Category Archives: Leading-Edge Business Thinking

Back to Soft Skills

Krys Boyd, of Think on KERA in Dallas, interviewed Brent Iverson of UT Austin and John Sibert of UT Dallas on her program today. They are respected teachers at the University level, and are each contributors to the book The Little Orange Book: Short Lessons in Excellent Teaching (University of Texas Press). You can listen to the full interview here. Their expertise is in the sciences, but, notice this portion of the interview:  A caller called in to tell a story of a teacher from his college days — a teacher who failed in the human interaction department with his students. The two guests responded partly with these words:

How are my students perceiving me?
This applies to people… Not (just) professors, but people. How you interact with others, especially if you have some content models, impact their view of that content…

This goes back to a very basic concept of rhetorical effectiveness from Aristotle — the power of ethos. Ethos: the ethical appeal, the credibility of the speaker/messenger. And, at the heart of ethos is the notion that the teacher/speaker has the goodwill of the audience at heart.

This is from one of my earlier blog posts: Does Your Audience Find You Trustworthy? — 4 Components Of Ethos. From that blog post:

In one of the textbooks I use in my teaching, Public Speaking (8th Edition) by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn, and Randall Osborn, they describe four components of ethos.  These are terrific.  Here they are, from the book, with my own take sprinkled in:

  • integrity – be trustworthy (ethical; honest; dependable)

  • competence – develop genuine expertise; know your subject well (informed; intelligent; well-prepared)

  • dynamism – raise the energy in the room whenever you speak (confident; decisive; enthusiastic)

  • goodwill – have the best interests of your audience at heart.  Always mean them well, never mean them harm.

Or…  to put it all in simple terms:

  • you can trust me
  • because I have prepared well
  • and, I believe this deeply enough to get excited about it – and I work hard to stay current
  • and I share this with you to help you succeed in your own pursuits.

Enter every speaking assignment with these components of ethos at the front of your mind, and you will become known as trustworthy – a person of good character, speaking well.

Goodwill; effective interactions. It always comes back to the soft skills, doesn’t it?

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

We Need Better Communication Skills (a slight rant)

I teach speech at the community college level.
I read business books.
I speak to business groups.

Can I just have the ear of some business leaders for a minute, please.9a565In one of my classes, a student is taking my Public Speaking course in between finishing his B.S. and starting his Masters program. In his undergraduate program, there were no speech classes offered. Read that last sentence carefully. There were no speech classes offered. We’re not even dealing with a “required” class, but simply offering the opportunity.

Yes, he got his degree from one of those STEM focused universities.

I sort of understand the STEM folks (Science; Technology; Engineering; Math). They don’t want to be bothered by communication classes; such classes are too “soft skills” focused for their taste. They’ve got “real” subjects to study, after all. (I told you – this is a slight rant).

So, we end up with a bunch of degreed people, well-educated, except maybe not all that able to communicate.

This student is taking my summer Public Speaking class because his Masters program requires it. Good for them!

Here’s my observation. We are increasingly surrounded by people with great, yet narrow skill-sets. They may not have enough “liberal arts” understanding to build needed bridges to others – especially the non-STEM folks.

And, as a result, their peers, and their customers (especially their customers) may not quite grasp what it is they have to offer.

I think that every person, in any and every business endeavor, needs to be able to stand in front of a group, and translate jargon and techie vocabulary into every-day English for the non-initiate.

Bestowing a degree to a person with no training in Public Speaking really does seem like a big, big mistake to me.

Okay – slight rant over…

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

Is it a Goal or a Goat?

peterPeter Burchard is a multi-sector consultant, university instructor, and author. He has served as a city manager, health care executive, and as a board member for numerous organizations. He was the city manager of Naperville, Illinois and village manager of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. He served as the chief operating officer for inVentiv Medical Management in Augusta, GA. He serves on the board for the NIU Alumni Association and GreenFields-Mill Creek, a continuing care residence. Previously, Peter served on the boards of Hoffman Estates Medical Center, the Suburban Law Enforcement Association, and the Alliance for Innovation. He received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northern Illinois University. Reach Peter at:

Is your future filled with goals or goats?

Think about your professional development goals.

Think about your current work goals.

Are your goals more like goats?

Here’s the difference:

If it’s a GOAL, you think:

  • Excitement
  • Future Focused
  • Energy
  • Desired Change

If it’s a GOAT you think:

  • Forgettable
  • Stares Back
  • Chews
  • Doesn’t do much

Look at your goals for work and your own professional development. Now ask yourself: “Three months from now, how will my work place be better? How will I have grown?”

If you don’t have any goals it could be because you’ve experienced too many goats.

Real goals – deep goals – solve real problems and create the work place you and others want. Goat-type goals are forgettable and just stare back because we know the goal dances around real problems. Goats like to chew on things – just like people do – as if there is no greater purpose.

Real goals create real change. Goats tend to do nothing that actually matters.

Goats play mind games and create the illusion of progress. Sadly, goat-type goals may be what we like – unconsciously protecting the status quo.


A Plan for Creating Goals and Not Goats:

Setting goals can be a waste of time when the effort doesn’t bring the real problems to the surface. (Read Good Strategy – Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.)

Personal goals may, perhaps inadvertently, just secure our present comfortableness. Real goals need to propel us forward – solving key problems and creating the future we want.

Want goals and not goats? Try this:

  1. Embrace Uncomfortableness: Look at your goals. If your goals make you feel comfortable then your goals are goats. James Collins writes about the curse of the comfortable work place. Create goals that create uncomfortableness.
  2. Surface Real problems: People have problems. The work place has many problems too. How do some of your goals speak to real problems? If none of your goals surface problems, they are goats. Our desire to be positive is also a curse when it protects the status quo and prevents an honest assessment of problems (Read Good Communication That Blocks Learning by  Chris Argyris).
  3. Be Big! Really big!: When accomplished, what will your goals create? As Rumelt notes, people notice real strategy and goals. You and others will be excited because as a team you are 1) tackling real problems and 2) creating a better future.
  4. Seek Deep Personal Growth: When it comes to skills, how am I too much as I was just one year ago? Am I too satisfied with me? As an old saying goes, do I have twenty years of experience or one year repeated twenty times? To what degree am I more relevant today compared to last year? Can I prove my escalating relevance?
  5. See More Clearly: Test your vision – test your insight. What can you see about yourself, about your team and about your environment that you couldn’t see last year? Here is a difficult question to ask one’s self: “To what extent do I only see what reinforces the world I’ve created – the one I want to see?”

Your journey from goats to goals is packed with personal potential and organizational possibility. Let your personal resourcefulness blossom.

“Passion and Reality at Work”

Peter Burchard develops leaders. Email Peter at:

Not Power, Not Coercion, But Leadership

As James MacGregor Burns taught in his classic 1978 text, Leadership, the practice of leadership is not the same as the exercise of power. If I put a loaded gun to your head, I can get you to do things you might not otherwise do, but I’ve not practiced leadership; I’ve exercised power.
True leadership only exists if people follow when they have the freedom not to.(emphasis added).

—Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: Why Business Thinking is Not the Answer (A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great)

In Collin’s monograph Good to Great and the Social Sectors, he describes the leadership effectiveness of Frances Hasselbein, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. When asked what it was like to be at the top of such a large organization, she gave a tutorial, complete with object lessons. She rearranged items on a dining table:

Creating a set of concentric circles radiating outward. Hasselbein pointed to a glass in the middle of the table. “I’m here,” she said.

I teach it this way to my speech students: after explaining that “persuasion is changing someone’s mind, attitude, or behavior,” I remind them that seldom is full persuasion accomplished with any one single speech.

And then I teach/remind them that we can come close to making anyone do anything – all we have to do is hold their head underwater (it might take the help of the Cowboys’ offensive line to pull that off) until the person is willing to do what we demand. But, that is coercion, not persuasion.

Persuasion is all about getting other folks to head in the direction we want to take them/lead them when they have the absolute freedom to say no.

(Consider the recent execution of leaders in North Korea. I bet the other leaders are fully on board at this point. But there is apparently not much freedom to say no in that circumstance).

And when a person can say no, it takes pretty careful strategies of explaining, asking, training, educating, lobbying, appealing, to get things moving in a common direction. And getting good at this is no easy feat!

In other words, a person who can genuinely persuade others — others with the freedom to say no — deserves the title of leader

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

Maybe the Toughest Adult Challenge of Them All

A friend of mine helps people with “deep interviews” for key positions. He is a master at pulling out insight about a person’s capabilities from a long-view-life interview.

So, I asked him…if a person has developed a rather undesirable trait from the earliest days of childhood, how difficult is it to make a true mid-life, genuinely overcoming correction.

His answer was not encouraging…

I thought of this as I pondered this short quote from Steve Jobs, in the book Becoming Steve Jobs. It rings true, and it is downright
discouraging. It’s a quote from Steve Jobs, spoken to Tim Cook:

“I’ve never found in my whole life that you could convince someone who doesn’t want to work hard to work hard.” 

This is one of those childhood traits issues, isn’t it? You either learn to work hard very young, or you spend a life-time forcing yourself to try to work harder.

This may be the ultimate life and career challenge. Take a true, utterly honest personal look: what undesirable traits have you had for as long as you can remember.

Tackle those, conquer those, and you will have done something worth celebrating!

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

Who Do You Learn From?

SomThe Road to Charactere people seem to think that they don’t need to learn from anyone. They will pound out their own direction, chart their own course. They can do it on their own – they think…

But, for most of us, we need to learn from others. And even if we chart a portion of our own course, we rely on those who went before.

Last Sunday, Fareed Zakaria had part two of his interview with David Brooks, prompted by Mr. Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character. Here’s a critical and enlightening portion of that interview (from the transcript). I’ve bolded a key portion:

You grow up in an ecology and you inherit a certain tradition, a certain gift from the dead of how to be good. And so, there are a whole bunch of things you can believe in. There’s a Greek tradition, a classical one, which emphasizes honor and courage and glory. There’s a Jewish one, that emphasizes obedience to law. There’s a Christian one on salvation and grace. There’s a scientific one, rational thought and thinking your way to a good life.

So there are all these different traditions. They have all been handed down to us, and I’m not going to tell a young person which one to believe, but pick one. Because we tell them you’ll come up with your own world view. Well, if your name is Aristotle, Aristotlemaybe – with your own real view. The rest of us, we have to learn from somebody else. So, the dead have given us this great gift and I just lay them out for the students and for the readers of the book and I say pick one. It will help you out to inherit a tradition, a full integration that greater minds than your own who know you better than you know yourself have left for us as presents.

I’ve jed-catmull-steve-jobsust finished reading Becoming Steve Jobs. And, just last week, I completed reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar. I came away with this from the two books: though Mr. Catmull never quite claimed credit, it’s pretty clear that Steve Jobs learned much from him – considered him a mentor.

Steve jobs had a reputation that he was pretty much his own course charter. But, he learned from another – he was willing to learn from someone else, and Ed Catmull seemed to be the right fit, at the right time.

So, the question is, today and always, who are you learning from? Unless your name is Aristotle, you probably should develop a teachable spirit, and be on the lookout for your next mentor/teacher/guide.

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

Five Takeaways from Creativity, Inc.

“What is the best book you’ve read?”

burgerI get that question a lot. I never have a good answer. It’s like asking “what’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?”. There are so many ways to think about that question – the most memorable (one in Alaska), the best food (ok – maybe that same one in Alaska), the one I needed most (one after an exhausting five set tennis match, many, many years ago). And then, there are variations – the best barbecue you’ve ever had (I’ve eaten great barbecue from each of two of my brothers, one of whom was state champion more than once a few years back), the best Mexican food, the best… You get the idea. In other words, there is no “best meal ever” answer.

And, maybe except for The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and my favorite Nero Wolfe novel (The Doorbell Rang), there is no answer for the “best book you’ve ever read” question either.

The best book is the one that gave me what I needed, at the time I needed it and, at times, it almost does not matter how good a book it actually is if it gives me what I need at the moment.levarburtonlaforge

{I think back to when The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck was recommended to me a few decades ago, at a critical time in my life. The book seemed to have been written for me. That’s one that pops into my mind pretty regularly}.

So, with these thoughts… I have a book to recommend highly. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may think it is just a story about the success of Pixar. Yes, it is that… but it is so much more.

pixarThe book is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull (President of PIXAR Animation and Disney Animation), with Amy Wallace (New York: Random House. 2014). I read it, and prepared a synopsis for this book, at the request of and for a private client. (I think I will either present it at a later First Friday Book Synopsis, or simply record my synopsis and put it up on our companion 15minutebusinessbooks site).

This may be as good a book as I have read about:


How to work with powerful personalities (think Steve Jobs), how to manage the balance of “task-master” and “freedom” with creative people; how important it is to embrace and learn from failures and mistakes in the pursuit of the end success…

The list of valuable insights in this book is really long.

Here are some key thoughts gleaned from the book:

  • Build a team; give them freedom – but, freedom in service of a common goal…
  • Maybe the biggest problem: the unending resistance to change
  • Find the problems; see the problems, find the problems…
  • Braintrust – constant questioning… (with “straight talk”)
  • Honesty is ok, but candor is better, and essential! (candor = a lack of reserve)
  • The team comes first – first the team, then the ideas! (not the other way around — (To me, the answer should be obvious: Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas).
  • Truly, truly, genuinely expect that the unexpected will arrive
  • Randomness will happen!
  • “Be wrong as fast as you can…”Ed Catmull
  • Be careful where you let your “Steve Jobs” go, and where you let him (her) speak up…
  • Failure is not only inevitable, but also valuable; good
  • Conflict is good; necessary
  • The successful ones have to mentor the new ones!
  • Use “inclusive” furniture
  • “The stick propping the door open was too small” – every detail matters!

If you manage people, especially if you manage creative people, this would be a valuable book for you to read.

Here are my 5 lessons and takeaways from the book:

  1. Learn as widely — (as many skills) — as you can
  2. Learn to observe (take field trips to see…everything)
  3. Learn to practice candor – it is essential!
  4. Really, truly, give everyone a voice
  5. Keep making everything, every part of everything, better!

Seriously, this may be just the book you need at this moment in your business life.

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

No More Gradualism

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream, August 28, 1963

mlkOf all the excerpts from Dr. King’s speech, the line about gradualism may be the one that crops up in my thinking most often. He was speaking, of course, about the excruciatingly slow pace called for and taken by “leaders” regarding racial equality. But, the idea itself has a wider reach.

We see gradualism all around us. We get advice. “You can’t move too quickly. You have to be patient. It takes time.” On subject after subject, in civic life, corporate life, everyone seems to be a fan of “gradualism”—unless, of course, it is a change that they want made immediately!

So, here’s quite a story; quite a development. At Zappos, they have been trying the gradual approach. The issue: becoming a “self-managing company.” They have been trying to make the transition in steps—you know, “gradually”—the approach of “gradualism.”

tony-hsieh-zappos-12Enter Tony Hsieh. It sounds like he’s had enough of such gradualism. So, he is acting—quickly, once-and-for-all, no-more-delay… No more gradualism for this guy.

I read about this here: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to employees: Embrace self-management or leave by the end of the month by Richard Feloni. Here are key excerpts:

The online shoe-seller Zappos has been experimenting with a self-management organizational structure known as Holacracy for nearly two years.
But on April 30 the company plans to be fully manager-free, according to a company-wide memo CEO Tony Hsieh emailed late last month.
“Having one foot in one world while having the other foot in the other world has slowed down our transformation towards self-management and self-organization,” he wrote.

And here’s the key paragraph, from Mr. Hsieh’s memo to all employees at Zappos:

After many conversations and a lot of feedback about where we are today versus our desired state of self-organization, self-management, increased autonomy, and increased efficiency, we are going to take a “rip the bandaid” approach to accelerate progress towards becoming a Teal organization (as described in the book Reinventing Organizations).

This is what is pretty clear. Not everybody at Zappos has successfully made the transition; not everyone was fully on-board. And, even those on-board had not successfully fully implemented the change.

This is a bold experiment at Zappos — a once-and-for-all, no-more-gradualism approach. Mr. Hsieh is ready to jettison the old completely, and move fully to being a “Teal Organization.”
So, what is this new “Teal” organization? From a review of Reinventing Organizations:

reinventing-organizationsWhat is a “Teal Organization”? Frédéric Laloux, in Reinventing Organizations, uses a colour scheme, based on Integral Theory, to describe the historical development of human organizations: Red > Orange > Green > Teal. Laloux lists three breakthroughs of Teal organizations:

  1. Self-management: driven by peer relationships
  2. Wholeness: involving the whole person at work
  3. Evolutionary purpose: let the organization adapt and grow, not be driven.

Here’s what I think… Gradualism is probably a strategy that needs to be retired. It simply takes too long to make needed change that way, regardless of what arena you are talking about or working in. And, in today’s world, delay and slow-approaches-to-change can leave you, or a company or organization behind in a hurry.

I’m not one to pass judgment on whether or not Zappos should actually become such a self-managing organization. But I think I get the idea that if they are going to do this, they want to/ought to just “rip the bandaid” off, and do it! No more gradualism.

It will be interesting to watch, won’t it?

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

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall, and the Purity of Intrinsic Motivation

“Do you think I could be a writer?”
“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know. … Do you like sentences?”
The writer could see the student’s amazement.  Sentences?  Do I like sentences?  If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew.  I asked him how he came to be a painter.  He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Intrinsic motivation – the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing – is essential for high levels of creativity.
Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us

My wife and I watched Wolf Hall on PBS last Sunday, and we’re hooked. And apparently, so are a bunch of other folks. I’ve already read Wolf Hallabout five articles about the series. This one, Hilary Mantel on ‘Wolf Hall,’ Kate Middleton, and Plans For New Novels by Tim Teeman on The Daily Beast, was especially good, profiling and interviewing the author of Wolf Hall.

But, for this blog, here’s what jumped out at me:

Did Mantel think the books would be so big?
She laughs. “I thought it would be a sentence, then a paragraph, that’s the way it goes. If you are to succeed as a writer, you can’t be thinking about fame and honors—you should only be thinking about the rhythm of a sentence. You do your best for the reader by pinning the moment to the page. The imagination works in these little increments. Much later you begin to add it all up. I’m in the room, writing, with Cromwell and his company, not my publisher and a prize jury.”

Hilary Mantel

“You can’t be thinking about fame and honors – you should only be thinking about the rhythm of a sentence.” Call that clarity about what the work actually is that needs to be done. Call that the purity of intrinsic motivation. Call that “start with why.”

I think of other illustrations of such clarity. Michael Jordan and his “love of the game” clause; he was allowed to play basketball, anywhere, anytime he wanted to; and he did, in pick-up games in many places. (Not every player had/has that in their contract).

Or, consider Steve Jobs and his obsession about his products. He certainly had the equivalent of “he loved sentences – the rhythm of a sentence” in his work in a different arena.

Here’s the question – what do you genuinely, deeply love in and about your actual work? Not the fame; not the prestige; not the honors; not the money…but the work; the work itself.

Find that, develop that, and your work will probably be better for it, don’t you think?

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

Everything Matters in Superior Customer Experience

There is no tougher customer service/experience challenge than that of health care professionals. Hospitals; doctors; entire medical support staff – every patient judges the entire operation on the worst customer experience moment/interaction in the entire experience. After all, (from the book Service Fanatics):

This may be our most obvious study finding, as well as one of the most obvious facts in healthcare. No one wants to be our customer. Equally important to the point that no one wants to be in the hospital or visit a healthcare provider is that no one wants to come back.

Service FanaticsI recently presented a synopsis of Service Fanatics: How to Build Superior Patient Experience the Cleveland Clinic Way by James Merlino, MD (New York: McGraw Hill Education, 2015) for a top-notch medical practice here in the Dallas area. Side note: this is a medical practice that truly excels at the patient experience. It seems that they already do everything suggested by and even hinted at by Dr. Merlino in this book. Why are they so good? They keep raising the bar, and never letting the bar slip, in their quest to provide a fully attentive patient/customer experience. They pay attention to every detail, every moment, every interaction.

Dr. Merlino knows something about this challenge.

JAMES MERLINO, MD, is the Chief Experience Officer of the Cleveland Clinic Health System and is a practicing colorectal surgeon in the Digestive Disease Institute. He is the founder and current president of the Association for Patient Experience and is a recognized world thought leader in the emerging field of patient experience. In 2013, HealthLeaders magazine named him one of “20 People Who Make Healthcare Better.”

The book is filled with specific findings, and then solutions to the problems discussed. I wrote this on my synopsis handout as reason #2 on “Why is this book worth our time?”

This book reminds us that everything matters. Call it process; call it design thinking; but every single interaction (“touch point”) matters to the patient (customer).

And, though a bell curve distribution is everywhere present in business, there is one place where there is no bell curve allowed. Again, from the book:

Some might contend that it’s acceptable for customer experiences to follow a typical bell-shaped distribution, with some terrible, most good, and a few extraordinary. In healthcare, however, the way we treat our customers—patients—should not be arrayed on a bell curve. We cannot accept anything less than the consistent delivery of safe, high-quality, compassionate, and empathetic care. Who would want to be the patient or family at the bottom of a bell-shaped experience curve?

Here are my eight lessons and takeaways from Service Fanatics:

  1. Give your full attention to the patient, at each step of the designed process, and in each and every “touch point” (interaction). The book describes this as a “process,” a well-designed, nothing – not one moment — left out of the well-designed, and then well-executed process).
  2. “Honest and demanding” can still be great, and certainly needed, customer/patient experience.
  3. But… you have to become a very good “explainer…” 
(patients want, and really need, to understand – everything).
  4. Try little tests.
  5. Remember the “Rule of 17” – it takes 17 “repetitions of a message” for a person to finally get it… 
(The “Rule of 17” is not in the book, but the principle of repeating key messages, especially to all on the team, is clearly and strongly emphasized).
  6. And remember, each patient is different… Your job is to discern the differences – LISTEN REALLY WELL!!! – and 
respond to that patient in that moment. 

  7. And, remember, let there be no weak links in the team. (Coach yourself; coach one another – all for the sake of the 
patient experience!)
  8. And, remember, what really matters to that patient is knowing, and knowing fast… 
(knowing what they are so anxious to know).

If you are in the health care arena, I would call this a must-read book. If you are in the customer service arena – and, you are – this is a great “how to design a superior customer experience” book.

Remember the Rule of 17 - (Click on image for full view)

Remember the Rule of 17 – (Click on image for full view)

(Note: I presented this to a private client, not at our monthly First Friday Book Synopsis event. But, in a few weeks, I will record my presentation, and put it up on our 15minutebusinessbooks site. Give me a few weeks).

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

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