Thursday, April 19, 2012

Over the Hood & Over the Horizon

Recently I received some great advice from an old friend whom I have the pleasure of currently working with; once again reinforcing the idea that learning should never stop regardless of where you are in your life or career and that we often learn the most from people who know us the best. The lesson goes something like this:

Over the past year we have achieved some significant business results and I have been (and am!) so proud of my team and our entire company in how everyone has come together, dug deep (see the previous essay “The Hidden Vigorish”) and closed out our fiscal year with distinction. In the normal course of business life, as soon as one year’s business plan is achieved, the next year’s business plan is upon us, seemingly more challenging than ever! Well wouldn’t you know that as we dove into the new fiscal we were faced with a new set of challenges, new hurdles, new opportunities, and seemingly in a blink of an eye, the success of the past year was gone and the reality of the new fiscal was everywhere.

It was after a very stern toned conference call that I held with my team that I received a call from my old friend, checking in on me making sure that I was “aok.” My tone seemed obviously strained to him on the call and I just didn’t sound like “his old friend Bill.” We talked for a little while, me sharing some of my thoughts, challenges and frustrations (it’s good to have old friends) and he quietly shared a simple and profound idea; “Bill, just remember that you need to steer the car by looking over the hood AND looking over the horizon, not one or another.” Deeply true, deeply profound, and very timely advice for yours truly!

I had been so focused on finishing the year strong, closing out the last quarter and month in a winning way, that my focus had shifted from the horizon to the hood over the past few weeks and months. As we immediately moved into the new fiscal year I maintained that same “hood-oriented” focus, not taking a moment to readjust my approach. I had become stuck in “hood mode” and had temporarily lost the perspective on the challenges and opportunities “over the horizon.” Getting stuck in either mode has its dangers:

“Over the Hood” focused; When one become so locked on the short term challenges and results, it’s too easy to lose the strategic framework of what you are trying to achieve. What are the broader 1/3/5 year priorities, goals, and opportunities and how are your short term actions helping (or hurting) your ability to succeed? A key concern in this mode is that you and your organization could become so locked on execution and short term results, you ignore the very real need to always be building organizational skills and capabilities for future success. It’s tempting to delay training, it’s tempting to leave open positions unfilled, not having the time to interview candidates, etc, etc, etc.

“Over the Horizon” focused; When one becomes so locked on long term strategies and plans, it’s equally easy to lose the required focus and intensity on immediate execution needs. In my 25+ years of a professional career, I have never encountered a business that ran itself or had an “auto-pilot” function, and I am certain that I never will! The competitive marketplace is ever moving, ever changing, and if you ignore the short term, thinking it will take of itself, my experience tells me that you may not have a long term to even worry about!

Well my lesson was clear; while keeping my hands proverbially at the “10 & 2” on the steering wheel of the business, I needed to work on the balance of my perspective. I have kept a strong view “Over the Hood,” and have been working on ways to expand my view “over the horizon.” Whether by digging deeper into a competitive marketplace analysis, or refreshing myself on a broader view of the annual business plan with its broader challenges AND opportunities, there are numerous ways for me to intentionally refocus “over the horizon.” Very helpful and very timely!

As a closing note, a big thank you goes out to my old friend! It’s easy for all of us, regardless of success, experience, or title, to get a little “stuck” sometimes; and I am grateful to have friends in my professional life who can help me find my way” over the horizon” when it’s obvious that I am stuck trying to drive the car “looking solely over the hood.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Resiliency & Perserverance : Redux

Back in November of 2011 I wrote an essay on this blog about a woman who was a great inspiration for me: Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi. At that time she had been released from house arrest and after years of confinement, she was diving back into the democracy movement in her native Burma (Myanmar.) I commented on the astounding fact that rather than “getting away”, or “recharging her batteries” after her house arrest, she immediately and inspirationally applied the characteristics of “Resiliency & Perseverance” into the changing political drama of her country.

Earlier this week, the people of her embattled country spoke in the first free election in decades and not only elected Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi to a congressional seat in Parliament, but voted her party (the NLD) in a sweeping victory into 43 of the 44 parliamentary seats contested in this election.

The AP wrote earlier this week:
Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, was elected to parliament Sunday in a historic victory buffeted by the jubilant cheers of supporters who hope her triumph will mark a major turning point in a nation still emerging from a ruthless era of military rule.

If confirmed, the election win will also mark an astonishing reversal of fortune for a woman who became one of the world's most prominent prisoners of conscience. When she was finally released in late 2010, just after a vote her party boycotted that was deemed neither free nor fair, few could have imagined she would make the leap from democracy advocate to elected official in less than 17 months, opening the way for a potential presidential run in 2015.

But Myanmar has changed dramatically over that time. The junta finally ceded power last year, and although many of its leaders merely swapped their military uniforms for civilian suits, they went on to stun even their staunchest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fires with rebels, relaxing press censorship and opening a direct dialogue with Suu Kyi — whom they tried to silence for decades.

I share this amazing turn of world events for two simple reasons. First, over the past few years I have been inspired by this courageous woman’s story and continue to be amazed and energized by the impact of her non-violent campaign to dramatically change the landscape of Burma. At times we look across history and find inspiration from individuals or situations from the chapters of history books. What we all need to recognize and celebrate is that among our midst, in the present glance of history, we have a unique and inspiring leader in the form of a 66 year old woman from Burma.

Secondly, I share this story as a lesson in hope & optimism. Often I am utterly depressed by the headlines both domestic and abroad. Whether it has to do with the shootings in religious schools in Oakland California or Toulouse France, or the uncertain global credit markets, or possibly the debates on health care being held at our Supreme Court, or the unthinkable shooting in Sanford Florida; the headlines can often lead one into a state of cynicism and depression. This story from Burma needs to be a guiding light to all of us. Against astounding odds, with a military government working hard to silence Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi with decades of house arrest and to eliminate her nascent NLD party, there actually WAS a fair election last week across Burma, the voice of the people WAS heard in the election results, the military junta IS attempting steps of reform to bring progressive change to Burma. All this is true! No I am not na├»ve to think that there won’t be setbacks in Burma’s road to their future but on this day, I am inspired by what actually HAS occurred and excited by the prospect of Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi having the chance to run for President in the next elections in 2015!