Tag Archives: Eugene Register Guard

10 Clues That You Aren’t a Leader

LeadershipI really know what makes you a leader. I’ve seen dozens of quotes and hundreds of articles, and I took a course on leadership in business school. But leadership depends so much on context and style that it’s hard to make any universal statements that aren’t just empty clichés.

What I do know, though, is that just wielding authority doesn’t make you a leader. Just having responsibility, or a title on your business card, doesn’t automatically make you a leader, either.

And also, I have a pretty good idea of what isn’t leadership. I learned that the hard way. And yes, since you insist on asking, I learned some of them by realizing that they applied to me.

I’m going to list 10 clues that show that you aren’t really a good leader. This is for people in authority. I’m talking to you. You are not really a leader if …

  1. Everybody always agrees with you. If you think that, get a clue. They don’t always agree with you. They are lying to you. And if so, it’s your fault, because you made them decide to pay you lip service with fake agreement.
  2. You talk more than you listen.
  3. Nobody who works for you owns anything by themselves. Ownership means owning a task, having responsibility, being empowered to operate, make decisions, and — yes — make mistakes.
  4. You do all the work. Because you don’t, really. If you think you do, then you’re not giving others enough credit. Or, if your people are really that bad, then change your team. You hired them.
  5. You correct people more than you applaud people. In the real world, performance seeks balance, like water seeks its level. If you correct way more than you praise, something’s wrong. And it’s probably you, not them.
  6. You take more credit than you give. There again, balance.
  7. Achievement in your group is something you bestow on people, rather than something they achieve themselves. Don’t make people work for praise. That’s ugly. Make them work for objective numbers that they can see, their peers can see, and you can see, at the same time.
  8. People pause to think, or guess, what you believe in. When you stand for something, and have values, people know it. It’s not just what you say, it’s what you do .
  9. You criticize more than collaborate. Don’t call yourself collaborative if people don’t want your help. Do they come to you? If not, you may not be as open to new ideas, or other people’s ideas, as you think.
  10. You don’t get bad news quickly. That means people are worrying about how to tell you. If people hide bad news or — worse still — spin it to look like good news, then get a clue. You’re not a leader.

And I want to conclude by emphasizing that last point, which is a clear case of last but not least, and perhaps even the first coming last.

Think about your leadership style in context of the flow of information, particularly bad news. If people wait to tell you, then you’re in trouble.

A leader wants the bad news instantly. Good news can wait. Bad news can’t.

(Note: this post first appeared as my monthly column for the Eugene Register Guard.)

Good News for Local Journalism — I Hope

Eugene Register Guard newspaper journalism

This week what my local (Eugene, Oregon) newspaper is doing with an iPad app makes me feel better about the future of journalism in the new online age.

I’ve got a newspaper habit. I begin my day with the local paper. While I make my coffee and gather a breakfast, a browse the headlines, and read the stories that appeal to me.

So what’s changed? This morning instead of going downstairs and grabbing the paper outside of my front door, I turned to my iPad beside my bed and had the paper in front of me five minutes earlier, and in a much more convenient format.

The app itself isn’t the news. It does about the same thing the majors (New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, etc.) do: it puts the paper in its real layout onto my iPad. I can scroll around the page with my finger, pinch it to enlarge portions, tap an arrow to go to the next section.

What is a big deal, to me, is that this is a local paper. My local newspaper, the Register Guard. In a town of about 150,000, in a metropolitan area of about 250,000 maximum. And its iPad app. And it is covering local news, as you can see in the illustration: That day’s front page included a governor’s visit to local schools. I would not have gotten that news from any of the majors.

Why do I care? Precisely because it’s not one of the majors. It’s a local newspaper. Its very existence solves some of my long-term concerns:

  • I’ve worried that people think social media somehow replaces journalism. Bad idea. Useful for breaking news, of course (there are lots of examples). But investigative journalism? No. Local news? No.
  • I’ve worried that major nationwide media (New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Huffington Post) unintentionally overwhelm the economics local coverage.
  • I’ve worried that the advertising model, particularly the classifieds, is threatened by the efficiency and functionality of online ads. And Craig’s List and friends.
  • And I’ve worried that investigative journalism, valuable as it is, is hard to do, takes training and experience, and doesn’t happen with the economics of social media. Huffington and NYTimes and friends will hold that up for major issues, but not for local.

They — the owners of the local paper — do charge money for it. The iPad edition is $1.99 per week as an introductory price, and free to subscribers of the physical paper, who pay $16.50 per month. That seems perfectly fair to me. In fact, I approve, because I want them to make enough money to stay in business. And if I subscribe to just the iPad version, it’s cheaper than the physical newspaper. If it were just me, I’d be iPad-only, but I’m not the only newspaper reader in my household.

So this is good news. And with this development, it looks like maybe local coverage in our area will continue even as newsprint becomes scarce and expensive and the physical paper dies out. For more on that local stuff, the illustration below shows the front page of the regional/local section, which is all local news. So there is hope.

Biggest Mistake? Mistaking Business for Life

(Note: I’m posting here my latest column for the Eugene Register Guard Blue Chip monthly magazine. These are not new themes for this blog, but I like what I say here. This is reposted here with permission.)

Let’s put startups, entrepreneurship and life in proportion.

A webinar participant asked me last week about what I think are the biggest mistakes I see in startups. That made me think, and here’s what I came up with. And common mistakes that you and I should avoid. So here’s a list. But first, three stories:

  1. My friend Larry found the job of his dreams and moved from the Silicon Valley, which he loved, to Atlanta for the new job. Six months later he was back. When I asked him what happened, he said: “Tim, it’s easier to find a new job than a new wife.” That was 20 years ago. He and his wife are still married. And Larry doesn’t regret his decision.
  2. A former student asked me, three years after he graduated, what to do about his wife not wanting him to start a new company. He said he had done the business plan and was sure it would work, but his wife was against it. I told him to get a clue. If he couldn’t convince his wife, a) maybe it wasn’t such a great idea; and b) that adds huge personal risk on top of the business risk.
  3. Years ago I was stuck over whether to leave a good job to start my own business. My wife and I had heavy student debt, four kids and a mortgage. She said: “Do it. Let’s take the risk. If it doesn’t work, we’ll figure it out. You won’t fail alone; we’ll fail together.” So I did it. And it worked.
So here, after the stories, is my list:
  1. Don’t sacrifice your life for your business. If you can, make your business enhance your life. And avoid the mistake of confusing business with life.
  2. If business threatens good, important relationships, then dump the business. (The corollary to that one — in honor of my four daughters, who know this — is that if a bad relationship holds you back for no good reason, dump him, not the business).
  3. Don’t use business as an excuse for selfishness and obsession. I’ve lived through this. There is an overpowering temptation to push everything else aside and dive into the business. Everybody who wants you to do anything else is annoying, and “Don’t they realize you’re building a business?” You miss dinner, the kids’ games and teachers’ conferences, everything that matters to anybody else in your life.
  4. If you make it, don’t pretend you did it alone. In my case, for example, I get introduced as chairman and founder of a successful software company, as if I’d done that alone. My ego likes that. But from the very start my wife was there with the risk, the thinking, the key decisions, the strategy, who and what to prioritize, and (repeating on purpose) especially the risk. We both had to sign the papers for the credit line at the bank. We both put our house and everything we owned into play. Perhaps even more importantly, my wife made sure I didn’t fall into that obsession trap. She insisted I stop working for family dinner, every night, even if I had to continue working into the evening. She scheduled vacations in advance, and prepaid them, so I wouldn’t just cancel. She didn’t let me dive into the business and never come out. She maintained that sense of proportion and I’m grateful to her for that.

Final thought: People who start businesses, run businesses and grow businesses have to be able to live with mistakes. You can’t do it without making lots of mistakes. Be able to deal with that. But keep the mistakes inside the business, not in the rest of your life.

(Image: shutterstock.com)

Federal Charges For Fake Organic Corn

It’s interesting and reassuring to see that apparently somebody follows up on fake organic claims, according to a story in my local paper, the Eugene Register Guard.

Register Guard regular Karen McCowan reported the man is charged with adding $193,169 to his profits by misrepresenting a conventional crop. He faces a federal wire fraud charge for allegedly selling more than 4.2 million pounds of conventional corn falsely labeled as organic.

The alleged fraud came to light after the grain milling company that bought the organic corn found ‘inconsistencies’ while auditing the corn to verify that it complied with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulations. “We have to have a good paper trail for organics,” a spokesperson explained.

I’m glad to see this story. I don’t know or care about innocence or guilt in this case; I’m glad to see that somebody checks these things. It seems so easy to just label foodstuffs “organic” and increase the price. Here’s a case where it supposedly happened, and, whether it did or not, authorities are following up with prosecution.

I think a lot of us worry about fake organic, or greenwashing, so we want to know that the label means something.

(image: bigstockphoto.com