Q: In your biography, I read you made and lost several million dollars before you were 30. It sounds like you’re imbued with a tenacious drive and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as a personality that fosters a bit of risk-taking. How do these traits fit with the leadership strategies you teach?
A: First off, my family cleaned cars for 40 years, three generations. I got a good work ethic from my grandfather and father serving people. Humility is a valuable trait whether working for others or for oneself. My financial ups and downs related to real-estate market changes.
I see three types of personalities: one is entrepreneurial; one organizational, some would say corporate; and one is intrepreneurial, entrepreneurial in spirit but thrives within an organization. It is good to identify who you are and see how you can grow in that area.
Q: Far from multiple personality disorder, can’t people have personality hybrids or adapt or learn new character traits based on different needs and aspects of their lives?
A: Can you cross over? Yes, over time. Sometimes your personality may be shaped by more of a security need, and later times in life, when you don’t have kids to worry about, for example, you could be more of a risk-taker.
We have developed several profiles and we encourage people to take our assessment surveys. There are four; two relate to communication and presentation mastery for individuals and organizations, and two relate to the theme of my book Strategic Acceleration. People are so time-starved. A lot of people today are tactically trying to keep up, working harder and harder just to stop from falling behind. It is essential to step back and make certain you are strategic with your efforts, and looking at the big picture.
So many people are on a gerbil mill of tactical, tactical, tactical, and it’s important to ask if we are really putting efforts the right way. For example, in this competitive environment, do we want to be a niche player and what does that really mean to our strategy?
Two years ago, we started evaluating our own business from our clients’ vantage point and got good input. We interviewed 30 of our clients, and what they were getting from us was much more clarity on where they were going, more focus on execution of ideas. This led us to publish a little booklet entitled Passport to Strategic Acceleration, foreshadowing the jumpstart of my new book coming out in March. At that time, we got a call from the person in charge of executive training at the U.S. Senate. The Sergeant of Arms of the Senate commissioned us to come to Washington.
Q: What were the issues the Senate wanted your help in resolving?
A: They were intrigued by the concept and methodology of clarity, focus and execution, and wanted us to bring our strategic analysis to the Senate. . After we completed the assignment, we got all this good feedback.
My president and coach for 14 years, Jim Norman, former president for Zig Ziggler (company profile here), thought we needed a book to push this methodology further. In today’s world, best described as an uncertain economy, trying to put a positive spin on it, leaders really need to have extreme clarity on what their priorities are; one third of the book is devoted to this, a vision of what to accomplishment. Whether you’re Del Monte or a small mom and pop, clearer vision is critical.
The second part in the book is about the tons of distractions in a fast-paced world and to really operate effectively, what we’ve found is making sure leadership and key people know what the best high leverage activities are that they should be deploying.
The third part, once you have clarity and figure out focus, it’s important to communicate well, to execute well internally and externally to drive more opportunities into your world.
Q: What about the ability to change focus and shift quickly to unforeseen issues or conflicts, often outside of your control? In a broad sense, new competitive forces, the economic crisis, international upheaval, etc. In the produce world, couldn’t natural disasters and food safety/security issues turn those clear-focused strategies on their head?
A: Having the flexibility, once you’re really clear on priorities, when new things come at you in life, you can be fluid, but you need to be focused on what your real objectives and vision are. Those should remain constant. Sometimes that means saying no to opportunities.
Q: Through your global coaching work with CEO’s in various industries, could you discuss specific examples of how clients incorporated these methodologies and strategies? What works and what pitfalls should executives avoid in order to reposition floundering operations and grow more profitable?
A: The city of Irving, Texas, is one of my biggest clients. The leaders put a stake in the ground to be one of the best run municipalities period. With 2000 employees, they had weird things going on like everyone else. But they’ve been able to weather a lot of distractions in today’s challenging climate. The reason: by carrying that message of clarity not only to the city manager, but the 23 directors working for him, and all those tied in to the city council, across the board to all 2000 employees, which means down to the person cleaning the parks.
One of the priorities was reducing crime rate. Since the tax base was down, they had to shift budget priorities, but because they stayed on task with the police force, they were able to keep driving down crime.
In the produce industry or as a retailer, if new competitors come into play, don’t lose sight of your identity and priorities of what you want to accomplish.
Q: I understand you’ve coached top Wal-Mart executives through the years. Of course, Wal-Mart’s strategies have a significant impact on many industries, including the produce business. What input have you provided?
A: I’ve worked with 200 top executives at Wal-Mart over the years, including Mike Duke, who will be taking over the directorship of Wal-Mart from president/CEO Lee Scott. Lee Scott will remain a company director and head of the board’s executive committee. Eduardo Castro-Wright, president/CEO of Wal-Mart’s U.S. operations, was promoted to vice chairman and will manage the global procurement operation. I worked with Eduardo Castro-Wright in Mexico.
Eduardo Castro-Write put his stake in the ground when he was in charge of Wal-Mart Mexico. Integrity was one of his visions and he stayed with it. He was running five different companies in Mexico with a clear vision — integrity — and by remaining focused he rose to the top. The key: don’t succumb to inside or outside distractions. I also worked with the past president of Sam’s Club on this same methodology.
Lee Scott put his stake in the ground for a green Wal-Mart, and there was no mistaking that priority when he pronounced his intention to become the greenest retailer in the world on the front page of Fortune Magazine in July 2006. [Editor’s note: Fortune Magazine followed up on Wal-Mart’s progress in its green machine quest one year later here]
Q: With such a dominant global presence, Wal-Mart has faced its share of troubles in the public image domain. It certainly has been inundated by spells of bad press on a variety of issues. A company can have a clear and inspiring vision, but if it can’t communicate that vision, well, couldn’t the whole strategy fall by the wayside?
A: Life is a series of presentations, and one must be presenting and persuading all the time. Whether you are an executive manager or running a department, you need to be able to communicate with influence. I’ve segmented 10 different ways we present within any organization: Sales and new business opportunities, meetings, training, media, e-mails, facilitation, seminars, phone presentations, branding, and speeches.
We teach strategic approaches to effective communications. Often times, in an organization you cascade messages down, whether external through media or internally. If not done in a strategic way, you lose its effectiveness. It is vital to make it easy to cascade information down. You might pass along a tool. It could be a one page recap, or research overview, so people have an accurate understanding.
Sometimes a brand might not necessarily be a brand name but a family business, invariably linked with quality product, delivering on time, and trust. The brand is built on a reputation. Customers need to know what they will get out of your business.
Q: Those attributes seem expected, basic starting points. No one is going to work with a company that doesn’t deliver on time, produces sub-par quality product, and is untrustworthy. Isn’t that just obvious business sense rather than a unique strategic selling point?
A: Believe it or not, a lot of people and companies don’t have that clarity. Do you have a differentiator? Some do and some don’t; it could just be a commodity that delivers on time. The motto I like to promote: give value and do more than is expected.
Q: As you prepare to speak at the upcoming Leadership Symposium in January, what is the best advice you could impart to our readers now?
A: I would encourage people to take action; a lot of people procrastinate. Production before perfection helps people to execute further. Like a game of telephone, a lot of people get sloppy on communication. Can they still get the job done, yes, but they need to do so with more clarity.
My new book releases March 09. I devoted a chapter to strategic presence and management leadership positions. Think of your own brand, how you look and perform. Do customers trust you? Even if you are two brothers in a family-owned business; if you want people to turn on a dime for you, you need a stronger strategic presence.
Since we go to so many of these types of presentation, we get a pretty good insight into what is really valued and very often those who present important fundamentals, perhaps with a new twist or focus, are often the most appreciated.
We don’t think it a shocking revelation that organizations ought to know their strategic direction, yet we are always shocked at how many don’t. We, ourselves, who know the drill inside and out, know how easy it is to drift from that strategic direction when opportunities present themselves.
The Leadership Symposium offers a valuable mix of learning new things and reminding one of the importance of some old lessons.
What we find often adds something special is the networking opportunity. You get a chance to bounce ideas old and new off old and new industry friends and, suddenly, that concept reveals itself in a whole new light when interpreted by people with relevant but different experience.
While they are holding the hotel block, hurry and sign up here.