Friday, December 23, 2011

Chewing Gum Saves Lives: Creating Space in the Midst of Panic and Hurry

Happy Holidays to everyone!  This is the season where we all rush around trying to tie up last minute shopping and leave our piles of work on our desks to gather dust for the few days we are away from the office.  It is a time of stress and hurry, family and craziness, punctuated- if we are lucky- by moments of peace, reflection, and appreciation.  In this spirit I've selected one of the chapters from Get the Cookie, Paco! that addresses that need to create space in the midst of all of the craziness... space to take a breath, relax, and just be.

            Years ago I had a client who owned a small airport. They offered a flight school, firefighting services, plane storage and avionics repairs, and a flight shop. When I was interviewing the general manager, who was also an accomplished pilot, I asked him if he’d ever had an emergency while on a solo flight. “Sure,” he told me. When I asked him what happened, he responded that the single engine just cut out when he was at about ten thousand feet. He was all alone, and the plane started to go down. I’m not a big fan of flying, so the story was especially captivating, as it played out my worst fears. I asked, “So what did you do?”
            “Well,” he responded, “I reached into my shirt pocket and took out the pack of Juicy Fruit gum I always keep there.” He looked at me.
            “And?” I asked, on the edge of my seat.
            “And then I took out a stick of gum, removed the foil wrapping, and put the piece into my mouth.”
            “But what about the plane?”
            “Oh, it was going down at this point,” he assured me. “I chewed my gum for a few seconds, thought about my options, chose the best course of action, and followed it.”
            “That makes sense, but why in the world did you need a piece of gum right then?” I asked.
            “Well, taking that gum out, unwrapping it, and chewing it for a moment gave me a chance to gather my thoughts and make sure I was not just panicking, but choosing the best option. What I lost in time then more than made up for it when I knew I was making the right decision on how to best correct the situation safely.”
            I was stunned. Who thinks to casually unwrap some gum to chew when their plane is going down? But it did make sense. Those extra few “wasted” minutes were vital to his safety, as it kept him from just doing anything (and probably the wrong thing) when the crisis hit. He had created space to do nothing in the midst of a situation that demanded he do something and was better off for it.
            One of the hardest things to do is nothing. Try it. Actually, if you are trying to do nothing, then you aren’t really doing nothing—you are trying. In our increasingly busy lives, we never schedule the time to do nothing. If we schedule downtime it usually is taken up by an activity—reading, watching TV, or sleeping. My dogs spend the better part of their days dozing and lazing around. Of course this isn’t possible for most of us, but giving yourself even ten (ideally fifteen to thirty) minutes a day to just be can be very beneficial. It serves as a time to get perspective and get energy.
            I try to meditate every day. Usually I fail, and I end up spending my extra time in some frivolous activity like surfing the net. The times that I do get to meditate are wonderful. Recently I began to take on a few more clients. This happened just as my last classes at Boston University were heading into finals and my wife started a new job. Things got hectic really quickly. When I finally found a chance to simply sit and focus on my breathing, I could actually feel the clutter in my mind start to settle. It was like a Tetris game where all the pieces are poorly placed and new ones keep dropping quickly from above. When my “screen” (my mind) was almost filled to the top, things finally started to fit together. With each minute I sat quietly another piece fell perfectly into place, reducing the chaos and creating space in my mind for new information and peaceful reflection.
            Not long ago a friend of mine introduced me to a small start-up company she had heard of. It’s a brilliant idea. The company sells T-shirts and asks the purchaser to commit to ten minutes of helping others each day the shirt is worn. Each morning that the shirt comes out of the drawer in the morning, the wearer makes a mental promise to find ten minutes in the day for the benefit of others. The idea (and the business) is based on the fact that the idea will spread with others buying a shirt and making the same conscious choice to help. Knowing how beneficial it is for me to take a few minutes of each day to meditate, I thought of co-opting the idea for a company called Take 30. The wearer of this T-shirt would commit to spending half an hour of his day doing nothing. It could be meditating, lying on the couch staring up at the ceiling in silence, or sitting in the car at the beach with the radio off looking out at the surf. The rule would be that during those thirty minutes, you could not sleep, watch anything that ran on electricity, or interact with any other person (or pet). You could not actively pursue any goal other than just being.
            There is so much we don’t know about ourselves, and we look everywhere outside for it. We soak up information, get advanced degrees, pursue our careers, buy things, and build relationships. Yet, we don’t look inside. Aside from being a useful way to step out of the fray in order to better handle it when you step back in, the simple exercise of doing nothing is a first step to getting familiar with yourself.
            It’s difficult enough to lead others effectively. If you don’t have a decent knowledge of yourself, it’s almost impossible. I had a friend a few years back who had all the characteristics of attention deficit disorder. (I don’t know whether or not she had been diagnosed.) Sweet as she was, she would run around all day frantically putting out fires (real and imagined) and following her active and worried mind. I asked her once what she would do if she was forced to sit down quietly with herself in a room with no distractions. She told me she would probably explode. Maybe she would have needed more than a T-shirt.

do nothing

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fire These Three People Right Away

These are from G. Michael Maddock, author of the upcoming book Brand New: Solving the Innovation Paradox—How Great Brands Invent and Launch New Products, Services, and Business Models.  I liked them so I thought I'd pass them along to you. 

Of course, nothing is so black and white as just firing people based on the below info, but it does have a grain of truth to it.

Fire These Three People In Your Organization Right Away

The victim. This is the person who sees problems as occasions for persecution rather than challenges to overcome. The persecution apparently comes in the form of you name it — humans, processes, and inanimate objects with equal ease. And if there isn’t a problem, the victim will find one. The victim is often angry, usually annoyed, and almost always complaining. Note to HR: After termination, the victim will no doubt look for someone like you for sympathy and agreement that the world is against him.

The nonbeliever. This person lives by the Henry Ford quote: “If you think you can or think you cannot, you are correct.” Winners really believed they can do it; losers (nonbelievers) always doubted it was possible. The link between believing and succeeding is powerful and real. So is the link between nonbelieving and failure.

The know-it-all. The best innovators are learners, not knowers. The same can be said about innovative cultures; they are learning cultures. Those who think they have nothing to learn will invariably be overtaken by learners, or will drag down an organization and let the competition overtake the organization. They never see new things coming because they think there are no new things. That’s how it is when you think you know everything.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lead from the Middle of Your Leadership Compass

In other posts I've mentioned that the ability to influence the behavior of others is not only from the top down.  You don't have to be high up on the organizational chart to exhibit effective leadership.  Of course it is easier to use coercive power from a position of authority over someone else, as you can control rewards and punishments.

But influence works in many directions.  Not only can you influence "up" the ladder, but left and right as well.  Richard Haas thinks of it in terms of a compass: "North represents those for whom you work.  To the South are those who work for you.  East stands for colleagues, those in your organization with whom you work.  West represents those outside your organization who have the potential to affect matters that affect you."

How do you use influence?  Joseph Nye argues that there are three ways: coercion, payment, and attraction.  People can either want to do what you want them to do, be paid to do it, or be coerced into it.  In many cases it is a subtle combination of the three all at once.  You may enjoy the type of work that you do, but at the same time you may not do it for free.  Perhaps you'll work a little harder at meeting a deadline if you know a round of layoffs are coming up.  By using all three in the right combination, you can effectively influence or wield power over another.

Although leadership and power are not the same thing, they are interrelated.  To lead is to help define and achieve shared goals.  To do this, you need power.

Think about the four points of your compass.  Who do you report to?  Who reports to you?  How can you use the techniques of influence to affect the behavior and decision making of these people?  How about your colleagues?  And who is outside of the organization who is important to your job?  Clients?  Peers in other similar organizations?  The media?

By keeping this compass model in the back of your head you'll remember that you're in the center of a network of influence and you have some ability to use it to achieve your goals, both personally and professionally.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Do's and Don'ts of Email

Email is so common now it's almost passe.  Texts threaten to usurp- and further abbreviate- other methods of communication.  As septuagenerians venture online, tweens consider email old news. But in the arena of effective leadership (and management), real communication is still one of the pillars of effectiveness.

So this month I bring you a brief list of email do's and don'ts to help keep yourself out of trouble in the workplace, and to make your communication just that much smoother around the office:

  • Use email to set up meetings, to recap spoken conversations, or to follow up on information already discussed face-to-face
  • Keep email messages short and to the point.  Many people read the messages on tiny screens on their phones
  • Use email to prepare a group of people for a meeting (sending materials to review, reminders of time and location, etc.)
  • Use email to transmit standard (non-sensitive) reports
  • Act like a newspaper reporter: Use the subject line to grab attention, put the most important info in the first paragraph, answering the important who, what, when, where, how, and why right away
  • Be aware of the email "tail" - you know, that part of the email that contains the history of the conversation back and forth that automatically builds when you hit reply.  I have seen more than a few people very embarrassed by forgetting that there is a whole history down there, and sending it off to someone new.  When in doubt, just start a brand new email to reply and avoid all the history.
  • Know your audience.  The better you know them, and the longer your history in working together, the more you can assume that they can "read between the lines" of your message and get the correct intent.  Be more careful with those whom you just started working with- the potential to get a message misinterpreted is higher.  

    • Use email to discuss something with someone who sits right next to or down the hall from you- get off of your chair and go see them the old fashioned way!
    • Respond in anger or while agitated.  If something sets you off, set it aside for 10 minutes or more and get some perspective.  Try to get some perspective and calm down before responding- and ask yourself if you even need to respond to such emails.  Sometimes no response is the best one.  Remember-email is forever... do you want your explosion of anger frozen in time for others to pull up later?
    • Hit reply to all without giving some serious thought as to how your response will be seen by EACH and EVERY recipient.  Conveying emotion electronically is hard enough, but sending one message to many recipients makes it that much harder.  Read and re-read that email response before replying to all.
    • Write anything in an email that you wouldn't want to have published in a newspaper or company newsletter for all to see.  Because let's face it, when you come right down to it, that's basically what email is.  There is more chance that something WILL leak out than it WON'T.  
    Happy emailing! 

    note: more than a few of these do's and don'ts come from Andrea Poe's article "Don't Touch that 'Send' Button" article from HR Magazine 7/01.

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    Leading at Just the Right Distance

    Note: the following is Chapter 36 from the recently-released book:
    click here for more info

    Twenty Steps Ahead: Leading at Just the Right Distance

    Zeke is not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He’s very cute and endearing, but he can really be dumb as a post sometimes. Case in point: he can get lost in our house. To be fair, many times when he’s turned  around, it’s not because he doesn’t know where he is, it’s because he doesn’t know where I am.

    Our staircase is in the center of the house and is split into two sections with a landing in between. You walk up, turn ninety degrees right on the landing, walk a few feet, turn ninety degrees again, and walk the rest of the way up. If I’m upstairs and I call Zeke, he has trouble triangulating where I am. Did my voice come from upstairs? Or from the other room? He’ll run halfway up to the landing and wait. When I call him again
    he knows I’m upstairs, but now my voice is coming from the direction where, if he ran toward me, he would be descending the stairs. Now he’s completely baffled. Should he run toward my voice and down to the first level, or away from my voice and up to the second level (where he now knows I am)? It’s just
    so confusing! I have to literally walk down to the landing and guide him up, so that he can follow me in the right direction, and the stairs line up with the path to my voice. Like I said, he’s not brilliant.
    a labyrinth

    The same thing happens when we are out for a hike. The best places are off-leash areas where the dogs can run free without danger of traffic or unsuspecting pedestrians. Many of these locations are in the woods,  composed of a network of small footpaths. Taking Paco and Zeke on the trails is predictable. Paco zips back and forth, running a hundred feet ahead, then coming back and checking on us before running ahead again. He usually gets twice the walk we do. Zeke usually falls behind, engrossed in the smell of some patch of ground.  For most of the walk, we don’t have to worry about the dogs. They run off and play and then catch up with us again. Yet we have to take care when there’s a fork in the path. Paco is usually attentive enough so that if he’s ahead of us on the wrong fork he zips back and finds us. Zeke gets lost. Since he lags behind, he doesn’t see which path we took. His solution is to panic, choose a direction, and just sprint.

    We first observed this on the trails at Fort Funston in San Francisco. This park remains our all-time favorite place for dog walking. Stretching out on rolling cliffs and dunes over the Pacific Ocean, the paved paths are a magnet for dog owners. The dogs socialize while the people get a workout and a stunning

    One afternoon we were hiking there with the dogs, and Zeke fell behind. We didn’t notice for a few minutes, and when we did turn to look for him, we could barely see him around a bend. At that moment he looked up from the root he was sniffing and realized he had lost us. We saw the panic set in as he frantically scanned everyone around, not finding us among them. Within ten seconds he simply chose a direction (the wrong one) and took off at full speed. There he went, sprinting his muscular little body off into the distance, his head glancing at every person he passed.

    Leaders need to be just far enough ahead of their followers to motivate them, inspire them, and show them the direction, but not so far that nobody can see them. This quote by Georg Brandes, an influential Danish literary critic, sums it up nicely: “The crowd will follow a leader who marches twenty steps in advance, but if he is a thousand steps in front of them, they do not see him and do not follow him.”

    When we were a hundred feet in front of Zeke, he was able to follow us. Once we got too far ahead of him, we lost him. When a leader is no longer in sight, some followers will behave as Zeke did—they will choose a direction and just run. Others will sit down and wait. In any case, the leader will no longer be a leader as there is no one following him. In many cases, the “distance” between a leader and followers is not literal. It may be the distance between the mindset of the two. It may be a gap in vision. For instance, Steve Jobs may have lost some followers who did not grasp his vision of personal computing.

    Transformational leaders are aware that while they have to push the envelope they still need to  communicate a future that followers can identify with and understand. So how do leaders provide a path for followers to show them how to get from point A to point B? I have to meet Zeke halfway down the stairs to correctly guide him, and it’s not too different for the leader of a (human) team. Leaders meet their followers halfway and provide them structure and direction. They initiate structure by putting organizational elements in place and clarifying vision and goals toward which everyone should strive. Initiating structure (along with consideration) has been found to be one of the most important elements of effective leadership. It consists of organizing and communicating within an organization how work is supposed to flow and what tools, policies, and procedures are available to guide that workflow.

    In general, initiating structure means making clear to everyone how tasks are supposed to get done, providing a path of here to there. For instance, a company goal may be to increase gross revenue. OK, how? Make more sales calls? Make the same number but make them better? Attend more networking events? Put money into research and development of new products? New services? Who should they ask to clarify? When left without any intermediate direction and structure, employees have to guess for  themselves how best to achieve this collective goal of increased gross revenue. When this happens, inefficiencies result. If a leader steps in and initiates structure, efforts can be aligned. The key is to lead at just the right distance—not so close as to be micromanaging but not so far as to be vague and unclear.

    Monday, November 28, 2011

    8 Reasons Why Change Efforts Succeed or Fail

    This month we'll take a look at eight reasons why change either works or doesn't work in an organizational setting.  Each of these eight items has two sides: perform them well and succeed, or ignore or do them half-heartedly and fail. 

    The list comes to us courtesy of JP Kotter from his book Leading Change.  Notice the themes of communication, structural systems, and alignment.

    1. Demonstrating a sense of urgency.  To ensure success in change management it is important to communicate that that the change must happen.  This isn't a "boy, wouldn't it would be nice if..." situation, it's a "hey guys, we better move in this direction right now or we're in trouble!"  To do this, a clear message must be communicated from the top of the organization right down through.  When everyone understands, they all become aligned toward the same goal: the change effort.

    2. Building a strong change coalition.  This means that the right people in the right positions with the right "critical mass" have to be in place (aligned) to make it work.  A change effort follows the same simple laws of physics: for each action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and inertia is a significant obstacle to overcome.  Who will be the champions of the effort in your organization?  Who will build and maintain that momentum needed to pull everyone else along until they jump on board?  Are there enough in high positions?  In key influence areas?  Build your coalition with skill because it can make or break the overall effort.  Knowing where each person is within the system and what influence they have is important.

    3. Envision the future and build strategy.  Ask "Where are we going with this effort?" and "What's the point?"  As the change leader you need to know what new future will look like as a result of the change.  How will it be better?  What systems will it reinforce?  Will it replace some systems altogether?  How does this change fit into your long term, mid, and short term strategies?  Make sure all the goals nest together in the sense that they all align toward the same ultimate positive outcome.  If you can't form a clear vision of where the organization is headed, how can you expect others to? And then...

    4. Communicate the vision! Now that you have a clear picture of why the change needs to happen, and what the future will look like as a result, communicate that vision to everyone else.  After all, you made a decision to take on the monumental task of creating change because you knew it was worth the energy and urgency.  Now it is your role to communicate why that decision is best, and help others come to the same conclusion.  Why would they put in the effort if they don't see why it's worth it?

    5. Remove barriers and align the organization.  Look forward- what could derail this change effort?  Are there people or structures in place that might slow down or completely halt the positive momentum you're building?  Think a few steps ahead, using your knowledge of the existing structures, and try to clear obstacles before they occur.  What does structure mean?  It means how information flows, who is seen as influential, what the work flow looks like, who reports to whom, who has political affiliations with whom, and what other hidden agendas there might be that you need to be aware of.  Do your best to work with your understanding of the realities of the organization and try to align them to work in your favor towards the change effort.

    6. Build on early successes.  This can be said in another way: create small wins that people can celebrate and rally around early in the effort.  Momentum builds as people see that yes, things can change, and yes, change can be good.  Give some thought as to what pains you can help alleviate and build those "small wins" in to the first part of the change management structure.  A few early wins (especially for key people in influential positions) can help to rally those who are on the fence and align everyone towards further small wins, and finally the change as a whole.  Not all of us are marathon runners- we can't all delay satisfaction for the last goal.  Many of us need small rewards for small efforts, which add up to bigger rewards for bigger efforts.

    7. Maintain (or increase) the pace of change.  While still communicating urgency, don't set the bar too high too soon.  Just as early wins can motivate, early failures can derail.  Start off small, accomplish milestones and goals, and build an intentional pace into the structure of the change effort.  This can't be on-the-fly or figure-it-out-as-you-go.  It must be built in to the overall plan.  Remember, for each force there is an equal and opposite force, so if you start off guns blazing you're only creating more resistance to overcome.  Think of it this way- is it easier to break the surface tension of water by walking in to a lake or by entering it from above going 50 miles an hour?  In which situation are you most likely to survive?  Once you are in, however, slowly pick up the pace and maintain urgency.

    8. Put systems in place to reinforce change.  This includes planning ahead (what will the structure look like) and putting elements in place as you go (building toward an overall structure).  An organization without structure is like a body without bones - you can have all the energy (muscle) and intention (brain) you want, but without something for those to hold on to, you aren't going anywhere!  See my website for more information on organizational structure.

    So there you go- with some time and attention to the 8 items above, your change management effort has a lot higher chance for success.  Good luck.

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    5 Ways to Adapt to Your Boss's Style

    Yes, I know.  You have style.  Whether its what you choose to wear on casual Fridays or how you nurse that morning 22 oz coffee until lunchtime, we all have our own particular styles.  But when it comes to getting ahead, it helps to adapt your style to your boss's style.

    This doesn't mean kissing up, or turning yourself into a "mini me" of your boss.

    you called, boss?

    What it does mean is that you need to understand what your boss's leadership style is and align yourself with it so that (1) you can make your boss succeed and (2) you will end up moving up the organization as well.  According to a recent leadership textbook, "Research has shown that some executives fail to get promoted (ie, are derailed) because they are unable or unwilling to to adapt to superiors with leadership styles different from their own." (Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy)

    So how do you do it?

    1. Determine how your boss communicates.  Does she prefer face-to-face or over email?  Does she like long conversations or short interactions?  Whenever possible, communicate as she does.

    2. How does your boss view heirarchical structure?  Are they formal ("you shall address me as Mr. Jenkins") or casual ("call me Pete")?  Follow suit.

    3. How do they make decisions?  Are they collaborative or authoritarian?  If they are collaborative you may help them by soliciting other viewpoints on a problem that you are working on.  Conversely, if they prefer authoritarian decision making, and have assigned you a task, collect all the information on your own, make a firm decision, and let the boss know what it is and that you stand behind it.

    4. Clarify your job role.  It's hard to guess what your job is if you aren't clearly informed through a job description.  You think you know what an Assistant Product Manager is, but do you know what your boss thinks an Assistant Product Manager should be doing?  Your opinion and his may not overlap.  They may not even be close.  If you aren't given a job description, take the initiative to write down what you feel are your main job duties and responsibilities.  What do you spend your time working on?  Are you responsible for making sure others do certain tasks?  Collect all this information and request a meeting (formally or informally - see #2 above) with your boss to discuss it.  Do you agree on what is expected of you?  Do you agree on how those duties should be carried out?

    5. Be honest and dependable.  Nothing above matters if you aren't a quality person.

    There you go- Five Steps to a better relationship with your boss, and a more quickly-advancing career!

    be the first one up

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Increasing Your Credibility

    Who doesn't want to be credible?  In order to lead others, we need to be seen as trustworthy in their eyes.  The best way to do this is to BE trustworthy.  Unethical leaders always are found out sooner or later.  But the challenge is that even if you are trustworthy by nature, you may not always be seen as such, because perhaps you don't exhibit enough of the behaviors that would encourage others to see you this way.  In this post we'll take a quick look at how to increase your credibility. 

    The one take-away lesson from this post is summed up in the following graphic:
    Now, for the details:

    What does credibility mean?  What does a credible leader look like?  A credible leader:
    • exhibits a strong sense of right and wrong
    • takes a stand for what they believe in
    • honors confidentiality
    • starts or encourages ethical considerations in work issues 
    Ask yourself of you fit the description above.  Would others see you in this way?

    In order to increase credibility, there are two actions that can be taken.  Think of them as two sides of the credibility "coin."  They are: (1) Building Expertise and (2) Building Trust. 

    Building Expertise
    In order to be credible you must have a certain level of expertise.  Even a distinguished high court judge may not be a credible source of information on how to install a new muffler on your car.  For that you go to the one with expertise, the mechanic (ideally a trustworthy one, which might be more difficult).  Expertise is broken down into three areas: (1) technical competence, (2) organizational knowledge, and (3) industry knowledge.
    First of all, in order to be a credible leader you need to know the technical side.  If you head up a construction company, you need to know how construction works.  If you run a bakery, you need to know how to bake.  This should be an ongoing endeavor: seek to increase the toolbox of knowledge and behaviors that you can then apply in the business to improve it and solve problems every day.

    At the second level, organizational, you need to know as much as you can about the dynamics of your company (or, if you are in a huge company, at least your division or department).  This includes knowing the positions and the people behind them, their personalities and proclivities.  At this level you should also have a working understanding of the politics in the company.  The more you understand who the players are, and what the internal forces are that shape the dynamics of the company, the more people will look to you as a source of understanding and sense-making (because remember, leaders help others interpret events and place them in a context). 

    At the third level you need to know about the context of industry.  In what world is your company operating?  Are you running an ice-cream store in the middle of a nationwide panic on transfat?  Are you in the oil industry as the government is increasing regulations in response to a spill?  Are you running a sports equipment store in an region that has just introduced lacrosse at the collegiate level?  If you are to be a credible leader, you need to know the external forces that are shaping the options, threats, opportunities, and paths for your company.  If you are disconnected from these, others will have trouble looking at you as credible. 

    In short, when others look for a credible leader, they look for someone who knows what he or she is talking about.

    Building Trust
    The other side of the credibility coin is building trust.  In order to do this, you need to work on your relationships with others, and communicate to them a strong value system. 

    Usually we don't wear our values systems on our sleeves, so others are left to guess at what it might be.  One way that we can try to figure out what someone's values are is to look at where they spend their time, money, and energy on.  If we know someone volunteers coaching little league or at a soup kitchen, this tells us something different about them than if they seem to stay late at work even when there is no more work to do, just to avoid going home and being with family.  What could people guess about your value systems based on what they see of us at work?  Where is it obvious you choose to spend our time, energy, and money?  Are you rushing out at the stroke of five o-clock or working until everything is done? Do you take pleasure in crushing another team or company in a competition?  It's these little every day events that others use to piece together their impression of us.

    In regards to building relationships, there is much advice out there.  The simplest is this:  take the time to actually listen to others.  Ask real questions.  Listen to the answers.  Be present and available and as authentic as you can.  Relationships will build from there.

    In conclusion, if you want to increase your credibility with others, know that they will be asking two questions of you (but not directly asking you- rather looking in your actions and behavior for answers):

    1. Do you know what you are talking about?
    2. Can you be trusted to use that information for the best outcomes?

    If they get the impression from you that yes, you are knowledgeable and yes, you are ethical and trustworthy enough to use that information for the highest and best outcome, then you will be seen as a credible leader.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Re-Branding a Pit Bull

    Hello Everyone,
    This month's post concerns the importance of sticking to who you are long enough to change perceptions.  I've been reading a lot about "The Lost Generation" - these twenty-somethings who are emerging from college with staggering debts and virtually no job prospects.  Just today the top headline on the Huffington Post was about the increasing number of educated young women who are turning to online sites that hook them up with "Sugar Daddies" who will pay their bills in exchange for "physical access" to the women.

    Moral judgments aside, I was struck by the dilemma these women face; the tough personal choice to offer yourself up to a stranger for money in exchange for your Sallie Mae monthly note being paid.

    So I decided to post the chapter in my upcoming book about sticking to your principles and the courage to go after what you feel is right (and true to yourself) in the face of societal pressure and perceptions.  I suppose this could be interpreted two ways: (1) the courage to resist a "sugar daddy/sugar baby" relationship when the alternative is debt default or living on Ramen Noodles, or (2) the courage to enter a "sugar daddy/sugar baby" relationship as an Ivy-League grad (yes, over 100 women from Harvard are registered) despite the fact that 99% of society considers the arrangement thinly-veiled prostitution.

    So without further ado, let's take a look at one of the toughest "brands" to manage: that of the Pit Bull.

    this?  or...

    (excerpted from Get the Cookie, Paco! Lessons in Everyday Leadership from My Dogs)

    Courage to be who you are long enough to change perceptions

    Part of being a leader is having the courage to be who you are long enough to change people’s perceptions.  We all have different skills and different strengths to offer, but often there is an immense pressure to conform to some concept of ‘normal.’  The problem with caving to this pressure and trying to just fit in is that you don’t stand out, by definition.  If you spend all your time trying to conform to what you think is normal, then you will be actively working against being a leader, as you will just blend in with the crowd.  You’ll be just another ‘normal’ person.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but we’re after excellence and improvement, not merely status quo.

    In the first weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Michaele and I evacuated with her family to a friend’s ranch outside of Houston.  We had only been dating for a few weeks at this point, and here I was living under the same roof as her whole family.  Michaele’s mom, Kathy, had adopted Paco and Pancho from that same ranch about six months earlier.  She is a dog lover from way back.  However, at this point she wasn’t so sure about poor Zeke.  He’s officially a mutt- an inner-city pound dog.  But he looks like a Pit Bull[1].  Somewhere back there he has some strong heritage.  This in itself is not surprising as pit-mixes make up the majority of pound dogs in the New Orleans area.  

    Kathy heard from Michaele that I had a ‘Pit Bull,’ and was concerned to be sharing a house with this beast (the fact that one of our first dates was on my motorcycle probably didn’t help Zeke’s and my reputation).  She had not really spent too much time with him—only a quick introduction—so she was a bit suspicious.  Unfortunately, Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bulls have been unduly demonized in the press, and most people accept the stereotype without a second thought.  I too was guilty of this before I adopted Zeke.  Kathy, like so many people, didn’t know that the breed was actually considered a ‘nanny dog’ in frontier times as it protected the kids against wild animals.

    Zeke had his work cut out for him.  He was accused of being a threat before he walked in the door.  Yet I wasn’t worried.  I knew Zeke to be a big goofy marshmallow of a dog who loves everybody, and I was interested to see how this would unfold.  Zeke, of course, was just himself.  

    We arrived late at night in Houston, the trip lasting a grueling eighteen hours instead of the typical six by car.  The next morning Zeke went about his normal goofy routine, making the rounds to get his back scratched.  He stopped to put his bowling-ball head in Kathy’s lap and turned on the charm.  He looked up at her with soft round eyes and wagged his tail.  This earned him a smile and a polite pat on the head.  By noon she was beginning to think that maybe he wasn’t so scary after all.  In the evening she was wondering why this breed had such a horrible reputation.  And come bed time, she shocked us all by insisting that Zeke come and sleep on the bed with her.  

    Zeke won her over just by continuing to be himself.  There was no need for him to be anything else to change her opinion and make her question her original bias against him.  To this day he continues to display all of the positive qualities that this breed is known for (by those who take the time to actually get to know one): he’s a big, roly-poly clown with a simple and bright outlook on life who loves everyone.  Often we joke that we should have named him Ferdinand, after the bull in the children’s book of the same name.  Ferdinand was bred to be a fighting bull, but instead he preferred to sit under a shady tree sniffing flowers.  Zeke is Ferdinand, choosing to sniff or quietly munch on the plants at the park rather than wrestle around with other dogs or live up to some ridiculous media image of a ‘Pit Bull.’ 

    In San Francisco there is an organization called B.A.D. R.A.P., an acronym for Bay Area Dog owners Responsible About Pit Bulls.  It operates a rescue center for abused Pit Bulls where the dogs are rehabilitated, temperament tested, and put into loving homes.  Unfortunately, some animals have been abused so horribly that they can no longer safely be around people or other dogs.  Their previous owners—the true monsters—broke their spirit and personality.  But the best dogs, the ones whose true loving and clownish personalities stand out despite a history of abuse, are designated “Ambassadors of the Breed.”  They represent the true qualities of the breed to the public and counteract biased perceptions.  Of course there are certainly animals of this breed that have been turned vicious by their owners, but as a breed they are consistently some of the best-temperamented dogs.  According to the American Temperament Test Society (, American Pit Bulls have an 86% pass rate on their standard temperament test, which is higher than most dogs, including Beagles, Basset Hounds, Chihuahuas, and Golden Retrievers!  

    Most recently, the media coverage of the fate of Michael Vick’s dogs has helped change many people’s opinions about this breed.  They see that even in the worst of situations, most of these dogs can be brought back with love and care.  They can be rehabilitated and showcase their true warm selves.  Unfortunately, there is a set bias against the breed.  On a recent trip to the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, Michaele and I happened upon an exhibit detailing the H. Nelson Jackson’s completion of the first transcontinental automobile trip[2].  We were delighted to see that his companion (and marketing mascot) was a dog named Bud, clearly identifiable from original pictures and a plaster reproduction as a Pit Bull.  However, the museum sign indicated he was a Bull Dog.  Now there’s a big difference between a Bull Dog and a Pit Bull[3].  It angered and saddened us to think that even the venerable Smithsonian seemed to have a bias against the breed.  Was someone concerned about a public backlash if this faithful and famous dog was actually identified correctly as a Pit Bull?  Would mothers cover their children’s eyes with a protective hand, fearful their progeny might actually see a Pit Bull cast in a positive light?[4]  

    The point is that generally “public opinion” is wrong.  So why spend so much time, energy, and worry, trying to conform to what “public opinion” thinks you should be doing with yourself, and how you should be doing it?  

    Recently I saw a handwritten sign posted behind the counter at a coffee shop.  It said “In a world where you can be anything you want, why not be yourself?”  This is a lesson that true leaders know well, and live every day.  They have the courage to be themselves, and to believe in themselves.  They spend less time worrying about how they might stack up against conventional views and more time doing what they feel is right.  Eventually, when you are true to yourself and your interests, those who doubted you or were biased against you should come around.  And those who don’t would probably never have been satisfied anyway, so why worry about them?

    Be real, be authentic, be enthusiastic about what you believe is right.  Temper this with humility.  Your drive, coupled with the reactions and responses of others, helps to shape who you are.  Be grateful to others for their feedback, because it makes you grow.  But don’t always assume they are right.

    Don’t put too much stock in opinions of what others expect you to be.  Have the courage to be yourself and work towards what you believe in.  If Zeke could change Kathy’s opinion of him from dangerous dog to snuggly bed buddy in twelve hours, chances are pretty good that you can change people’s perceptions too.

    [1] Every vet we’ve ever used—over six—has classified him as a mutt.
    [3] Go ahead and Google images of both.  I’ll wait.
    [4] Of course, there’s always the possibility that the museum just made an innocent mistake, but that seems unlikely.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Basic Leadership Skills- Learning from Experience

    Well, it's been exactly two months since my last posting.  With clients, graduation, and moving, the schedule has been very full.  In the spirit of getting back into posting regularly I will begin with a quick post on Basic Leadership Skills in regards to Learning from Experience.  These are adapted from Hughes, Ginnett, and Curphy's text.

    Create Opportunities to Get Feedback. Even for (especially for) the most powerful leaders, feedback is critical.  We all need to know not only how we're doing objectively (through performance metrics and goal achievement), but how we're doing subjectively (how do other see our performance).  A leader who loses his followers is no longer leading anyone.  Leadership is a function of the leader, the followers, and the situation, so that means two-thirds of leadership has to do with elements outside of the leader herself.  For this reason it is important to solicit feedback from multiple sources.

    For instance, a small business owner may measure his own performance on year end profitability and sales numbers.  But he should casually gather feedback from employees on their satisfaction, customer comments and interactions, and ways the organization might be run more smoothly.  It's usually the front-line people that have the best ideas for how to improve the customer experience and reduce redundancies, because they have to deal with both every day.

    He could also discuss the business with his spouse (whether she works there or not) and see what her observations are on how it's run and how it might be improved.  She might be ready to tell him his own areas for improvement as well (as husbands and wives usually like to do).

    A third way to solicit advice is from a Trusted Advisor.  Much like the "in the family but not of the family" idea in the Concigliere role, the Trusted Advisor is one who is close enough to see the inner workings of the organization and personalities involved, experienced enough to know how to improve it, and trusted enough to speak plainly and truthfully to the owner (without fear of bias).  Many leaders benefit from the incorporation of a Trusted Advisor.

    Take a 10 percent stretch.  No matter where you are today, and in what direction you want to head, the journey begins with taking a step forward.  As much change is daunting, keep in mind that you don't have to change everything at once.  Shoot for a 10% change, define it in real, measurable goals (so that you can hold yourself accountable later), and start working towards it.

    Maybe you want to increase gross sales from $10M to $11M next year.  Say you want to reach 10% more customers, or expand your network by 10% (say from 200 to 220 connections on LinkedIn).  This can be as simple as wanting to post five more posts for the weekly food blogger or as complex as wanting to rate 10% better on your annual 360 degree review. 

    Keep a Journal.  Now this one I think can be taken literally (have a journal that you write in regularly to reflect upon- and get perspective on- issues that you are dealing with), or it can be taken figuratively (remember to take time regularly to look back and think about your progress, issues with the organization, challenges, and successes).

    The key to either approach is to revisit events so that you can (a) get a better perspective on them and (b) learn from them so that you are better prepared for the next time around.  Too often busy business owners rush from one crisis to another simply putting out fires without any chance to look back and consider events, performance, and meaning.

    Create a Development Plan.  This is simply a matter of asking "Where am I going with all of this?"  It may seem obvious to say you need to know where you want to go before you try to get there, but many times we rush towards a vague notion of "better" without having clear, articulated, and measurable goals along the way.  This isn't to say that a plan can't change along the way, just that having it written down will help focus efforts towards real results.

    This can be applied on many levels:
    • personal (I am going to master these skills this year); 
    • organizational (a plan to increase employee satisfaction by 25% and reduce turnover by 10%); 
    • performance-driven (a monthly detailed budget to plan for $40M in sales and $500K in profit by fiscal year end).
    To conclude, learning from experience takes some effort.  Although most people learn lessons passively as they go through life, what distinguishes you as a leader will be your ability to actively- and assertively- use the techniques above to accelerate your performance and the performance of those around you.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Fear as a Motivator

    Two days ago I took my dogs down to the beach on Cape Cod Bay for a long walk.  Once we hit the sand, we have about half a mile of smooth walking before we hit an outcropping of large rocks that help to hold back the erosive tides.  The dogs ran free, and Paco sprinted at full speed for hundreds of yards after seagulls.  Once we got to the rock outcropping, I noticed a large black lump in the sand- a harbor seal.

    In the past I've discovered dead beached seals in the same spot, and I was thinking I found another one when I saw its tail flippers pathetically rise up and flop back down to the sand.  It was still alive!  The tide was going out, and it had probably taken advantage of the beautiful day to sun itself, not realizing that hours had passed and its trek back to the water was getting more and more difficult.  By the time I found it it was dozens of feet from the shore, with hundreds of large rocks blocking its path.  It had given up on trying to get back to the safety of the water.

    Without thinking, I quickly tied up the dogs as best I could to a large driftwood tree (they hadn't noticed it yet, thankfully) and headed over to the seal.  I kept my distance but could clearly see it was still kicking.  Seeing me, it hissed and barked in fear.  It looked just like an aquatic cousin of Zeke's-same size, sad brown eyes, and bovine expression.  Somehow I had to rescue it without endangering myself (do these things have rabies?  I don't know).

    Clearly I couldn't roll it- it didn't look like it would enjoy that.  I grabbed a large stick about the size and shape of a baseball bat and touched it slowly to its front flipper.  It lurched from its side to its belly, and lunged toward the stick.  Great, I thought- I can goad and taunt it towards the water.  Positioning myself between it and the water, I annoyed it into progressing a few feet forward.  It was as if he suddenly remembered how to move around on land.

    By this point the dogs had broken free and were rushing madly towards the confused seal.  I caught their leashes and thought "A-ha! Instead of taunting it forward I can scare it away using the dogs."  I held them about ten feet behind the seal as they fought the leash and lunged at the animal in a fit of crazed barking.  The seal picked up his pace and threw his sausage-like body awkwardly over the rocks.  It took him a good five minutes but he made it into to the water line and then slowly swam, exhausted but relieved, into the safety of the waves.

    After I was over the exhilaration of the experience, I got to thinking about the role of fear as a motivator.  Here was this poor animal who had done nothing worse than take a nap at the wrong time and had woken up in a life-threatening situation.  By the time I found him he had mostly given up, only sadly flopping a flipper or two.  His heart was clearly not in it.  But that dullness in his eyes vanished and his motivation came back when he saw his first human and two berserk dogs.  Suddenly becoming a chew toy seemed like a worse fate than slowly dying in the sun.

    Fear is a great motivator.  Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun, speaks of using the unpleasant parts of life as fuel to improve your situation.  Fear of losing your job can motivate you to better performance.  Fear of not being able to support your family might be the grounds for starting your own business.  Years ago my father heard a rumor his employer might be laying people off, and before they had a chance to get him, he quit and started his own business.  It ran successfully for over twenty years until he retired.  Even now in "retirement" he has to turn down work on a weekly basis from people who seek him out.  But he wouldn't have taken that first step if it wasn't for fear.

    Are you scared enough?  Is life too comfortable?  Sedating?  Taking calculated risks is a great way to motivate yourself.  Everyone has their own risk-tolerance and preferences, but in general it's healthy to strike a balance between fear and comfort.  Too much fear and you are paralyzed.  Too much comfort and you are sleep-walking.

    Take a risk every once in a while to keep you on your toes.  Or I can just go get the dogs and help you out...

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    The Coming Crisis in Leadership?

    Note: This Article was also published in the International Executive Newswire 

    If you’ve been listening to the news lately, you may be wondering where all the leaders have gone.  Where are the Churchills, the Kennedys, the Ataturks, and the Welshs?  Now, more than ever, our countries and our companies need real global leadership.  And this might be the problem.  All this globalization might be pulling the rug out from traditional models of effective leadership.
    Leaders frame reality for others.  They perceive events and then interpret them for their followers in a way that motivates action.  Currently the US government is on the verge of a shutdown.  If you ask a Republican leader why, he will frame the event in terms of the failure of Democrats to rein in spending.  But when you ask a Democratic leader, he may blame the other side for stonewalling any compromise.  Each is trying to convince as much of the population as they can to see things their way.  I think it’s the only reason Sunday morning news shows exist.

    Leadership researchers Smircich and Morgan concluded that a person emerges as a leader in large part “because of their role in framing experience in a way that provides a viable basis for action, e.g., by mobilizing meaning, articulating and defining what has previously remained implicit or unsaid, by inventing images and meanings that provide a focus for new attention, and by consolidating, confronting, or changing prevailing wisdom.”

    This concept can be seen as the distillation, or basis, of many of other leadership theories.  It explains the leader-follower relationship by underscoring why followers do or do not accept another as a leader (does the leader’s narrative work for them in creating meaning from what they see?).  It underscores Leader-Member-Exchange (LMX) theory, as the management of meaning by the leader influences the perceptions of organizational justice of the follower (the leader’s effective use of narrative in explaining why justice occurred will affect the follower’s perception of such, and subsequent depth of relations between the two).  Even the “great man” theory and other trait- and behaviour-based leadership models lean on this framework: does the leader have what it takes to effectively create meaning for followers that they will accept and act upon in desirable ways?  Is the leader motivated enough to do this?  Driven enough?  Smart enough?

    Crafting a narrative isn’t as easy as it sounds.  A leader must develop open communication channels both upstream and downstream in order to receive and deliver messages with minimal distortion and delay.  Reports and briefings may provide some information, but the savvy CEO will also have his ear to the ground by interacting regularly with all levels of the organization.  This should be informal as well as formal.

    Many people (all people?) struggle to make sense of their world.  They absorb news and information and try to assimilate it into a coherent view.  The more solid this view, the more confident they are acting in accordance with it.  But the problem is this: with the advent of communications technology and the evaporation of cultural borders the common man has much more access to all kinds of data on a daily basis.  Much of it is conflicting.  The more data there is to understand, the more difficult it is to create one clear worldview through which to grasp it.

    When people’s worlds were smaller, it was easier to create a narrative that made sense of the observations and “reality” that people experienced.  Leaders had only so many concepts and observations to weave into their narrative.  It was easier to motivate people to action because one frame of reality—one story—could explain everything they saw.  And if a leader chose the right story, he could line up motivated followers to his cause.

    Increasingly people are bombarded with many more variables than can fit in a concise narrative, and as such faith in some traditional leaders and their interpretation of events has waned.  Twitter and smartphones transmit the experience of any person across the world in seconds.  Virtually all public events are digitally recorded, and the video lives forever online, waiting to catch the unwitting politician or CEO in a moment of hypocrisy.  Leaders can no longer change their narrative without being called out for being inconsistency and disingenuousness (fans of the Daily Show will recognize this  Jon Stewart’s main modus operandi).

    What some might call the current crisis of leadership is a reflection of this.  Most leaders, save for some religious ones (I’m thinking Eastern traditions here), can’t create a narrative which meaningfully encompasses all the stimuli most people receive.  The more people know, the harder it is to tell them what to think.  And the world is not a black-and-white place; shades of gray are now obvious to all.
    I’m not sure what this may mean for the future of leadership, although one hypothesis is that we will increasingly see a split between two modes of thought- the first being a dogmatic and closed-minded adherence to the old story, where any contradicting information is summarily ignored or discounted (Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann come to mind), and the other is one that increasingly accepts a narrative so expansive and inclusive that it can’t inspire followers to take action.  This can be seen in Taoist or Buddhist narratives of accepting the interplay of opposites and holding two contradictory thoughts in one’s head at once—a koan of sorts.  The consequence of this is a feeling that “there is nowhere to go, there is nothing to do, there is no one to be.”  How do you inspire someone to act on that?

    While the tidal wave of technological revolution affects us all, there are tactics for the aspiring leader.  First, choose your audience carefully.  The smaller the target the better you can manage meaning.  Second, do your research to know what they know.  If you send out a company-wide email explaining why the organization has to make budget cuts next year, make sure that month’s newsletter doesn’t cover the lavish executive retreat the C-staff just came back from.  Third, frame events to motivate employees in the right direction.  The best stories inspire people toward an event (e.g. increased revenue) rather than away from something (e.g. decreased spending).

    As for the state of global leaders, I don’t envy their challenge.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2011

    Actualized Leadership and the Lugano Leadership Academy

    From July 5th through 9th Boston University and the Taylor Institute will be hosting a Leadership Academy in Lugano, Switzerland.  This executive workshop, aimed at middle to upper-level managers, will be featuring among its teaching team Dr. Will Sparks.

    The following background on Dr. Sparks is directly from his website,

    Will Sparks is an Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences at the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte.  He serves as the Director of Leadership Initiatives and founded the MS Program in Organization Development in 2008 at the McColl School. Concurrently, he is a Visiting Professor of International Management with Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland.
    He is a Principal with William L. Sparks & Associates, LLC, a professional services firm focused on leadership and team development, corporate creativity and innovation, and change management.  He is also a Managing Partner with Peter C. Browning & Associates, LLC, and consulting firm providing services to corporate Boards of Directors. 

    He has consulted with a variety of organizations in the public and private sectors, including the U.S. Navy, GlaxoSmithKline, Anheuser-Busch, the Bank of America, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, the United Way, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Will has published numerous research papers and book chapters, and has contributed articles to The Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte Business Journal.  He has also appeared in several Charlotte-area media outlets, including the CBS affiliate WBTV Channel 3, News Carolina Channel 14, and on “Charlotte Talks” on the NPR affiliate WFAE 90.7.  He is a coauthor of the book, The Combustion Research Facility: A Model for the 21st Century Open-User Facility, an R&D management case history published by the Department of Energy. 

    He is the author of the forthcoming book Actualized Leadership to be published in 2012.  He received the Fuqua Distinguished Educator Award for excellence in teaching at Queens in 2003 and 2005. In 2009, he was awarded the inaugural McColl School Leadership in Teaching Award.
    He holds a B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy from Winthrop University, an M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Human Resource Management from Appalachian State University.  He completed his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development under the direction of Dr. Jerry B. Harvey from the School of Business and Public Management at The George Washington University where his research focused on group dynamics, organizational culture, and leadership.

    Attached below is a link to a podcast on Actualized Leadership by Dr. Will Sparks.  It's well worth the listen:

    Part 1
    Part 2

    Join Dr. Sparks, Gary Knell of Sesame Street, me, and the rest of the BU/Franklin College team at the Leadership Academy.  I hope to see you there for four days of training, seminars, and executive networking!

    Saturday, April 2, 2011

    A Lesson from the Dogs: Owners are Friends with Money

    In one of the leadership classes I took at Boston University, we studied a case about the lives of several civil rights pioneers.  These individuals, all of whom had made significant contributions toward their cause, had come from impoverished childhoods and meager beginnings.  What they developed first, after a passion for learning, was a network.  Even though they had few resources themselves, they met people who had wealth in the form of contacts and money.  Since these future civil rights leaders had passion, charisma, and conviction, they were able to attract contacts and friends with money who supported them in their efforts.

    After discussing the case in class, I came home and opened the door to my two rambunctious, silly, and at times annoying dogs.  It struck me that they were living a good life while of course not making a dime simply because they had contacts with money (my wife and me) who found them compelling and endearing.  They were living on charisma alone, and we took care of the rest.  Michaele and I sometimes joked about them ‘earning their keep’ by protecting the house and how if we needed extra income we could always rent Paco out to herd cattle part-time.  But the truth of it was that they provided companionship, humor, and all the other perks of a loyal canine.  Of course they didn’t need money.

    It got me to thinking how many of us curb our aspirations or lower our expectations because of the perceived limitations of money.  It may be that we go to a local state school because the better private school we were admitted to was too expensive.  Maybe we forgo college altogether.  Or we think we can’t ever leave our soul-numbing cubicle job to pursue what we love because we need the paycheck.  Of course there are times when money is a real and important restriction and we need to take it into consideration in our decisions.  But in too many cases it can end up being our go-to excuse, a crutch that we lean on to justify why we do not pursue another path that might make us happier.  No risk, no reward, after all.  

    Entrepreneurs are known for their go-for-broke approach to following their passions.  They don’t let lack of money stand in the way of what they want to do.  By following their passion, and finding ways to make it work financially afterwards, they tend to have good rates of success.  Not every attempt will be successful, but out of the ashes of one attempt they will strive for their next one.  The first company may be funded on a credit card, or with money raised by friends and family, but once they are on their second and third companies they may have gotten the attention of other professional investors like venture capitalists.  They may not have money themselves, but their charisma, drive, and passion become clear to others with money who support them, to the success of all.

    It’s important to keep this in mind as we pursue our passions.  Money may be an important factor, but it is not the primary or even necessarily the most important factor that contributes to our success.  Natural leaders follow their passions with a passing consideration for money but do not consider lack of money as an excuse to quit or to abandon their dreams for a steady paycheck.

    Lesson:  It’s ok to have little money and few resources as long as you have a good motivation and are compelling and have friends or contacts with money.  If they believe in you they will support you one way or another.  I often look at the dogs and think what a sweet deal they have- nothing to do but play and eat and sleep.  Of course you don’t want to depend solely on others, but for those first crucial steps to success use the resources you have.  They don’t make a dime but their enthusiasm, warmth, and drive provides pleasure to us, so we enjoy supporting them.