Right or Obligation?

“If you don’t vote, then I don’t wanna hear you (complain)!”

–     Dick Heston (1933 -2002), my dad, a farmer, factory-worker and maybe the smartest dude I’ll ever know

Tomorrow is election day.  You had heard an ad or two, right?

That means two things that are very important to consider.

First, as of Wednesday AM, we should be able to watch a football or basketball game without learning all the horrible things that may or may not be true about one candidate or another.  I. Hate.  Political.  Ads.  Even as a “right-leaning, small goverment guy,” I wish they’d pass a law that says, no “committee” can place a candidate ad, and when a candidate does, they can’t mention their opponent and must stick solely to what they believe and intend to do themselves.  But I digress…

Second, Dad was right.  If we haven’t voted early, and we don’t vote tomorrow, the question becomes, have we failed to maximize our right to vote, or have we failed to fulfill our obligation to vote.  It’s none of my business.  For me, it’s an obligation.  It’s not optional.  But, I also won’t bi…, oh, as I paraphrased Dad above….complain.  The most amazing and beautiful thing about our system, even some 242 years later, is, it’s still the best thing going.  At least for now. At least until we wreck it.  But, until then, remember, this is the only country on earth that people are fighting to get into.  We ought to take that almost as seriously as either the right or the obligation to participate by voting.

Here’s to the future.  Our future.  Together.  Especially that part where there are no political ads for about 15 months, beginning Wednesday AM.

Editor’s Note:  One side or the other will have you believe that Wednesday AM also signals the end of the world as we know it.  It won’t.  It’ll just be Wednesday morning.  And, like every other day, it’s about what we do next!



Making it Easy, Making it Hard

“Organizations have way too many blind spots when it comes to management.  They often make the right things too difficult and frustrating, and make the wrong things too easy.”

–     Robert L. Sutton, in “The Biggest Mistakes Bosses Make When Making Decisions” (The Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2018)

It’s not like bosses or companies intend to do the wrong things, or make it too difficult to stop doing them in favor of the right things, it’s just an easy trap to fall into.

Sutton puts depth behind each of the four mistakes (it’s an article worth reading), which are: 1) Telling people they have a voice when they really don’t, 2) Not knowing when to slow down, 3) Treating “final” decisions as anything but final and 4) Using decision-making as a substitute for action.

The Journal also recently cited the reasons some companies succeed in declining industries and one key metric driving that success was employee engagement and development.

Contrast that finding with mistake #1 above, and you’ve got our starting point for success.  Talented and engaged employees with clear expectations and an even clearer understanding of their roles are foundation.  Managing the pace of change is important (#2), and we can add rocket booster to that by sticking with decisions (#3) until new information — really new information or feedback, not just instinct or “buyer’s remorse” — dictate that we change course.  Then, of course, we have to act (#4).  No times have ever called more for roll-up-the-sleeves leadership.  We earn respect when we’re decisive and inclusive.  We keep it and grow it when we’re actively involved in executing on the decisions.

The metrics need not be complex.  Simply asking ourselves and the team — how easy (or difficult) is it to do the “right thing” in our daily routine?  If the answer isn’t what we’d like it to be, look first at the processes (are they necessary, antiquated, effective or too complex) for the easiest answers.  If it ain’t the process, it might be the clarity of the expectations, and that’s on us.  If it ain’t the process and it ain’t the clarity of the expectations, then it’s the people — and there’s no more important decision a leader can make that having the right people in the right roles at the right time.



Clarity’s Role In Great Teams

“Great creates clarity.”

–     Colin Cowherd, sports talking head, on coaching (also attributed to Joe Calloway, leadership consultant)

Normally, I avoid Cowherd’s stuff.  He’s kind of a blowhard who’s glass is half-empty and the water is sorta dirty.  Not a positive guy, which isn’t saying much in the state of media, sports or otherwise, today, but I digress…

However, as a card-carrying, stockholding, ticket-owning fan of the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers, I noticed this quote on the closed captioning at the gym the other day, and pulled up the clip when I got home.  He was referencing a very dopey play by a member of the Packers — not so much as a dopey play on the part of the player, but as a sign that the Packer’s Coach, Mike McCarthy, may be part of the problem.

Look, as leaders, we’re sometimes part of the problem, right?  It’s a complex world, no one’s perfect and the job ain’t getting any easier these days.

The example here is solid, though.  If and when we are part of the problem, it’s probably because we haven’t clearly defined the expectations for our teams, or because we’ve somehow otherwise left clarity outside waiting in the hall while we’re planning, plotting and executing in the fog.

Great parents create clarity for their kids.  Great friends create clarity for their mates.  Great teachers create clarity for their students and great coaches create clarity for their teams.  So, it stands to reason, then, that great leaders create clarity — top-to-bottom and throughout their organizations.

If that’s all we do, the world gets simpler, we get closer to perfect (or at least really, really good) and the job, not surprisingly, gets easier.

Great creates clarity and clarity makes a difference.


Miracle of The Moment and The Moment Itself

” ‘Cause we are who and where
And what we are for now
And this is the only moment
We can do anything about

So breathe it in and breathe it out
And listen to your heartbeat
There’s a wonder in the here and now
It’s right there in front of you
I don’t want you to miss the miracle of the moment”

          –     Lyric from “The Miracle of The Moment” by Steven Curtis Chapman

Spoiler alert — I’m shortening the series on mindset to three days.  Two and a half, technically.  Mindset, as applied by Dr. Carol S. Dweck in her book of the same title, is a simple concept, which expands to envelope organizations as well as the people within them.  But, as we wrap up Lyric Month in the DD, this song is the right way to close.  You see, the difference between the growth and fixed mindset is most evident in the moment.  The fixed mindset lets the moment be the matter.  The growth mindset uses the moment to matter.

Thanks, Dr. Dweck.  It’s a great book, and a great concept, with tons of research and case studies behind it.  We should all own it and read it and apply it.  Why?  Because it will make a difference for anyone who does.  It is the stuff of difference makers.

Let’s move our thoughts to the moment, though.  This moment.

I’m unabashed in my Faith, which is dopey, because I often suck, completely, at living it.  In fact, there is a song by Beck that I’ve been dying to use to end lyric month, but it’d be beneath me and certainly my Faith, and it’d be an insult to subscribers to let myself miss the wonder in the here and now.

You see, there’s no such thing as mundane.  There’s no such thing as coincidence.  We are simply who and where and what we are, and this really is the only moment we can do anything about.  SCC wrote the song, but something tells me he was just the fingers on the keyboard or the hand holding the pencil.

When we click off this post, there is a moment awaiting, right there in front of each one of us.  The to-do list, the stack of bills, the pressure, the scrutiny — all of those things are distractions from the here and now.  They are not from a source of good.  They are from a source of harm that would have us miss the miracle of the moment.

Maybe it’s forgiveness for a grievous wrong.  Maybe it’s a phone call to a friend too long out of touch.  Maybe it’s a hand-written note to someone who made a difference for you.  Maybe it’s nothing remotely as grandiose as any of those examples.  Maybe it’s just the breathing in and breathing out and listening to our heartbeat.

Regardless, in this moment, there is, indeed a miracle.  Let’s do our best not to miss it.


Mindset — Gettin’ Back Up Again

“I get knocked down, but I get up again
You’re never gonna keep me down…”

–     Lyric from “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba (circa 1997)

This week, we’re looking into the idea of mindsets, by looking at the book, Mindset; The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol S. Dweck.

Dr. Dweck looks at the way we respond and sums it up this way.  A fixed-mindset person looks at risk as “nothing ventured, nothing lost.”  A growth-mindset person takes the polar position, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  They might get knocked down, but they get up again, over-and-over-and-over!

The most encouraging part of Dweck’s research and the book is that a growth-mindset can be taught, cultivated and developed.  As she states, just 14 pages in to the book, “you can change your mindset.”

If you’re seeking to grow, and struggling to get there, this is empowering stuff, and the book is a great read for you as a leader and for your team, too.  The reason that’s critical is that organizations take on mindsets, too, based on the approach of the people leading them.

More on that tomorrow, as Lyric Month wraps up and the series on mindset continues.

Editor’s Note:  The Chumbawamba thing was difficult for me, but it really does illustrate the difference in the mindset conundrum.  Forgive me.  I’ll try to make it up to you tomorrow!  



Mindset, Oysters, Pearls and A Really Good Book

“Lindbergh left Long Island in 1927, Thumbed his nose at gravity and climbed into the heavens.
When he returned to earth that night everything had changed,
For the pilot and the planet, everything was rearranged.

We’re a pretty mixed up bunch
Of crazy human beings
It’s written on our rocket ships
And in early cave wall scenes.

How does it happen, How do we know,
Who sits and watches, Who does the show?

Some people love to lead
And some refuse to dance.
Some play it safely, other take a chance.
Still it’s all a mystery
This place we call the world
Where most live as oysters
While some become pearls.”

–     Lyric from “Oysters and Pearls” by Jimmy Buffet

With three days left in Lyric Month, we kick off a full week on Mindset; The New Psychology of Success the 2006 book by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.  If only she’d have written a couple songs…but I digress…

Dr. Dweck describes two mindsets —  “fixed” and “growth.” The fixed mindset manifests itself as the belief that our qualities are carved in stone — fixed, if you will.  The growth mindset, conversely, is based in the belief that our basic qualities are things we cultivate through our efforts and experiences.  In the fixed mindset, potential is already defined.  In the growth mindset, potential is unknown, and (this is important) unknowable.

It’s not that oysters are better than pearls (that’d be like debating whether chickens are better than eggs…), just as the mindset contrast doesn’t suggest that a fixed or growth mindset is better.  They’re just different.

Let’s first consider it through the lens of continuous improvement.

Growth mindset seek out experiences that will stretch them, even if they risk failure in doing so.  It is likely that Lindbergh was a growth mindset guy.

Fixed mindset people seek the comfort of the known, the ordinary, and they can appear to be very risk averse.  There are scenarios where that mindset is very valuable.  Being the first to try a completely new thing — trans-Atlantic flight, for example, or taking on a different go-to-market model not among them.

The next lens involves understanding how we respond.  Sounds like a good topic for tomorrow.

By the way, it’s a book worth buying and reading, if our goal is to make a difference.  Just sayin’…

Games People Play — Civility and Candor Are Not Mutually Exclusive

“Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

And they while away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine”

          –     Lyric from “Games People Play” by Joe South, circa 1969

Intentional communication is a lost art.

As is candor.  As, apparently, is civility.

The time wasted by meetings where people don’t mean what they say and don’t say what they mean is maddening, because our collective skins have become so thin.

Nowhere is it written that candor and civility are mutually exclusive.  If we give people room to be candid, and we seek to understand (thanks, Covey!), there’s little need for all the veiled attempts to say something by saying nothing.  The idea that no one can be wrong or be criticized without suffering personal attack isn’t just a political issue, it’s an office politics issue, and that adversely affects business decision making.

If you think I’m wrong, you ought to be able to say, across the table, perhaps emphatically, “Whoa, Heston, I think you’re wrong.”  And I ought to have to support my position.  The same is true back across the table. And ultimately, we have to decide which way we’re going to go.  I’m a big George S. Patton fan, and Patton said, accurately and famously: “If everyone is thinking alike then someone isn’t thinking.”  When we make better decisions, without winners and losers — wait, that’s a moot point; when we make better decisions, we all win — we learn, we grow and we get better. We become difference makers.

The reason so many management teams fail isn’t as much that people don’t support the decision of the team, it’s that they’re often not sure what it was.  That’s one of the major differences between management and leadership.  Leaders think, leaders take risks, leaders say what they mean and leaders decide.  And, leaders make sure those whom they lead are free to do the same.

Let’s don’t play games.  Let’s say what we mean and mean what we say.  It’s a great way to make a difference.




“Somebody asked me
What it really mean to be true
Somebody, tell me
Tell me what it mean to you

You can’t find it in a TV screen
You can’t read it in a book, no
You won’t see it in the future
No matter how hard you look, ya’ll

You know truth ain’t hard to find
You know sitting deep inside
And that truth can be in disguise
You don’t have to go far
Truth is right where you are…”

–     Lyric from “Truth” by Ruthie Foster

Yesterday on the golf course, my neighbor, a retired Harvard Medical School professor, and I were talking about office politics.  Neither of us is a fan, we’ll just leave it at that.

“Always speak truth to power,” he said.  And, if he’d have had a mic, he could have dropped it.  It was a masterful point comprised of the idea that power is often steeped in the illusion that the bosses are always right, when in fact, no one is ever always right, and most of us are often wrong. But the truth is always the truth.  No matter how hard we try to get truth to yield to power, power is always trumped by truth.

In the September 18th (2018) Notable & Quotable feature in the Wall Street Journal, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss had a compelling take on “truth.”

“Pursue truth, or pursue harmony,” she stated.  When decisions must be made, it is difficult to think of a time when truth and harmony are aligned.  Because when decisions must be made, the status quo and inertia will creep in to try to mask the truth, or to give the impression that there is more than one truth.

There isn’t.  DeVoss commented on university professors admonishing their students to “find their own truth,” and this pervasive idea that “you have your truth and I have mine.”  Hmmmmm.  Oh, wait.  That’s not how truth works.  The truth, simply put, is the truth.  Whether you’re a DeVoss fan or not, that right there is pretty danged hard to debate.

As we look at our businesses, our plans, our strategies, it’s easy to be aspirational — and we should be.  Otherwise, why plan?  As we look at our markets, it’s easy to be defensive.  “Well, if we could afford to,” or “the competitor just buys the business,” or whatever else we want to use to explain our challenges.  No matter how aspirational we are or how serious our challenges might be, standing on the foundation of the truth increases our odds of being successful, fulfilled, happy and respected.

Or, said differently, when we start with, stay with and always function from the truth, our challenges will be fewer and our lenses will be clearer as we create plans and strategies to move forward.

Ruthie’s got it right.  “Truth ain’t hard to find,” even if it’s sometimes hard to accept.

The Heston Group’s Truth-Based Strategic Planning Practice is designed to get our clients on the right path by keeping the truth at the center of everything we do.  Contact us if you’d like to know more!

Make it a great day!



Why Music?

“Funny how a melody sounds like a memory; Like the soundtrack to a July Saturday night…”

–     Lyric from “Springsteen” by Eric Church

Why do I do “Lyric Month” twice each year?

To connect melodies to memories and to trigger new ways of thinking from old connections.  To create new memories and build bridges between stages of our lives and careers.  To get us “unstuck.”

Every day we’re faced with dozens, if not hundreds of opportunities to rinse, repeat and just.  Stay.  Stuck.

Now, if we’re in a good place, in a groove, being stuck isn’t a bad thing, until it is.  Inertia is a bitch, and that’s why I’m a big believer in looking at the mundane through different filters, through different sources of light and thus, with different perspectives.

So, why music?  There were songs we always, and I do mean always played before high school basketball games and college baseball games.  “Pump up” music, if you will, and I still respond viscerally when I hear them.  There are songs (old, new, original, remakes and everywhere in between) that (based on circumstance, memories, challenges or the moment) help shift my thinking just enough to allow original thought to venture in, and once that happens most of the barriers are broken down.

It doesn’t have to be music.  It can be a book, especially “The Book.”  It can be a painting, it can be a cup of coffee without the newspaper, the mobile device or the TV.  It can be time on a bike, or walking in fresh air. The source doesn’t matter, the outcome does.

These are trying times — in our society, in our businesses (perhaps) and maybe just our world in general.  Heck, if you believe the campaign rhetoric and ads, we’re screwed no matter who wins — and that’s not a healthy perspective.  There are no “news” outlets anymore, it’s all editorial.  Play-by-play announcers want to tell us that either our team is the best ever or the worst ever, instead of just describing the action and letting us make our own judgements.  Social media wants us to believe that everyone’s life is perfect, and that ours would be too if we’d just post more, covet more or pose more.  In these times, it seems very few people stand for something, and more and more people stand against most things.

Cue another lyric:  “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

We owe it to ourselves to stand for something, and we ought to decide what we stand for while we’re in our happy places.  For me, music is one of the happiest of places, and I hope lyric month gets you closer to one of yours.

In trying times, the fresh perspective, the intentional decision to stand for something and make a difference — well, it makes a difference.  And whatever triggers that mode for any of us is worth pursuing.

Ain’t Got Time

“Well it don’t matter if I get my picture
On the cover of a magazine
You’ll never know that I always try to do things right

Well it ain’t no sweat if I always forget to get
Caught up in the small town scene
‘Cause life’s too short and I’m gonna get it straight tonight

Well I ain’t got time, ain’t got time
I’ve got to go on living ’cause I ain’t got time to die!”

–     Lyric from “Ain’t Got Time” by BR-549

There will always be distractions.  There will always be conflicting thoughts, desires.

We ain’t got time.

We know our strategies (or if we don’t, The Heston Group has a best-in-class strategic planning practice!) and we ought to know our people’s ability to deliver upon them.  We all want to make the popular decision, the one that gives temporary relief from a permanent challenge.  But remember, as leaders, those decisions don’t usually move the needle.

An associate of mine, Aleta Norris, started a company a few years back called Living As A Leader.  She’s a good egg and it’s a good concept.

Being a leader, and perhaps more importantly, living as a leader boils down to the fact that we ain’t got time for the stuff that distracts us from the job of leading.  It sucks the life out of the joy of living as a leader.  Leadership isn’t perfection, it’s more about focus and commitment to what lies ahead, at the expense of the distractions and the inertia that will try to freeze us in place.