Why Invest $ in Training, Coaching, & Making Leaders Better?

Why Invest $ in Training, Coaching, & Making Leaders Better?

You Must Have Conviction. The First Sale Is To Yourself.

“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”— Henry Ford

Leadership is the number one factor in organizational and team productivity.

In one of my Masters of Science courses, I learned an important truth. In his course, “Software Engineering Economics,” Barry Boehm explained he had learned (from his analysis of hundreds of system development organizations), that the factor of leadership was greater than all others. Greater than factors such as experience in programming languages, choices of development methodologies, and even knowledge of the customer domain.

Boehm determined that the factor of leadership was 4.18 times more powerful than all the other factors. (Yes, he was that precise with his data.)

I found the same thing true with my research and work with hundreds of more organizations. In my own book, I wrote that the first immutable law of speed for leaders is:  You own the accelerator for the speed of your own work and the work of those that you lead.

No one argues with me on that truth. Yet, many leaders find it very hard to get the training or coaching they desire and need.

Here are some compelling ways to get your executives to invest in your leadership skills and abilities.

  1. Speak the language of the executives. You will need to present your case to an executive who owns the budget.  What are the executive’s concerns for the business? How will this investment help you solve their problems?
  2. Focus on value. When you ask for something like this, you are making a personal commitment to provide a return on investment to your organization.  What will the benefits to the organization be? Can you show how this will increase your contributions to speed and profit?  
  3. Ensure it is highly recommended.  Do research.  Have others experienced a high return from the experience you want to invest in?  Consider asking past “graduates” about the value they received.  Their words will be compelling.
  4. Show your commitment. Be prepared to explain your commitment by detailing in the time you will put in and how you will pursue getting maximum value from the investment.  Further, you should promise a final report showing what you learned and how you are enacting those learnings in the organization. 
  5. Have conviction. The biggest factor in your ability to “seal the deal” on your organization investing in you is your conviction.  I always got the investments I needed in training, coaching, technology.  I had the conviction that it was right for the organization. The first sale is always to yourself.

Do these steps. If you have sold yourself on how important it is, you will find that making the case to your executives is much easier.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Are you ready to do exceptional leadership in technology development?  Learn about the Exceptional Difference programs here.
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Manage Your Capacity To Provide the Greatest Value (or Don’t Spill the Beer!)

Manage Your Capacity To Provide the Greatest Value (or Don’t Spill the Beer!)

“As we all know, it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent.”— John Cleese

While I was in Ireland, one of the stops we made was at the Guinness brewery. One of the delights of the stop was being professionally trained on how to pour the perfect beer from the tap.

One of the key tricks was that you could let the suds run over the edge of the glass. In fact, letting the suds run over was encouraged to make more room for the Guinness. There was an essential caveat to this process. One must never let the liquid beer spill over the edge.

Too many people miss this in their personal planning process. They take on many more projects and commitments than it is possible to complete in the time they have available. Imagine for a minute that the tasks people are taking on are a combination of figurative suds and beer. The beer is the most important value. The suds are the noise or the less valuable projects. The suds may seem urgent at the time, but they are just foam at the end of the year.

The problem for these overcommitted people is that their level of overcommitment doesn’t allow time to sort out the suds from the beer. Beer is constantly spilling onto their floors as they miss what the important projects really are.

The following are three critical steps to help you overcome your overcommitment habits.

  • Estimate the work you are taking on. This is really quite easy to do, although most people complain that it is impossible. Use your previous experience to look realistically at the maximum time the task might take and with that starting point think about the most likely amount of time it will take. You don’t know all the details but you can make educated guesses.  Add up all your quesses.
  • Estimate the actual capacity you have to do that work. Look at your days, weeks, and upcoming months.  Meetings and other overhead already consume how much time in a day?  What major events are coming up that prevent you from doing your project work?  How much time is left?  It is a rare person who finds they have more than 25 hours in a week for doing focused, non-interrupted project work.
  • Learn to say “later” if you can’t say no.  Most people who are overcommitted are surrounded by people who are practicing the same habit of beer spilling. People find it difficult to be very different from those around them. Once you know your capacity, you don’t need to always say “no”, but you can be kind enough to let people know when you will really get it done. Learn to say “later.”

I am certified to pour the perfect glass of beer. I know which suds I can let spill on the floor. I treat my most important projects as sacredly as the glasses of Guinness I learned to pour. Do you?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

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A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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Great Processes Are For The People Who Use Them

Great Processes Are For The People Who Use Them

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” — Charles Mingus

At my last house, we decided to put in a fence between our yard and our neighbor’s.  We lived in the city where everyone had small back yards with no discernible gap between them.  We discussed it with our neighbors, and they thought it was a good idea.  

We were both concerned that it would make our already small yards smaller.  The surprise for both of us was that our respective yards got bigger! Before the fence, we were both staying clear of about four feet of either side of the property line. With the fence, we both gained that unclaimed space.

The creativity to play with our yard was unleashed.  We were able to grow many more flowers and vegetables.

I have worked with many organizations that have successfully grown organically over the years without formal processes. However, once they grew to a point where the work and the organization became more complex, productivity dipped, and successful results became less consistent.

People feared formalizing processes because they would hinder creativity. It would slow them down.  Just as we did, they thought it would make their “yards” smaller.

In complex work, a straightforward process provides benefits similar to our fence.  Here are five benefits of a good process. If you are not getting these benefits, it is not a good process.

The process is awesomely simple.  The best processes appear so simple they are immediately understandable.  It takes work to get there, and it is worth it.

Things are not forgotten. When working with many people or work involving multiple steps, it is easy for something to be missed. A good process provides clear guidance for getting things done and ways to ensure they have been done well.

New people can be productive quickly.  Newcomers often struggle when joining an organic, informal organization. A well-developed process enables new people to contribute to the organization’s creative work quickly.

Results can be measured.  A good process enables the measurement of the work. This is an excellent benefit because everyone can better understand the work and how it contributes to the business outcomes desired.

A good process will adapt and change.  Ultimately a good process is never a static process. It is practical, used, and improved. The process owners can prove that it has improved because a good process enables measurement of results and improvement over time.

One last note. We put a gate in our fence so we could easily go between our yard and our neighbor’s. Although good fences might make good neighbors, we found that shared cookouts make great neighbors. Whether you are working with fences or creating processes, the people using them are the most important part of the equation.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Image by Tim Hill from Pixabay 

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A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

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ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

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New Ideas Need Nurturing Even When They are “Great”

New Ideas Need Nurturing Even When They are “Great”

“I like to think of ideas as potential energy. They’re really wonderful, but nothing will happen until we risk putting them into action.” Mae Jemison

In the springtime, I will often take a longer way home when I am out in the car doing errands. I do this so I can drive by cows that are also enjoying the spring.  I very much enjoy seeing the newborn calves being taken care of by their mothers.

Newborn calves are up walking amazingly quickly, but they still need care and protection. When I was watching a new calf in the field last week, it was on shaky legs, and the mom-cow was taking good care of the youngster.
The shaky legs calf reminded me of a struggle one of my clients was having.  They had put a new idea into the organization that they believed everyone would quickly adapt.  My client was surprised when everyone was ignoring it.  The idea seemed so simple and had such clear benefits.  Yet nothing was happening.

The idea couldn’t even stand up on its shaky legs.

I gave guidance that the idea needed at least three steps of care and feeding.

  1. Engage people in the idea you are presenting.  Ask them to give examples of how it won’t work.  And then ask for ideas of how it could work.
  2. Challenge one of your more receptive people to pick a small project they could try the idea on.   In doing so, ask them to define success or failure for the outcome of their experiment.
  3. Offer as much help to the project trying your idea as they will accept.

These steps may seem simple and obvious because they are.  However, too many people introduce new ideas and let them flounder without the proper nurturing.

When I drove by that cow field yesterday, those newborn calves were now running and jumping.

My client’s ideas had also now found their legs and were on the way to a healthy future.

  1. List item number one goes here
  2. List item number two or the second can go right here just after list item number one
  3. I guess this one must be the third item because here it is just after the second one
  4. And so on with items in this ordered list!
  • List item number one goes here
  • List item number two or the second can go right here just after list item number one
  • I guess this one must be the third item because here it is just after the second one
  • And so on with items in this ordered list!
They find it hard to believe that is possible to deliver defect-free software to customers.  And I am telling them our goal is to deliver near defect-free software to test. I am also working to help them understand that doing work in this was does not sacrifice speed. It is actually faster.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

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"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

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ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

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Making the Leap

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How to Spend a Snow Day

How to Spend a Snow Day

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”— Scott Adams

When I was in school in western New York, occasionally the schools would close because of excessive cold and snow. This was good because my parents really needed all of us to be available to keep the farm going! While the whole area was being shut down, we were out there taking care of cows, making sure the pipes didn’t freeze and finding that all the usual chores took hours longer than usual. We had to keep everything going when the power went out, which it did in almost every blizzard.

I’m remembering that this morning as I am watching the reports of the intense snowstorm descending on our area.

Working in the world of technology has changed how a storm affects me. My work does continue despite snow and ice. With my cellphone providing a hotspot, I can even work through power outages. The difference is that I can stay warm and comfortable while working and enjoy watching the snowfall.

I think it is important to remember all the people for whom blizzards mean extra work, including my sister, who is still out there farming. Stay warm Sis! Stay safe everyone!

During this winter storm, I will be doing my usual work. I will also be out there shoveling and helping my neighbors. I will be sure to call my sister. I hope I remember to be extra kind to all the workers who have to negotiate the weather to get to their jobs at hospitals and everywhere else they are required.

I’ll also make sure I get out there and commit some “random acts of snowmen”.

Whether you live in a snow belt or not, I’m guessing there are some days when nature adds extra challenges. What do you do on your ‘snow days’?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Alan Willett

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

Design Is the Fuel of Long Term Speed

Design Is the Fuel of Long Term Speed

“If you think good design expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”— Ralf Speth

Great design is the foundation of speed to value for any organization.

Too often, the pressure is on people to hurry up and get something done. People attempt to do good work under that pressure. They quickly get something new created. They get it out in front of people, and it gets used. The team then iterates on that first product and incrementally improves it.

This is not bad, at first. But, sooner or later, the team will struggle. They will get slower and slower as they try to add more features to that initial design.

I have seen this happen to many good teams. Eventually, management thinks they are a failed team.

Exceptional leaders are masters at leading the design process.

  • They know when to do prototypes and why.
  • They hone the ability to switch gears from the prototyping sandbox to the production process.
  • The master the 7+ different types of technical debt.  They know what to do when they have technical debt. They know how to prevent technical debt.
  • They know that great design results in the best speed to customer value.
  • They know that design is where creativity lives.

I have coached multiple teams to make the mindset shift to be masters of design. They increased their speeds by 10x and more.

Becoming a master of design is a core part of the Exceptional Engineer (SM) Experience. You can see some more details here.

One of my mentors often talked about the importance of design. Her mantra was and is, “The key to great products is Design, Design, Design.”  I agree. What do you think?​

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

You may also like:

Endurance Is Not Always a Virtue

I have seen leaders show great endurance in leading marathon projects. They are putting in marathon hours. The sweat sheen on them and their teams is obvious, even heroic.

Do You Need a Win?

A client wrote to me recently with a note that said simply “I need a win.” Have you been there, where it feels like you have faced a sudden losing streak and quite simply there is a need for a win? I have. I expect Elon Musk is looking for one with Tesla.

The Reader’s Edge

The exceptional leaders are voracious consumers of information. They listen to audio books, they read books, they seek out others to hear their stories. The things they read spans multiple genres, time periods, and cultures.

ANNIVERSARIES ARE IMPORTANT MARKERS

"Ritual is important to us as human beings. It ties us to our traditions and our histories." — Miller Williams, Poet My wife and I just celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Even though real work of building a life together happens in the minutes and hours between...

LEADERSHIP ON FATHER’S DAY

"Welcome to Sherwood!" — Robin Hood Father's Day was a delight for me. My family treated me a number of fun things. I was served breakfast in a hammock. I was treated to a delicious cold milkshake at a local ice-cream shop. My daughter and I have a plan to go buy some...

SUDS MAY SPILL, BEER SHOULD NOT

"I have never had to face anything that could overwhelm the native optimism and stubborn perseverance I was blessed with. " — Sonia Sotomayor One of my best clients and I were enjoying the start of our day at a local coffee cafe. We covered a range of topics and one...

PERSISTENCE, PREY, AND IDEAS

"Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery. " — Mark Amidon The Washington DC zoo has this very interesting roulette-style wheel located just past the cheetah exhibit. You spin the wheel to find out if you caught your prey, your...

ANTICIPATE INFLECTION POINTS

"A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. that change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end." — Andrew Grover There are a wave of...

PATIENCE, PASSION, PERSISTENCE, PROGRESS

"Even though it is not always easy… being a planetary scientist is one of the coolest jobs on the planet!" — Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle   Imagine exploring Titan! And to be clear, I am not referring to the planet Titan of Thanos (Avengers), I am referring to a...

Making the Leap

Paradigm leaps take need, courage, and sweat. You will notice a different look and feel to the newsletter this week. Earlier this year, I became unsatisfied with a few key things and decided to make some changes.

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