A cyberattack on an east coast pipeline put a major crunch on gasoline availability. Thousands of Americans lined up at pump stations wanting to get every drop of fuel possible. Some even put gas in plastic bags. 

The hoarding reminded me of the toilet paper pirates at the start of the pandemic.

The gas shortage is only for three days, and yet panic-buying sent prices soaring and people waiting on a pump for hours. Some probably burned more gas in sitting the queue than they originally needed to fill the tank. 

What perspective can you gain from this head-shaking episode?

1. Busy people get more done but also make more mistakes

You opt for the easy button to move forward. Instinctive decision-making works a lot of the time, but it’s also the impulse that leads to toilet paper hoarding and burning time waiting on the pump when you could be doing something more productive.

Normally, a quick discussion with a trusted advisor gives you the perspective you need to make a better decision and move forward with confidence.

2. Overwhelm means that you’ve got more to do than you can process

The feeling can be paralytic or lead people to tick off inconsequential tasks while neglecting the vital ones. In this situation, take 1 minute to write down your top 3 priorities and an action step to move each one forward. Then, get going.

A 5-minute call with someone you trust helps you get these priorities and actions right, which will save you hours of rework and anxiety.

3. Opportunities abound when you keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs

When you’re too close to the action, you cannot see the whole stage. Gaining perspective is the art of identifying the important details and seeing the bigger picture so that you can seize opportunities others miss.

Who helps you gain perspective?

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins the week of May 24. More here.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained from this program,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

I gave a presentation to the Milwaukee Rotary Club this week on Afghanistan. As many of you know, I spent four combat tours there: three in uniform and one as a civilian. 

Members of the club told me that they’d like to hear about some personal experiences, ways to understand the withdrawal decision, and what’s likely to happen next. I synthesized all that into three main points that apply beyond Afghanistan.

1. You don’t create new wins with old thinking. It seems safer to do what you’ve been doing, even if it’s not working, but there are opportunity costs, too. According to Nobel Prize recipient Daniel Kahneman, people tend to be risk-averse. hey fear losses more than they prize gains. They prefer to smell their own fumes rather than be hit with a blast of fresh air. Whose pumping in the fresh air for you?

2. To grow, you need vulnerability and security. Security without vulnerability leaves you buttoned up and unable to grow. You cannot grow unless you are willing to take off your mental and emotional body armor, and gain exposure to new ideas. Vulnerability without security means you are likely to become someone else’s dinner. Who are your trusted advisers?

3. You gain ground by building bridges, not by digging trenches.  Americans are tossing bombs at each other over politics, identity, and other matters. You can’t move forward while you are digging in. I found in Afghanistan that the only way to make progress was to get out of the trenches and build bridges with people who didn’t agree with me (some of whom were trying to kill me).  Who’s helping you build relationships that broaden your reach and impact?

You can view the presentation at the Rotary Club’s YouTube channel here.

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins the week of May 24. More here.

Accelerating Success

FOCUSED is for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to create and sustain great teams that drive the business to new heights. Apply here.

SENIOR LEADER MENTORING. I have only 1 space available. Get the details here.

Build your StrategyThis program is perfect for small business and nonprofit leaders who want to create a winning game-plan without breaking the bank.

VALUE-ADDING Leadership (self-directed version) is perfect for young leaders people who want to lead as their best selves and inspire people to contribute their best. Check it out herehttps://strategic-leaders-academy.teachable.com/p/leading-well/

Scholarships

If you want to apply for or sponsor someone for a scholarship, contact me at [email protected]

I just watched an extraordinary video about the blue crab. To grow, it has to break out of its exoskeleton and grow new armor. Each breakout results in 25% growth. The molting takes about thirty minutes, followed by two days of shell hardening. 

To grow, you have to be sensibly vulnerable. You need to break loose from your mental and emotional armor while maintaining commonsense security for yourself and your business.

Growth, as my mentor Alan Weiss says, is different than problem-solving. The latter gets you back to the status quo. It’s like regrowing into your armor after shrinking. Growth means breaking out of your shell to get bigger.

What would 25% growth mean for you and your business?

Here are some excellent breakout opportunities.

Value-adding Leadership

This 8-week program begins in mid-May. You will develop the six habits that inspire people to contribute their best to your team’s success. There are 5 of 8 spaces remaining.

Be Authentic: Authenticity is the opposite of selfishness. Impulse is not a permission slip (ask the former Uber CEO).

Trust Principles over Rules: Trustworthiness, Respect, and Stewardship point out true north in volatility and uncertainty.

Practice Empathy, not Sympathy: Pity is demeaning. Seeing and feeling an issue from someone else’s point of view is your bridge to cooperation.

Pass the Credit; Take the hit: Throw people under the spotlight, not under the bus, so that you empower them to innovate and take risks.

Describe the Why; Delegate the How: Describe what to do and what outcomes you want to achieve. Let your subordinates figure out how to do it, so they have ownership.

Multiply your Experiences: You don’t create new wins with old thinking. To think outside the box, you must expand your box. 

You will participate with other high-quality leaders in this by-application-only program. Go here for more information.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

Antietam and Gettysburg Exclusive Event, July 14-17.

This exclusive event is for seven solo or small business leaders who want to take their businesses to new heights. Four of seven places are available.

We go to five points on each battlefield to discuss breakout ideas. You get enough history to know what happened so that you can draw business conclusions and insights that make the second half of 2021 your best ever and prepare your 2022 offensive.

Here are some examples:
Dunker Church. Simplify your business model so that your team works in concert and avoids miscommunication. You make a bigger impact striking with your fist than with open fingers. 

Little Round Top. Create buy-in so that people gain commitment to your success right away. Frontline decisions make the difference, so empower people to make decisions and execute boldly. Aggressive and unexpected plays can carry the day against superior odds.

Pickett’s Charge. When you smell your own fumes, foolish ideas look feasible, and good people get harmed trying to execute them. People flee poor leaders at the first opportunity.

That’s right — there’s no nerding-out on military trivia. The discussions focus on specific ways you can create breakouts that grow your business. 

I’ve rented out an entire B&B for this in-person event so that you get connection, reflection, and inspiration.

Contact me ([email protected]) for more information.

FOCUSED Business Growth

This 7-step program is for small and solo business leaders who want to strengthen their foundations for growth and build the business to new heights. The next start date is in early June. 7 of 8 places are open.

FOCUSED is an acronym for action steps you’ll take:
F — put First things First so that you focus on your priorities
O — Overcome obstacles that are impeding growth
C — Commitment and Culture so that you boost buy-in and accountability 
U — You leading as your best and most authentic self
S — Simplicity in your business model and game-plan
E — Execute
D — Decision-making that seizes opportunities and avoids expensive mistakes

This program’s clarity and focus resulted in more high-payoff work that we love and less wasted time and energy. We expect 33% growth to reach $100k in monthly revenues and expand from there.
Matthew Hargrove and Barry Lingelbach, Black-Grey-Gold Consulting 

Click here for more information and to apply.

Scholarships.
Please email me ([email protected]) if you want to apply for or sponsor someone for a scholarship for one of these programs.

I chuckle every time I meet a science-defying person on the sidewalk who hurriedly pulls up their mask when approaching and pushes it down after we pass. 

The probability of catching COVID while passing someone on the sidewalk is equivalent to being killed by a lightning strike. Over a year into the pandemic, this behavior reflects virtue-signaling rather than values. 

Virtue-signalling, like the facades on a Saddam Hussein palace, obscures the realities within. CEO hang-wringing apologia about diversity last year often resulted in no follow-through or change. Harvard business review articles show that most diversity training makes things worse. Still, CEOs throw money at the failed approaches. Plato described the behavior as “seeming over being.” 

You want values that work, and you want what you value to be working. 

Business values are behavioral norms that guide your profitable customer-centric solutions. Some are internal-facing, oriented on how people work together, while others are external-facing to expand your base of loyal customers. The true tests of your values are whether they are profitable for your business, your employees, and your customers. 

If your values set specific behavioral norms that lead to profitable customer-centric solutions, you are going to gain delightful customers and attract employees who will do what’s right, the right way, without you having to micro-manage. Vague values, on the other hand, are slogans that create cynicism. 

The vital step is to set business values that work. To help you do so, I’m hosting the “Never Suffer from Vague Values Again” do-in-ar with leadership expert Jan Rutherford on June 2 at 1:00 pm US Central. 

You’ll come away from the event knowing precisely how to set values that are the right fit for your business.

Here’s the game-plan: 20 minutes of format with Jan; 20 minutes working on your values assignment; 20 minutes of advice and support from Jan and me.

To get the meeting link, please donate to your favorite charity and email me ([email protected]) to me know you’ve done so (I use the honor system, so your word is good enough).

P.S. VALUE-ADDING Leadership(TM) is a master program for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

Machine learning figures out what you like and gives it to you. Your subordinates tend to do the same. What’s not to like about that? 

Curated information can save you time, provide mental comfort, and lower your anxiety. The problem with likely-to-like information is that it narrows your point of view. Pretty soon, all you smell is the aroma of your own fumes. 

I’ve spent the past week testing some of the limits of Amazon Music’s machine learning. I love ’80s rock and am a huge fan of Taylor Swift’s tunes. Amazon has a cool feature called autoplay. When you reach the end of your playlist, the feature plays songs it believes that you will enjoy.

I got into the mood for 80s rock, so I “liked” tracks by Guns-n-Roses, AC/DC, and Tina Turner. I kept the autoplay engaged for a couple of days to see what would happen. 

After two days, the tracks were all headbangers and no T-Swizzle, even though my Faves playlist is full of her music. By day 3, the auto-playing songs grew repetitive. 

Amazon Music wants to please me by playing songs it thinks I’ll like based on my history and how I’ve responded to its advice. Our top lieutenants will do the same. They want to give useful advice that pleases you. After all, they have to spend many of their waking hours with you.

The trouble is that the mental algorithms they use to gauge what you’ll find useful are not dissimilar to Amazon Music’s method. If you are not very careful, you will wind up getting the same themes over and over again. You’ll struggle to find new ways to win when you use the same old thinking.

To avoid endless repeats of Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, and Aerosmith, I needed to take action to hear other voices. What trusted advisors do you use to make sure that you are not savoring the smell of your own fumes?

F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions.

Facts, alternative facts, and fake news is the 2000s version of the trope that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. These problems complicate decision-making and lead to expensive mistakes. 

Six Americans, to date, have experienced blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine. One person has died. The CDC suspended the J&J vaccine until they can complete further testing to see if there’s a causal linkage to the blood clots. The EU did the same with the AstraZeneca vaccine and then re-authorized its use.

It’s heartbreaking to lose a loved one. The shock is worse when their death is unexpected and linked to something that was supposed to be good for them. The alarming reports have increased vaccine skepticism as people fear that the jabs are unsafe. They prefer the passive risk of catching the increasingly-less-fatal COVID to the active risk of injecting the vaccine.

66 million people have gotten the J&J jab. If a causal relationship is found, the probability of getting a blot clot from the shot is one in a million. That’s right, 1:1,000,000, which is far lower than the risk of harm from COIVD. Other one-in-a-million chances include being struck by lightning, casting the deciding vote in an election, and flipping a coin that lands on heads 20 times in a row.

President Biden announced on April 13th his decision to remove all American troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021. The date marks twenty years after the terrorist attacks on America planned by al Qaeda, which had a safe-haven in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon reportedly urged the President to stay the course. Some experts even argued for putting more forces into Afghanistan. Voices from the national security establishment, including former 4-star general and CIA director David Petraeus (whom I advised for three months in Afghanistan), decried the decision as short-sighted and likely to lead to al Qaeda returning to the landlocked country to plan terror attacks against the United States.

President Biden, however, was skeptical. During his speech, the President spoke of his trip in 2008 to the Kunar River valley. That trip was to my outpost, FOB Bostick. What then-Senator Biden saw was violence in our area had plummeted as more and more Afghans stopped fighting and decided to work together with us. He also saw the limits of what US forces could achieve: we could not provide legitimacy to the Afghan government. They needed to earn the support of the people. Unless they did so, we would be stuck.

Using his twenty-year perspective to weigh the arguments, Biden concluded that the risks of keeping US forces in Afghanistan far outweighed the benefits. The Afghan government has yet to earn enough legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans, and no length of continued US troop presence was going to change that. 

The difference between the poor decision to avoid getting vaccinated and the good decision to remove American troops from Afghanistan is perspective

Perspective provides context that is vital to sound decision-making. F + P = GD. Facts + Perspective = Good Decisions

Who is providing you with perspective so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater or following the bandwagon over a cliff?

P.S. Leading Well is for leaders and entrepreneurs who want to inspire people to contribute their best and drive the business to new heights. The next program begins in mid-May. More here.

“The clarity, buy-in, and accountability we’ve gained,” said Ray Omar, Capital Brands CEO, “has put us on track to reduce costs by over $1m and increase revenues by over $2m.”

How will people remember you?

Ray Lambert died on April 9th at age 100. A Staff Sergeant during World War Two, he led a medical section in the 1st Infantry Division and is one of a few who found themselves in the first wave of the three major amphibious landings in the European Theatre: North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy.

“The only heroic thing I ever did,” Ray told me, “was to rescue a soldier from a burning tank.” His boss told him not to go because the tank was about to blow up. Ray went anyway, pulled the soldier off the tank, and scrambled into a ditch as the tank exploded. “I disobeyed an order, so I did not get an award.” Others who’ve done the same were awarded the Medal of Honor.

The intense fighting on Sicily affected him deeply. He was in the thick of it for the month-long campaign, grinding through the island’s mountainous spine against the best German units. He was awarded the silver star (America’s third-highest award for valor) after going into a minefield to rescue a wounded soldier.

Ray landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Coming ashore against intense enemy fire, Ray spotted a pile of concrete. “It was the only cover on the beach.” Ray used the slight shelter for a casualty collection point. He put one of his medics there and proceeded to bring the wounded to the rock. He was wounded twice but patched himself up and kept rescuing his comrades. He eventually passed out from loss of blood and a broken back.

Ray suffered from post-traumatic stress. After the war, he found a job as an electrician and later began his own business. He couldn’t sleep. He hoped work would keep his mind off the war. He lost a lot of weight. 

After passing out during a job and nearly getting himself killed, Ray went to the VA to speak with a psychologist. “Talking about the experiences helped me deal with them. My memories were no longer abstract. I could deal with them.” Ray’s memory of his war experiences was near-photographic, except for Sicily.

Ray was highly successful in business, in his community, and taking care of his soldiers after the war. Seventy years later, he could recall their first names, where they were from, and their wives’ names. “Getting to know people on a personal level kept us going when times were tough. They knew that I cared about them and would never put them in danger carelessly.”

I first met Ray in 2004 at the 60th anniversary of D-Day. We’ve been dear friends ever since. In 2018, our friend Christophe Coquel (a resident of Normandy) and I devised a plan to put a plaque on the concrete chunk where Ray saved so many lives. “I want the names of every man in the medical section on that plaque,” Ray told me. 

Ray and his family attended the October 2018 ceremony to dedicate Ray’s Rock. It’s the only plaque on the beach and the only marker dedicated to a platoon of medics. “I can still hear their voices in the waves,” Ray reflected, staring at the surf.

Ray’s legacy lives on in the people he touched because they pay his gifts forward to others. Who will remember you, and how will they remember you? 

1. Gratitude: you can fail alone, but you cannot succeed alone. Ray grew up in depression-era northern Alabama. He left home at age 13 to find a job and never finished high school. He said he became who he was because of the support of others. We’re all privileged, and we have agency. What are you doing with your opportunities?

2. Putting people in a position to succeed is the best form of caring. Ray knew his soldiers and employees and what mattered most to them. They gave their best because they knew Ray cared about them and put them in positions to succeed. Are you bringing out the best in others?

3. Set the right example and mind the say-do gap. Ray lived his standards of competence and character. He wasn’t perfect. He expected you to know your job and be trustworthy. He never asked people to endure hardship that he was unwilling to endure himself. What say-do gaps should you close?

4. Be your best self by finding the right support. Strong people like Ray are the ones who seek out support to take them to new heights. People who lack confidence wrap themselves in a crust and pretend they’re invulnerable. They never develop. Like a lobster, Alan Weiss says, you have to shed your protective shell if you want to grow. Who are your catalysts

What will be your legacy: how will people remember you?

Sophistry is a fast-track to losing business because you damage your reputation, brand, and trustworthiness.

Sophistry is the use of fallacious arguments with the intent to deceive. The word comes from the ancient Greek word sophistes, which means an expert or wise person. The Sophists were teachers and speakers whom Plato described as sham philosophers. The characterization stuck.

Today’s sophists are infomercial hustlers, charlatans, and Pyramid schemers who want you to believe something that’s not true. Use this one-size-fits-all digital marketing strategyfollow this checklist to become a creative thinkerinvest in this [silver bullet] scheme, etc.

Good people and organizations can fall into this trap, too. There’s a seductive lure to sugar-coat bad news so that you can ease the pain and anxiety of change or difficulties. It’s a short walk from good intentions toward manipulative “noble lies” and cringe-worthy sophistry. 

People see through the smokescreen right away. No one knows the people like the prince, said Machiavelli, and no one knows the prince like the people.

How do you feel when someone uses words designed to give you a false impression or manipulate your behavior? 

I’ve been a professional member of the National Speakers Association for a couple of years. I’ve gotten good value from the organization and its members, and I’ve given value in return. 

I received an email recently from them notifying me that they are “upgrading” my membership. Oh, that’s good newslet me check it out. The professional speaking business has been hit hard by the pandemic, so I was surprised that NSA would upgrade benefits. That’s pretty awesome.

It turns out that the only upgrade is in the membership dues. They are simply charging more and offering upsells. SlimyI feel like I need to shower

I’ve got no qualms whatsoever about NSA charging higher membership fees and upsells. I have huge qualms about the sophistry. I’m certainly not going to upgrade, and I might cancel altogether based on how they respond to my inquiry.

Lose trust: lose business. Build trust: build business. These are the simplest ratios you need to know, and you don’t need an MBA to understand them. 

I wonder if someone with an MBA approved that deceptive email?

Action steps:
1. Get an outside view so that you avoid drinking your own bathwater. Surround yourself with trusted people who tell you what you need to hear.

2. Speak plainly. Simplicity and clarity boost your credibility and improve the likelihood that what you say is what people hear. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way.

3. Empower people to take remedial action. Ritz-Carlton is famous for giving its front-line employees the ability to fix problems and make restitution on the spot. Oftentimes, you cannot control the problems you face, but you can control how you face them.

Like many Americans, I’m fascinated by Great Britain’s royal family. I lived in London for three years and loved visiting Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. I binge-watch The Crown. Queen Elizabeth II exemplifies The Operator, one of our four PROM Servant Leader Archetypes (TM). 

I’m dismayed by the ongoing tension with Harry and Meghan, which was on display in the Oprah interview. Bigotry and bullying are unacceptable, and I’m troubled by the stories the interview revealed. 

There’s only one celebrity in the royal family, so I’m also surprised that the young couple did not seem to get the memo. Some of their anxiety appears to come from a feeling of being underappreciated.

This last problem was entirely preventable.

The royal family seemed not to learn a vital lesson from the Princess Diana tragedy: when you treat people poorly, they are likely to return the favor. People who feel unvalued will vote with their feet out of your company or, in this case, out of the country. They won’t be ambassadors for your brand.

There were probably many good ways to give Harry and Meghan causes they could run with that boosted the royal family’s prestige and impact. Harry has been active with wounded veterans, and Meghan’s star power could have advanced that mission and other good ones without overshadowing the Queen.

This story provides some lessons on what to do with the talent on your team:

1. Put them in positions to use their PROM superpowers so that they succeed, and so does your business.

2. Use our weekly check-in questions to keep them focused on priorities, using their strengths, and getting the guidance and support they need. [Reply to me, and I’ll send you the checklist.]

3. Hold them accountable for doing the right things the right way. Every expectation should include what you want them to do, the outcomes you want to achieve, and the date you want the job done.  

4. Follow-up and be consistent about enforcing your standards. 

5. If you find that your team has toxic talent — highly capable people who undermine your company and their co-workers, then fire them. Toxic talent always costs more than the results they provide.

What action steps are you taking to let your subordinates know that you value their work and want to give them opportunities to contribute their best to your team’s success?

+++++

Last week I wrote that the UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials. 

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.

My UN-heroes of the pandemic award goes to big city public school teacher union officials.

Teachers can make a lifelong impact. Mrs. Brayman, Mr. Brayman, Mrs. Evanoff, Mrs. Schneider, Ms. Peterson brought out my best and helped me be who I am today.

Millions of kids, mostly from low-income neighborhoods, have missed the opportunity this past year. The teachers have done their best. Many public school teachers’ unions have kept them out of the schools and away from kids who need them most. The Milwaukee public schools are still not doing ANY in-person classes.

I’m fascinated by how “the science” works differently in private and public schools. My niece and nephew in San Diego have been in person for almost the entire year, and everyone’s been fine. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s no evidence of schools being superspreaders.

Data-denying teachers union officials, however, have fought tooth and nail to keep schools shuttered. The effects on kids who’ve missed a year of school will be long-lasting.

There are some good lessons here for small businesses. As the massive economic renewal gets underway, you’ll want to avoid un-heroes because they are subtraction-by-addition productivity and morale bandits.

1. Say no to selfish talent. A team or unit leader who cares only for their fiefdom will damage your team. I’m sure teachers union officials think they are protecting their dues-paying members, but they’ve forgotten about the common good. My mentor, Alan Weiss, pointed out that attorneys are officers of the court and advocates for their clients. The justice system breaks down when lawyers neglect one of these responsibilities. The same goes for your subordinate leaders.

2. Mind the customer. Had teachers union officials cared about kids and parents — the real customers of schools — they would have fought to get schools open safely instead of throwing up roadblocks. Grocery stores stayed open by putting common-sense measures in place to keep employees and customers safe. Single-issue advocates provide self-interested advice that’s good for their narrow interests but most likely damaging to your community.  

3. Beware of perverse incentives. What you measure creates workplace behaviors, so be careful to avoid metrics and awards that discourage teamwork. Too many teachers union officials felt accountable to dues-paying members and not to the community. Use one-on-one check-ins and meetings to have your senior leaders frame their work in terms of advancing company goals and objectives.

Say no to selfish talent, keep the customer in mind, and avoid perverse incentives so that you can make sure un-heroes don’t make their way onto your team.

Amy Mizialko, head of the union in Milwaukee, said in a March 14th television interview, “We will not legitimize this notion of learning loss. Our students in Milwaukee Public Schools and students across the nation have learned skills this year that probably families and educators never anticipated that they would learn in terms of self-direction, organization, working with peers in a new way, so we’re not going to agree that a standardized test is somehow a measure of learning or somehow a measure of learning loss.”

I rest my case.