Is Your Organization Missing a C?

As the cliché goes, little things mean a lot. Recently, I returned to a beach resort I had visited back in the spring. In my previous visit, I noticed that the “C” on the gateway sign to the tennis facility – the Racquet Club – was missing. Who knows why – maybe it fell off due to age, maybe it was accidentally knocked off by a landscaper, maybe it was removed by a “mischievous youth” as part of a summer prank – but it really doesn’t matter because these things happen, right?

No question, but what also happens at first class resorts is that these things get fixed, usually in very short order. After all, it’s pretty simple – take a few minutes to hang the “C” back up. However, at this particular resort, which has struggled for years to differentiate itself from other, more prominent nearby vacation spots, if you want to play tennis, still many months later, you go to the “Racquet  lub.” On the surface, a seemingly minor point, but it sure makes you wonder how much effort they put into other details, such as cleaning, food service, etc. If you want to be known as a high-end, exclusive resort, there’s just no room for this kind of slackness.

Most folks agree that changing a culture is one of the toughest tasks you can take on as a leader; however, if you have the wrong culture, you can’t shy away from making the adjustments. One of the toughest assignments of my career was to turn around the culture of a services company that was by all accounts underperforming (especially from the perspective of the angry customers). After a period of assessment, we found that the company had no discernible common culture overall and that, what micro-cultures were there, trended negatively. As a result, we set out on a broad transformation project to build a quality and service-based culture around a set of common core values. Readers of these pages have seen postings before about that macro change process and how it works. The missing “C” reminded me, however, of the importance of making sure you also attend to the micro, almost subtle details in your transformation effort and in your daily management thereafter.

Recently I had the privilege of touring one of our GWI partners’ manufacturing facility (a fascinating and uplifting experience – contrary to popular belief, we do build a lot of cool stuff here in the U.S.A. with skilled, happy workers – but that’s a topic for another day). As we walked the floor, I paid close attention to the gaze and mannerisms of the supervisor/tour guide – he was constantly scanning the environment to make sure all of those little, seemingly minor details were top of mind. Making sure the safety guy had his radio clipped to his belt rather than leaving it on the table nearby. Asking the assembler to move his ladder to a different side of the assembly so it was out of the way (and less likely for someone to trip over its legs). Helping another assembler organize her hand tools in the most efficient way.

In a big manufacturing facility, these aren’t little things – they are tiny things. Why bother? Answer: “Because I tell my people it’s all about Safety, Quality . . . and then Productivity. We do things the right way here.” The supervisor didn’t yell, chide or scold, but he did make sure that his employees’ behavior in all respects conformed to his overall cultural goals.

As the dramatic real estate market fluctuations buffeted my last company, one of my Board members advised me that, no matter what, every day I had to exude confidence, to project to our workforce that I believed in my heart that things were going to work out and to show that in my behavior and mannerisms. Sage advice. Every day, no matter how bad I felt from staying awake all night agonizing over layoffs, struggling with uncertainty, and dealing with the regret of lost opportunity, rather than rolling out of bed late and “going casual,” I got up, put the tie on, and walked uprightly into work bright and early. While we still had to deal with layoffs, uncertainty and regret, we were also able to provide quality services and satisfy customers.

Culture – both and in the broad, macro, Core Value sense and in the micro, behavioral, seemingly nitpicky detail sense – provides the margin between success and failure. Leaders don’t have to (and in my opinion shouldn’t) be maniacal or ill-mannered like some CEO’s of recent fame, however, to be successful, they do have to insist that their organizations pay attention to detail and do things the right way, no matter what the circumstances. How you deal with the “C” in your organization speaks volumes about what you want your organization to be. Paying attention to detail made the difference for us and for the organizations of those famous CEO’s (the one that paid the most attention to detail likely made the smartphone that’s in your pocket).

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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Stop Pressing & Get Back to Winning

Like many people, I have surprisingly found myself absorbed with the Olympics (basketball, swimming and track are of course awesome, but I’ve also found myself spellbound by crazy events like table tennis and the trampoline), even though the coverage choices of NBC have been a little questionable to say the least (endless, sappy human interest stories vs. the compelling action you paid $1.1B for the rights to show?).

Nevertheless, one enjoyable part of the non-sports coverage was the Bob Costas interview with Michael Phelps following his last gold-medal race. Among other things, Bob asked Michael about his slow start the Olympics, to which he replied essentially that he was “pressing” at the beginning of the games, when others won the golds we’ve come to expect from Phelps. As the games progressed, Phelps had a meeting with himself, decided to relax, and was able to complete the Olympics on a roll, finishing with four gold medals to push his career total to a ridiculous eighteen.

Pressing seems to be a by-product of working very hard towards a stretch goal which is tantalizingly within sight. Like Olympic athletes, your objective could be years in the making, requiring multiple iterations of strategies, tactical shifts, personnel changes and good, old-fashioned, trial & error. As incremental successes and failures pile up, the innate frustration attendant to goal seeking mounts, leading to a mental condition – pressing – which ironically impedes performance. Almost invariably, athletes that are interviewed on the subject note that, like Phelps, after they find a way to relax and focus, they are able to deliver results commensurate with their training and talents.

Since developing the YellowPark Garden brand concept in early 2012, we’ve been awfully busy building the necessary infrastructure to enable our work –  cultivating strategic progress in economic and philanthropic endeavors – and developing “business” in each category. All of this activity reached a zenith in June. For some months, we had been developing the next iteration of our Global Collaborative Workspace, which would enable the effective merger of our project work and digital media presence; now our July launch date was looming. In the meantime, we simultaneously launched strategic projects for a large state government agency, a national NGO and an international technology company.

Almost overnight, travel was the order of the day, complexity became the rule rather than the exception, and the pressures of deliveries mounted.  Nevertheless, fueled by the excitement of goals that were now within sight – more jobs and better skilled-based education in Georgia, strategic expansion and better capital structures for for-profit and non-profits, pubic-private partnerships leveraging the power of capitalism to address fundamental building blocks of abundance (water, education, equality), etc. – we “pressed on.”

Folks that have worked with me in the past have heard me talk over and over again about my “SDP” Core Values – Strength (technical proficiency), Discipline (consistency), and Perseverance (dogged determination). These values are best expressed and lived in an equilateral triangle – each side supporting and moderating the other to achieve the balance that enables success. Of these, Perseverance is the glue –  nothing gets done without it. However, Perseverance can become dangerously dominant, especially for entrepreneurs and, I suspect, world-class athletes. When you’re clawing for a goal, raw perseverance kicks in, to the detriment of technical accuracy and consistency. In my case, reaching for the brass ring enabled short-term deviations from good and important disciplines (blogging, diet, sleep, robust conversations about topics other than business, couch time, frivolous fun, etc.) and the vicious cycle of impatience (hard work leads to unrealistic expectations which leads to frustration which leads to . . . <Repeat Cycle> . . . . ) In a word, PRESSING.

The good news is that Pressing is a short-term condition that is easily cured – just take a break. In my case, a week off in Hawaii did the trick (ignore the e-mail, sleep in, exercise, eat & drink well, laugh, do nothing for hours). I got well and, in the meantime, the projects continued (especially the GWI), the collaborative portal got launched, and the social media world lived on without me (can’t believe it!).

I’m no Michael Phelps but I can do what I love, make a decent living, and help some folks along the way. Those are my goals so, from here, we’ll keep pressing forward of course, but just with a healthy dose of . . . health.

So, hey, if you’re running hard, up against a wall, making trade-offs, frustrated (or, worse yet, angry), maybe it’s time to ease up? Stop pressing, start living and then (ironically?) the success will come after all.

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink

Amazingly, a couple of months have passed since the Zambia trip. You may recall that the graduation at the Helen De Vos School was a smashing success, attended by two Cabinet Ministers and a number of other dignitaries, the computer lab is now up and running, and talks are underway with a number of folks about our next step: bringing water sanitation to the more remote regions of the country. As audacious as that sounds, everything that has been accomplished thus far by ACE and CAC-Z was improbable and, with the backing of corporations, advocacy groups and NGO’s we have spoken with thus far, the outcome seems imminently achievable.

As with every developmental project – especially in the societal development workspace – progress seems to come in fits & starts due to everyone’s ops tempo and, like the pursuit of any stretch goal, there are also numerous opportunities to give up. However, the need keeps calling. This week I received a set of pictures of Kenyama in the rainy season, which were quite motivating:

Kenyama in the rainy season – misery

Boy carrying water

When we toured the schools in Kenyama, we were told over and over again that their “capital improvement goals” were, in descending order: a roof, water, a wall fence, electricity, etc. (fyi, no one asked for a football stadium). Ironically, electricity is last on this list: a lot can be done in natural lighting and extra clothes can compensate for a lack of heat, but it’s hard to justify even conducting classes without a roof, without water, and without physical security.

Building roofs and walls has its challenges, but on the surface the solution seems relatively straightforward: funding + materials + labor. The water issue, though, is confounding: there is plenty of water in Zambia, just not enough that is potable when & where it needs to be. In some of the schools, a spigot is cited as huge progress (it’s better than nothing), however, the water is tainted, causing illness and disease. From there, the water-related issues seem to spiral out of control: wells that are unusable for lack of maintenance; latrines without flush toilets, separate facilities for girls (which discourages their use) and teachers (which adds yet another disincentive to the profession).

Thankfully and, again, contrary to popular belief, America has stepped up and is providing assistance with water sanitation in Zambia. On May 12, 2012, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced that it had signed a five-year compact with Zambia to reduce poverty through sustainable economic growth there. The first significant project under the compact will address water sanitation concerns in Lusaka by building sewers, treatment facilities and other water-related infrastructure. The American people will contribute about $355 million to this project during its term.

That’s great and we should be proud of our efforts (wow, a good U.S. government story!), however, it’s not just the people of Lusaka that need clean water. After the compact was announced I asked The Hon. Harry Kalaba, a member of Zambia’s parliament representing the northern region of the country if his constituency would benefit from the MCC work. The answer was sadly, no. According to Hon. Kalaba: “It is actually a fight to make people understand that rural areas are just as important. My hope is that eventually many will come to appreciate what we are going through in rural Zambia.”

Our (very preliminary) research thus far says that there are ways to bring relief to these people. Bringing clean water (and of course roofs and wall fences) brings education, which supports democracy, freedom, job growth and prosperity. So, we press on. Our friends at the WASH Advocates have taught us a lot and will continue to help us as subject matter experts as we move forward with this initiative. Corporations with critical engineering and logistical support have indicated interest in the project, and our friends at K&L Gates  have provided critical public policy insights. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, the needs of the folks in Zambia are real and current. Therefore, if you want to learn more about the work of ACE/CAC-Z, visit childreneverywhere.org. Please leave behind a donation if you’re so moved.

CAC-Z carrying teachers to school

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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Let’s Build Some Stuff (Again)

If you maintain the right perspective, it’s an exciting (although rollicking) time for American business. The combination of dramatically disruptive technologies (and their ever-escalating effects), uncertainty in overseas markets, and – ironically – the looming threat of the removal of current income incentives by the loss of the “Bush-era tax cuts” has lit a wildfire of entrepreneurship, both in individuals and corporations. What’s really interesting in this megatrend is the emphasis on bringing manufacturing back “onshore.” While manufacturing never truly left us, the flight of heavy industry from the U.S. over the past couple of decades is undeniable, as our economic emphasis shifted towards services and intellectual property/information-based industry verticals.

In a recent speech at the Aspen Institute, Dr. Peter Ammon, German Ambassador to the United States, noted the error of our ways, calling our shift to a service economy a “grave mistake.” In contrast, in Germany, the manufacturing sector is on a percentage basis about twice that of U.S. , and its percentage of the world market share in manufacturing is growing. Dr. Ammon expects continued solid growth in this sector because the incentive to “offshore” processes for labor arbitrage is now counteracted by automation and specialized micro-manufacturing; as a result, labor is now a smaller percentage of total cost. Furthermore, when you factor in the increase in shipping costs over the past few years, offshoring just makes less sense.

This is great news for America, as manufacturing adds long-term, high-paying jobs to the community, both directly and indirectly. Furthermore, with advanced technologies, corporate commitments to sustainability, and the avoidance of shipping-related pollution and energy expenditures, the environmental impact of today’s manufacturing concerns is dramatically different than that of the Rust Belt days.

The U.S. government also recognizes that a return to manufacturing is good for our economy. At the same event, Rebecca M. Blank, Deputy Secretary of Commerce, noted that a strong manufacturing sector “drives exports” – more than 60% of exports are manufactured goods – and “one-third of GDP growth since the end of the recession” has come from manufacturing sector. As a result, the Administration is “working really hard” on an Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, focused on how to swiftly move ideas from research to applied products, and it has recently re-launched a U.S. – German foreign exchange initiative on trade.

So, what’s the catch? According to Dr. Ammon, “growth is constrained by a lack of qualified workers.” As our focus shifted to building a services and intellectual property/information-based economy, we moved away from Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-based education and technical training (hands-on teaching in trade skills). As a result, event though German companies have created over 750,000 jobs here, according to Dr. Ammon, “more qualified, trained personnel” are still needed. Secretary Blank agrees, noting that the U.S. is “clearly behind” in STEM education, particularly for female students, and that the Administration has recently proposed an $8 billion fund for technical education.

Dr. Ammon’s remarks to the Aspen Institute were consistent with those he made to the German-American CEO forum in Atlanta in the fall of 2011. At an event sponsored by Porsche Cars North America and hosted by Reece & Associates, its outside legal counsel, Dr. Ammon met with leaders of various German and American corporations, along with federal and state legislators and officials from Georgia’s Department of Education, its University System, and its Technical College System.

Dr. Ammon addressing business leaders and governmental officials in Atlanta

At this meeting, the business leaders unanimously expressed concerns that significant gaps exist in the technical training of our high school and post-secondary students, and that these gaps must be remedied to enable their companies to expand and to leverage our students as productive workers. In response, officials from the education community acknowledged the historical shift in focus away from technical training in secondary schools and practical skills instruction in our post-secondary curriculum, and showed how this is being remedied in Georgia through, among other things, a forward-leaning effort to develop occupation-based educational pathways.

Panel discussion with Dr. Ammon in Atlanta

These initiatives are timely: officials from all of the major German automobile manufacturers were present at the meeting with Dr. Ammon last fall. These companies, which have invested heavily in the southeast region of the U.S., are now exporting the majority of their production, and they pledged to continue to increase their investment and production here. Furthermore, these executives asked Dr. Ammon for his help in getting German manufacturers of critical component parts to build plants here. Again, more great news; however, all of this is contingent upon these manufacturers getting access to qualified workers at all levels.

As a result, in Georgia, the Department of Education is now working to build public-private partnerships with German and other international companies to enhance its STEM and international business-based career pathways. These pathways will provide critical technical training and skill-based learning, along with contextual foreign language and overseas cultural experiences. As with any developmental initiative, these efforts are investments in the future, however, we know from polling a number of executives that we have jobs today that are going unfilled due to the lack of a qualified workforce. So, our “new” economy actually has a demonstrated need of an “old” fundamental (folks building stuff). We view this as a building block for a better “new” economy and, thanks to programs like the Georgia International Workforce Development Initiative and the cooperative effort that it represents, are therefore optimistic about the future.

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting.

Take care.

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The Trouble With Success

Routines can be so comforting. After about three weeks of continuous crazy travel,  I recently had a few days at home to luxuriate in the normalcy of everyday life – my own bed, my own gym, my own food, my own stuff –  wow, I think those days were better than any I’ve spent at any resort anywhere in the world. Everything was so great, I just wanted to stay in that zone for about a month or two . . . . Then, the projects began calling, meeting requests started flying and so here I sit, back in another hotel room. Oh well, progress doesn’t get cultivated by sitting at a desk.

At the end of Day Two at the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, we addressed Pickett’s Charge, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee made one last gambit and lost (10,000 casualties in about 45 minutes). The question of whether the Charge was the right strategy overall is open to conjecture (Dr. Jared Peatman says yes and he convinced me of that as well, but that’s an issue for another day); however, the teaching point of the vignette is the irony of how success tends to dangerously breed overconfidence in leaders. As a result, we become stubborn, insisting on a formulaic approach to problem solving and overlooking situational differences – some subtle, some that should smack us in the face. On the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg, these variations produced catastrophic results.

The starting point for Pickett’s Charge – 1.5 miles uphill into blazing cannons and withering musket fire

Despite the fact that it was undermanned, underequipped, and underpaid, save one “tie,” the Army of Northern Virginia was undefeated in major engagements with the Union when it arrived in Gettysburg. According to Steven Wiley, the difference was clearly leadership: the Confederate Generals, starting at the top with Robert E. Lee, had just performed brilliantly, while the Union Generals, well, less so, and there was every reason to believe that this trend would continue. Instead, the exact opposite occurred: Union officers provided strategically sound and inspiring leadership, while their counterparts developed questionable strategies and made critical tactical errors.

So, what changed? According to Wiley, Lee’s problems stemmed from:

  • New people in key leadership roles (he had replacement officers filling in for those killed or wounded);
  • A recent reorganization (his Army was subdivided from two Corps into three);
  • A communications system breakdown (he lost touch with his Cavalry – in those days the “eyes & ears” of the Army); and
  • Operating in a new, unfamiliar environment (being on the offensive in foreign territory as opposed to defending Virginia).

Despite all of these factors and, over the objections of his most trusted subordinate, General James Longstreet, Lee knew that, based upon their past outcomes, his Army would achieve the same results at Gettysburg that they had elsewhere, hence the bold (obstinate, reckless?) Charge.  Instead, the disastrous result – what Wiley termed a “predictable surprise” – sounds awfully familiar to any experienced leader. Ironically, the successes we’ve achieved in the past can easily become our Achilles heel by breeding overconfidence & complacency, masking mistakes, and causing us to underestimate the complexity of the situation and the strength of the competition.

I’ve been fortunate in my career to have been able to move between professional services organizations and operating companies a few times, so I had no trouble relating to Wiley’s analysis. At a base level, success in professional services is all about creating defined processes – templates, P&P’s, frameworks, etc.  – and then executing them repeatedly thereafter with precision. In a previous consulting firm, we had a Team that had become highly skilled at managing the templated deployment of a particular software package. Week after week, location after location, the Team executed according to the Plan and the system would Go Live. Great work! Let’s celebrate & do it again (as long as the software keeps selling and you can continue to hump the travel).

Later on, in an operating context, I brought a number of my gang in to help develop and deploy some software for our own use. However, we had different executives responsible for the daily aspects of the effort; we had recently restructured some of the operating divisions and changed their management; we had a fundamentally different communication model – all internal as opposed to externally managed; and we had the Team members working as local employees as opposed to traveling fee-for-service consultants.  While the software was ultimately delivered, the project took many times longer than expected (at a much higher price of course), the end product was probably just “good enough” (as opposed to great), and the process was frankly downright painful (no happy closing dinner at the end).

In retrospect, using our beloved templated consulting process in the radically different & rapidly changing operating context was definitely a predictable surprise. It’s true that success breeds success . . . but not always. Robert E. Lee – by all accounts a great leader – nevertheless fell victim to the Trouble With Success at Gettysburg which, among the many great lessons learned from the battle, reminds us to stay open-minded in our approach and ever-vigilant to signs that our “formula for success” may not be the right recipe for a particular circumstance.

Monument to CSA General Robert E. Lee at the base of Pickett’s Charge

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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Transactional vs.Transformational Leadership

Later in the morning of Day Two at the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg we explored the concept of Transactional vs. Transformational leadership, using the battle of the Left Flank at Little Round Top as a framework. According to Dr. Jared Peatman, who facilitated this vignette, Transactional leadership encompasses a set of behaviors that produce order and consistency such as planning, budgeting, organizing, coordinating, controlling, correcting, rule making & enforcement – in other words, the Management 101 stuff we do every day. In contrast, Transformational leadership behaviors produce change and movement – visioning, role modeling, strategizing, enabling, confidence building and, most importantly, communicating. In other words, the fun (but hard) stuff.

You may recall that, on the morning of Day Two of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces held the high ground south of town, a position which afforded significant strategic advantage. Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plan that day was relatively simple in concept: attack the Union line on both its right and left flanks. If either or both attacks were successful, the Union army would be effectively surrounded and would likely have to quit the field.

As a result, on the extreme left flank, the 20th infantry regiment from Maine, commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, was ordered to hold its position at all costs. In the battle that followed, the 20th Maine repulsed numerous attacks from the Confederates, to the point where they had exhausted their supply of ammunition. Finally, in desperation, Col. Chamberlain ordered a sweeping, go-for-broke bayonet charge, which successfully ended the battle.

Monument to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top

According to Steven Wiley, surveys have shown that over 70% of employees in the U.S. say they’re either not engaged or, worse yet, actively disengaged, costing an estimated $1 trillion per year in productivity. Why? Our employees don’t think we care about them.  In contrast, good leaders co-create the future with their teammates. This means being flexible in our styles and approaches to problem solving, with the notable exception of our core values, where we must be rigid. Strategic decision-making in this regard enables the Team’s success which, in our dynamic, stressful environments, is a slight but important nuance from the stereotypical notion of “empowerment.”  Empowering is transactional, enabling is transformational.

When he received his orders on Little Round Top, Col. Chamberlain faced a big leadership challenge: how do you inform your soldiers that they are to defend their territory to the death without them running away? In today’s context, how do you communicate to a business unit that a regulatory change has cut your demand in half, necessitating layoffs, and find a way to keep your best employees from jumping ship?

On Little Round Top, Col. Chamberlain worked with his subordinates to develop a defensive plan – a V-shaped line that made the best use of the strategic advantages afforded by the topography – and he personally helped them place the troops on the line. As the bullets began to fly, Col. Chamberlain stood with his men, inspiring confidence through his personal display of courage. As a result, the natural fears of his men were transformed, and the line held.

Right side of the V-shaped line of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top

One of the most interesting aspects of the Transactional/ Transformational leadership dichotomy is that they are really categories of behaviors, and most leaders no doubt show some of each on a daily basis. Furthermore, because they are behavioral, they can be switched on and off. Great leaders, I suspect, know when it’s precisely the right time to make the switch from being Transformational to Transactional and vice versa. Furthermore, for a great leader, the effects of these behaviors are cumulative: because their subordinates know their leader excels at being Transformational, when he or she becomes Transactional in response to a contingency, they perceive the need for those behaviors as highly credible which, of course, enhances the Team’s effectiveness in response.

When the battle reached a strategic inflection point – running out of bullets – Colonel Chamberlain devised a bold strategy of charging down the hill with bayonets. The charge would be conducted in a sweeping motion, to effectively herd the opposition on one flank while simultaneously engaging it directly on the front. This strategy, a brilliant solution developed under the most extreme circumstances, was nevertheless terrifyingly risky. Knowing that he had no choice and determined to fulfill his orders, Chamberlain switched into Transactional mode, taking command of his men and leading them down the hill into the fight.

Standing on the Left Flank, I could feel the fear Chamberlain’s men must have experienced when they were told to affix bayonets and prepare to charge. Since they were out of ammunition, it would be hard to argue with the logic of the order; however, given their individual prospects in hand-to-hand combat against a hard-charging enemy, it would have also been very tempting for them to cut and run.

Thankfully, the subject of bayonets doesn’t come up in our daily lives, so the metaphor has its limits. Nevertheless, anyone in a leadership position has or will be put in a position where they must give bad news to a Team (a key client was lost, project funding was cut, a business unit must be shut down, etc.), lay out a tactical response (a reduction in force,  leadership changes, maybe a bankruptcy filing), and then lead them through a tough implementation of the plan.

Chamberlain’s men responded because they trusted him and his decision-making process – over and over again, Chamberlain had provided them a vivid, living personal example of his core values.  Developing this trust level takes incremental discipline and time, but it pays off when it counts. So, where do you begin? Maybe instead of toeing the party line in Town Hall Meetings, you show transformational leadership behaviors by discussing the bad with the good, by listening, by co-creating a better future, and by setting the right example by sticking to your values. Then, when you must take control of the transaction, they’ll fight for you, too.

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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Zambia Update: Phase I Completed!

Yesterday I received an e-mail confirming that the computers and related equipment we sent to the Garden Community School in Zambia, are in place, functional and on-line! These computers, which had served the paralegals at Prommis Solutions before the disruptions of the real estate market in 2011, made a 6-month journey by container ship and truck (and also a little ways in the back of my wife’s Expedition) from Georgia to Zambia.

New Computer Lab at Garden Community School

The computers now have a new life, providing e-learning solutions and facilitating live, online cultural exchanges between students in Atlanta and Lusaka. So, what seemed like a completely crazy idea is now a reality! As you might imagine, this was a large-scale, complicated project, so we’re very thankful to all who helped make this project happen and, especially, to the amazing folks at ACE and CAC-Z who are making life better in Zambia every day, one child at a time.

Logging into the world from Zambia

So, what’s next? Well, it’s too early to tell, but I will say that we now have a lot of folks interested in doubling down. As I have learned, in Africa we have to start with the basics (water, food-clothes-shelter, power, vaccines and education), and then proceed with economic development. However, the rapid, chaotic growth of democratic African countries like Zambia means that we cannot separate these tracks: we must look for projects that can grow jobs.

As a result, we’re now exploring a strategic concept that would tie together the sustainability-based business expansion efforts of participating corporations with an effort to increase the supply of potable water to the more remote regions of Zambia. The root of the idea – a public-private partnership to finance and build the requisite water treatment facilities – sounds like a crazy idea as well. However, in meetings over the past couple of months we’ve received the support of a number of prominent governmental agencies, businesses, private equity financiers, and NGO’s, as well as a lot of insight from my friends at the WASH Initiative on exactly how to provision the water solution. So, stay tuned – seeds are in the ground . . .

With Rev. Jane Nyriongo, a truly inspiring leader, at Garden Community School

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

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