Friday, March 30, 2012

Lessons in leadership learned from Star Trek's Q

It may seem ridiculous to many non-trekkies, but I'll admit as a fan of most things put out by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, I usually learned something from the writing on the original series as a child, and Next Generation when I was a young student.   The fictional stories of command responsibilities, adventure and danger inspired me to seek the life of adventure and danger as promised to those who volunteered to join the US Marines when I graduated high school.  I can easily say I was influenced by Star Trek's writers who dreamed big and created characters who lived with courage.  I found a way to adopt some of those fearless character traits into my leadership style.  

To me the heroic fictional character Captain Picard was the yard stick for a leader that people in real life would be held against somewhere in my mind.  I was fortunate in the life I was born into and there were real life examples of leaders shaping my thoughts who way exceeded any fictional character.  I learned more about leadership and life by the time I was 25 than most people probably do in a lifetime.  I had faced the unknown and deployed to war and returned unscathed, I had graduated college, and I was already married to a girl I met just six months prior to getting married.  I had watched my dad lose his wife and partner in life (my mom when I was 18) to cancer and be the foundational rock in my and my brothers' lives.  The man that raised us with exacting discipline, critical of our mistakes and demanding of excellence (seemingly) without mercy from us demonstrated the greatest example of love, compassion and stability that anyone could have ever shown us.

He inspired me whether he intended to or not to be more than what I was, and to dream bigger than what I thought was possible.  My leadership style was also influenced and shaped by my two older brothers who I'd looked up to my whole life that helped me through almost every difficult challenge in life and were the root source of strength that helped me to endure any hardship or pain encountered throughout life.   Those two guys were there my entire life and showed me examples of what to do as well as what not to do. 

I also witnessed and learned first hand from many friends (including girlfriends who can be very influential to a young man), colleagues, peers, teachers, professors, managers their real life leadership examples which shaped my leadership beliefs.  These are the every day people who inspire us to go to school (or stay in school or go back to school when I was choosing a path of full time active duty as an enlisted Marine with no use for finishing college).  These same people are the real life leaders who inspire us to learn an instrument, appreciate art, music, simplicity and culture.  They encourage kids to join or start a band, adults to be happy and get divorced or get married, or just learn new stuff about life as they get older.   If these real people were the mold for leaders, then the institution that is the Marine Corps and the non-commissioned officers would be the forge and fire needed to create the leader that shapes civilians into Marines.  They solidified that leadership belief system into me to simply accept nothing less from myself and from others who would lead people.  I came to expect a minimum competence from people in leadership or management roles and was often disappointed. I was often disappointed further when these individuals lacked even more basic leadership traits of employing justice, using good judgment in all things, being unselfish in their positions of leadership and authority, acting with decisiveness, demonstrating consistent dependability, showing initiative, having unwavering integrity, show bearing in tough times and during celebrations, demonstrating courage and job knowledge, having unwavering loyalty to subordinates (like willing to stick their neck out for subordinates and peers) and exercising tact when frustrated.  

If Warren Buffet can use the expression that he won the lottery in life being born to his great parents, which enabled him to be the genius of business and industrial capitalism, then I can say that I won the leadership lottery in exposure to great leadership by being surrounded by some of the best examples that ended up as my NCO instructors, roommates, company and battalion peers and commanders from great leadership schools like the Naval academy, ivy league colleges (Williams College in particular gets a shout out for their contribution), public and private universities, and from all walks of life where they all underwent the extraordinary transformation to become Marine commissioned officers sent out into the world to command in real life.  This was so much cooler than anything ever imagined in the fictional world of Star Trek.  

I am not sure, however, that I would have appreciated these people in real life as the leaders they were (and most still are) if I had not been influenced by Star Trek's fictional leaders and my imagined yardstick of what I should expect from leaders.   So laugh all you want at the Trekkies, those of you who were non-Trekkies, but you could learn something from the yardstick of leadership created in the fictional character Picard and expect some proximity of that guy when you compare his leadership traits with those of your company's executive leaders or your elected leaders who are more like Ferengi than Picard or like the leaders in your own life that helped shape your beliefs.  Don't have any idea what I'm talking about?  Ask a Trekkie. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where does Loyalty fit in your leadership formula? How ruthless do you really need to be?

A friend of mine whose brother (let's call him "Bill" to protect his privacy) worked for a company that claims to be the "world leader in its industry," let's call them ("ABC Co") to protect their privacy.  Recently Bill had the awful experience of being let go after 4 months of rejoining his former employer after a two year stint working for a smaller rival company, in a different geographic region of the country.  Bill's a successful sales guy.  He originally worked for ABC in the middle-Atlantic states for 6 years, then relocated to the southeast when he joined a rival.  ABC had no presence in the Southeastern US, and had no non-competition agreement with Bill, and he departed on good terms from ABC.

Two years go by and ABC expands to enter the Southeast market and one of their executives that is an old "friend" of Bill's working the same trade show "happens" to run into Bill while both are working the tradeshow.  The ABC executive boasts that they're intent on dominating the market and essentially will crush the smaller rival in the Southeast when they enter the Southeast.  The executives at ABC make it clear that they want Bill to rejoin ABC because of the groundwork he's done in locking up the market with a loyal customer following for the product line.   After a few weeks of discussion and discovery that Bill's smaller rival has no non-competition agreement in place preventing Bill from walking over to rejoin ABC, they woo Bill to come back promising him whatever he basically wants in exchange for signing a non-competition agreement with them.  A dream scenario for Bill, right?  Hardly.  On day one they incorporate his client list into their database making it now their intellectual property and begin a pattern of making his life difficult and making it clear that they will not let him succeeed in his new job.  His immediate manager does not return phone calls or emails in a timely manner to answer questions needed for Bill to do his job effectively. When problems emerge, Bill's manager lays all the blame squarely at his feet giving ABC cause to terminate him for non-performance.  They offer Bill two months pay in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement and accepting the non-competition agreement.  They don't want Bill working in their industry for another rival and communicating with "their new customers".

There's a lesson of leadership or lack of it here by the executives of ABC, and there is also a lesson in leadership for Bill in this scenario that goes to loyalty.  ABC would probably be wise to settle with Bill and the rival company Bill left to join ABC.  In fact, if I were Bill, I would go back to the smaller rival and promise to make it rain all over the Southeast with his former customers which ABC is clearly poaching if they would in exchange  indemnify and defend him as an employee from any claims of violating ABC's non-competition agreement that Bill signed when he joined ABC (which was a condition of their offer to join).   It certainly seems like it is intentional interference in the smaller rival's business by ABC, but I suppose it could be argued either way to decide.  It is precisely this lack of loyalty in business that should have you outraged when an "industry leader" uses tactics like this.  There was a complete breach of trust by ABC executives that brought Bill into this company on the promise of a new career.  How ruthless does a company or organization need to be these days to compete?

It is fascinating to me that in publicly traded organizations and in public policy circles so called "leaders" use subjective techniques to allow crony hires and terminations.  One of the 14 characteristics of leadership valued highly by the USMC is "Loyalty" among their leaders, and that loyalty is designed and programmed into leaders to flow downhill to subordinates to protect them from fool-hardy initiatives of  idiot managers hired in usually as cronies making a name for themselves with risky "intrepreneurial" initiatives that tend to shutter divisions and get people laid off.  It seems in short supply to find loyalty as a trait among executives today outside of military leadership circles or former military trained leaders (but even there, individuals can become power-crazed egomaniacs who forget their basic leadership training and function). 

Leadership certainly seems to be lacking at ABC because how does any leader maintain that leadership position in their industry with antics like this and not have significant backlash?  Who really wants to work for or buy products from a company that treats employees and people in general this way?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book signing event 4/25 at Barnes & Noble, Bowie, Maryland

Please join me for this book signing event April 25, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble, Bowie Town Center.  See address and link below.  I look forward to meeting anyone who can come out and lives in the metropolitan DC or Baltimore region.   There should be plenty of like minded people who have enjoyed this book and are helping me to put together the next edition with their stories of leadership, business challenges and solutions to inspire entrepreneurs and scholars everywhere.
Please bring your copy or pick one up at the store for me to sign.
I hope to see you at this event if you are a Marine from Quantico or a member of the military serving on any of the nearby bases, you should find a number of people of like interests and minds for business as well as executives from area businesses that are familiar with the book.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This picture says it all.  Support the public library system in your neighborhood.  If they don't have my book, please let us know and we'll donate our published books to your local public library.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

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Tell us about your small business and how you compete with the larger industry rivals. We'd like to include your story as a published case study in the next edition of How To Compete With The Industry Giants. Deadline is Sep 15, 2012 for the 2012 second edition book. If interested please contact me at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

You know I have to include a video by the US Marines on leadership here on this site.