If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You 365 times…

“Do not be afraid…”

–     Scripture, every great coach, teacher, mentor, parent, etc

This week, we’ll hit on fear.  How natural it can be, but how dopey it is.

It’s not ironic or coincidental that the admonishment is in the Bible 365 times, to “fear not,” “do not be afraid…”

It’s still easier said than done.

And, it’s not about being foolish, or blindly trusting ourselves, our teams or our skills.  It’s about being prepared, pragmatic and knowing when we’re out over our skis — and whether we’re ok with falling a few times until we learn to turn right going down the mountain.  (I never did.  Sorta want to try it since I got my new knee, but a) doc says no, b) I hate skiing and c) I’ll live with memories of turning left like Jean Claude Killy and then turning right like Grandma Heston on an icy gravel road.)

Tomorrow, we’ll look into what we might be afraid of.

Wednesday, why we’re afraid.

Thursday, we’ll wrap up with what we can do about it.

Make it a great week!  Make a difference for someone new today.


Part IV: A SAFE Way to Win In Business

“Without execution, the breakthrough thinking breaks down, learning adds no value, people don’t meet their stretch goals, and the revolution stops dead in its tracks.”

–     Larry Bossidy (b. 1935), management / leadership guru, former CEO of AlliedSignal and GE high-riser under Jack Welch; co-author of “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

Mr. Welch passed away earlier this week (more on that next week), leavng as part of his legacy this whole concept of execution as a discipline; a cultivated, strategic, learn-able and predictive approach to leading a team.

This is the final post in a four-part series on a “SAFE” way to win in business.  But not “safe” in a “ooooooh, let’s stay here in the foxhole and hope to God some of the other soldiers come to our rescue” way.  We’re talking about “SAFE” as in structured, well-planned, clearly-defined and actionable things we can do, right here.  Right now.

For THG and our Clients, we make a difference when we honor the SAFE principles — and execute (you just knew there was a “E” coming today!) on them all day, every day.

SAFE Re-summarized – “S” is for Strategy over Structure

Strategy over structure.  Every.  Time.  Strategy guides our business and then structure serves our strategy.  No matter how long someone’s tenure is, no matter how big their personality is, no matter how much power they think they have.  Strategy.  Over.  Structure.

“A” if for “Attawareumen” — I made up a word!

Awareness, Attitude and Acumen.  Great companies are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and abilities.  Great companies remove negative attitudes like a surgeon removes a tumor (the analogy holds — bad attitudes are cancers, cut them out!).  Great companies develop acumen, new skills and greater depth via new experiences and committed, sustained training programs.  The “A” is where the “S” starts to get real for every member of the team.

“F” is for Intelligence, a blatant tease / tie to yesterday’s post!

Flexibility.  Einstein essentially said we’re dopey if we’re not flexible.  Technically he said “the ability to change is the measure of intelligence.”  George S. Patton is one of my mentors, even though we never met.  He died 16 years before I was born.  He was harsh.  He was direct.  He was intense.  He was also among the most flexible military leaders of all time.  He stayed close the front, understood the fight and changed the strategy and / or tactics when the fight called for him to do so – not too early, not too late, when the fight called for him to do so.  He had great instincts, developed at the front, and they fed his flexibility.  (If I would have tried to work “instincts” into this series, it would have wrecked the acronym, so look for hints to it in the “S” and “A” sections…)

Ok, then, where does “E” for Execution fit in?

Great coaches have a game plan.  Great teams execute that game plan.  Great opponents try to mess it up.  It’s easy to see where the Strategy over Structure piece comes in — at the beginning.  The A & F Factors get us ready in practice and game-planning.  Execution is where we apply all that we are, all that we know and the comfort and confidence to change with the market.

Execution is rarely flashy.  Clear, methodical, predictable commitment goes into top-notch execution.  Stretching to do more than others can do is a key element of the kind of execution upon which Difference-Makers should be focused.  Feedback and communication not only contribute to execution, they give everyone on the team ownership of the outcome, good or bad.  And finally, execution is like iron-on-iron, strengthening our conflict management skills, creating life-long (not an exaggeration at all!) bonds and setting us up to be industry or profession leaders.

Look, it’s been four days!  Summarize for me, please!

Winning SAFE-ly.  Pretty simple.  Not easy, but very simple.  Pretty basic.  Not obvious, but pretty danged basic.  This ain’t PhD / MBA stuff.  This is Patton-in-the-theater, Dick Heston-facing-a-flood-on-the-farm basic.

It’s also the kind of thing that will make someone remember us as Difference Makers.



Part III: A SAFE Way to Win In Business

“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

–     Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955), German-born theoretical physicist

Here’s the deal.  Your business is different today than it was yesterday.  Period.  End of sentence.

It will be different again tomorrow.

That does not mean we need to change every day.  That’s where the intelligence part comes in.  The ability to change.  Flexibility.

The “F” in SAFE is for flexibility.

Is it harsh even for Einstein to suggest that the inability or unwillingness to change implies a lack of intelligence?  I’m no Einstein, but I’m with Al on this one.

Knowing when, knowing how and knowing what the ripple effect inside the walls of the organization will be.

The best leaders have many traits in common, and the dominant of them is flexibility.  If we use an athletic analogy, the reason athletes should stretch every day isn’t so they can change in a whipsaw manner, it’s so that they’re ready to change when they have to.  Run further.  Jump higher.  Move differently.  If they’re not flexible, injuries occur.

The weakest* have a few traits in common, and the inability and unwillingness to change — to be flexible — is the dominant of them.  Why did Blockbuster fail?  They never stretched, and when the market moved, they were limping along about two years behind the shift.  Why did Kodak fail?  Yep.  Same issue.

For our bodies, it takes 15 minutes a day to be flexible, and in our later years, we’ll be ready for most of what life throws at us.

For our businesses, the same window of time might be all it takes, and a great example takes us back to the “S.”  If we’re not honoring strategy over structure, we’re gonna pull a hammy.  We’ll be out of the race.  We’ll finish last, or worse yet, not finish at all.

If we have the same people doing the same things we were doing _____ years ago, it’s not too late to start stretching.  Teaching them new things.  Bringing in fresh talent, perspectives, opinions and experiences keeps our business muscles supple, firm and ready to twitch, fast or slow.

If we don’t start stretching, if we believe the same people doing the same things the same way is gonna get us to the finish line, that snapping noise might be a hammy, or an Achilles, or an ACL or some other major injury.  Or, it might simply be the end of our company’s relevance, our careers, or both.

* Editor’s Note:  The word “leaders” is intentionally omitted here, even though it goes against my writing style when doing comparatives.  “Leader” is not a comparative term.  We either is one, or we isn’t — and in this example, the most pertinent application of “flexibility” might well be the willingness, or ability, to lead.



Part II: A SAFE Way to Win In Business

“The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

–     Michael Porter (b. 1947), American academic, management and strategy theorist

Part II of our four-part series on winning “SAFE-ly” in business focuses on the “S” and the “A.”

The “S” stands for “Strategy over structure,” while the “A” covers awareness, abilities and acumen.

S = Strategy Over Structure

In his “Four Corners Model,” Porter looks at the drivers (motivation and assumptions) that can be derived about a competitor and the actions (strategies and capabilities) as well.  At The Heston Group, we believe that the first sign of impending failure is most easily spotted in the leadership qualities of the CEO (capabilities) and the background of the leadership team (motivational drivers).  These gaps are what causes a company to choose structure over strategy and to opt-out of investing in differing experience sets, skills and new ways of creating value.

Organizational structure is one of Porters’ motivational drivers, and, keeping with his intent that the Four Corners be used to assess competitors, there is nothing as appetizing as squaring off against a competitor who honors structure first.  To honor strategy requires continually investing in diverse talent and investing in developing skills and experiences in existing talent so that the business will evolve.  In other words, and to paraphrase Coffman and Sorensen, strategy eats structure for dinner! 

A = Awareness, Acumen and Abilities

Ultimately, the A’s feed each other.  Awareness, both self-and-general help us be aware of where we — team members, teams and companies — are strong and where we have room to grow.  Acumen tells us whether we have the ability to grow.  Abilities (aka skills, to some degree) can be developed.  Training, practice, repetition all play into the equation here.

Lesson from ‘Mater

The classic scene in “Cars” (no link available, dang it) where the Sheriff asks Mater, “What did I tell you about talking to the prisoner?” and Mater replies, “To not to…” is, well, classic in and of itself.

Deciding what “to not to” do frees up time for the things we ought to do.  Evaluating our market and competitors.  Research.  Training.  Going deeper.  Planning.  Or, as a banker friend of mine in Texas used to say, “Fixin’ to commence to get ready…” to get better.



Part I: A SAFE Way to Win in Business

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!”

          –     Will Rogers (1879 – 1935), American cowboy humorist

Welcome to a four-part series on cornerstones for leadership.  It’s an election year.  It’s just past the peak of a 40-year cycle in Wizard Roy’s 40-year Pendulum.  Never before have business leaders faced the complex and multi-level challenges most businesses face today.

So, how do we aggressively, assertively, play it SAFE?

Today, the set-up:  SAFE –“Strategic Cornerstones for any business or team within a business.”

Yes, I like acronyms almost as much as I like alliteration, so here’s what lies ahead for this week.


Strategy Over Structure

Awareness, Attitude and Acumen



Tomorrow, S & A get examined, Wednesday we look into being flexible (F) and Thursday we wind it all up into executable (E) concepts, before a Maxwell Friday edition on March 6th.

In the meantime, a few links for context…

Strategy over Structure.

Every time.  No matter what.  Strategy drives structure.  Get it wrong, it’s hard to get anything else right.  Too many CEO’s would rather fail with the structure they set up than succeed with one that will work.  Infallible is a suckers bet, and the more infallible we try to be, the more fallible (root word:  fail!) we become.  If the plane you’re flying is nose-down towards the ground, stop pressing on the stick, pull back and get strategy ahead of structure before it’s too late.

Acumen, Attitude, Awareness.  The biggest rock is Attitude (followed closely by Effort).  Upon that foundation we build skills, information, knowledge — our tools have to have a stable environment in which to be applied.  Think “sharpen the axe.”


Leaders must decide, and be decisive.  Leaders also must be able and willing to adjust when new information presents itself.  Inflexible leaders (typically twins or first cousins with those in the first example under “strategy over structure” above) a) aren’t leaders and b) fly their figurative planes, nose down, faster, into the ground in spectacular (and unnecessary) business crashes.

Flexible leaders aren’t weak.  They’re aware.  Oh, yeah.  More on awareness on Wednesday…


John McKay was asked after his team’s loss (one of many) what he thought of his team’s execution.  “I’m in favor of it!” he quipped. That’s not the kind Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan wrote about in “Execution:  The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

See you tomorrow!  Make it a great Monday — make a difference!


Seriously vs. Literally

“Take Scripture seriously, not literally.”

–     Mike Housholder, Senior Pastor, Lutheran Church of Hope

For a “bonus” DD that e-mails on Sunday morning, perhaps you’ll forgive me for going all “pastor Mike” on you.  Actually, that’s your choice.  I’m ok with it either way…

Saturday night, Mike and his wife, Sally, delivered an amazingly compelling yet simplistic talk on marriage.  (Yes, I realize the connection between “compelling” and “simplistic…”)

I reckon it’s not just Scripture.  As long as we’re listening, we’ll be ok, right?  A top-three consideration in this blog for nigh on 16 years has been listening, after all.  And, if we’re only going to hone in on one skill, there are worse choices.

And, like most skills listening is developed – whether in business or at home.  That said, the temptation is there to listen literally, rather than seriously.  Literal is easy, and easy can be dangerous if used to absolve us of responsibility when we get it wrong.

As near as I can tell, there are ten matters set, literally, in stone.  Everything else is open to critical interpretation — or at least serious consideration.


Pastor Mike used the example of flowers.  For something like 35 years of “happiness trending up” marriage, he’s been asking his wife if “she wants flowers” for whatever special day is approaching.  “No, that’s ok…” she has replied.  And for better than three decades, he says, he’s listened literally.  Oops…


“I realized that what Sally was saying was she didn’t want me to ask if she wanted flowers…”  And every husband in the crowd of a few thousand squirmed in their seat.

Doh.  If ever Homer Simpson should feel out-Homer-Simpsoned, well perhaps…

Are there things we’re taking literally that we ought to be taking seriously, instead?  Whether in business or at home?





Maxwell Friday: The Laws of Process and Navigation

“Leadership is like investing.  It compounds.”

–     John C. Maxwell in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership:  Follow Them And People Will Follow You

An abbreviated Maxwell Friday to catch up.  I may have mentioned it’s a really good book.  It ain’t perfect (see Tuesday), but it will help you #getbettereveryday!

Leaders are learners.  It’s one of Maxwell’s primary beliefs and it’s true as all get out.

In the Law of Process, he walks readers through the progression:  As leaders we move from not knowing what we don’t know to knowing that we need to know.  That’s self-awareness and servant-leadership in my mind.  If we commit to learning and improving, day-over-day, we move to the phase where we know that we need to know and then to knowing what it is we need to learn.  Continuing the commitment starts us on what Maxwell refers to as a continuum of “Know and Grow and it starts to Show!”

Those are critical steps to pack before we embark on The Law of Navigation.  Leaders, Maxwell teaches, see the trip ahead, examine conditions before committing, listen to the excursion team throughout the trip — and then lead with a balance of faith and fact.

I won’t spoil the book, but his acronym for PLANAHEAD is a wonderful, simplistic guide for leaders to honor these two of the twenty-one laws.

Make it a great weekend!

If Only I Were, I Would…

“Woulda, Shoulda and Coulda walk into a bar…”

–     A mentor of mine, any time someone used some version of “I wish I would have…”

“If only I were younger,” we say, “I would start my own…”

“If only I were better rested,” we say, “I would exercise more…”

“If only I were wealthier,” we say, “I would invest more…”

“If only I were better at expressing myself,” we say, “I would tell her…”

“If only I were skinnier,” we say, “I’d hike the…”

Here’s the deal.  Most of our “if only’s” are in our control.  They’re excuses.  My mentor had a line for those, too.  He said, “Excuses are like…” oh, never mind, you’ve probably heard that one.

Let’s attack our “If only’s” with “I will‘s,” and let’s leave no window of time between them and the start.

If we’re alive, our dreams, by and large, are still alive, too.  If we’re in need of rest, the couch or bedroom are only a few feet away (and rest can come from prayer, meditation, reflection, journaling, too).  If we’re in need of wealth, there’s one spending decision we’re about to make that we can choose not to make.  If we want to express ourselves better, we can start by simply expressing ourselves — and then refine the skill as we grow.  (I bet we’re better at it than we think we are!)  If we need to shave a few pounds off, they sell veggies and lean protein in the same grocery store that they sell Snickers and Cheesy-Poofs.

If only I’d stop if-only-ing, I’d already be…


Owning It

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”

–     Rick Warren (b. 1954), pastor, author, theologian, from his top-selling book, “A Purpose Driven Life…”

OK, let’s get this out of the way.  I thought yesterday’s post was awful.  Maybe my worst ever.  (No, I’m not going to link to it!)

The concept wasn’t bad, that politics kill organizations, but it was not well-thought-out or well-written.  Was I tired?  Was I distracted?  It doesn’t matter.  I let you, and myself down.  (For any of you that liked yesterday’s post….raise your standards!  Just sayin’…!)

Everything that we have seen, done and heard comprises who we are right now.

Pastor Rick, who arguably has brought more people to Faith than anyone except for a certain Jewish Carpenter, puts the concept of owning it in a clear context.  When we own our mistakes, we learn and grow from them.  When we don’t, when we deny or try to hide them, they end up owning us, and we become prisoners to things that we can’t do anything about.  Yikes!

The phrase “products of our past” means that we’re here, now because of what’s brought us here, now.  As many long-term subscribers have read before, that’s why what we do next is so important.  What we do next is our “get out of jail free card.”  Sort of.

Sort of, because nothing worth having is ever “free.”

“Table stakes” is the amount of money you have to bring to the table to play in a game of poker.  “Cost of doing business,” is a similar term, refined for more of a business application.  That “free undercoating” on the new car? It’s built into the cost of the deal.  That one month “free” at the gym?  It’s an extra 50-cents per day for the rest of the year.  The 72-month, interest-free loan for the car?  Built.  In.  Not free.

And like those examples, the experiences we’ve had, good ones, bad ones, neutral or forgotten — they’re the cost of getting here, now.

And no one is perfect.

Save for the aforementioned Jewish carpenter, perfection is an unrealistic goal, and, in the long run, it is self-defeating, even crushing, perhaps.  Perfectionism becomes a prison.

Our disappointments in life are rarely tied to our circumstances.  Instead, they are almost certainly tied to our expectations.  And if we expect to never make a mistake, we’re prisoners in the purest sense of the word.

A bad post, a missed sale, a job offer declined or not received, a billing error — you get the point — we’re products of all that crap.

We’re not prisoners, even though we might occasionally slip.  In 1969, I was 8-years-old and pitching in a Little League game against a giant of a 10-year-old named Terry Nelson.  I was ahead 0-2 in the count, and I threw another ball right down the middle of the plate.  I heard the crack of the bat.  I never saw the ball, because Nelson hit it about 350 feet, which is a freakin’ mile when you’re ten!  “So, what, Heston?”

Well, here’s what…

Sometimes, even when we think we’ve escaped our bonds and learned from our mistakes, we slip.  In 1982, against the University of Missouri, I was ahead 0-2 on the count against a guy named Phil Bradley.  Phil Bradley played eight years of Major League Baseball.  I did not.  “There is no way Phil Bradley thinks I am going to throw another fastball right down the middle,” I remember thinking.  Turns out, Phil Bradley thought that I just might.  And, of course, I did.  I threw the fastball.  I heard the crack of the bat.  I felt the ball hit me in the right shoulder.  I never saw it.  The first image in my mind (right before the intense pain hit) was, “Holy crap!  Phil Bradley just Terry-Nelsoned me!”

The point of the Daily Difference is to provide context, sometimes a little levity and to make us all think.

I whiffed yesterday, and I own it.  In almost 8,000 posts, Seth Godin has never, to my knowledge, whiffed, and I think I’ve read about 7,800 of them.  Maybe it’s because he didn’t take a year off because some doofus asked him to.  Maybe it’s because he writes every day.  And the next day.  And the next…

What is that one thing we want to perform at the highest level?  Did we practice it today?  Will we practice it tomorrow?  If we simply expect it delivered by Amazon Prime™ we’ll get old and gray sitting on the front step waiting for the UPS truck.  If we want to #getbettereveryday, we’ll pick up the pen or keyboard, step on the treadmill or track, grab the kettlebell or yoga mat — we’ll own it.  The process.  The outcome.  Success.  Failure.

And, people will want to work with us.  Because we own it.







“People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.”

–     Otto Van Bismarck, (1871 – 1890), German statesman who led the unification of Germany in 1871 and for who the German battleship Bismarck was named

Even for me, today’s Daily Diff is a bit of a structural stretch…bear with me, your Honor!

Ever have trouble connecting the DD’s title, quote, and direction?  Good.  The blog started out 15 years ago as the Daily Direction, then through re-branding as the Daily Direcxion and it’s been The Diff for nigh on eight years now, but I digress.

Let me build my case.  It’s an election year, and I started to research how often candidates were lying (both parties candidates), and it turns out it’s only when they speak, or happen to be awake, in total about 76% of the time.  So, I shifted my exhaustive research, and tested it against my father’s often stated theory on life.  “Everyone on earth is stupid,except for me and you” he used to say, pointing an index finger in my direction, “and I’m starting to worry about you!”

That led me to my all-purpose, Presidential Election vision statement:  “If you want the job, you’re not mentally stable enough to have it!”

We could have sworn you recently posted, “no partisan political messages on any social media…”

And, you’re correct, I did.  My point here is that the same reason so many weak leaders are in business might be driving so many whackadoodles into the political arena.

Why has this become true? (And give me a break, if you’re awake and modestly intelligent, it rings true on some level…)  Why are we in the most embarrassing condition in the history of our Republic?*  (By the way, it’s not a Democracy, it’s a Democratic Republic…look it up!)  What is the reason that we’re so dorfed up at work, in Washington and every Tuesday between now and that Tuesday after which nothing will change except the political ads — (wait, that’s worth looking forward to!)?


Yeah, one side says they’re really bad and has a ton of them, and the other side says they’re really bad and has two tons of them.  How does it work?

“Hello, candidate Unlimited Ego, my name is Lotsa.  Lotsa Rich-Backers.  I’m hyphenated, because my mama was really, really Rich, and that got daddy Lotsa backers, and there you have it, my first name was settled!  There’s no need for you to check with your constituents, or read any of those heavy, fact-based position-papers.  If you’ll co-author and back this here bi-partisan legislation I wrote naming Hooey McPhooey as the official provider of Hooey for America’s organic farms, we’ll invest $100 gazillion in building cell towers in between every house in your home town so your nephew can play Fortnite really, really fast.”

How does it affect me in my job over here at Local Cool Corporation?

If your culture is healthy it doesn’t.  That said, if Local Cool has more than about 20 employees, there is probably some lobbying going on.

Maxwell teaches us that “leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.”  The minute influence becomes for-sale, either via personal intimacy, pork-barrel policy selling, Packers Tickets, dinners at Simon’s, a starting spot for your kid or admission into a great university the whole thing breaks down.

Leadership is influence, and in healthy companies, influence grows from wisdom, experience, listening, execution and servant-hood.

If you’re a leader, how does Local Cool measure up?  If you’re a job-seeker, how attractive will Local Cool be when they “nail it?”

What if you’re still confusing me, Heston?  You’re usually a lot more direct than this, pal…

Lobbying sucks.  It’s the root of commercial problems, governing problems and relationship problems. I know some lobbyists who are spectacular human beings, ethical in their work and compelling transfer-ers of belief.  I’d want every one of them to work for me, or I’d work for them.  They represent, unofficially, 44% of all lobbyists. If we use their powers for good in commerce, politics will matter less and less, and government will be forced to find honest people to serve the country.  If we don’t get a grip on the current state of lobbying, we’ll all be in someone else’s lobby, interviewing for a job that’s probably already been promised to someone in the lobbyists’ family.

Melodramatic?  Maybe.  I’ve seen lots of lobbying in hallways and boardrooms — and I’ve seen companies that discourage it up to and including firing the “meeting-after-the-meeting” lobbying types.  That last group, that’s where people go to work if they want to make a difference.