Monthly Archives: December, 2013

Roll Out, Find Bugs, Fix Them…

Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors, is the first female CEO of a major automobile company in history.  This is news – big news!

But here is a slice of an interview with her from Popular MechanicsInterview: New GM CEO Mary Barra that is telling about her understanding of the way the world has changed.

Popular Mechanics, Question:
People are used to updating their digital technology every couple of years, but cars last a decade or more. How do you keep up?

Think about it. Yesterday I was downloading [the new iOS update] and it said, “For new features and bug fixes.” And we all look at it and go, “Oh, good. Let me press the button and get the new thing.” How do we make sure that what we’re delivering to you is not going to require eight product fixes and then, especially in the infotainment space, how do we develop coverage over a three- or four-year period? Think about how fast technology moves in that space.
[Imagine if], instead of driving out of the dealership and your car losing value, your car just keeps getting better because we keep providing [updates] as technology advances, as you get a phone that’s got more capability. But how do we stay with it and provide more technology in the vehicle so that it matches that phone that didn’t even exist when the car was first developed?

So, Ms. Barra is thinking about updating the technology in a car just like we now update the technology in our devices.

Great insight.  Forward thinking insight.  And…  it’s about time insight!

So, let’s reflect on this new normal.  This is the word we now live in:

We now buy something.
When it is given to us, it is already “buggy.”
But, we accept the “bugs,” because we want the capabilities in spite of the bugs.
Then, we expect the “bugs” to be worked on, and fixed, pretty quickly.
But, we know that even with the fix, new bugs will be found, and they will need to be worked on, and fixed.
And, before all the bugs are fixed, we will have another rollout of the next bigger update.
And the “find bugs, work on bugs, fix bugs, roll out new features” cycle continues.

How long will this process continue?  Until the end of the world!  We really have “taught” ourselves to expect this cycle – “find bugs, fix bugs” — to be the expected norm.  We’ve made peace with it.  Oh, we curse the bugs; we curse the mistakes, but — do we really want to go back to the first version of IOS, with never an update?  Nope!

Good for Ms. Harra to think about this in her cars.  I’ve got a hunch that we all have to learn to think this way in whatever arena we work in.

What “bugs’ do you need to identify?  Then work on, then fix?

And, what features would your customers be delighted with, that you need to rollout — even if you rollout the features with a few bugs that will then need to be fixed?

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Three Keys to Building Great Teams

Almost anything of significance that you accomplish in life will probably be as a part of a team. The question for many leaders is, “How do I mold this team into a winning team?”  If you are tasked with the responsibility of molding a “group” into a “team” it can sometimes feel like making misfits fit!  Here are three keys for doing it successfully.

1. Don’t believe everything you hear about others—A friend of mine who was put in charge of building a “one stop” shop for customer service in his organization was given a corps of workers that management really wanted him to fire.  They didn’t volunteer for the job; they were volunteered.  Instead of a “one stop” shop it was dubbed the “last stop” shop.  Not too promising, right?  However, rather than treating each person according to his/her reputation, he treated each one professionally, with dignity, and with confidence.  The result?  Not one of them disappointed him, and several years later, not only has he built a successful team, he has done it without firing anyone.

2. Create a “Success is Imminent” Culture—Great leaders cause their followers to feel strong.  This is the essence of what it means to empower others.  For example, you can make them feel strong because you provide the proper training that they need.  You can make them feel strong because you provide the resources and tools that they need to be successful.  You can make them feel strong because you treat them with respect—as if you consider them valuable and competent contributors.  You’ll be surprised at how often people rise to meet your expectations.  Closely related to this is the importance of carrying yourself with “humble confidence.”  I’ve had supervisors who acted like our team was destined for greatness, and I’ve had supervisors who acted like we were an epic tragedy just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It should be no surprise to know that both supervisors ended up being right in their projections.

3. Cultivate an Outward Focus and a Unifying Vision—Great leaders get individuals to function as a team by uniting the team around a common purpose.  That purpose needs to have three components in order to be sustainable.  First, it needs to be outward focused.  While respect and camaraderie are important ingredients in team chemistry, if the focus is always on measuring those things, the team will be too self-consumed to be successful.  Second, it needs to be a shared vision.  The team members have to feel real ownership in the vision, which means that they must have a real role in helping to shape the vision.  Third, the vision has to have a call to excellence about it.  It must be something that will bring out the best in each person.  It must challenge each person to grow, learn, excel, and to become something that he or she is not now—but has always wanted to be.

Being an effective leader isn’t easy, and building effective teams is not done overnight.  However, leaders who diligently work at the right things not only build teams, they build people.


Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

Keep it Simple!

I know you’re smart, and you know you’re smart; so stop trying to convince that to everyone else through your writing. Albert Einstein said it best,

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

One thing I’ve noticed in local government is the extensive use of grandiose and superfluous vocabulary (see, I know big words too) in materials that are sent to citizens. The result? Residents calling to ask about the information they just received because they do not fully understand it.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that counterproductive? Your intent to stay transparent to the public ended with you actually contributing to the “government stereotype” of being too complex and incomprehensible.

So before your next batch of letters about that upcoming event goes out, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Be clear and concise. No one wants to decipher what you’re trying to say, especially in this age of instant information. There’s news coming at your audience from everywhere. For your message to stick, make the facts plain and don’t waste time over-fluffing it.
  2. Don’t get caught up in jargon. It assumes the reader knows what you’re talking about (and you know what they say about assumptions). You can cut down on this by having someone in another department read your work for clarity.
  3. Be conversational yet professional. People can relate to things that are written in a conversation tone, but don’t cross the line of professionalism by using bad grammar or slang. Also, be sure to not dumb down your information to the point where it comes off as insulting the reader’s intelligence. Find a happy medium between “expert” and “baby talk”.

Of course, there will be times where you need to be overly detailed in your message or stray from these guidelines, but these three points are still a good place to start. If you take nothing else from this, just remember to keep it simple!

It probably goes against your organization’s norm, but if you wanted to stay in the status quo, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place.


Hope Boyd
Written by:
Hope Boyd
Director of Communications, Strategic Government Resources

Try Changing Just One Word

In one of the most thorough academic studies done to date, Barbara Fredrickson, a psychology researcher, at the University of North Carolina, studied the impact of both negative and positive emotions on our ability to make good decisions.  According to her research, not only does cultivating a positive attitude stimulate learning, but letting our minds be filled with either fear or anger, shuts down our ability to learn.  Translated:  Positive Thinking has a lot more positives than just being upbeat and cheerful.

I don’t know about you, but I encounter a lot of “Yes, but…” people.  It really doesn’t matter what you say, their answer tends to be, “Yes, but…”

“That’s a nice rain we received.”

“Yes, but it ruined my golf date.”

“The city is really adding a lot of new businesses.”

“Yes, but we don’t have the infrastructure we need.”

“Cindy is a really good addition to your department.”

“Yes, but she probably won’t stay very long.”

“Yes, but…” may indicate that you are spending way too much time dwelling on negative things.  And it’s often the case that the more you dwell on something, the larger it becomes in your mind.  What’s more, Barbara Fredrickson’s research suggests that the very mindset of “Yes, but…” limits your ability to learn.  And if you can’t keep learning, you’re probably going to miss out on future opportunities, and the cycle of negative emotions is going to just become more and more entrenched in your thinking.

How do we fight this tendency?  One option is to intentionally think and vocalize “Yes, and…” statements.  You can tell both yourself and others, “Yes, and…”

For example, if you think, “I’d like to go to Florida for the holiday,” you might respond to yourself, “Yes, but I don’t have enough money.”  However, you can write another narrative by saying something like, “Yes, and someday I’m going to do that after I finish paying off my debt.”  Notice that both responses acknowledge the fact that you don’t have enough money to go to Florida. However, one response reflects a very negative attitude, “I’d like to, but I can’t…”

On the other hand, the “Yes, and…” response also remembers another reality.  It acknowledges that you have chosen to do something else with your money: Pay off debt.

There are a lot of “conversations” that you have with yourself every day, and you’d probably be surprised at how many of them are “Yes, but…” conversations.  If you are in that habit, you may be unknowingly hindering your own ability to excel because of your attitude.  As simple as it seems, you might be surprised at what a difference trading three little letters might make.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

Responding to a Hurting Co-Worker

Working with other people is usually a great experience. Surely, there are times when we do not see eye to eye with co-workers and probably even times when we get on each others nerves, but most of us enjoy our “Good mornings” and “Have a great night” affirmations from those we work with on a daily basis.

If you work with someone long enough, it is inevitably going to happen – a co-worker is going to be in a painful situation. I’m not talking about having a bad experience with a customer. I am referring to personal pain due to a death in the family, a financial loss, a divorce, etc. When this happens, what do you say? How do you respond? Here are a handful of suggestions you may find helpful:

Do not play the role of counselor – Most of us spend more time with our coworkers than with our family members. Since that is the case, we may feel we know someone well enough to dispense advice or counsel. While it is certainly fine to be supportive, it is not fine to tell someone what to do, especially when the ripple affect may lead to making things worse.

Avoid dismissive responses and one-upmanship – If you hear of something catastrophic, do not use the news as an opportunity to say things like, “Well, it could have been worse,” or “I know exactly how you feel.” In addition, don’t say things like, “You think you’ve got it bad, let me tell how horrible my life is.” Instead…

Be Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak – If a co-worker confides in you, one of the most appropriate responses is to listen with minimal interruption. If the painful situation involves another person, safeguard against agreeing with accusations. Avoid statements like, “Here’s what you ought to do…” Additionally…

Safeguard against becoming enmeshed – “Enmesh” is defined as, “involving someone in a difficult situation from which it is hard to escape.” Your organization most likely has an employee assistance program, so know your boundaries, state your boundaries, and encourage the hurting co-worker to take advantage of resources that are in place for his or her emotional and mental health.

Do what you can while keeping your work priorities aligned – After listening it may be appropriate to offer to help in simple ways. Inquire about basic things like eating, lodging, and sleeping. Inviting your co-worker to the break room or out to lunch may help him or her find an appetite. Ask what else you can do to help, and if it does not interfere with your own work, and doesn’t cross any personal boundaries, then pitch in. If the co-worker begins to rely on you too much, remember to state your boundaries and encourage him or her to take advantage of resources provided by your organization.

Let’s continue the conversation. Please add your personal thoughts in the response section below.

Greg Anderson
Written by:
Greg Anderson
Chief Learning Officer, Strategic Government Resources
Follow Greg on Twitter!@SGRGreg

Creativity: Do You Really Love It?

This happened when I was presenting a book synopsis to a group of about 100 health care professionals.  In the midst of this presentation, I asked a question that I have asked many audiences:

“How many of you like change?” 

Nearly every hand goes up.  And, then, in the nicest tone of voice I can muster, I say:  — “I don’t mean to offend you.  But practically all of you are lying. The fact is, you really don’t like change – and neither do I.”

I am increasingly convinced of this.  Oh, we like and praise and honor and revere those folks and companies that bring about change that we have accepted as good.  We fall in love with successful change – after the fact!

But, to actually be the one to have to change, especially “first,” especially when such change disrupts our routine or preferences? We don’t like this kind of change.  We want others to like change.  But we like doing things our way, the way we have grown oh so comfortable with.

Let’s take something as simple as a web site re-design.  I hate it when I have learned the layout of a news or shopping website or blog, and then they change it on me.  And that’s how I feel, by the way –“Why did they have to do this to me?”

Now, I know that such change is good, “required” to stay competitive, but I don’t like to have to learn the new layout.  I was happy just the way it was before, thank you very much!

And, by the way, I wish I was not like this.  I wish I saw a new web site design, and thought “Oh goody – I can’t wait to try this out, and learn the new features of this site.”  I wish I was that way – but, I’m not.

So, I resonate with this terrific article:  Inside the Box:  People don’t actually like creativity by Jessica Olien.

From her article:

We are taught that our own creativity will be celebrated as well, and that if we have good ideas, we will succeed.

It’s all a lie. This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. Studies confirm what many creative people have suspected all along: People are biased against creative thinking, despite all of their insistence otherwise.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness.

To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.  (emphasis added).

So, here’s your innovation/change/creativity lesson of the day.  It has to start with you. 

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

Three Reasons Mandela Became a Giant

NelsonNelson Mandela has passed and the world has lost an incredible leader.  Over the past few days I have seen pictures of him with world leaders from across the globe.  There are photographs of him with the Pope,with Margaret Thatcher, with four different American Presidents, and countless other dignitaries.  I have seen editorial cartoons depicting him as the Moses of South Africa, the father to South Africa, as the Lincoln of South Africa, as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and even as a type of Neil Armstrong, a la “One small step for man…”  My favorite editorial cartoon is one from 1990 when he was released from his 27 year imprisonment.  It depicted Mandela entering into prison as a normal man in the first frame.  In the second frame, he emerged as a giant of a man.  Indeed, he was.  Indeed, he was.

Mandela’s life should inspire every leader.  In a day when there are far too many stories about failed leadership, we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge some lessons from a great leader.  What made him such a giant?

  1. He was willing to suffer—He endured inhumane living conditions for almost three decades while he was in prison.  How easy it would have been for him to give up on his dream of the end of Apartheid.  Mandela suffered with his dream and for his dream, but he never gave up on that dream.  Most people would have.
  2. He was willing to forgive—If it would have been easy to give up, it would have been even easier to seek revenge.  However, it was his legacy to forgive and to seek reconciliation.  The movie Invictus, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup, held in South Africa portrayed Mandela’s understanding of the importance of forgiveness.  If you did not see it, you should.  If you are a leader, sooner or later, you will have the chance to emulate Mandela’s stance on forgiveness, and when you do—you should!
  3. He was willing to grow—It’s been said that suffering will either make you bitter or better.   Obviously, it made Mandela better.  In at least one interview I saw, he even called his imprisonment “helpful.”  It gave him time to reflect and clarify his thoughts, he said.  I hope you never have to suffer as he did, but I hope that whatever you go through, you will grow through it, and that it will make you better not bitter.

Mandela’s cause was a just one, and like countless other great leaders, Mandela wasn’t afraid to “Challenge the Process.”  When a leader is willing to do that for a just cause, he/she leaves a legacy. That should inspire us all.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela. Rest in Peace.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

It’s the Small Things

Guest Blogger - Andy

According to the latest Gallup poll that rated honesty and ethical standards in different fields, police officers still rated among the highest.  In 2012, 58% of people rated the police high or very high.  While that may or may not seem high, compared to other fields it’s pretty darn good.  However, I believe we can be better than that; there’s always room for improvement.

So how do we gain more favorable ratings? If you notice on the graph, nurses, pharmacists, and doctors rank the highest.  Why is that? I suppose that because they are perceived as caring and dedicated to helping others, people are always going to place them in high regard, and rightfully so.  Perhaps we, in policing, should take note.

Ethical standards in various professions

Aren’t the police caring and dedicated to helping others as well? You bet we are. We just don’t show it as best as we could at times.  Managing perception is an area that we can improve, both as individuals and as an organization.  At the individual level, we must recognize that every police- citizen encounter is important. And just like field goal kickers in football, we are only as good as our last kick, or in our case, our last encounter.  Officers are doing a great job out there, no doubt about it. I am not saying we are perfect, no one is.  But I contend that if we managed perception a little better, the view of the police would positively increase.

People want to be treated fairly, period. Studies show that people are more concerned about the process than the actual outcome. If police do the small things like explain why they took a particular action, most people will feel better about the situation.  They may not totally agree, but at the minimum, believe they were treated in a fair manner.

When I was a first line supervisor, I listened to many citizen complaints about alleged officers’ behavior, such as rudeness or an improper arrest.  First, I actively listened so I can clearly understand their concerns.  Then, I painted them a picture so they could see through the lens of an officer.  I can tell you that most people were satisfied after I explained why the officers acted a particular way.  As stated, people are more concerned about the fairness of the process.  Take the time to explain your actions.  If we all do that, I bet our ratings go up even more.

Four Signs of Self-Awareness

I’ve come to believe that people skills, more often than technical skills, determine how successful a leader will be.  Granted, he/she has to have good technical skills for the particular job.  That’s almost a given.  We might say that great technical skills are crucial, but insufficient for success.  It takes more.

Strangely enough, good people skills do not start with how you relate to others.  Good people skills start with how you relate to yourself.  What does it mean to possess good self-awareness?  Here are four  traits of a person with a strong sense of self-awareness.

  1. Aware of Emotions—To be a good leader, you need to be aware of what emotions you are feeling and how and why you are reacting to a particular emotion.  You can’t just stuff emotions.  Those emotions are having an impact on you and on the people around you.  If you are not aware of what they are, then it’s much more likely that you are letting them control you, rather than managing them.  Emotions are good, not bad, but you need to manage them and that starts with acknowledging them.
  2. Confident in Strengths—You are a leader because you bring something unique to the table.  Your team needs you to be good at what you are good at because they need to be able to abandon themselves to your strength, just as you need to be able to do with them.  A leader who is self-aware knows his/her strengths and possesses a humble confidence that gives others security.
  3. Cognizant of Weaknesses—The only thing worse than a leader who lacks confidence is one who is oblivious to his/her weaknesses.  We all have weaknesses.  It’s part of being a human being.  However, when you acknowledge them to yourself and to others, you minimize their impact because it’s then possible to address them.  When you refuse to acknowledge them, you magnify their negative influence.  Get honest about weaknesses and you’ll be a much more effective leader.
  4. Accepts Feedback—Do you bristle when someone gives you feedback?  Do you pout?  Are you defensive?  Do you capitulate and go into a black hole of despair? Do you know how you respond?  Do you know that your team knows how you respond?  Great leaders accept feedback in a healthy manner which enables those around you to be honest without the fear of retribution.  This, in turn, allows you to become an even more effective leader.  In contrast to this, if you cannot accept feedback in a healthy way, you will soon stop receiving healthy feedback, and your progress as a leader will grind to a halt.

Cultivate a stronger sense of self-awareness and at least two good things will happen.  First, your behavior will become more intentional, and second, you will become more aware of others—which is another trait of great leaders!


Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

Communication is…

Things we learn in college textbooks…

One of our regular participants at the First Friday Book Synopsis told me this a while back:  “basically, every thing you guys cover in these books we all should have learned in graduate school.”  He was not being critical – he was stating a truth.  The stuff we “learn” is primarily the stuff we are “reminded of.”

You know, “there is nothing new under the sun…”

Well, I teach speech at Eastfield College – one of our local community colleges.   I serve on the adjunct faculty.  In our text book Human Communication:  The Basic Course by Joseph A. DeVito, we are taught/reminded of some genuinely important truths that are valuable and useful for every speaker, every presenter, and every leader.

Here are four “truths” about communication from DeVito’s book that are worthy of remembering every time you speak, every time you present, and every time you write an e-mail:

Communication is ambiguous — messages have more than one potential meaning.

Communication is inevitable – you are communicating, whether you “intend to” or not.

Communication is irreversible – you cannot undo a communication.

Communication is unrepeatable – you can repeat words all you want, but the circumstances, in your heart and mind, and in your audience’s hearts and minds, and in everything else around you – everyone and everything is always changing.


  • Communication is ambiguous
  • Communication is inevitable
  • Communication is irreversible
  • Communication is unrepeatable

So being clear; being intentional; being “complete,” avoiding really dumb mistakes; all of these are important to remember as you communicate with others.

This is a good place to remind us of the principles from Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.


Principles from Made to Stick


Six Principles from Made to Stick:

1) Simple;
2) Unexpected;
3) Concrete;
4) Credible;
5) Emotional;
6) Use/Tell Stories

And, for an idea to stick, for it to be useful and lasting, it’s got to make the audience:

1)  Pay attention — be UNEXPECTED
2)  Understand and remember it — be CONCRETE
3)  Agree/Believe — be CREDIBLE
4)  Care — be EMOTIONAL
5)  Be able to act on it — tell a good STORY

We have to keep working on our communication — our speaking, our writing.  These truths will help you remember what to work on…



Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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