Archive for category Leadership

Do You Have Enough Courage To Be A Great Leader?

dan-3Courage.

To be great leader, you have to have courage. The courage to do what needs to be done. The courage to take that giant leap forward when you know the time is right. The courage to fire someone when that person is no longer right for the job. The courage to sacrifice one person for the good of the rest and for the good of the company. The courage to stick to the company’s values even when it hurts. The courage to put the customer first even when it hurts. The courage to invest in the future even when you don’t have all the resources you need. The courage to do the unpopular thing, when no one else will do it. The courage to stand up for what is right even when it is unpopular. The courage to put the good of the company above all else. The courage to admit when you are wrong.  The courage to be different. And finally, yes, the courage to leave the company when you know it is time for someone else to take over.

Courage is an easy word to say but a very difficult quality to have. If you have the courage and the energy to execute that courage then you will be a great leader. Because courage takes energy. It takes energy to get out there and fight for what is right every single day of your life. It takes energy to work with your team and tell them over and over again what they need to do.

Leaders who exemplify courage are leaders who inspire. They inspire their own people to be brave and to be courageous. They encourage their teams to do what is right. The adage that goes: you have to talk the talk and walk the walk is never truer than when a leader wants to instill his team with the courage to do what is right

If you strive to be a great leader, one who exemplifies courage and exudes inspiration, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself.

  1. Do I listen to other people? Do I listen intentionally and try to really understand what they are saying?
  2. If I think that I already have a solution to a problem, will I listen to my team just to make sure it is the best solution?
  3. If they come up with a better solution, will I have the courage to change my mind and go with their solution?
  4. Am I open to having honest conversations with my associates, encouraging them to speak their minds, even to the point where it hurts?
  5. Do I have the courage to stick to my guns when it comes to making a decision that is right for the customer and is ethically right as well, but in the end, could hurt our company?
  6. Am I willing to do difficult things for the sake of the company?
  7. Do I have the courage to fire a once valuable employee who is no longer cutting it? Even if he is a friend?
  8. Do I have the courage to stand up for what is right? To stand up and speak out and try to do something about it, even though my stance is tremendously unpopular?
  9. Do I have the courage and the energy to work day after day, saying the same things over and over again until the right kind of change comes to the company?
  10. Do I have the courage, to stop a project and admit we made a mistake when it becomes evident that the project is not going anywhere?
  11. Do I have the courage to reach out to the fellow company owners in my industry when I feel that a partnership could be for the good of the industry?
  12. Do I have the courage to take my pretty good, pretty well-run company and change it to make it great?
  13. Am I willing to accept someone else’s idea even if it is diametrically opposite of my own, but if it has merit?

Please read these questions carefully and then answer them honestly. What do you think? Do you have the courage that you need to be a good and inspirational leader?

Here is a quote from Kristi Hedges’ excellent new book, The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize people every day.

“Courage isn’t an abstraction but a series of discrete, smaller choices one makes that build courage. We can try courage, trust courage, and tell courage… Courageous leadership requires clear choices, saying no to some opportunities to be able to say yes to some others….Courageous moves that are desired from leaders include the courage to have honest conversations, prioritize purposes, be real, lead by values, jump, and let go.”

Certainly, there are other values that contribute to the make-up of a great leader, but without courage there can be no great leadership. It’s Only Common Sense.

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Sales Managers Have To Visit Customers

dan-1

Yes, sales managers have to visit customers. In fact General Managers and Presidents and Quality Managers and yes, even owners need to visit customers whenever they get the opportunity. Why are we happy to just sit back and have our sales people do customer translations for us? Why are we happy or often unhappy with the information that our sales people bring back from our customers? Why are we okay with settling for communicating through our sales people?

Now don’t get me wrong sales people are very important, they are the face of your company, the front line if you will and yes it is vital that they act as the messenger between the customer and the management team. But that is not enough.

It’s not that the sales people don’t tell the truth about their customers because I believe that 99.9% of the time they do represent the customer in a clear and honest light. But often when their honest message is not to our liking we tend to shoot them they are after all the proverbial messenger. We tend to want to blame the sales person if she tells us that her customer is not happy or if she has to deliver some bad news from the customer. And by the way the biggest problem is that if the sales person is the only one to visit and talk to her customers they become exactly that, her customers. But as we all know they are not her customers or his customers, they are our customers and it is our duty as managers to have a good face to face relationship with our customers.

It is just too easy for a General Manager to rant about how unreasonable a customer is being for complaining that the boards got there a day late. It is just too easy for a Quality Manager to berate a sales person telling them that if they could sell they could get their customer to buy these perfectly usable boards even if they don’t exactly look great. It is just too easy for a company President to push his sales people into telling the customer he is going to raise the price even if the sales person tries to tell him that he will lose the business at this new price. It is just too easy for all of these “non-sales” people to live in a vacuum of customer ignorance and just push the sales people to get things done that well just are impossible to do.

But the most important reason for company leaders to get out and visit customers is to get to know them on a personal and first name basis. I love it when I talk to a company owner who has just come from visiting a customer for the first time; I am always amused to hear him suddenly become such a stalwart customer advocate. He comes away from that meeting enlightened and with a much better understanding of what customer is like, and what her specific needs are He goes back to the rest of his management team and uses his authority (authority that the front line sales people don’t have by the way) to make sure that the customer gets treated right, gets treated the way she needs to be treated.

The same applies to a GM or a Quality Manager for example. After even just one customers visit, the customers goes from being a hypothetical to a real life being. They learn what the customer actually needs and most importantly why he needs it that way. Once they have a better understanding of one another the relationship thickens and broadens and a long-term customer relationship is established.

All it takes is a little effort, a little time and a little patience to make sure you as managers develop a good understanding of your customers to the point of establishing a customer-vendor partner that will last a lifetime.

So Mr. President, Mr. GM, Mr. QA manager get out there. Hop in the car with your sales people and head out to your largest customer this afternoon and ask them what they need from you company and from you specifically. You’ll be amazed how that simple little act will improve everything between you and your customers.

And you know what? You’ll also have more respect for your sales people and the kind of issues they face out there on a regular basis. You get to know first-hand what your customers really think about your company, the good and the bad and yes the ugly. Remember what Bill Gates said, “You can learn a lot more from an unhappy customer than you can from a happy one.”

By visiting a customer you will also show him that you care about him. That you wanted to come in and meet her. That you took time out of your busy day to come to his office, sit down with him and ask him how you can help him. That is a very big deal. You’ll also be showing your sales person that you support her, that you respect him and that in the future you will have a better understanding of the support he needs from you and from the company, and that’s a good thing. It’s only common sense.

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Be Curious. Hire Curious People

dan-7Albert Einstein once said that being curious is much more important than being smart. If you’re curious about something you are going to spend a lot of time and effort finding out everything you can about it. You are going to focus as much as you can on that subject. You are going to read books and magazines, watch documentaries, go on-line, and do research in short do everything that you can to learn all that you can on that subject.

If you think about it some of the biggest contributors to society have been people who were curious; Thomas Alva Edison was curious about everything from finding the right filament to make a light bulb work for longer than ten seconds to how to save sound on a wax disc to how to play that sound with a needle and a giant speaker horn. Henry Ford was curious enough to try to figure out how to make an affordable car by inventing the assembly line. Newton was curious enough to figure out why an apple fell on his head…or so they say, I have my doubts about that one. But anyway, he was curious enough to find out why things fell that he figured out gravity and how it works. Okay you get it curious people are people who move that great tin foil ball of civilization down the road to progress.

Now let’s apply it to our profession, let’s apply the quality of curiosity to sales. How can being curious help you to be a great sales person? How does being curious help you to win and keep customers? I just read a book where the author said that when he hires sales people the number one thing he looks for in those sales people is curiosity, their level of curiosity and if he sees that in a candidate he will hire that candidate whether or not that person knows anything at all about the product he is going to be selling. Because of course that person’s curiosity will drive him to find out everything he can about that product without anyone having to urge him to do so.

A curious person will want to know everything about the product she is selling. Not just what her company is selling today but everything else about the product from how it was developed in the first place which includes the history of the product, to how it is used, to who uses it, to why they use it. In the end that curious person will know much more about her product than people who have been dealing with the product for decades.

That person will be curious about the companies who use his product. The customers. He will study his customer base. He will, get this, ask his customers why they use this product, which type of product they prefer and how he can make his product or service so good that they will buy more from him than anyone else.

He will also talk to those people who are building the product he sells. Not only to find out what they are working on now but what they will be working on tomorrow. In short, he will be looking into the future of the product.

But even better than that her curiosity will drive her back to her customers to find out where their business is today and also where it is going in the future so that she can have her customer literally telling her what kinds of products they will need in the future so that she can go back to her own company and advise them on the types of products they should be developing in the future that will be the most useful and appealing to their customers.

And that curious person will also be constantly analyzing the way he does things, seeking a better way to do them. He will always be trying to find a better and more effective way to grow his customer base. He will always be developing new and innovative ways to make his customer sales calls more productive. He will invent better reports and matrices and he will be finding better strategies to sell his products.

The curious sales person will use her curiosity to find ways to be the best sales person in the industry. She will study other successful people to find out what makes them successful. And thus, she will use her curiosity to become as successful as they are.

A curious sales person will do everything, study everything and learn everything to be the best he can be. He just can’t help himself because he is driven by is overwhelming curiosity. Are you curious enough to be successful? Are you smart enough to hire curious people? You should be. It’s only common sense.

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Create A Simple Plan And Just Be Tenacious

dan-6It’s amazing how much can get done when you decide to stick with it

Another year another strategic plan…or worse yet another month another strategic plan. Does this sound familiar to you? Well it does to me. The most difficult thing to do when you’re a strategic consultant like I am is to make sure your clients stay focused, that they keep their eye on the ball.

My philosophy is very simple a good plan implemented and followed to fruition is always better than a great plan abandoned before its time.

A good plan has to be given time to work. A good plan is only as good as the commitment and dedication that people are willing to give it.

During all my time in business I have seen good, even great plans abandoned way before they had time to work. I have seen great plans stall when a company leader loses interest in the plan laid out for his company. A plan I must say that he had put a great deal of time and effort in. In one particular case the owner was known for jumping from one project to another leaving a trail of unfinished projects in his wake. Which as you can image created a ground hog day environment in his company. That is some kind of leadership isn’t it?

I think to some people there is something so much more appealing in starting a new plan from scratch than in persevering with the current plan that many companies have been hurt by its” leader’s new plan addiction. Yes, business like life is a marathon not a sprint. There are no quick fixes because yes, even the quickest of fixes takes a certain amount of time to gain traction.

Here is the way it works. A team comes together and puts a plan together. That plan must begin with a clear and complete understanding of where the company wants to be in one year…in three years…in five years. Then this team has to work backwards to today, to present time in order to establish the steps they’ll have to take to make this plan come to life. They have to be fully aware of when the plan will start producing the results they are seeking. These steps should be marked with dated milestones so that the team will know exactly where they should be in the plan and on what date. Done correctly this method will provide a good visionary and yes somewhat patient team with a good idea of where they should be and when they should be there. Without a strong implementation roadmap most plans will fail.

When you set out on a car trip you have to know exactly where you are going, how far it is and when you can expect to get there. You wouldn’t dream of starting out on a cross country trip from say New York City to Los Angeles without first of all knowing how far Los Angeles is from New York City, how many hours it is going to take and yes where you are going to stop on the way for the night. Think of how discouraging it would be if you just set out in a general western direction without any insight of how far you were going or when you were going to get there, and when you were going to have to take breaks. Well now think about your strategic plan as only stating the ultimate goal without any steps on how to achieve those goals. Get the picture?

They say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step and of course that’s true but then it takes another step and another step and another one and so on. Without that understanding without the patience to take all those steps the journey will never be completed.

If this sounds basic and obvious it is because it is and it’s pretty simple as well but for some reason people especially business owners have a very difficult time getting it. I think it’s that entrepreneur thing. They are always looking for the next new thing and have a hard time focusing on the thing that is right in front of them. I have also found that this lack of focus and attention has led to the downfall of many companies that would and could have made it if the owners had just had the patience and tenacity to diligently follow the plan as it was laid out originally.

If you are an owner or a company leader and you see yourself in this column, then all I can say is change. Figure out how to have the tenacity, patience and yes courage because it does take courage to follow a plan when it reaches the darkness before the light stage, the courage to stick to the plan and drive it all the way to its successful destination. Its only common sense.

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Where Did All The PCB Salespeople Go?

dan-7Where are all the PCB salespeople?

A few years ago there were all kinds of sales people on the street. Good sales people; seasoned veterans with proven track records who had been victimized by first the stream of mergers that left them high and dry when the conquering company went with their sales force and let the victim company’s sales team go to avoid redundancy. Then we got hit with the great recession and shops went out of business and more sales people hit the street. But now business is back, people are investing in their companies again and now they are calling me looking for sales people because they’re having a hard time finding a few good men and women.

So where did they go these good and experienced sales people? Some have had it and have left our industry to find better and more stable positions. Others have just plain given up and settled for something in other fields altogether and then well some just got older and retired.

But for the rest of you out there and you know who you are; The ones who had a job once, were doing a pretty good job and still have the intoxicating thrill of the hunt flowing through your blood, where are you? The industry is looking for you to come home and start selling PCBs again. It’s time you looked up from whatever you’re doing and realize that the sound you hear is the whirring is that brand new Schmoll drill machine. The shops are running again and they need your help. They need you out there fighting for their company in this great new era of Board Wars.

Things are different now. Those company presidents and owners want you back, they are looking for you and they are ready to make some deals. Yes things have changed, companies are more flexible, they want more feet and the street and they are willing to make it work for you.

There are still the traditional deals. You go to work for a company and they give you a territory, a salary, some commission points and expenses and off you go, yes those jobs are out there right now. Then there are some more creative deals for those of you who want to me a little more independent. There are hybrid deals available. A hybrid deal is when a company is willing to pay a small retainer and reduced commissions to get you back in the field. They will do this for six months or a year depending on how long it will take you to get to a full annual revenue rate on your commissions alone. Now this is a pretty good deal for both parties. The company gets a seasoned sales professional at a reduced rate and they have more control over that person than if she were an independent rep. They can ask her to turn in reports, a forecast and attend meetings (at the company’s expense of course). It’s also a good deal for the hybrid sales person as he can represent other non-competing lines yes even other board shops if they complement one another rather than compete with one another. The sales person can even make several hybrid deals so that he has a pretty good monthly income coming in. In many cases this type of arrangement allows a sales person tom become a rep without going through his life savings in those first two years (assuming he has any life savings left). The hybrid deal works very well for sales people coming back into the industry as well as existing reps who want to take on new lines but need a little financial boost to help with that crucial first year of lead generation and prospecting.

Some companies are willing to turn over existing accounts. This is something that I highly recommend. Many reps wills and hybrid sales people are will to take a reduced commission rate to take over those current accounts. This only makes sense. When I’m working with companies helping them with their sales effort I always urge them to make this arrangement. First of all a real live sales person calling on an account is always better than one doing it over the phone and secondly the chances are growing that account beyond the current sales rate is far greater with a sales person, with skin in the game, trying to grow that account. It only makes sense.

So yes calling all sales people, come on back, there are good opportunities out there for the right experienced sales professionals…if you’re willing to put in the time and work you’re you know what off. Get out there and start looking, I know you want to, I know you can’t stay away, I know you just love the smell of solder mask in the morning. It’s only common sense.

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Don’t Be Afraid, Have Courage!

dan-5They say that courage is the number one quality of all successful companies. You have to have courage to get anything done. Because it is a big scary world out there and if you don’t have the guts, think courage, to face it you will not survive.

The more I work with companies the more I realize that all this talk about having courage and not being afraid to do the right thing when it needs to be done is true. From when it’s time to hire someone, or to reprimand someone or yes, the worst one of all to fire some many of us will do anything we can do avoid doing the right thing

The best run companies are run by managers who are not afraid do what they need to do. Conversely poorly run companies are managed by people who cannot make a decision if their life depended on it. They procrastinate until it’s too late participating in analysis paralysis and using that to fool themselves into thinking that’s doing something

Great managers act. Great managers are not afraid of anything, they are:

  • Not afraid to get involved in that new technology even if buying that equipment is risky.
  • Not afraid to hire that new process engineer, even if he is very expensive.
  • Not afraid to have a hard talk with someone who is not doing his job.
  • Not afraid to change the direction of the company.
  • Not afraid to take the time to learn new things.
  • Not Afraid to change their minds.
  • Not afraid to fire that person who needs to be fired.
  • Not afraid to do the right thing for their customer even if it hurts the company.
  • Not afraid to put the customer first, whatever it takes.
  • Not afraid to say she was wrong.
  • Not afraid to build that addition.
  • Not Afraid of handling cash flow issues head on.
  • Not afraid to say “no” no matter how hard it is.
  • Not afraid to make that decision when it has to be made, even if he doesn’t have all the facts.
  • Not afraid to stand up against conventional wisdom.
  • Not afraid to face his own flaws and do something to fix them
  • Not afraid to hire people smarter than she is.

Years ago, I was working with a company that had cornered the market on the ability to fabricate high tech PCBs from a material called LMR Kevlar. I say “cornered the market” because they were literally the only shop in the industry that had managed to learn to build MLBs with this very quirky laminate. Every year for five years we could count on at least three million dollars of business from two customers, two of the defense and aerospace industry’s OEM’s. Our relationship with them was very good and the business was just about guaranteed. Then one day we were faced with a very difficult decision. We had been working with several laminate suppliers and had helped them develop a new product called Thermount. The thing about this new Thermount material was that it had all of the characteristics of LMR Kevlar but it was much easier to work with and was only one fourth the price. This meant that just about any good board shop could now build boards that had the need for LMR Kevlar; so we would lose our edge over our competitors plus the price of the over-all program would go down because the material was now much less expensive.

“So, what do we do?” We asked ourselves. Do we tell our customers about Thermount and stand a chance of losing the business? Or, best case keeping the business but at a much lower price, or do just stay mum about it? In this case, the best and the right thing to do as good vendors… and good people was to tell our customers about this better solution. It was an easy decision but a hard pill to swallow in the end. And yes, they used LMR Kevlar for only one more year and then switched to Thermount which of course opened the program up to a much more competitive environment. We ended up losing the program a couple of years later. But, telling them was the right thing to do and we were not afraid to do it. It did take courage to face the fact that we were going to hurt our sales by a few million dollars of very profitable business a year. Now, looking back on this incident over twenty years later it is a decision that we are proud we made.

Never be afraid to do the right thing, even though sometimes it will hurt, it will pay off in the end. By the way even though we lost that particular program we did have a good ongoing relationship with those customers for years to come. Its only common sense.

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Putting Together Your Team

dan-6What do the Boston Red Sox, The New England Patriots, and the Chicago Cubs all have in common? Besides all being winners (and my three favorite teams) they have won by building teams synergistically. By that I mean they build teams by putting the team in front of individual players that way making the team much stronger. When Theo Epstein, President of baseball operations for the Cubs sought and won pitching ace John Lester for a cool $155 Million he also sought his battery mate aging catcher Dave Ross with a sub 200 batting average for a measly $5 Million. Why because he knew from watching them in Boston that they were a perfect pitcher-catcher duo and that Lester always did better when Ross was catching him. You might even say he “completed him”, sorry. That was the way it had been for them in Boston and in Chicago, well in Chicago, let’s just say they both picked up their World Series rings last week.

The New England Patriots have one star and he wears number 12 and even he is a kind of “anti-star”. Brady has had dozens of receivers over the years while breaking every passing record there is and he did it with a bunch of non-stars (expect for bad boy Randy Moss who was much better behaved as a Patriot than ever before).

On the other hand, as an example of a great player, maybe the player with the greatest God-given talent who never really helped any team he played for even the Yankees. Think Alex Rodriguez. No one needs an Alex Rodriguez on their team, no matter how tempting it is to hire one.

Why is this? Why are these teams so successful? If you want one more example of how putting a team together instead of hiring a bunch if great players works, then check out the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt playing Billie Bean and you’ll see how it all works. No, I mean it, check it out and it will teach you by example how to build your own team.

Teams are built together with each member being considered in terms of their fit with the other members. A true team is really bigger, than all of its’ parts. A true team is made up of people who meld together, people who are willing to leave their own egos at the door for the good of the team. A true team has a certain chemistry that drives them to do things they should not be able to do. A true team makes all its’ players better than they are and better then they should be.

So, what does this have to do with you as a manager in a PCB shop? Everything, it has everything to do with you because you must be building a team, not hiring individuals but building a team. When you are ready to hire someone for your team, let’s say your top line management team, here are ten things that you should take into consideration during your evaluation:

  1. What additional skills does this person bring to our team?
  2. How will this person fit in with the rest of the team?
  3. Does he have the right chemistry with what we are trying to do here at this company?
  4. Does this person have the humility it takes to be part of a team rather than an individual star? (you don’t need an Alex Rodriguez, sorry Alex but I just don’t like you.)
  5. Will this person be willing to take one for the team when the time comes?
  6. Will this person be able to think of himself as a part of something bigger or is she truly an individual?
  7. Did this person “get” the vision when we explained it to him? And buys into it?
  8. Does this person have the passion for the industry we are part of? Or is this just a paycheck for her?
  9. Will this person have so much passion that he will be willing to pick up the ball when others drop it?
  10. Does this person have the skills and talents and abilities that our team needs right now? In other words, is the time right for this person to come onto the team?

And one more, there is always one more. Will this person have the passion to so love the team that he will be willing and able to take over the leadership of the team (if and when that day comes) and not only lead the time but also carry on with the vision and mission of the that team?

These are the things we should all be considering a bringing on a new teammate. Not what her individual skills are but rather how well she and her skills and her attitude will fit in with the rest of the team, thus making it stronger with her presence. Its only common sense.

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