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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Can Programs Be Poems?

Can Programs Be Poems?

“I knew Peter was well respected by many engineers in Silicon Valley, but I had no idea he was revered!

Peter was a scholar and a gentleman and a positive role model for any engineer he ever met. We miss him.”

— Austin Lesea, in IEEE

I had actually never heard of Peter Alfke until a friend of mine showed me an ode she wrote to his “obvious” idea of “FIFO”  (First In, First Out algorithm) for data queues. When he developed this algorithm, it was not considered obvious or easy.

While reading about Peter and the ideas he made into reality, I realized how many things that were once difficult are now considered quite easy.  And that is because of people like Peter.

Peter died in 2011 after an excellent career. From the stories shared by those who wrote about him, he was not just a brilliant man, but a good person. May we all have the chance to leave such an eloquent legacy.  May we have the chance to solve things that are difficult today, so that those who come after us can tackle even more interesting challenges.

Ode to FIFO

Seems obvious, I suppose
a simple idea
to chain data into a list
like people waiting at the DMV.
But nothing is really obvious
until someone makes it so.
I picture you as a little boy
holding someone’s hand
and quietly noticing the behavior of queues.
All that time in all those lines not wasted
because it showed you how
to make those data snakes
obedient and orderly.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

An example FIFO queue image by aykapog from Pixabay 

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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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Make the Exceptional Choice

Make the Exceptional Choice

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” — Padmasree Warrior

Do you feel the pressure of needing to do more and faster?

Some days, even weeks, do you feel like you are being flung from one fire to the next and are more like the pinball than the flippers?

A rare few leaders have mastered the mindset and skills to control their work and their speed to achieve great things, including the work-life balance they desire. More than that, they make those around them better. These leaders lead from start to finish and look like the world-class marathoners who win and look as if they could do another marathon right that moment.

For the last thirty years, Julia Mullaney and I have been debating, researching, discovering, and applying the X-Factors that give those leaders the exceptional difference above others. A quick summary of those factors is here.

  • Make commitments they keep or beat.  There is magic these leaders have. Everyone trusts them to deliver what they say they will deliver. They lead with a calm, get-it-done attitude. This contrasts dramatically with projects which constantly go from one crisis to the next.
  • Deliver solutions that work.  These leaders have command of effective quality methods that ensure they deliver solutions that work. It is critical to have a deep understanding of multiple methods in order to ensure that quality is a driving force in the development of solutions.  With this knowledge, these leaders know which methods to apply in each situation to get to high-quality solutions with speed.
  • Work on the right products at the right time. Lots of leaders are rushing, they might even look fast, but they often don’t have an answer to the question of “Where are you rushing to?” The people with this X-Factor know how to focus the best speed to the most important value. They lead people in designing solutions to drive value that scales rapidly over time. They do not tolerate technical debt that slows teams down.
  • Make those around them better. These leaders relentlessly work to create fun and productive work environments. More than that, they help make their stakeholders and clients better at what they do. They and their teams are inspiring role models to the organizations around them. 

These exceptional factors (X-Factors) do not happen by birthright or by accident.  These leaders made a choice that made them stand out from the crowd.  They choose to master these skills to provide the best value to the world,

We have developed an offering that enables people to make that exceptional choice to master these X-Factors.  Check out a description of the offering by clicking here.

I would love to talk about more with you.  
Write to me at [email protected], and we will set up a time.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU from Pexels

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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

"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...

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"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...

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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.

Are Your Third Rails Running Invisible Trains?

Are Your Third Rails Running Invisible Trains?

“If you don’t change your direction, you may end up where you are heading.” — Lao Tzu

Third rails are used to provide electric traction power in some train systems. Useful as they may be, these rails present an electrocution hazard and can cause death if touched.

Have you noticed that there are also third rails running through many organizations?  There are boundaries with such perceived danger that no one will cross those lines. If a policy or way of doing things is so powerful that it is unquestionable, it can prevent an organization from changing course even when a new direction is necessary.

Some organizational third rails are unspoken. For example, I was asked to help an organization where all the projects finished late to their schedules. I asked the group of 20 senior managers if it was okay to build a plan where a team could finish early. The whole group looked startled until one person stood up with a shaking voice, “It depends on how early!”  Even though they wanted more predictable schedules, it was scary for them to make their schedules realistic.

In other organizations, I have seen people struggle with tools that were not providing the value they needed. The tool was originally useful but had become less so as the business changed.  When I asked about alternative tools, I received looks of fear and quick changes of the subject. The tool was a third rail that everyone knew not to touch!

Third rails are powerful forces in organizations, just like they are for trains. They have often been useful sources of power until the organization experiences the need for a change.

The good news about organizational third rails is that they are just a metaphor. When you actually grab onto them and deal with them, they lose their power.  In both examples I provided, I helped the leaders grab the third rails, drain them of their power, and get better results for the organization.

Does your organization have any third rails that are running invisible trains?

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...

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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