When leaders make poor decisions

January 6th, 2011

“J.D. Power: Styling biggest reason people reject Acura”


Is this a face only a mother (or father) could love?

Car enthusiasts howled about their favorite Acuras having been hit with a ‘fugly’ virus. Acura sales did increase by 24% this year after Honda leadership successfully performed this nose job to all of its luxury-line vehicles. However, this same leadership has just promised its dealers future Acuras with reshaped proboscises within six months. This unusually fast remodeling suggests leadership believes their original styling decision was lacking.

How do such miscalculations happen?

Hot leaders rush to market and are either really right (the original Ford Mustang and the Chrysler Minivan) or really wrong (the $68,000 VW Phaeton).

Cool leaders over-think and over focus-group and get an Edsel, or a New Coke.


It’s the thinking AND pushing combination combined with getting follow through that leads somewhere.

Just watch Alan Mullaly at Ford. Ford tried its new nose out on concept cars, rolled them out on one or two models, and then spread the look across the line. Thoughtful, in-time action with sustained follow through resulting in success in the marketplace without the howls that greeted the new Acuras.


When Leaders think things are going great.

January 5th, 2011


“How did that meeting go?”

Many leaders leave a meeting patting themselves on the back while the other participants are left muttering: “I’ve just lost an hour of my life that I can never get back.”


So it depends on who you ask.

This happens all the time.

For instance, last week, I noticed these two headlines, the first from The New York Times, the second from The Wall Street Journal:

Senate Passes 9/11 Health Bill as Republicans Back Down

9/11 Health-Care Bill Is Revised in Bid for GOP Support for Ill Ground Zero Workers.

Were the reporters at the same meeting? Were the Republicans backing down or being courted in those sessions?

This happens in every day organizational life many more times than leaders realize.

When I confront the leader on this disparity, a typical Hot Leader’s response is:

“Screw the few naysayers. I told everyone what was important. Everyone heard me and got it.”

My response is:

“And how is it that you know what people ‘got’?”

The Cool Leader’s response to the disparity is:

“We took the time to analyze the data and we’ll get there.”

My response is:

“And how do you know you’ll get there in time?”

How do YOU assess the success of YOUR meetings?


Data Porn: An addiction in the executive suite

December 8th, 2010


Data porn is the addiction to data that has no redeeming value.


Some Cool Leaders show the same fascination with data that video game fanatics show for the latest role playing games. Slide after slide, graph and chart one after another. They believe if some data is good, lot’s of data is even better. They bombard the world with data. But information for information’s sake is self-indulgence and data without heart has no champion. What’s the point?

We’ve all seen it. A leader so cool that he or she freezes all activity, all energy, all momentum. People fall asleep, or daydream about a trip to Tahiti or being beamed up to the Starship Enterprise.

What’s the home test for this addiction? Ask yourself: “Do I have the smarts to know when to stop thinking and start moving?” If that question either offends you or makes no sense to you, repeat after me “ I am (your name here) and I am addicted to data porn.”


When we lose a Leader

November 17th, 2010

David Perkins listening

David Perkins was definitely a hot leader, a man who willed things to happen, whether it was moving a 2,000 lb. bull or serving on one of the many civic and agrarian committees to which he volunteered his time. He always had his eye on how to get straight to the results. As he drove his tractor by my window every morning, he easily made the machine look small under him. From the first, I was warned that David was not a man to cross lightly.

Early on, I encountered him, along with an army of volunteer firemen, up at the stonewall dividing one of his haying fields from mine. We had all just put out a brush fire ignited accidently by an intentional burn on my side of the wall. If left unchecked, the flames could have threatened David’s house and outbuildings. His face showed no emotion as I approached him. The others, who had known him much longer than me, froze in anticipation of how he might react, given what had almost occurred.

“Well David,” I asked,”is it true that the tradition here in town is for newcomers to set fire to their neighbor’s hayfield in order to better make their acquaintance?”

At first, he remained stone-faced. Then, without warning he reared back and roared in laughter. “No, this is great. For once I’m not the one getting in trouble for setting fire to something!” Hot leaders savor being pushed back even as they push others. Most people fail to understand they heat things up to engage and learn about others, not to intimidate for its own sake.

David worked hard every day, was loyal to his ‘morning coffee buddies’, played extra hard with his five grandchildren and continued to occasionally scare others with the size of both his person and his persona. He was a kind and gentle man and a true leader in his field. He died unexpectedly two days ago. I miss him very much.



Setting the Right Table for Leadership

November 10th, 2010


This past weekend I consulted at a senior management meeting held around the most amazing piece of furniture I have ever seen. My Blackberry photo hardly does it justice. Three inch thick heartwood southern yellow pine. Comfortable seating for 18. Varnish as deep as on a ship’s deck.

It was built by a local physician for the 2004 G8 Summit, held at The Cloister, in Sea Isle Georgia. Accordingly, there are wooden inserts at eight of the seats displaying the national flag of the head of state originally seated at that position. The chairs have plaques commemorating their original occupant. I found Tony Blair’s seat to be quite good enough to do the work that needed to be done.

Round tables are the great equalizers. One really has to work at setting the wrong leadership temperature to have a bad gathering at a round table! There is no place to hide and no place from which to easily dominate. King Arthur had great ideas about leadership, and round seating was one of them.


Bart Wendell

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November 2010