Category Archives: leadership

As my mother once said "Don't do anything you wouldn't do if I was there."

Now that was a great way to keep me on the straight and narrow while I was looking for trouble as a teenager.

I've often thought of repeating the question as I encounter bad drivers flying by on the highway. "Does your mother know you drive like an idiot?"

Mothers are also an important influence to guide our ethical conduct in business. That was apparently understand by the jeweller in Cranbrook BC who had a conspicuous sign posted by the cash stating "We give instant credit to all our customers ... if they are over 90 and accompanied by their mother." Good credit guideline!

Most entrepreneurs and executives probably don't often think of their mothers on the job, unless she's the boss like Ma Boyle (pictured) at Columbia Sportswear. Maybe they should. We would probably have fewer issues of corporate misconduct if their mothers knew what was going on.

Perhaps instead of all those current management courses on ethics and corporate responsibility we only need to remind decision makers to ask themselves "Would my mother be proud of me, if she knew what I was doing?"

Sometimes mother knows best.

Why do I keep the duck? It's not a live duck, it's a painted plaster duck, so no care and feeding required. But it's old and faded from years in the garden through snow and rain then beside the bathtub or on a bookshelf. It's not attractive but it's a frequent reminder to be humble in my business decisions.

The duck was a Christmas gift exchange from a computer technician who worked for me in my first entrepreneurial venture, TTX Computer Products. He was also the first employee I had to fire. Not because of the duck.

It was a classic business slowdown in the early '90's and forced me to look at downsizing my staff. "Laid off due to economic circumstances" may sound better to the individual and look better on his resumé, but it was still a difficult and painful decision. Especially as I had made the committment to never fire anyone in my own company after having lived through the slow decline and never-ending terminations at AES Data right up to my own "departure" a few years earlier.

But I came to realize that the best way to protect the company and the other jobs was to accept the inevitable and reduce costs by lowering the most significant variable expense - staff levels. As a senior executive from AES assured me, "the only way to avoid ever firing anybody is to make perfect hiring decisions, and nobody is that smart".

And he was right. It was also not the last time for me to have people fired, laid off, or terminated and it never gets easier.

I wonder if those CEOs deciding to cut back by 10,000 or 30,000 people take it as personally. Do they actually sit face-to-face with any of those individuals and worry with them about their futures?

It has to be one of the toughest challenges for any entrepreneur or executive. And still a worthy objective to try and avoid any firings. So hire as "perfectly" as you can, then manage well enough to avoid those "economic circumstances" that lead to downsizing.

It may seem like we are getting more done by multitasking but maybe we would be more productive and deliver better results by focusing on one thing at a time.

I'm guilty of needing to keep all my faculties engaged by doing at least two things at once. Reading the paper, eating breakfast, listening to the radio would be typical. On Sunday night I'm switching between doing my blog, watching the hockey game and talking to my son in Vancouver. Probably not focusing adequately on any one of them but feeling productive by doing several things at once.

Also working on two interesting books at the same time. Jim Collins "Good to Great" and Henry Mintzberg's "Manager's, Not MBA's". Both have quite controversial and and unconventional points of view. Collins' research on companies that have gone from poor to exceptional performance concludes that none of them brought in celebrity CEOs that made big breakthrough strategic moves. Mintzberg makes a strong case against the value of an MBA for future managers and the damage done by the emphasis on analysis and bold strategic decisions by MBA trained executives. They would both suggest the recent history of HP under Carly Fiorina proves their point. She apparently disagrees.

Can we learn anything good from the celebrity CEOs that get so much attention as visionary leaders with exceptional entrepreneurial skills? I would say yes we can extract some useful ideas from their business strategies and tactics, but their are two important things to remember. First, their unique personalities and skill sets have a lot to do with their success (and their notoriety) and cannot be replicated. Second, their industry and company knowledge and experience may not translate into success in another company. That lesson has been very expensive to learn for many Boards of Directors and Shareholders. Think HP or Home Depot.

That's all for tonight. My battery is dying and Calgary-Detroit are in overtime!