Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Life’s Lessons

14 March 2012 Leave a comment

One day at a time, one person at a time, one action at a time….


I Voted….At The Caucus

7 March 2012 2 comments
I am not known for my political prowess. I research candidates and issues and propositions. I vote in every election. However, I am not loud with my opinions or vocal with my views. And then, last night, I went public and it reminded me of this quote by one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.
We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.

I had the opportunity of participating last night in Idaho’s first Republican Caucus. I stood (and waited for a long time) with my fellow citizens to cast my vote for the republican candidate. There were so many people at the venue (~3000) that they had to turn people away because they ran out of ballets. Still, there was less pomp than I expected. Only two candidates were represented, Paul and Romney. You would think the candidates would be a little more selective about who represents them. Romney’s representative read his entire speech, head down, barely understandable. Paul’s did better, but this was the first caucus he’d ever attended. With Idaho being an all-or-nothing state and 32 delegates…I expected better representation.

Notwithstanding the quality of the speeches, it was a fascinating process, and a great opportunity to rub shoulders for a few hours with neighbors, friends, and others that believe the way I do.

Thomas Jefferson had it right. The monument that stands in his honor in Washington D.C. is my favorite. He stands in the center of the rotunda surrounded by the quotes of his past. You can almost hear them echoing across the centuries. He was a man of honor and a man of God. He knew that this country needed the people and he knew that the people needed God. He knew that the people needed to be involved to make a difference.

So, get involved; make a difference; be excellent.

Elements of Effective Teams

5 March 2012 3 comments

Promotial photo of the original Star Trek cast, season three.A team isn’t a team just because you call a group of people a team. Instead of calling people “my staff” or “the department”, managers are referring to their subordinates as “a team”. However, Shakespeare’s quips don’t apply here: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Just because you call it a team doesn’t make it smell any sweeter.


Regardless of what it’s called, if you want to develop a team you have to include a few key elements.

1. Commitment

Each member of the team must be committed to achieving the team’s mission. One bad apple spoils the barrel. Each member of the team must be devoted and driven to the end goal. If one person drags her feet or misses meetings or doesn’t follow through on assignments because of lack of enthusiasm or other commitments, the success of the team is as risk. This is especially true of small teams. This doesn’t mean that membership on this team is the only commitment or even the most important commitment. I am committed to my family, but that doesn’t mean I spend 24-7 with them. I am, however, there when they need me. The same should be true for team members.


2. Communication

Communication among the team members must be open and clear. Sometimes one member of the team may dominate the communication. This can be detrimental to understanding, cohesiveness, and collaboration. Everyone needs to feel comfortable sharing opinions and ideas without the fear of retribution.


3. Diverse Skills

When Star Trek’s Captain Kirk sent an away team to the surface of a planet, he didn’t just send a team of doctors. He sent a representative from key departments: medical, security, science, and administration. Besides the varied skills, diverse teams bring different perspectives and experience to the table. A programmer looks at a problem much differently than a school teacher. Teams need the broad range of expertise and perspective to tackle problems from every angle.


4. Flexible

There always seems to be a great deal of unknowns in the world. Even with the most extensive planning, there is always a curve ball. Teams that can adapt in changing environments will thrive and succeed. Part of being flexible means the team attacks problems head-on and not procrastinating or ignoring the problem altogether. Adapt, attack, advance.


5. Autonomy

Effective teams need the freedom to be creative. If a leader micro-manages the team, then the team is reduced to mere acolytes attending to the whims of the manager. The goal and constraints need to be clearly communicated to the team. Then stand back and let them solve the problem. Let their diversity and creativity reach a resolution.


Teams can be difficult to manage, both for managers and for team members. Some managers feel they need to be in control and that control stifles the productivity of the team. Some team members lack the social skills to function effectively in collaborative environments. These weaknesses can be overcome with education and practice. By practicing these principles you can bring yourself and your team one step closer to excellence.


What qualities or principles have you experienced in team settings that seem to work well? What have not?


The Mantle of Leadership

2 March 2012 1 comment

Each of us can be a leader….The mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the role of responsibility.

Thomas S. Monson.

President, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Categories: General, Leadership Tags: ,

Only Impressions

10 February 2012 15 comments

Earlier this week, I read about Felix Baumgartner on Fox News. He intends to “Space” dive from the edge of space, 23 miles to the earth. His goal: break the sound barrier. This is extreme sky diving–beyond extreme. Sky diving embodies one risk: the landing. Space diving touts the hazard of no atmosphere 23 miles from earth…….and the landing! The amount of planning and resources that goes into Baumgarnter’s jump is staggering. There is no room for error. Felix gets one shot at this.

You’ve probably experienced similar situations. Not space diving, but one-and-only opportunities to make an impression. These are different from normal, everyday first impressions. First impressions imply that there is a chance for a second impression, and a third, fourth and fifth. Though first impressions are important, “only” impressions are critical. So what can you do to enhance the one-and-only shot at making your best impression?

1) Prepare

I can’t over emphasize this point enough. Preparation is key. Can you imagine Felix hitching a ride on Spaceship One and pulling the eject lever without giving any thought whatsoever?  Neither should you. Research the person or group with whom you’re meeting. Find out about the company, both historical and it’s vision. The office assistant knows best. If possible, ask them about the person’s interests. “Google before your tweet is the new think before you speak.” Google the daylight out of the person.

2) Try to relax

I know it is difficult not to be nervous in these high-stress situations. Be yourself. This opportunity might be important, even critical. It’s natural to have butterflies. Make sure you are well rested, eat healthy and pay attention to tip #1 above.

3) Dress appropriately

What if Felix jumped without a pressurized suit? His blood would boil. Make sure you are dressed for the occasion. If you’re not sure what is appropriate, then ask. Don’t show up to the black-tie affair in Hawaiian shorts. Of course, if you just want to make any ‘ol impression, go ahead and give it a try.

Life is too short to waste it. When it really counts, put forth a little effort to give it the best you can.

What do you do to improve that first and/or only impression? 

Practice Practice Practice

6 February 2012 3 comments

Crossroads Quartet

Friday night, my wife and I went to a barbershop concert. No, it wasn’t a bunch of hair dressers having a hair cutting contest. Every year about this time, the local barbershop group, Carousel Chorus, sponsors a barbershop workshop for the surrounding high schools. Friday there were over 400 youth from seven different high schools participating. They brought in two guest directors, one to work with the young women and one to work with the men. All of the high schools featured a quartet. Then the women sang a number, followed by a couple of numbers by the men. All I have to say is that there are some amazingly talented youth in this area. Then we were all favored with a professional group, Crossroads Quartet.

During the performance, the thought occurred to me that there are some similarities between barbershop and leadership and excellence. Since I began writing this blog, it seems like I don’t think about much else. If I do, it always relates to a topic here somehow.

The youngest quartet was a group of sophomores, 14, maybe 15, years old. It takes a lot of courage for those young boys to get up in front of 1000 spectators. Leadership is a performance in a lot of ways. Leaders are constantly in the spot light, putting themselves out there to be critiqued and applauded or boo’d. It takes a lot of self-confidence and fortitude to “perform”. That bravery does to occur over night.

In fact, my son has been singing in a couple of the high school choirs for two years. He practices about two hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year. I think most leaders read a book, or attend a seminar, or listen to a lecture and expect to be the perfect leader. They expect it to just happen. Wrong! Leadership, like good barbershop, requires practice. You have to consciencously think about it, plan for it, and act on it. The books and seminars and lectures are great. I gleen a lot from them myself.

Last year I read a book titled How to Talk to Anyone. The author, Liel Lowndes, lists 92 methods for better communication. One of my favorites in #16, Never the Naked Job. When someone asks what you do, don’t just reply with a curt job title. Throw out some delicious fact about your job. One day, after recently reading this tidbit, I was in a business meeting with a soon-to-be supplier. We were going around the room introducing ourselves and I decided to put my new-found skill to work. When it was my turn, I confidently said, “My name is Todd Smith and I make peoples dreams come true.” It got everyone’s attention, including my co-workers. I explained to our guests that I am an IT Project Manager. I gather requirements from the project stakeholders and turn them into usable products. Everyone nodded knowingly. Some of my colleagues made some flattering comments. It brought the room to life.

I read an excellent tip in a book that I wanted to incorporate into my life. Just reading it was not enough. I had to apply it, use it. I’ve since come up with a couple other quips to help keep things interesting. After all, my co-workers would eventually tire of hearing the “dreams” line over and over. So sometimes I use “I’m the resident miracle worker” or “I’m the Lance Burton of Information Technology”.

Practice practice practice. What ever quality, attribute, talent, or skill you want to develop, you have to practice. Being excellent at something, whether it’s barbershop or conducting a meeting, it takes practice.

What experience have you had developing a talent and making it “excellent”?

Categories: Leadership

Marriage vs. Employment

3 February 2012 2 comments

Courtesy of

If you’re reading this it means you are not trapped in some trans-normal Groundhog Day loop. Congratulations! Welcome to February 3.


I have a wonderful marriage. In fact, I would count it as one of my greatest successes. What makes it so successful? I’m no marriage expert, but I have some ideas.



We were friends, really good friends, before I even proposed. We met in college in 1989. She dated my roommate for nearly six months and spent a lot of time at our apartment. She had dinner with us, watched movies with us, played games with us. It was like she belonged there just as much as we did. After school, I went back home (800 miles away) and we wrote letters back and forth. That’s when we began to fall in love. It sounds like some sappy scene from Sleepless in Seattle, but it’s my life. Even now after nearly 22 years of marriage we are still the best of friends. That’s sort of odd because we have very little in common, but we really enjoy doing things together.


Failure is not an option

Many couples I see today use divorce as an out. “If things don’t work out, we’ll just get a divorce.” I’ve heard the term “starter wife” used. The first marriage never works out. So, many people plan on having two or more wives in a life time. Divorce, in my case, is not an option. Therefore, we work to work it out. When disagreements arise, we have to discuss it. The “discussions” are not always pleasant, but there is never any question that we love each other. We can disagree and still love.


Memories and Traditions

We have spent 22 years building memories and traditions together. Decorating the Christmas trees (we have two in our home), opening the car door for her–every time, family time on Monday evenings, attending our children’s plays, concerts and performances together, going to church together, shopping together. It’s not because we have to; it’s because we want to.


So, what? My professional happiness mirrors my marriage. I have friends at work that I care about and that care about me, that I enjoy spending time with (both at and away from work), that I can open up to and share. I can go to work each day knowing that someone cares. It may not be my boss or even the guy in the cubicle next to me, but there is someone. Someone is there that helps to enrich my professional environment.


Sometimes we disagree about certain work philosophies, but we know we’re still friends. I know I can raise my voice and be passionate about an issue. He does the same. In the end, we’re still laughing together about the latest Dilbert, shooting Nerf darts back and forth across the hall and joking about ice cream and Hershey’s peppermint Kisses. Being happy at work is not always JUST about enjoying the job; the people make a big difference, too.


Traditions at work are important. A friend of mine told me recently that after over 20 years, the supervisor decided not to have a Christmas social because everyone was too busy. Morale plummeted. It was the highlight of the year. Families gathered, wives chit-chatted, good food, games for the kids. Everyone looked forward to the Christmas social every year. Then, at the last minute, it was pulled out from under them. If your boss isn’t providing traditions at work, then make your own. Bring your own chili day; hat day; simple department birthday party once a month. Give yourself and/or your employees something to look forward to, something besides the next project or task.


My employment as been a lot like my marriage. My marriage has been hugely successful. I’m not millionaire, but I feel successful at work because of the the friends, emotional security, and traditions.


What makes you successful? What traditions have you built, either at home or at work that make it so enjoyable?