Old School vs. New School

The Empathy Void: Politics, Business, No Difference!

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Presidential election season is filled with interesting leadership lessons, voids and learning opportunities. One word comes to mind when I think about Leadership

em·pa·thy

According to our good friend Google….

ˈempəTHē

noun

1.  the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Pretty basic.  And arguably such a lacking trait among leadership, politics, and society in general.
Election season brings out a host of topics where our leading candidates, in one form or another seem to be devoid of this thing called EMPATHY.  Pick a topic….
  • Economy

  • Minimum Wage

  • Immigration

  • National Defense

  • Budgets/deficits/planning

Ask yourself:

Does the leader have any REAL, dirt under the nails experience with the topic at hand?  Or are they just trying to figure it out “on the fly?”

Who has more credibility on a given topic, the leader that has lived through it and therefore can articulate a vivid story of experience, or the one that simply pontificates to the audience affected by it?
I wouldn’t consider myself a political junkie by any means, but it is hard not to be tuned into national politics.  At the very least, you can certainly learn how NOT to behave in a leadership situation by observing the daily discourse.
At it’s core, EMPATHY is about “walking a mile in the other person’s shoes.”  Too many leaders have not done this, and they are at a severe disadvantage when leading their troops.

There’s something to be said for the Old School Leader, those that have started at the bottom and worked their way up.  This does not need to be a CEO, it could be a supervisor that manages 10 people in an organization of 150…..if they started at the bottom and worked their way up, I’ll put my money on them.  As long as they have a memory so they don’t forget where they came from!  

A leader with a healthy dose of Empathy is not guaranteed to succeed.  But it sure does tilt the deck in their favor.  How do you know if they have it?  

  • They demonstrate it.  They talk about what matters, the people surrounding them.  
  • They talk with admiration, passion and great detail about what it means to win, how they did it, the critical role of people and their “coaching” role in the process.  
  • You start to view them as someone that can do the job of the people they are being asked to lead.  Because they have done that in the past, and haven’t forgotten where they came from.  

When searching for the Empathy Trait, a close cousin of Empathy should emerge at some point:  

Humility  

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Why Labor Day is My Favorite Holiday

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A 2011 Harris Poll Caught my eye, ranking America’s favorite Holidays, and then segmenting that info by generation and gender.

I’ll admit it:  Labor Day is MY favorite Holiday.

In the past I’ve called it Under-rated.  Misunderstood.  Now I’ll just call it my favorite.

Religious convictions aside, I have to wonder why it doesn’t crack the top 5, at least in 2011 it did not (it ranked #8).

  • Economic pressure?

  • No religious affiliation?

  • End of something great (summer)?

  • The stigma associated with “WORK?”  It’s a four letter word not just literally, but metaphorically.

Who knows.  And really, who cares!  People have the right to call whatever holiday is their favorite.

Here are my reasons, kind of off the top of my head.

  1. It has been said that the greatest social program known to man and government is a job.  AGREE.

  2. All jobs, regardless of pay matter.  If you think hard enough, many of your values and life lessons can trace back to your early years working.

  3. When you receive compensation for anything (products, hours, etc) you are exchanging one thing of value for another.  This exchange system is as old as the dawn of civilization.  There’s something special about anything that goes back centuries.

  4. There’s something democratic about capitalism.  The free enterprise system, with all its flaws tends to find a price/value for all jobs in demand.  The greater the demand, lower the supply, the higher the price.  These laws almost always ring true.

  5. The USA is a country of immigrants.  Not a debate.  Immigrants come to the USA in search of a better life.  What was tops on their mind to do that?  A JOB.

  6. Our economy moves at light speed.  A profession today could be wiped out in 2 years for a number of reasons.  That creates risk.  It also creates opportunity.  Either way, it should keep you on your toes.

  7. Maybe I just think of “Labor” or work, as the back-bone of our country and it’s free enterprise system.  FREEDOM.  CHOICE.  Land of OPPORTUNITY.

The nightly news has always puzzled me.  The sentiment always seems to be so negative.

Personally, when I think of America I ALWAYS have a smile on my face.
  • I see so many people work, struggle, succeed, help each other, grind away, figure it out, and generally move forward.  I see people with seemingly average ability go on to be wild successful.  I see people that (on the surface) get lucky, but when you hear their story, they usually found a way to create that luck by choices they made.
  • I see people struggle to figure out how to pick up their kids at school when their employer asks them to hang in an extra hour or 2.
  • I see the overwhelming majority of people get up in the morning and WANT to put a good, honest days effort and provide for their families.  And many of these same people have a fire in their belly to improve on their current lot in life and grow, from wherever they are today.

“Work” to me is something you DO.  It’s a choice.  It’s a skill.  It’s the path to whatever life you hope to live.  Sure, Turkeys and Goblins are fun.  But if I’m going to give you my number one holiday, Labor Day gets my vote.  

 

Base: All adults (Source:  Harris Interactive, Link Below).

Generation

Gender

Echo Boomers (18-34)

Gen X

(35-46)

Baby Boomers

(47-65)

Matures

(66+)

Male

Female

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Christmas

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

Halloween

Halloween

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Halloween

Fourth of July

Fourth of July

Halloween

Easter

Halloween

Easter

Easter

Easter

New Years

Halloween

New Years

Fourth of July

http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/mid/1508/ArticleId/878/Default.aspx

 

 

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In a Rut? Go on a Field Trip!

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“Get out in the field!”

It’s an expression in business that could mean a few things:

  • Visiting customers
  • Looking at the competitive marketplace
  • Working in the factory/front lines
  • In the Stores

The field is really anything that gets closer to the core of where the action is.  Anyplace but the desk. And usually around people.

A recent market visit brought us to the Bronx Fish Market.  A place few know exists and it’s not for the feint of heart!

bronx fish market

After the fish market we hit a couple of local businesses in our space.  And then my Italian roots took over.  The calling of Arthur Avenue in Bronx NY.  Some call it, “NY’s REAL Little Italy.”  No argument here.

arthur ave bronx ny

 

We found a gem of a small business, Tino’s Deli.

Hustle comes in many shapes and sizes.  

Why was it a gem?

  • Food was fresher than fresh.  Rare finds, no common name brands.  But all the staples you’d expect in an Italian Deli.
  • It was spotless.  Stainless steel garbage cans.
  • All the staff was happy we were there.  How did we know?  They smiled early, often and looked us in the eye.
  • The food met my expectations, and in this kind of store they are always sky high.

The owner Giancarlo Paciullo was a throw-back to an era where personal service was the norm.  He brings a tear to the eye of a blog writer where the subtitle is “Where Old School Meets New School.”

I asked to take a picture with him after we were done with breakfast.  Little did I know our server called him at home (he lives a couple blocks away) and he walked back to his place just to take a picture.  I felt bad for inconveniencing him.  But I really wanted to remember him.  And he gave us a nice little bag for the road.

tino's deli bronx ny

After looking at his website, I almost gasped at the little < 2 minute video, set to the awesome Guns & Roses “Patience.”  There’s that Old School Meeting New School thing again…..

Small little businesses like Tino’s Deli do not spend millions on advertising.  They earn loyalty one customer interaction at a time.  They dazzle people with service from the heart.

Then their loyal customers take over and tell everyone that will listen about their experience.

Go Arthur Avenue.  Go Tino’s Deli!  Bravo.

We all get in ruts in while running our businesses. Simple solution. Get to the Field.  

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Little Tests of Integrity: The Choice to do the RIGHT Thing

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Integrity, nobody's watching

A minor event happened recently that I didn’t give much thought at the time.

A supplier billed us for goods received.  But there was an honest mistake in that they billed us for an amount that was a few thousand SHORT of what it should have been.  We brought it to their attention right away and had them re-bill for the higher/correct amount.  It was second nature, as it should have been.

But I do wonder:  Would this have been “automatic” for all businesses?  Or would they have paid the lower amount and looked the other way?

I have no idea what % would fall into each side of the issue.  But here’s  what I DO know:

  • If MY business made the same mistake, I would hope that my customer would alert me and allow me to fix it.  This certainly beats the awkward situation of catching our own mistake than bringing it to THEIR attention and asking to re-bill.  And that assumes we would actually catch it.

Doesn’t this sound like the “golden rule” principle for dealing with partners?  

The golden rule extends beyond how you “treat” people, it goes to the level of candor and honesty you have in your actual business practices.  The day to day grind of paying bills, receiving money, and communicating openly and honestly vs. playing your cards very close to the vest.

This can be considered a slant on “Old School vs. New School.”  I can certainly make the case that customer and supplier relationships in the ’90’s were more combative than today.

Businesses are starting to realize that joint success, collaboration and integrity are not “choices” if you intend to have long-term strategic relationships.  The key word of course is LONG-term.  

Back to my original question:  What % would NOT “do the right thing?.”  Lets suppose that this # approaches double digits and it likely does.

If that’s the case, than wouldn’t operating the RIGHT way be a competititve advantage?  I think so….

The business case for doing things the right way is simple.  Many do not.  If you DO, you create an intangible difference.  Positive differences tilt the deck in your favor.

For me however, I would just rather sleep well at night.

I would also like to know who I’m dealing with that wouldn’t do the right thing.  Life is short and business is too competitive to worry about these little things, that end up being big things.

There are lots of things to worry about in business.

Getting beat for integrity lapses (or pouncing on someone else’s mistakes) should never be one of them.

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Thoughts on an 8 Year Opening Day Missive Ritual

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One of the most exciting parts of business is building a culture with a team.  Taking part in events, and some of those turn into traditions.

Before I acquired LM Foods, I was lucky to be part of a great little Memphis based company, Monogram Foods for over 8 years.  When I started there were no more than 12 people in the company (today they have over 1,300!).

Every year I decided to write an annual Baseball Opening Day “Missive.”  I will admit they were obnoxious and probably annoyed more than a handful of people.  I would try to convert southerners to not only become a baseball fan (try that in the South!), but also to become a YANKEE fan.

For the appropriate context, Yankees are not a baseball team to southerners, they are a Species, and many would prefer that they were the endangered type!  Bless their heart…..

I felt bad for my fellow Memphians.  You see, they did not have their own baseball team.  And this didn’t bother them.  But it should have.    

Sure, they can get in the car and drive 3+ hours to claim the St. Louis Cards as their home team, but what a pain, and built in factor not to fall in love with baseball.

PS:  If you ever want to REALLY experience life, I recommend signing a 1 year lease no more than 10 blocks away from 2 stadiums:  Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.  Life will be forever changed, to the good.

Enter the solution to a modern day sports/city/complex crisis……the Yankee is in the house!

I needed to at least TRY to enlighten them to the greatness of the game AND the greatness of the worlds best sport franchises despite their geographical challenges and built in sports biases.  I cared too much for my brothers and sisters in Memphis and in the plant locations to let these things continue.  So I tried.  For 8 years I put my best case forward.

For the record, if the goal was to convert one person from a passive fan to more active, AND to adopt the Yankees, I was an outright failure!   Can’t win them all, especially in baseball.

The Opening Day Missive gave a platform to unsuspecting talent in far away places outside of our headquarters.  One that comes to mind is my dear friend in Accounting in one of our plants, affectionately known as “brother Dave.”  Dave is a pro.  He’s also a character.  A technical whiz in a lumberjacks body. He’s also a sniper behind the bushes waiting for my annual Opening Day Missive so he could destroy me and leave his buddy bleeding in the streets.  He did it well.

As it turns out, and much to the risk of my fragile ego, more people looked forward to Brother Dave’s counter argument and dismantling of everything Yankees than they did to the missive itself.  The rant became the avenue for bloodshed in the airwaves.  His replies were painful to read, but hysterical.  Hysterical to everyone.  Except me.

Small things define cultures in business.  Many times they don’t cost a ton of money.  It could be a cook-out celebrating great results, or even a simple recognition publicly for a small victory.  As long as they are authentic and not overly scripted, traditions matter.

Old School? Maybe.  But it matters.  Just like Baseball.

On a slow Sunday morning, I was curious to see how many times I wrote about America’s past time on Hustle or Bust.  Out of the 173 posts as of this date, 11 of them sprinkle in Baseball (below are the links).  Hustle is not confined too business, it cuts through all of life.  In fact, it probably originated in sports.

Yankees & A-Rod:  I Didn’t Charge The Yanks for this Advice

And perhaps the deepest, most important one?

An email I sent to my former team (with their heartfelt thoughts attached as well) on one of the country’s defining days.  What does that have to do with baseball?  Simple.  Baseball is what brought the country back together, when it needed it the most.

What is important about opening day is revealed in the Remembrances post.  Any opportunity to bring people together on a human level is one worth capturing.  

Happy Opening Day.  Where everyone starts in first place and anything can happen on the long road ahead.

Best of luck to your team!

baseball opening day

image credit: baseballism.com

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The Dangerous Games People Play: Price Negotiations

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Price is one of the most deadly weapons in the marketing mix.

One of  the “4 P’s” of marketing, and one that creates some of  the most pressure packed situations in business.

  • It determines 50% of a company’s profit margin.

  • Depending on your market share and/or industry, it is also the most controllable decision someone can make to influence their outcome of profit/loss.

  • It is the most easily compared element of the marketing mix against a competitor.  Evaluating $499 vs. $549 is easier than comparing product reviews, technical features or “quality” (perceived or real)

  • Could be the most “emotional” element in business.

Why?

Let’s say you are quoting on a business, and it’s somewhat of a “bid” process, meaning you are quoting against different competitors selling products that have SOME differentiation, but generally viewed as a commodity.  So Price is a MAJOR factor, but like all competitive situations, everything influences the outcome:

  • Quality and service track record

  • Terms, flexibility

  • Relationship:  How will your bid affect the relationship?  Does that matter?

  • Risk of loss:  If you lose, how does your business look?  Better or worse?

All situations have a different ranking.  If I were bidding, here’s what I’d be looking at:

*  How many different factors influence a buying decision?
*  Rank them from high to low.
*  Know where you score at all times with your customer.  How?  ASK THEM!

Also?[Continue Reading…]

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An Employer’s Perspective: On-line No Pay MBA vs. Traditional MBA?

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I am fascinated by the market for higher education.   My views of the market are shaped through the eyes of 3 roles I currently play in life:

  1. As a father of 2 youngsters (7 & 10) having the challenge of figuring out how to fund what will likely be north of a half million dollars, wow!

  2. As the writer of a leadership/business blog: Hustle Or Bust:  Where Old School Meets New School.

  3. As CEO of LM Foods.  A company that aspires to be one of the great little manufacturing plants in the USA.

In January of 2013 I wrote my longest post ever (1,500+ words) on Hustle or Bust:

4 Reasons the College President Sleeps Well at Night….While Their Industry Awaits Disruption

If you don’t want to read 1,500 words, here’s the summary:  The higher education market is showing all the signs of being in the middle stages of disruption.  There’s plenty of reasons why they will avoid the fundamental shift to a new, more efficient model like the record industry, book industry all experienced (and didn’t end well for many in the “don’t change” mode).

To say that I’m fascinated by the movement towards MOOC’s (“Free on-line courses”), and in particular the structured approach profiled on No Pay MBA is an understatement.  That’s from the perspective of a Father, and the perspective of a student of business.

But I play another role in life.  It consumes 65+ hours a week.  It consumes 90% of my mental “think time.”  It’s that of company owner, CEO.  And from that vantage point, the audience of No Pay MBA may be interested in my thoughts related to the following:

Can a MOOC education translate to employment opportunities the way a conventional degree can?[Continue Reading…]

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Your First 90 Days & The Only School That Matters

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The first 90 days on a new job are probably the most critical for ANYONE.  It’s a time when you are confronted with so many new things….

  • New Colleagues:  Establishing sound relationships, remembering names, knowing who the key opinion leaders are

  • The Culture:  One of the critical components.  Here’s a primer.

  • The business model of the company:  How they generate money and improve over time

  • External stakeholders of the business:  Customers, suppliers, investors

And of course, your JOB.  What you were hired to do.

It brings me to the critical question:

Who’s the #1 person in charge of training a new employee?

  • The direct manager?
  • The “training” manager?
  • The peers of the new employee?
  • All of the above?
  • None of the above?

If I answer as the leader of a company, I probably lean towards “All of the above.”

If I’m giving practical advice to 99% of the world?  NONE OF THE ABOVE.

The person in charge of successfully on-boarding a new employee, is the NEW EMPLOYEE.  The person in the mirror is the one in charge.  The one with the most at stake.  The one that has the most to learn, and if they don’t learn it, they will not survive.

The stakes are even higher, if that person…

  • Has > 5 years of experience.  Companies hire for experience for a simple reason:  Most are not good at training, and they are paying for the accelerated ramp up experience SHOULD provide, but often does not.  The more experience, the > the expectations.  
  • Is working for a person (direct manager) that may fall into one of my favorite institutions:  The Old School.

Everyone has a different definition of what it means to be Old School, but most agree on the general characteristics.  Fact is, put a new employee reporting to an Old School manager, and that new employee better get used to the person in the mirror being in charge.  Why?

The Old School Leader tends to gain their satisfaction from:

  • Results, not pedigrees.

  • Sincere effort.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears.  Paying your dues.  Action > Talk.

  • In short, the Old School Leaders almost always has Dirt Under Their Nails.  They wear it as a badge of honor.   They believe in leaving it all on the field.  Hustle mandatory, not optional.

Want to find a surefire way to UN-successfully fail on your first 90 days?  Come off acting like a robot, a stuffed shirt, a business wonk, a theorist.  Don’t get your hands dirty.  Don’t show the effort beyond normal working hours.

Imagine this:  A new employee enters the following scenario (extremely common by the way)

  • The company is not “sexy,” but it’s manufacturing, one of the pillars of our great economy.  Margins are measured by pennies on the $.
  • The key people all have 10+ years of great experience building that company.  They are successful BECAUSE of these very people.
  • They are all generally “Old School.”

What’s the recipe for failure?

  • Work normal business hours.  Remember, we are dealing with Old School.

  • Don’t ask questions.

  • Don’t offer to help people swamped.

  • Don’t get your hands dirty in the ugliest, un-sexiest assignments.

  • Most important:  Don’t build trust.  Break commitments.  Don’t “Do what you say you will do.”

Common sense?  You bet.  Broken often?  ABSOLUTELY.

If you were to analyze why most new hires do not make it, I bet the root cause is simple:  There’s a tendency for the new employee to not count on the most important person to get it done:  The person in the mirror.

Most of the time, where and IF a person went to college doesn’t matter.  But everyone has gone to school.  If you are starting a job and those people are from the Old School, strap yourself in.  Be humble.  And be prepared to garner respect the old fashion way:  Earning it.  

 

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The Most Under-Rated of All Holidays? Labor Day

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If I were to think of all the nationally recognized holidays that define the USA “idea,” Independence Day is probably number one.

A VERY close #2?

LABOR DAY.

la·bor
noun
work, especially hard physical work
verb
work hard; make great effort
Capitalism is about many things.  
  • Innovation
  • Risk Taking
  • Leadership
  • Competition
  • Teamwork

At the heart of capitalism is flat out, pain-staking, grind away, roll up your sleeves WORK.  LABOR.  I think of it as HUSTLE.

The thing about Labor that is fascinating?

It is so different person to person.  And much of it is attitude driven, with choices made daily about how it is approached.

Think of the major league ball player that busts it down the line on a routine grounder, while another guy jogs.  I’m convinced that a ball player like Robinson Cano cost himself over $100mm for one simple fact:  He had  a tendency to NOT Hustle.  But I digress.

I also believe that EVERYBODY working….

  • Has value

  • Builds their dignity, self-respect with each passing work day successfuly completed.

  • Builds wealth, both for themselves (if managed properly) and that wealth creates more wealth.  A great circle of prosperity when money gets earned, spent, invested.

  • There’s a work opportunity for all humans, regardless of skill level, education, race, gender or ethnicity.  This is a massive world.

Rarely do things come easy.  Labor, could also be known as Labor “Pains.”  Some think work is a 4-letter word.
Some LOVE to work, and take it to extremes.  I personally have always struggled with striking a work-life balance, especially with young kids.  But I’d be lying to say I don’t get a massive adrenaline rush from being exhausted after a long hard days work.  Old-school pleasure in its rawest form.  

Some people are blessed to not only work in jobs that support themselves and their families, but that they actually would do for FREE they love it so much.  Those are probably few and far between, but they are out there.

Regardless of where you stand in life:  Labor Day is worth celebrating.  It’s worth exhaling, sitting back and appreciating how food makes its way to your table.  And it’s also worth taking a moment and recognizing that all Jobs, and the people that work them have value.

Happy Labor Day.

And if you happen to be in the NY/NJ area for Labor Day weekend, consider visiting one of NJ’s best kept secrets, the St. Bart’s 40th annual Italian Festival.  Mangia!

http://www.sbuitalianfestival.com/

 

American Flag

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The Power of a Text Message

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A recent text message exchange with a team member, I mentioned we should give some “thoughtful planning” to a company Labor Day celebration.  Labor Day is a time when our company comes together as one for BBQ, and since everyone is in the same place and away from the production floor, it’s a great opportunity to send and receive important messages about where we are at and where we are going.

There’s a problem, or opportunity however in this exchange, depending on your view of the world.

When asked:  “What shall we do?”  I did my best version of project management and wrote the following:

Cook.

Message.

Campaign.

Sell.

Laugh.

Eat.

Work.

Hustle.  Celebrate.

Live.  Hug.

Ball-Bust.

“That’s a rough outline.”  12 simple words.  

Text messages are great for free flow thinking, but not really project management.

For most people, this exchange can be infuriating.  For players that like to write a playbook and not just execute one that’s been handed to them, I would think this is energizing.

There’s a thing about project management I’ve learned?  It doesn’t motivate me.  But it’s important.  It breaks down a vision into concrete steps.

I always wish I had the project management skills of my sister.  She could PM her way off an island in any time-frame given.  

Sometimes, the best laid vision of success is a words picture.  As the great Stephen Covey once said:  “Start with the end in mind!”  

For me, Words help with that process.  

One of my best friends once declared in our college yearbook:  “Words are everything!”  

He’s right.

What else is “everything?”  PEOPLE.

Find people that can take an exchange like this and make a words picture a reality and you have something special.  

 

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