The Stories We Tell Drive Our Culture

The Stories We Tell Drive Our Culture

“The engineers of the future will be poets.”— Terence McKenna

I recently visited the farm where I grew up. My sister and her family run the dairy farm now. My brother does crop farming. The farm has been going since 1837; 184 years of family farming.

My visit reminded me of how the stories we lived on the farm while growing up still inform me today. Here are three of the stories that formed my growing years.

A Civil War Marriage
While looking through many old papers, we found the wedding certificate of my second great-grandparents.  They were married less than a year after the end of the US Civil War. Even in the midst of our national storm, they found love and hope. The farm where my second great-grandfather was born carried on with him and with his descendants.

A fact I just discovered, they were married on January 6, 1866 – exactly 94 years before the day I was born.

Today’s picture is of those ancestors in their later years at our family homestead.

Best Innovation Of The Century
I once was reflecting with my mother on the exciting innovations she had experienced in her life. There were people that walked on the moon, television that we watched them on, and now telephones that rival the Star Trek communicators.

I said, “What was the best innovation for you?”

She paused awhile and then said, “Well, I remember so well having to go the outhouse in the winter, sometimes in the middle of the night. I just remember how awful cold it was when the draft blew up my nightgown. Indoor toilets are the winner for me.”

Lucky to Have You
I remember one day when my Dad was teasing my Mom.

Dad: “Dorothy, were you there when I almost died from spinal meningitis?”
Mom: “Yes Fritz, I was there the whole time.”
Dad: “Were you there when I almost died from that motorcycle accident?”
Mom: “Yes Fritz, I was there the whole time.”
Dad: “Were you there when I almost died from that heart attack?”
Mom: “Yes Fritz, I was there the whole time.”
Dad:  “Dorothy, you are just bad luck!”

My Dad grinned ear to ear and they hugged each other with such grace.

***
Hope. Belief. Practical wisdom. Humor. Love.
Great values to learn from, to live with.

What values are we imparting with the stories we co-create with our peers and with the teams we lead?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo of The Willett Farm family home in the 1880s.

You may also like:

Without Data, Talk About Quality Is Just Talk

This old photo represents what I am talking about today. That broken axel has disrupted everyone’s workday, taking them away from any creative work they were doing to advance the goals of their organizations.

Within the Rush, Find the Joy

I am always amazed about how busy this time of year is!

There is a rush to finish the business year well. At the same time, there is an emphasis on family togetherness and taking stock of personal achievements.

It can be difficult to find time to focus on joy.

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

Over the years I have learned that leadership is the number one factor in organizational and team productivity.

When you are focused on speed, do you call for the help you need?

A friend and I looked over what needed to be done and estimated it would take us at least two to three full days. Next I called in our local fence repair experts.

When Sparks Fly, Use The Heat To Forge Stronger Ideas

Even on the small screen of the video conference, the body language was clear. The teammates were about to engage in an argument based on some firmly held beliefs. The sparks were going to fly.

When Is It Most Important to Plan?

Planning should never be analysis paralysis. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have. Then go!

When Faced With the Impossible, Consider the Crazy

My brother Paul stared at the broken grain conveyor belt. I was almost a teenager, and I watched him with awe. He always seemed to come up with crazy ideas on how to fix things.

What Can We Learn From Others?

One of the delights of our walks around our woods and grasslands is being surprised by dragonflies.

Warning: Rapid Perspective Changes Ahead

Soon after watching the sunrise in a city very near Death Valley in California, I was talking with one of the residents.

Vroom Into the New Year

Now is the time to get started in the world of work again, and you want to get started fast!

How Do You Know If the Team Has Taken Ownership?

How Do You Know If the Team Has Taken Ownership?

They Know More, Care More, Do More Than You

The success of a vision is determined by its ownership by both the leader and the people.John C. Maxwell

“How do I know if the team has taken ownership of the challenge they have been given?”

When I have been asked this question, I know that I have not done a sufficient job of conveying what it looks and feels like when a team has taken full ownership.

The simple answer is that the team is demonstrating repeatedly that they know more, care more, do more about the mission they have been given than you can.        

Here are five examples of what this behavior looks like to management that has given ownership to teams.

  1. The team has made a commitment to their own schedule.  The team didn’t just accept the request to be done in some amount of time. Instead, the team estimated all the work in detail. The team came back to you and said when they could accomplish the task even if it was later than your wishes.
  2. When there are schedule troubles, the team works to solve the problems without involving the management team. When there is team ownership, the team keeps a close eye on the commitments they made.  When there are problems, the team’s first reaction is to figure out how to make sure they can get back on track.  The best teams inform management of the corrections they have already made.
  3. When the team can’t solve problems, they ask for what is needed.  When the team cannot solve problems themselves, they bring options to management.  They will explain the problem, all the actions the team has taken to correct the problem, what ideas they have for how management can help.
  4. The team looks out for the long-term benefits of the organization.   Sometimes teams under pressure will take shortcuts. Those shortcuts may get a task done quickly but also incur technology debt. The technology debt will cause future delays in work.  The best teams do not make these types of decisions lightly. They will involve management in decisions that affect the long-term outcomes of the organization.
  5. The team puts in the extra effort to finish projects with style.   The teams with the most ownership ensure they cross the finish line of the project with style. They ensure customers are engaged and ready. They have project data recorded for future reference. 

Teams with great ownership thank their management for the opportunity to excel.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

You may also like:

Without Data, Talk About Quality Is Just Talk

This old photo represents what I am talking about today. That broken axel has disrupted everyone’s workday, taking them away from any creative work they were doing to advance the goals of their organizations.

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

Over the years I have learned that leadership is the number one factor in organizational and team productivity.

When Sparks Fly, Use The Heat To Forge Stronger Ideas

Even on the small screen of the video conference, the body language was clear. The teammates were about to engage in an argument based on some firmly held beliefs. The sparks were going to fly.

When Is It Most Important to Plan?

Planning should never be analysis paralysis. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have. Then go!

When Faced With the Impossible, Consider the Crazy

My brother Paul stared at the broken grain conveyor belt. I was almost a teenager, and I watched him with awe. He always seemed to come up with crazy ideas on how to fix things.

Under Pressure?

I have a folder on my computer labeled “engineering disasters”.
I add to it anytime I see articles about problems that resulted from engineering failures.

To Pursue Personal Excellence, Start with a Focus on Value

Steve Jobs once said, “We are here to put a dent in the universe.” When I think about that quite literally, I do laugh out loud. But I do appreciate the idea!

Time is a Predator

The team I was coaching was behind schedule. The good news was that this was an exceptional team, and as such, they knew exactly why.

Three Things I Learned on the Inspired Leadership Show

One of the delightful things in being interviewed is that I always learn something new. Angie and Kelsey’s show is so dynamic I learned many things.

There are Benefits to Speed. For Example, T-Shirts!

In the midst of social distancing, sitting tight with my family, and with all my near-term travel converted to virtual venues, the release date of Lead With Speed is still drawing near.

Focus First on What is Necessary

Focus First on What is Necessary

“It is no use saying “we are doing our best.” You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”— Winston Churchill

In my consulting, I have seen some organizations working long hours but not achieving the organizational mission. In their minds, they are giving their “best-effort” because they are working so hard. Often, they are also doing very high-quality work.

However, on examination, they are not doing what is necessary.  The following are the keys to getting your organization to do just “their best” but to do what is necessary.

Set clear, motivating goals.  When JFK proposed “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth by the end of the decade,” he put out clear, easily measurable goals. This enabled everyone in the organization to evaluate their effort against this challenging goal constantly. Does your organization have clear, measurable goals for people to strive for and measure themselves against?

Rationally manage risks. It is key to create an environment where there is no fear about raising risks and issues. Your organization should consistently measure activities against goals and safely speak about where the risks are. The most important piece of this task is to take appropriate action when it is required.

Eliminate unnecessary activities.  One leader wrote to me about how he did Épée Fencing in college. He found that the more he eliminated extraneous movements, the better fencer he became. Removing the extraneous made more room for the necessary. The same is now true of his organization.

Today’s picture is the targeting system for speed from my book Lead With Speed.  This targeting system helps leaders focus the organization on doing what is necessary. The center of the target is a reminder to focus on what is needed to provide your customers with “wow” value.  

The leaders with whom I discussed this topic all agreed. This attribute of the exceptional leadership mindset is a subtle one that needs constant attention. It is necessary!

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.

Boldly Choose The Future

Boldly Choose The Future

Sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the decision right.Phil McGraw

“This is so hard. I have two excellent job offers, and I don’t know how to choose!” 

Most people react to this kind of statement with a laugh and a remark of, “Oh, it must be rough to have to choose between two great things.”

Whether you have to choose between two bad options or two great ones, it will be stressful.  What many people don’t realize is that this stress is not the same as the momentary overwhelm one might feel when making a short-term choice like “What should I choose off a restaurant menu where everything looks so good?”  The pressure in big decisions comes from people’s sense that their personal ‘train tracks’ are diverging and will take them to significantly different future places.

When you face a choice that leads to divergent paths, consider doing the following thought experiments.

1.  What is the future you would love to see for yourself?  Or your product, your company, or all of the above. The choices you are facing will help you envision the future.  But also, stand in the future and consider what excellent outcomes you think could come from the choices you make.  Write them down.  Highlight the items that bring you the most excitement.

2. Consider both the risks and rewards of the choices.  Weigh them.  What possible negative consequences do these choices contain? What would the impact be if those risks came true? Also, consider how likely those risks are for each path.  Do the same for the potential rewards.

3. Talk to the people who are joining you on the journey the decision will invoke. Big decisions rarely involve just you. The people who are on the ‘train’ with you will have their perspectives.  Talk to people outside the train as well. They can sometimes see farther ahead than you can.  

4.  What is the absolute deadline for making this decision? I’m not particularly eager to procrastinate on big decisions. However, there are times when waiting longer can reveal the final information you need.

5.  In the end, be decisive.  Eventually, you must choose.  Exceptional leaders choose without regret or guilt. They move boldly into the future.

Now that you made the decision, roll up your sleeves, get to work, and make the decision right. 

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by pine watt 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.

Here Come the Closing Months of 2021!

Here Come the Closing Months of 2021!

“It always seems impossible until it is done.”— Nelson Mandela

The abruptness of the season change this past week caused an automatic reaction in me.  

For us, August was often quite hot with a ‘dog days’ level of humidity. The first week of September was much cooler. Crickets and cicadas now dominate the soundscape. We can sense autumn approaching.  Summer fruits are nearing the end and fall apples are starting to get ripe. By reflex, we began cleaning out summer items and preparing for the fall season.

This change of season is a signal for me to look up and look out at the approaching end of the year horizon for my business and the businesses of my clients.  

2021 has been a challenging year for many leaders.  The ongoing pandemic and all its associated repercussions are a continuing underlying stress. They also create many barriers that prevent business as usual. 

Here are three things to do to inspire your teams and yourself to find the right rhythm to finish 2021 with style.

Celebrate how far you have come. Look back at the last eight months.  You may not have achieved everything that was planned, but I am certain that much has been accomplished.  This has been done while leaping over tremendous obstacles. Take a moment to recognize these accomplishments for yourself and for those you lead.  

Re-motivate on your goals for year-end.  Consider the goals you and your teams had at the start of the year.  Are they still possible? Have you already over-achieved? Whichever way they fall, work together to update your goals. Define what you want to accomplish in 2021 and how you want to start 2022.  

Update your plans for September to lead into a magnificent final quarter of 2021. I love the Nelson Mandela quote. So often I see people with intentions I thought were impossible.  People have seen my big ambitious goals and thought they were unattainable. The thing is, they are impossible until we aspire to them. They cannot become a reality until we put a plan in place and work relentlessly to make them possible.

Enjoy the change of seasons. Let’s work to keep moving forward and doing good in the world.

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.

When Sparks Fly, Use The Heat To Forge Stronger Ideas

When Sparks Fly, Use The Heat To Forge Stronger Ideas

“When sparks fly, some truly great ideas come to light.” — David Heinemeier Hansson

Even on the small screen of the video conference, the body language was clear. The teammates were about to engage in an argument based on some firmly held beliefs. The sparks were going to fly.

At points like this, the two most likely outcomes are opposites. The heat of friction can be of a destructive nature, burn a hole in the relationship, and make a bigger chasm between the positions. Or the heat of friction can be used to create something new and better while bringing a higher level of trust between the protagonists.

I teach people the following steps to ensure that the positive outcome is the most likely outcome.

  1. With joy, say, “I can tell by the heat of responses there is something significant here!”  I encourage people to adopt a positive attitude about conflict and treat it as an opportunity to learn more about the people and the topic. In other words, it is not about winning. It is about learning.
  2. Explore and listen.  Each person should question the other to understand their position fully. What are their goals, and what are their worries?
  3. Find the common goals.   The listening exposes shared goals. Take a moment to note all the shared goals. Now, it becomes a discussion about different pathways to find the best approach.
  4. Allow the heat to spark new ideas.  By this point, many new ideas and approaches have emerged. Fan the flames. There will be more ideas than before.  There might even be more arguments than before.  Now is the time to change the pace.
  5. Take a break.  I personally have found this approach to be most valuable. My arguments with my colleagues have typically been quite robust. We are all quite passionate about our ideas because to us they are so important!  The break allows the ideas to come together, merge, and create new ideas.
  6. Re-engage, Re-combine.  By the next morning, we often find we have new ideas and that they are coming together.  They are better ideas than we started with.

The video conference I was in turned out to be very fun. The protagonists did have an excellent fight with their ideas. And they did so in the way I outlined above. The robust discussion had improved the ideas.

When you are about to engage in your next fight about ideas, take a moment to rub your hands together and say, “Okay, let’s have some fun.  Let’s use the heat to forge stronger ideas.”

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Sandeep Singh 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.

The Key to Speed is the Focus on Value

The Key to Speed is the Focus on Value

“Gravity is the universal force of attraction acting between all matter. Gravity is measured by the acceleration that it gives to freely falling objects. At Earth’s surface, the acceleration of gravity is about 9.8 meters (32 feet) per second per second.”
— From, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

When clients tell me that they have to go faster, I often ask them, “faster to where?”

The point of my question is this – speed doesn’t matter if you don’t know where you are going. The focus must always be on speed to the most important value for your customers and your organization.

There is an attribute to this focus that is equally important.  A focus on value actually creates a force of gravity for everyone working on the project. The more important and compelling the value, the more fun it is for everyone to work on the projects that bring that value to customers.

Here are three factors to consider when inspiring people to work on projects in your organization.

Value to customers.  Be clear about what the project will do for your customers. How will the project improve the customer’s situation? Will it make your customer’s business more successful? Will it help their leaders feel more in control?  The more clearly and concisely you can tell the story, the more gravity that value story will create.

Value to the organization.  The story of value should also include the good for the organization. Yes, more profit is likely to be good for the organization.  Consider also whether the project brings interesting customers for everyone to work with.  Will the projects make people proud of their contributions?  Is the project a building block to even more exciting projects later?

Value to the individuals.  Is the project a challenge for the people working on it?  Will it help them build more skills? 

The more valuable a project is, the higher the gravitational pull of the project will be.  It will bring out the best in the people working on it. They will enjoy the thrill of speed to value.

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.

The Power of Teammates

The Power of Teammates

Create An Environment of Support And Accountability

We encourage each other. It’s what teammates do.
— Bashir Abdi, Bronze medalist 2020 Tokoyo Olympics

I saw many inspiring moments while watching the Olympics this year. One moment that stood out above them all came at the end of the men’s marathon race.

Eliud Kipchoge ran the perfect marathon with poise and a smile.  Three men battled for the two remaining medals of silver and bronze more than one minute behind Eliud.

I have run many races myself, including marathons and ultra-marathons. I know what it feels like when I have nothing left and when I can no longer pull out some more speed to get ahead of that competitor next to me.  Watching the marathon, I saw Bashir Abdi in that situation I have felt before.  He was on empty, and I believed he would not be able to medal. He was in the late-race collapse of legs and will.

And then I saw something amazing.

Abdi Nageeye from the Netherlands slowed and kept urging Bashir to not give up. While looking over his shoulder, he kept encouraging Bashir to give it his all.

With pain on his face, Bashir was pulled by his friend’s words and was able to pass the other competitor from Kenya. He finished the race with a grimace, a bronze medal, and finally, a smile. He gave a long embrace of thanks to Abdi Nageeye.

Watching this made me think of how difficult it can be to bring creative projects across the finish line. One of the greatest jobs we have as leaders is to create an environment of support and accountability where teammates reach out and help each other across the finish lines of success.

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Photo by Lance Grandahl 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.

5 Tips to Avoid Creating Dust Collecting Materials

5 Tips to Avoid Creating Dust Collecting Materials

What We Produce Should Be Useful and Used

Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.
— Anton Checkhov

“Hmm, I don’t know who uses it”, was the honest answer I received to my question.

I was coaching an overburdened leader.  When I reviewed the complete list of things the leader was doing, updating a manual loomed as a large time commitment.  When I work with overcommitted people, I often look for tasks they are doing where the best answer might be “no” or at the very least “not now”.

After a brief survey of a few people, the leader decided to stop doing updates to the manual and see what happened.  It’s now two years later, and still, no one is complaining.  In fact, many people were happy to hear that the manual was being removed from the library.  Somehow the organization had created a large document that no one valued. The fact that no one was using the document made the lack of value crystal clear.

In doing a retrospective of how this even happened, we determined that each of these five critical steps was missed.

  1. Determine the audience for your creation and what value you are adding for that audience.  This should be as specific as possible.  In other words, don’t say the document is for “Organization X” unless the document is useful to all 500 people in the organization.  Get specific.  For example, “This document is for Organization X’s leadership.  It provides guidance on key problem areas customers are having and how to solve those issues.”
  2. Test your premise before putting in significant effort. It is important to know if this audience has the problem you think they have.  How do you test?  The first step is to talk to people about the issues they are facing and share your ideas about how you think you can help.
  3. Test a rapid prototype.  Returning to our example, don’t write the whole book of all the problems.  Pick one specific common customer problem that leadership often has a hard time-solving.  Provide a write-up that details various approaches that have worked to solve that problem.  Did your prototype show that this approach has potential?  
  4. Track whether what you produced is useful and used.  The leader I was working with found no one who used the manual they were updating. A little more research uncovered that people knew it existed. The manual wasn’t a well-kept secret that people didn’t know was out there. Instead, people were clear it wasn’t used because it wasn’t useful.  Go back to the first steps if that occurs.  Find a problem that is useful to solve.
  5. Learn and adjust.  You may find that the written documentation worked for some people, but most people found that having you talk through the solutions worked even better.  When this happens, some organizations take the approach to build short videos to augment the write-ups.  The two can work brilliantly together.

The leader who was maintaining a dust-covered manual was happy to put the manual and the dust in the waste heap of yesterday.  Freed from the burden, the leader was able to focus on big problems whose solutions were valuable to the organization.

Leaders find this last question challenging but find that answering it is very valuable.

Is any of the work you are producing destined to be a dust collector?

Yours in the calm pursuit of excellence,


Alan Willett

Image by Monsterkoi from Pixabay

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.

Take a Chainsaw to Speed Barriers

Take a Chainsaw to Speed Barriers

“You own the accelerator for the speed of your own work and the work of those that you lead.”   — Immutable Law of Speed #1 From “Lead With Speed”

There was a tree down across the road. Speed limits were suddenly irrelevant. The engine power of any of the cars waiting had also been made irrelevant.

We have had many storms in the area recently, and trees down across trails and roads have been a more frequent experience than usual. Road workers have become the leaders who own the number one key to speed in this situation. They have chainsaws.

Over the years, and especially recently, I have worked with numerous leaders who encountered various types of metaphorical storms that put multiple barriers in the way of speed. These barriers have ranged from the impacts of the pandemic to events like significant changes in tools that affect everyone’s workflow.

The best leaders I work with are on the constant watch for anything from a speed bump to a roadblock impacting their teams. These leaders walk around with their own ‘chainsaws’ to clear those barriers. They do and say things that are different from those said by less attuned leaders. For example, these exceptional leaders say things like:

  • “Put in a purchase request for the things you need.  I will ensure they are funded.”
  • “I see what the technical issue is.  I don’t know how to fix it, but I know who can.  I will ask person X, and you will be flying again.”
  • “I understand the policy I put in place is negatively impacting your ability to get things done. I will modify it to address your issues.”

The most extraordinary thing great leaders do is give people their own chainsaws and teach them how to use them. 

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.

Pin It on Pinterest