Trust and Speed: Lessons from Percy Barnevik

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How do you get a large, multinational company to move fast? You do what Percy Barnevik did at ABB in the late 80’s and early 90’s. You push decision making to the lowest level and embed a culture of decisiveness at all levels.

What seems like a simple idea is actually very difficult. For large companies, the desire for certainty as well as a need for command and control tends to force decision making to the top. Companies then add layers of bureaucracy to ensure compliance with the orders from headquarters. The result is a slow moving, cumbersome organization where employees are not encouraged to color outside the lines.

Barnevik did not want this for his new company. In 1988, when he created ABB by pulling off the largest merger in European history, he quickly moved to embed a culture of decisiveness. He did this by keeping operating units small, limiting the decisions coming out of headquarters, and preaching the value of decisiveness.

I was running one of those operating units in ABB at the time and it was one of the best jobs I ever had. As I discussed in Barnevik on Decisiveness, I loved working for Barnevik. He got things done. He was decisive and he expected the same from his employees. The company culture at that time reflected his personality. We moved fast and we fixed it along the way.

The main thing I remember from that time is that Barnevik trusted us to make decisions. He had faith in his business unit leaders. He knew that we would occasionally make mistakes but he trusted us to always make it right. There was a culture of speed, decisiveness, and forgiveness. If you made a bad decision, it was not the end of your career. You were expected to fix it and move on.

What do you think? Have you worked in a similar fast-moving culture where there was trust at the top? What was it like? Have you worked in a heavily bureaucratic organization? How was that experience? How does the company culture affect your attitude towards your job? Let me know in the comment section below.

 

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Stop Expecting People to be Perfect

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I have written many times that leadership is a people business. It’s about motivating and challenging people to accomplish big things. If you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be a leader. The truth is, people are messy. They have fears, anxieties, quirks, annoying habits, hangups, issues, and problems. Each member of your team is probably struggling with something at home or at work that is affecting them in some way. Leading people is not simple and can be frustrating at times. But that’s OK.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” Donald Miller

Reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, made me think about this leadership issue again. People are amazing and they can truly surprise you with what they can do, but, if you expect them to be perfect every day, you are going to be discouraged. So, as Miller suggests, stop expecting perfection from your employees and enjoy who they are and what they bring to your team. Embrace the mess and keep motivating them towards great things.

What do you think? Why do we seem to focus on the negatives? How can we look past the quirks and annoying habits to see the best in people? If we simply accept people as they are, how much more could they contribute to the team? Let me know in the comment section below.

Gathering of Six Active-Duty Marine Corps Four-Star Generals

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Photo Credit: Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans, U.S. Marine Corps

At one time in history, the Marine Corps had six active-duty four-star generals. On April 19, 2013, they gathered at the home of the Commandant of the Marine Corps where this epic picture was taken.

“Old Breed, New Breed, there’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine Breed.” Chesty Puller

Dressed in their desert camouflage uniforms, the six Marine four-star generals share “coffee” and reminisced about the four decades of working on and off together.  “It was a bunch of friends who started out as second lieutenants,” said Gen. James Mattis. “We never thought we would end up as four stars. It is the surprise and twists and turns of life.”

From left to right, the generals are John F. Kelly, James N. Mattis, Joseph F. Dunford, James F. Amos, John R. Allen, and John M. Paxton Jr.

I’m not sure how I originally missed this in the news but it’s pretty amazing.

Get Up & Get Going!

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“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Aristotle

As I wrote about in The Secrets of Morning People Revealed, mornings are uniquely important in five distinct ways:

  1. Your willpower is at its highest
  2. Your mind is less scattered
  3. You’re less likely to be interrupted
  4. You increase the availability of time
  5. You start your day with a sense of accomplishment

If you’re going to change the world, you need to get up early. You’ll get more done and you’ll see unique, amazing, and wonderful things. So, get up and get going!

3 Reasons Why the Struggle is More Important than the Goal

58733825_lI’m not a runner, but I ran six half-marathons once. Growing up in New England, it was always a dream to one day run the Boston Marathon but training for and running six half-marathons was all I needed to realize how difficult that would be. I learned that running is hard and running long distances is even harder. Although I only conquered the 13.1 mile race, I learn a lot about myself and what I could do if I didn’t quit.

“If you’re going through hell, keep on going. Don’t slow down, if you’re scared, don’t show it.” Rodney Atkins

The truth is, long distant running is not about bragging rights, personal records, t-shirts or race medals. It’s about challenging yourself to do something difficult. Most people see what happens on race day but they don’t witness the months of training and the hours spent grinding out the miles day after day. There is excitement the day you sign up for a race and the day you finish a race, but the real work and struggle is done in the middle.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” Theodore Roosevelt

I have been reading Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and it has me thinking about the importance of the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge and how it changes you. As an entrepreneur, I can fully relate. There is excitement in starting a new company and setting out on a new course. But, after the newness wears off, the hard work begins. Most people never see all the effort that goes into getting a new business off the ground and how it affects the people involved. Miller talks about this in a passage called “The Thing about a Crossing.”

It’s like this when you live a story: The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative, and you’re finally out in the water; the shore is pushing off behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The distant shore doesn’t seem so far, and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of your boat and walking the distant beach. You think the thing is going to happen fast, that you’ll paddle for a bit and arrive on the other side by lunch. But the truth is, it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

As Miller suggests, the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. There are three distinct reasons for this:

The struggle builds character. An easy life is one that doesn’t change you. Challenge brings about change. The struggle requires determination, courage, intensity and perseverance. Some days it takes everything to keep going especially when the end seems nowhere in sight. It’s those moments, like being on the ninth mile of a half marathon on a bridge in the cold, windy, pouring rain, that you find out who you are. If you don’t quit, you learn you can do amazing things.

The struggle builds relationships. As I wrote in 5 Reasons to Celebrate the Tough Times, persevering through a difficult challenge with a team or another person builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. When you suffer and struggle together, you build a defining moment in your relationship. You build mutual respect. You create a mental catalog of similar experiences. This is why I can instantly reconnect with shipmates from the Navy or the people I worked with during a difficult labor dispute. Donald Miller learned this while biking across the country with fifteen strangers. After the first three weeks of struggling, he said, “the pain bound us together.”

The struggle builds the story. Every great story has a hero’s journey. The main character must struggle and overcome a major obstacle or challenge. As an audience, we become endeared to the hero as he endures hardships and trials. This is the same with people and organizations. We are attracted to those who have faced trials and overcome. We appreciate the cancer survivor, the wounded veteran, and the entrepreneur who struggles for years to build a great company. We love stories like that of J.K. Rowling, who lived on welfare and struggled to get by as a single mother before she became the world’s most famous author. The tougher the story, the more people are interested in you.

“Never throughout history has a man who lived a life of ease left a name worth remembering.” Theodore Roosevelt

The thing is, if you find yourself in the middle of a struggle with seemingly no end in sight, you’re in a good place. The hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. You are growing as a person and learning what you are capable of. You are building your character and the relationships with the people around you. You are also building a story worth remembering. So, if you’re going through hell, don’t stop. Keep going.

What do you think? Have you experienced growth in the middle of a difficult challenge? How has that changed you as a person? If growth comes through a struggle, why do we always seek out a comfortable life? What does it take to become comfortable being uncomfortable? Let me know in the comment section below.