Pearl's Paradise

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled teams yearning to breath free…"

January 2, 2012
by Steve Pearl
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Detours, Delays, and the Reality of Life

Nothing bugs me more than dropping the ball on a promise.

A couple of months ago I "promised" I would return to my two recent series ("Making Meetings Matter" and "Crisis Communications") in late November / early December.  The "Crisis Communications" series resonated with leaders who find themselves confronting unexpected crises, lacking the skills to communicate effectively with their clients or communities.  Likewise, the "Making Meetings Matter" series seemed to register a positive note with people who really hate it when high level meetings suck wind.

Well, life threw me some curve balls in early November.

Owing to the crummy state of the economy and an lack of paying clientele to keep my consulting firm alive, I found myself forced to head back into the full-time workforce.  Part of me was relieved.  After all, I thrive on the dynamic of team leadership.  As a consultant in a small, start-up firm you just don't find many people willing to work for free, so being back in the salaried world with a real team to lead is comfortable territory.

Don't get me wrong.  I didn't give up on consulting because I couldn't find clients.

I gave up on consulting because the kind of clients I like to work with – non-profits – are sucking wind right now.  They're struggling.  Donations are down and they just don't have the kind of money it takes for me to keep my family of five fed, clothed, and college educated.

Nothing gives me greater joy than helping non-profits adopt best-of-breed leadership principles and communications methods.  They just can't pay for that kind of expertise.

In November I walked into a firm that a friend told me needed some help and and gave them a little pro-bono consulting on improving their web image.  We talked brand identity and positioning for a couple of hours.  It was like throwing a drowning man a life preserver.  At first they flailed wildly in the water.  Pretty soon they got a good grip on the life preserver and managed to throw a leg over the transome.

I still have a dream that some day some eager benefactor will step up to the plate and say something like this…

"Hey, Steve, I like what you guys are trying to accomplish.  I'm going to give you that $250k of seed money you need to crank up a leadership consulting firm dedicated to pro-bono service to the community.  I'm going to help you take that gig on the road to every hurting non-profit all over the country.  I'll help you get the RV gassed up and keep your family fed so you and your partners can go out there at low or no-cost and help build the team leadership skills it takes to achieve organizational success as a non-profit in today's world."

Ahhh…  Someday.

Click to continue reading “Detours, Delays, and the Reality of Life”

October 14, 2011
by Steve Pearl
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Adaptive Leadership in a New Job

<p><a  data-cke-saved-href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1803">Image: href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1803">Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>We take this brief side-trip from our, "Making Meetings Matter" series to talk about an under-appreciated concept in organizational leadership.  Sometimes it feels like leadership experts talk about the practice of "leadership" in narrowly-defined, myopic terms.  "Leaders" tend to say "this," or "leaders" behave a certain way in certain situations.  

To hear some leadership gurus describe it, you would think that the same leadership skills and styles apply equally well to all disciplines, all industries, and all challenges.

That's just not the case.  Applying good leadership practices to the unique circumstances of one company versus another is rarely neat, tidy, or predictable.  Leadership can be messy at times as you use a method that worked one time before only to find out that the new team doesn't respond the same way as the old.

Sometimes a leadership style that worked well in one environment backfires in another.

With Steve Jobs' death so fresh on our minds, a perfect example of a leadership mismatch springs to mind.  John Sculley, skilled at leading consumer products giant PepsiCo, notoriously bombed at Apple when he tried to impose the skills he had honed at PepsiCo on the laid-back, Cupertino-based technology company.  Jobs and Sculley clashed horribly, resulting in Jobs' departure from the company he founded in a garage with his friend Steve Wozniak back in the late 70's.

Click to continue reading “Adaptive Leadership in a New Job”

October 5, 2011
by Steve Pearl
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Making Meetings Matter: Step 1, Selflessness Matters

(In the previous installment of "Making Meetings Matter" we introduced 5 simple guidelines to help you get more value and effectiveness out of your meetings.  Now it's time to dig deeper…)

STEP 1: Selflessness Matters

http://www.flickr.com/photos/emilyrems/"I just packed a few bags for the trip…"

A weird thought crossed my mind the other day.  It happened while I was thinking about the first thing you must do to unleash the power of your teams.  I was mulling the notion that setting a general tone of selflessness in your organization is actually a huge part of effective team leadership.

And that was when my thought processes went sideways.  Hang in with me for a minute.

Most leaders expect that their people will show up and contribute when they call a meeting.  They pay their employees good money, so why shouldn't they expect good performance?  They assume the hearts and minds of the people who walk through the door are all-company, all the time.  Heck, in this economy most of us are lucky to have a job!  Just showing up to meetings with a bunch of great ideas isn’t a differentiator; it’s pure survival!

How dumb are we if we think that people become emotionless, unfettered, bottomless wells of great ideas the second they cross the threshold of the conference room?  

NOBODY walks through the door of a meeting room these days without carrying a load of emotional baggage on their shoulders!

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter: Step 1, Selflessness Matters”

September 23, 2011
by Steve Pearl
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Making Meetings Matter 3: Five Simple Steps

(This is the fourth installment in our series about how you can get more powerful results out of team meetings.)

No More Train Wrecks

Train Wreck Outside Pretoria SA

Train wrecks aren't pretty.

I once witnessed the fresh aftermath of a train wreck.  Hearing the crash at our home about 500 yards away, I grabbed my camera and raced to the rail crossing in the valley below.  I was a freshman in college, which means that I was both smart enough to know the risks of being close to a recent train wreck and dumb enough to take them.  The wreck created a virtual jungle gym of cars, coal, and mangled rails.  No matter where you stepped, you risked injury.

One of the cars came to rest no more than 3 feet from a home located next to the tracks.  That particular image is seared into my memory.

Nobody got killed in that train wreck and, thank God, nobody got killed in the train wreck pictured above.

But no, train wrecks definitely don't fall into the "pretty" category.

Neither was my client's meeting. People ran for the hills when it was all over. As soon as they could get free of the wreckage, the scrambled away.

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter 3: Five Simple Steps”

September 14, 2011
by Steve Pearl
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Making Meetings Matter 2: When The Going Gets Tough…

(In the last installment we introduced the story of how an important team meeting went off the rails when a senior leader made one small, but critical, mistake.)

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Call a Meeting.

The Tough Guy Wields a Sword."Thanks for being here, everybody.  We have a few challenges ahead of us and I'm looking forward to hearing your ideas."

Our client rounded up his executive team for a critical meeting.  He just finished two weeks of analyzing sales and revenue projections and the future of the company went from bright to murky virtually overnight.  It was just before the famous Wall Street meltdown.  Signs of economic stress were already percolating through the professional services sector.

"For the past two weeks I've been reviewing our sales growth and revenue projections for the coming year.  I am sorry to say that they don't look good.  We already saw some slow down on a couple of our key accounts, so what I'm telling you shouldn't come as a surprise.  I'm projecting as much as a 50% downturn in new sales in the coming year due to economic stagnation.  I also think we might see some additional trouble with existing relationships and revenue streams.  A couple of our clients are already 120 days behind on payments.

"All this means that we are looking at the potential for stagnant growth or possibly even a need for some retraction for next year."

The word "retraction" resonated with the executive team at the table.  To several who had come over from large, Fortune 500 firms, the word "retraction" was code for, "layoffs."

Before continuing with his introduction, the boss paused and looked around the table.  If he wanted to use blunt force trauma to get the attention of his team, he achieved his goal.  After his opening salvo, everyone in the room looked glazed and a little shell-shocked.  From where I was sitting I could see that the VP of Client Services went from bright and upbeat to shaken and visibly pale.

The boss continued his monologue.

"Now, here's what I plan to do about it…"

Click to continue reading “Making Meetings Matter 2: When The Going Gets Tough…”

June 24, 2011
by Steve Pearl
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The “Making Meetings Matter” Series: Prologue

Meetings are a necessary evil of organizational life. Most big achievements in business, sports, and life depend upon a collection of smart, talented individuals all pulling together as a team to achieve a common goal.  You won't win the Super Bowl without a great team.  You won't achieve market dominance without building and leading a great team.

Your business won't survive if your team isn't communicating regularly and executing every play from the same playbook.

In leadership we often talk in terms of, "getting everyone on the same page" before tackling a big problem.  We are keenly aware of the importance of ensuring that every team member knows, understands, and is acting to achieve the same mission and goals.

So we "do meetings" to ensure everyone hears the same message at the same time from the same source.

Click to continue reading “The “Making Meetings Matter” Series: Prologue”

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