the center aisle passenger traffic.  That was the lightbulb moment for me, "disciplined pre-planning" kept me safe on that trip ATL-PHX!  Really thinking though a situation allowed me to avoid the "bump" and the "jam" of the passengers in the center aisle that happens so frequently.  having a work partner like Cathy who really knew my challenges and issues at that moment allowed me to have a successful trip without accident or issue!

As you think about your future trips, or business plans, customer meetings, candidate interviews, board discussions, etc.,  take an extra second and ask yourself if you are looking hard enough at the situation at hand to determine the seat 27D (vs seat 27C) option that will allow you the most success at the challenge that lies ahead for you.  Take an extra moment to do the "disciplined pre-planning" and I am confident that you will benefit from the time and energy spent!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Wishes for Mercy,Justice & Humility on Christmas

On this beautiful snowy Vermont morning, I feel so fortunate to be with my extended family on this Christmas day!  In this year of turmoil, anger and uncertainty, our world needs to hear messages of peace and joy now more than ever.  As we take a moment at this holiday with family and friends, lets us all find ways to be generous and caring to those in need, and those hurting or lonely this Christmas season.

While not a traditional Christmas bible passage, a passage from the Old Testament prophet Micah comes to my mind this morning with a powerful and timely message for us all:

Micah 6:8  (NIV)
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

These three “requirements” seem to be very important calls to action in our time; the prophet bidding all of us to …

                         “act justly”
                        “ love mercy”
                        “and to walk humbly with your God.”

While written over 2500 years ago, these words ring true today!  I hope and pray that we can all find ways toward justice, mercy and humility this holiday season and in the New Year to come.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

In honor of (and with very fond personal memories) of our 41stPresident

I was struck with sadness, like so many other Americans, this past weekend by the loss of President George Herbert Walker Bush.  While he lived a long life filled with distinctive national and global impact, along with a deep loving commitment to family, his passing struck quite a
personal chord.

In 2006, while a senior executive for The Coca-Cola Company, I had the unique responsibility and honor to host President Bush at a U.S. convenience store industry conference that the company sponsored.  He was the keynote speaker at the event held in Phoenix, and my role was to “pick him up” in Houston (on a company plane), fly him to Phoenix, give a set of introductory opening remarks before his main-stage speech, facilitate the Q&A session, lead a VIP photo event and ultimately escort him home to Houston that same night.  What an itinerary!!  As I look back on it, I had a rare chance to spend 10-12 hours with the president, many of them in a private one-on-one setting.  What an honor!

As I think back on that remarkable day, I have had a flood of memories of unique events and vignettes from that day.  While I won’t go into exhaustive detail, I will share two stories from that day that I have found memorable and inspiring over the years.  The first came as we found our way to the “green room” behind the stage at the resort hosting the event.  The plan was for me to go on stage after the meetings’ lunch break, share some prepared remarks and introduce the President.  He suggested that I “not go too far away offstage” since we were going to do a Q&A session immediately at the end of his remarks. Stage direction from such a pro, … I was honored!  As I was thinking about this idea of “staying close,” he asked in a quiet tone if I could “help navigate” the Q&A session.  At first I didn't understand where he was going until he pointed to his hearing aid and said that he wasn't sure that he was going to hear 100% of the audiences’ questions and that maybe I could summarize and repeat the questions from the audience.  It was a very unexpected moment of vulnerability, and one that I will never forget.  I proudly played the role of “navigator,” the audience filled with interesting questions and the President totally in command of the moment.

A second memory comes from the flight back to Houston.  I had so many questions for President Bush and as we took our seats on the plane, I was eager to dive into my list! (What a surprise.)  He sat down and immediately brought out his brief case and opened it in his lap.  It was and “attaché “ style case, and opened in a 90-degree fashion.  He immediately took out a stack of personalized note cards and said to me that it was his practice to immediately write “thank you notes” for the hosts and key individuals from the event. He asked me to help him highlight the key notes that needed to be written.  We went over the event and he wrote out personalized notes to 4-5 key executives that had hosted the meeting and our visit to Phoenix. I had the honor to receive a few of those notes personally; an image of one is highlighted above.
I have so many memories, and took so many “lessons” away from that special day in 2005.  President Bush has left a significant legacy on our world, our nation and on yours truly. 

I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to spend that day with him, so fortunate to be able to ask so many questions, and receive so many insights and in that same spirit I am thankful to have had a chance to pay my respects yesterday as he was lying in state at the nations capitol.
A chilly night with my friend Cathy, waiting in line with thousands of others all who came to Washington with the same wish as Americans (not Democrat or Republican, but as Americans) to pay our respects to an individual who had a significant impact on our generation.
While certainly a somber and poignant moment on that chilly night, I was somehow reminded by the President’s great sense of humor, his friendly nature and his infectious smile. These are memories that I will hold dearly for my lifetime and am grateful and proud to share with you as readers.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Leaders, don't underestimate your impact!

With over 30 years of business experiences in companies large and small, at times working as a senior commercial executive in the food and beverage industry and more recently in running my own consulting firm that has served 35+ clients across a wide range of industries, I continue to come upon examples where key leaders have dramatically affected businesses and organizations by the impact of their actions and/or their inactions.  While I have certainly had the chance to work closely with talented, impactful and inspiring leaders, the contrary examples abound and are the center of the following essay.

In the spirit of confidentiality, I don't plan to "name names" about specific individuals in the following paragraphs, but rather to focus on the lessons that I have learned in some key areas where I have personally witnessed senior leaders really blow it!  In each of the focus areas I will review actions taken that lead an organization awry and other situations where the lack of action was the culprit to failing results.

Talent:  I start with a bias that I have always felt that 'talent" in an organization is precious, and many organizations have historically treated it as fungible/replaceable/generic as they build their strategic plans.  In my consulting work today, I have worked with numerous clients over the past three years and in every assignment, we have dealt with the lack of talent, or the loss of key talent, or the inability to hire great talent into key roles, etc. as major barriers to growth and future performance for those clients' companies.  I have watched this dynamic paralyze senior leader to NOT  replace key senior direct reports who are not performing well in their roles, or who are not living up to the values of the company/organization simply because they were not sure if and how they would replace those under-performers.  Senior leaders who are under-performers are a "cancer" in an organization and while it is harder now than ever to find and retain great talent, holding onto mediocre performers in a "hope" that things will get better is NEVER the right move.  Have high expectations for your entire team, especially your senior team, and treat them as the precious resource they are to your company/organization, and NEVER tolerate poor performance/behavior for long.  Take action and remove those poor performers before they ruin the organization!

Young leaders:  Nurturing your leaders is so important and so often neglected.  Think about how often highly performing individual contributors find themselves promoted into the role of leading a team for the first time and are so often put into those roles with no additional training/coaching/mentoring, etc.  put yourself in their shoes, ... its a freakout!  As you can see from my essays on this blog about leadership, I DEEPLY believe that leading teams is very different from managing projects and it takes work, practice, and support to learn to be a effective leader.  You can read more about this approach at  Too often I have watched senior leaders just assume that there is a pipeline of young leaders coming up through an organization, and that there will always be enough talent to fill the organizations leadership needs.... an assumption that is often wrong and always dangerous!  Senior leaders need to nurture young leaders and help by teaching/coaching and mentoring them as they move into their first leadership roles and help them find their way through the inevitable leadership challenges that they will face.  See more on this topic at

Succession:  This is an area where I have watched senior leaders and boards really do damage to great organizations!  In large companies and small, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations alike, no one wants to take the time and think about the inevitable challenges ahead when key executives depart an organization.  I have unfortunately witnessed organizations really struggle when CEO's pass away abruptly, or founders that become ill, or key executives who become disabled with NO succession plans in place.  While succession plans certainly don't guarantee success, the lack there of typically precedes failure!  While there is no underestimating the power of denial among boards and senior teams, an annual review of a succession plan is needed and the unfortunate reality is that too many organizations DON'T even have succession plans in place for the top/key executive roles.

Innovation:  As a lifeblood of so many organizations, innovation is too often thought about as incremental, episodic, and the domain of one organization ( too often R&D or Marketing.)  Regarding  the concept of "incremental," innovation efforts are regularly driven to be additive to the base set of an organization's brands/products/offerings.  While not incorrect, I believe it is insufficient for long term success.  Innovation needs to drive incremental growth versus an organization's current base of business AND drive to develop new concepts/products/offerings that would make your current offerings outmoded and obsolete.  In this fast paced competitive landscape, if we are not pushing innovation hard enough, we should be certain that competitors known or unknown will!  One added idea on the idea of "episodic," it is my experience that too often we think about innovation fitting into the annual business plan and hitting certain commercial windows.  While true,  we need to think about the concept of "Flow" which is defined as a "steady,continuous stream of something."  The work of innovation needs to be ongoing, and "flowing" in an organization, gaining input and ideas from across an organization and the marketplace, and "flowing" towards the market and shoppers & consumers.  Too often leaders drive innovation to make the next quarter, or annual budget, rather then working for it to be a driving and "flowing" source of growth opportunities across fiscal periods.

Personal Impact:  The reality that senior leaders are watched closely, listened to deeply and talked about pervasively is more true today than ever.  All you need to do is read "Glassdoor" and you can see how key leaders are discussed and reviewed.  It continually surprises me to see/hear senior leaders complain that they are "under a microscope" and that the level of review and critique is "out of bounds" or "unfair." While I am partially empathetic, I am not naive!  Senior execs ARE in the limelight, ARE being reviewed in  micro detail, ARE being discussed and reviewed on-line and live and that's not about to stop!  My recommendation is to not operate in denial but embrace the truth of that dynamic and turn it to your advantage.  Use your personal impact moments "with intent," (read more at ) and impact the organization in the direction that YOU choose.   Early on in my career I had the chance to work for a number of outstanding leaders, well before the advent of the internet and social media.  Even in those "prehistoric" days, those leaders realized they were highly visible and their public actions were often designed to have the organization "learn lessons" or "build skills" in ways that were "taught" in the everyday flow of their leadership actions.

Hopefully a few of these ideas have struck home and can prove helpful.  Most importantly, I want to encourage all leaders reading this essay to NOT underestimate their impact, but to look for ways to have the impact that they intend.  Leading an organization or a team is truly an honor and a privilege, and my strong encouragement to all readers is to not take it lightly!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A poignant response to the shootings in Pittsburgh…. From 1790 and signed by Gorge Washington

As a son of Pittsburgh who still claims it as my hometown, I have been deeply saddened  and angered by the news of the violent madness that occurred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood last week.  I was devastated to hear of the eleven shooting deaths, and the number of individuals wounded, all the work on a madman who somehow thought that this act of anti-Semitic violence was part of his patriotic duty.  There are no words to bring enough comfort for the families of those lost, no indignation great enough to express my, and broadly our revulsion of this act of hatred and violence.  

We live at a moment in our country when a political language of fear, hatred, mendacity, distrust and violence has replaced the concepts of common decency, fact based debate, and neighborly civility.  I am confident that the silent majority of this country is more than annoyed or embarrassed by this trend and we need to stand up, and take action in our own day to day language to find a more thoughtful, balanced , tempered and reasonable vocabulary for our civic dialogue.

It is in that spirit that I share the following inspiration; the letter that George Washington wrote to the Jewish community in Newport Rhode Island in 1790. Early in my career, I held a sales meeting in Newport at The Viking Hotel, very close to the Touro Synagouge, one of our nation’s oldest dating from the 1760’s.  It was there, back in the late 90’s when I first heard of the famous “Washington Letter” and had a chance to read a copy at that time.  A model of governmental ideals, religious liberty, and beautiful civic language, this letter has provided inspiration to many for centuries, and for me has never been more applicable than now!

Take a moment and read the letter, copied below from the Touro Synagouge website,, and find a way to appreciate the words AND take action to apply them today.  I took the liberty to put in bold font a key paragraph that has affected me deeply, the core sentence being 

…”for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

Let us “give bigotry no sanction,” let us give “persecution no assistance,”  and instead work hard in our actions and our language to be “good citizens,” working TOGETHER to give our country and all our neighbors “effectual support.”

George Washington's Letter 
to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington