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Archive for the ‘books’ Category

In his book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins writes:

…leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

In short, put your organization ahead of your personal career ambitions if you want to contribute to the organization and become a success. This is especially true at organizations experiencing high growth. Furiously fast growth often keeps companies from making that good to great transition. Why?

Because leaders fail to recognize the importance of bringing the rest of the team along. They focus instead on their next high-priority project or – God forbid – their next career move, or ensuring they don’t blow their budget in the quarter, or making a revenue quota. Together, these might be important things that require attention from a leader. But the best leaders find ways to balance their to-do lists and remember what (rather who) is making that flywheel gain momentum.

Who is the growth engine behind any company? The rest of the team – the employees who the company invested in, trained, on-boarded, assimilated and who now drink the Kool-aid and make things happen in the trenches to become…great.

If leaders don’t bring employees with them on the journey, the best and brightest people will find a different place where they can both contribute and feel connected as a team.

Collins adds:

Those who build great companies [leaders] understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.

So as a leader, I ask you: What have you done to enhance and motivate your people today? If the answer is, “nothing,” then be prepared…the brakes on the bus are about to be stomped.

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Summer People – by Brian Groh

I finished up the book, “Summer People” yesterday. It’s mediocre at best. But there was a great excerpt that I marked in the book because it is so fitting with the current photo at the top of my blog page…

Mystery whispered in the grass, played in the branches of trees overhead, was caught up and blown across the American line in clouds of dust at evening on the prairies…I can remember old fellows in my home town speaking feelingly of an evening spent on the big empty plains. It had taken the shrillness out of them. They had learned the trick of quiet….”

What an awesome quote eh? It’s from Sherwood Anderson and was published in Sierra magazine.

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My 17-year-old daughter went to her junior prom last Friday night. The weather was miserable, but the smile on her face is indicative of how she felt as she crossed the prom milestone.

When I was married, my former father-in-law said that even though expensive, he’d spend the money all over again in a show of love and support of his daughter (and me, at the time). Now I kinda know what he was talking about. While my daughter’s mom and I shared in the costs of her first prom experience, there was a great amount of pride in watching her cross this threshold. One step closer to adulthood. One foot further out the door of the protective households we’ve tried to provide to her. One more stab in the gut as a reminder that in just over a year she’ll be in college and completely out of our purview. These are heady days as parents. As a father of someone with such potential, the letting go part is both excruciating and exciting.

Reading and Writing

Today I met with an editor I’ve worked with off and on for the past couple years. In addition to my day job, I’ve found it helpful to write on topics totally unrelated to the medical device industry. The freelance work I do gives me a chance to write about the environment, jazz music, fundraisers, and other topics. It’s a great outlet and it pays a little bit along the way. My editor, though, is moving on to a new publication. While I wish her well, I also hope my occasional freelance projects don’t dry up entirely.

Note to self: keep writing.

That was the message Leif Enger passes on both through his latest novel, “So Brave, Young, And Handsome,” and in his remarks made at the book signing I attended last Friday. If you didn’t read Enger’s first novel, “Peace Like A River,” go grab it up while you’re buying a hardcopy of “SBY&H.” Enger’s a Minnesota guy who cut his teeth writing feature stories for Minnesota Public Radio. A friend of mine, also an Enger fan, described his style perfectly when she said, what a joy it is to read something that is not just written well, but is truly art.

Amen.

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Literary Cat

I didn’t realize that I had a very literary cat. Sawyer, one of the best cats on the planet, came to me from the local humane society about two years ago. I could have gotten a dog, which would have breathed dog breath all over the house and eaten portions of shoes and furniture…and garbage. But instead, I picked out Sawyer.

He’s become quite the avid reader. As proven by the following:

1) Sawyer catches up on the latest music news in Rolling Stone magazine – with his favorite girl.

2) Sawyer prepares to read the newly released, “So Brave, Young, and Handsome,” by Minnesota-based author Leif Enger. It just arrived in my mailbox.

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Yesterday, April 9, I read about Randy Pausch and his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University (yes, sometimes I feel like I live under a rock). But, thankfully, I read the New York Times and journalist/reporter Tara Parker Pope’s article about Mr. Pausch, which drew me in. I was hooked on his concept of living life fully based on the dreams we established for ourselves as children.

Then, last night on ABC Television, the network aired a story in which Diane Sawyer interviewed Mr. Pausch and discussed his mind set behind not only the development and delivery of his Last Lecture, but about his thought process on how he lives joyfully each and every day – even at a time when he knows he’s going to die.

Let’s face it, we’re all dying. But Pausch learned he had pancreatic cancer in the Fall of 2007 and was told he only had three to six months to live. That was the impetus for his “last lecture” at Carnegie. If you haven’t seen the clips on YouTube or read the transcript, do it; do it now. It’s not morose. It’s not “oh, woe is me. I’m dying and I’m only 46 years old…life’s not fair.” In fact, it is quite the opposite.

From his childhood dreams, Pausch conveys the importance of living and living well. Developing friendships and nurturing them, challenging those around him to be their best, to take risks. As a professor, Pausch taught and mentored thousands of students. Through his work he touched the lives of thousands of people and what resonates so clearly for me in reading the lecture and hearing his story is that each person he has touched remembers and has somehow reflected back on him in countless ways. There are few people on the planet who have that kind of impact on others.

I’ll paraphrase a great deal here, but from the transcript of his lecture, Pausch believes that, in life, we all must strive to:

1) Bring something to the table

2) Accept criticism, because it means someone still cares.

3) Realize that experience is something you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

4) Get through the brick walls. Brick walls are in place to keep out the others who don’t want it as badly as you do.

5) Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. No matter how angry you might be at someone, give it time.

There’s more to the story beyond my few hundred words here. In fact, there’s so much to Pausch’s Last Lecture that he’s written a book about it…a book I plan to buy today – several copies in fact, so I can share it with friends and family.

Most importantly, the Last Lecture, as Pausch so adeptly states, isn’t for the masses. It was for his three children. But through it, his story and philosophies on living have already touched the lives of millions.

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On Thursday nights in my city, in the downtown shopping district, live music can be heard while venturing to and from all the big box chain stores. We were there last night, my son, daughter and myself, back-to-school-shopping at American Eagle. On the way to the store, I had to stop and listen to a local musician do his cover of “Don’t Stop Believin'” by one of the greatest bands ever, Journey. It was entertaining. No matter where you go in the world, audiences listening to this song inevitably know the words and sing along (sometimes loudly).

I have to admit though, I wrote this post on Journey and Steve Perry some time ago and it continues to be one of the most-read posts on my blog.  That’s…a little peculiar in my book.

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My last random thought for today is about death. With the recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis (oops there I go, mentioning that disaster again), a section of a book I’ve been reading has knocked down an old rule of thumb that I’ve always held onto when it comes to death.  My rule of thumb? Avoid death for as long as possible.

The author of this book I’m reading, however, suggests that in order to really live life, we must embrace death. It is, afterall, inevitable. So if we can learn to accept the fact that today we could die, it will enable us to live each day more fully without the worry or fear of dying looming behind our shoulder at all times.

I’m not sure that I’ve bought into this theory entirely. But it is food for thought.

I remember vividly a summer day in my hometown of Spencer, Iowa, when my ultra-religious grandma was visiting. My cousin, who has commented on this blog from time to time, was visiting me as well. We were hot after getting downtown to go to Krazy Days – a big sidewalk sale held every year on mainstreet. But grandma cornered us and was giving us the usual, “Have you given yourselves up to Jesus,” speech.

My cuz and I were coming up with every possible comeback to get through this awkward moment with Grandma as painlessly as possible. Suddenly she caught on and said, “You need to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, because he may come back for us today and you have to be ready.” At that point my cousin said, “That’s fine Grandma, we’ll be born again, but tell Jesus he can’t come until we get a new speedometer for our bike.” 

I loved that speedometer.

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I blogged about my learning edge a few weeks back and while the new gig at work has served as a great way to engage with more people and refine my own ability to plan, strategize and execute, I’ve found this innate need to be creative in other ways.  The concept of “What’s Your Learning Edge,” keeps returning to my head as I ask myself that very question. 

So in defining what I can do to let this creative bug out, I started talking with a friend in great depth about, of all things, relationships. How do they start, how do they build, how do they last, what happens if they come to an abrupt end, and why would a great friendship with a strong foundation abruptly end? (Short answer: one half of the friendship must be a dumbass!). The conversation, though, eventually turned to the one theme that long-time couples seem to enjoy: common ground.

I’m no Dr. Phil (*cough and say “full-of-shit”*) but, the consensus we reached was that in order to find success in a relationship both parties must be open and willing to try new stuff and find stuff that they can do together. Earthshattering, I know.  No one in the Universe could possibly have stumbled on such a revelation as this. Do Things Together (DTT).

What’s this have to do with my creative urge?

Part of my drive to be creative and spawn something at the genious level is to provide me with an opportunity to work with someone intelligent, creative and fun. My friend, who just happens to be all of these things, also happens to be savvy with a pen and paper (or monitor and keyboard). With these things in place, we have agreed to collaborate on a project.  A book project. We’re in the brainstorming phase at the moment, but we have already established a goal (to write a book) and a deadline (Dec. 2007) to have said book self-published and under the Christmas Tree for certain family members.

The selfish aspect of this project is to see our names listed as authors on the cover of our self-published book – the content of which is likely to be really good, but publishable? Time will tell. Still we’ll have a little more to leave behind as our legacy when this book is done. And the fact that we’ve agreed to do this, make it happen (and have FUN doing it) makes the learning edge concept all the more interesting.

Stay tuned on progress reports regarding the book project and the impact on if my own creative urge is satiated or only teased with an appetizer.

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