A Father's Day Tribute: The Treasure of Tenacity

"If youre going through hell, keep going!" 
Winston Churchill

My father was a tenacious man. He retired as the Chairman of AMF Wheel Goods, which made RodeMaster Bicycles, Hercules Bicycles, and Junior Toy Tricycles.  He was one of the first to introduce Shimano Products into the U.S. market and helped create the first training wheels for children’s bikes. Dad loved life and taught me many great leadership lessons.  He had a favorite poem titled Keep A Goin’.  It’s an early twentieth century poem laden with metaphors of the outdoor life, told in a Southern style lingo.  The theme of the poem is the power of tenacity.

I can see the smile on my dad’s face and the positive swing of the arm across his chest when he would encourage me - Always keep a goin’.  His message was that with tenacity and a positive spirit, I will figure out life.  That message has served me well.  I have also since learned that it is a key attribute for any successful leader, especially an entrepreneurial leader who wants to innovate, make changes with a new product offering, design a new process, or build new culture.  A great leader will keep a goin’.  Think of Elon Musk.  After hitting it big with Pay Pal, he showed incredible tenacity when he went all in with both Tesla and Space X at the same time.  After months of missing the mark on both products, he was literally one rocket launch away from failure with Space X but refused to give up.  He had spent all of his own money, had borrowed millions of dollars, and was on the edge of complete failure.  He then launched a rocket one week prior to Christmas in 2011.  It was his third attempt.  He knew that if the third attempt failed, he was doomed.  The launch was a success.  In less than seven days, because of his tenacity and good fortune, NASA pledged 1.5 billion dollars in future space shuttles, and Space X was again infused with capital. Without incredible tenacity to win in the marketplace, both theSpace X enterprise and Tesla Motors would have been finished - but I guarantee you - Elon Musk would still not have given up as a person.  Why?  Because he has a Never Give up Spirit.  He always will keeps a goin’ - no matter how difficult life gets.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "The history of the world is full of men who rose to leadership by sheer force of self-confidence, bravery, and tenacity."  Every company and every country thriving today is indebted to a leader who made a courageous decision and said, "I'm going to solve a problem and create something new." No founder, innovator, or change master anywhere has ever had it easy.  The ingredients needed are just as the great Mahatma said, "a sheer force of self-confidence, bravery, and tenacity."  These qualities can pull a leader through the weighty forces of pulling an idea into reality.  There is no substitute for courage followed quickly by tenacity - a sheer force of the will to win.  

Here are some great innovators who understood the mantra, keep a goin’

* Thomas Edison:  His favorite quote when a light bulb solution failed was, “Ah, one more way that does not work.  I know to not try that again.” 

* Steve Jobs:  He admired tenacity in his people.  He worked until he solved a problem and he was not willing to give up until the problem was solved to his satisfaction.  He kept a goin’ until the very end.  In fact, he was working on new business solutions the week prior to his death. 

*  Peter Drucker - at 89, Forbes did a cover story on him titled, “The Youngest Mind In America.”  Now that’s a gentleman who knew what it meant to keep a goin’ and never stop.  Why?  Because it was in his character to keep creating, to stay young at heart, and to never loose his ambition to contribute - even though it required tremendous focus and hard work.  He loved it all!

We can all think of people we admire who keep a goin’.  I can’t think of a single person who would deny tenacity is a key trait of a successful business person, politician, homemaker, or any other good citizen.  I know to this day that when I feel discouraged with a problem, the poem, “Keep A Goin’” comes back into my head.  I can see dad’s smile, the twinkle in his eyes, and the enthusiasm in his voice as he would quote to me a memorable verse from the poem.  And so, here is dedication not only to my father who kept a goin’ but to all of the father’s who kept a goin’ and made our lives better as a result.  As a tribute to our fathers, the poem ends this blog.  May all of us who are inspired to make a difference in this world find encouragement, gratitude, and tenacity to, as the author says, “drain the sweetness from the cup.”


If you strike a thorn or rose,
Keep a-goin'!
If it hails or if it snows,
Keep a-goin'!
'Taint no use to sit an' whine
When the fish ain't on your line;
Bait your hook an' keep a-tryin'--
Keep a-goin'!

When the weather kills your crop,
Keep a-goin'!
Though 'tis work to reach the top,
Keep a-goin'!
S'pose you're out o' ev'ry dime,
Gittin' broke ain't any crime;
Tell the world you're feelin' prime--
Keep a-goin'!

When it looks like all is up,
Keep a-goin'!
Drain the sweetness from the cup,
Keep a-goin'!
See the wild birds on the wing, 
Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
When you feel like singin', sing--
Keep a-goin'!

 Author: by Frank L. Stanton (1857-1927)

Focus Time: How to Improve Strategic Decision Making

A wise comedian said, “10% of the world thinks, 20% thinks they think, and 70% would rather die than think.” In this age of continuous distractions, even the 10% may be decreasing! My own biggest challenge in this equation is to carve out time to think deeply about the most important questions I face in business and life planning. It’s all too easy to get absorbed in the day to day routine, and bounce from one captivating topic to another. Focused attention is different. And it’s difficult. To have true success with focus, it’s vital to have the tools, methods, and disciplines to get you there. One key tool I have incorporated into my own life is the practice of structured focus time. Below is a story of a female CEO who saved her company from loosing millions of dollars in value because she took time to incorporate this tool. Here is her story.

Stop, Think, and Change Your World

Dawn was facing a dilemma. Her company had grown from a little start-up to a thriving business in a digital media space. Revenues had peaked and were no longer increasing. Dawn needed time to think about the future. She set aside a block of time to STOP and BREAK HER ROUTINE. She went to a private setting where she knew she would be undistracted and thus open the avenues to creativity. She cut out emails and phone calls. She committed to letting these pile up until 2:00PM, so that from 8:00AM to 2:00PM she worked alone. She turned her cell phone off, knowing that if she answered even one phone call, she would leap into a completely different brain wave and derail her ability to concentrate and focus on the most important question: “What is the biggest risk we face today as a company and how do we mitigate this risk?” She took time to READ, REFLECT, AND REWRITE her assumptions about the business. She recognized that the habits and strategies that got her company to where they were today were not the habits and strategies that would get them to the next level. Something had to change.

Here is the routine I coached Dawn to use for Focus Time:

1. Start by reading something strategic, perhaps from one of the favorite classics in business, Good to Great. Take forty five minutes to an hour just to get the mind in gear.

2. After that hour of solid intake, start to jot down ideas. You can use an iPad, but there’s something about the creative act of pen to paper that puts your brain on a different path. Ask two simple questions : What is the biggest risk we face today as a company? How can we defend against this risk and survive to grow again? Write out your company’s strengths, the threats, the larger vision. Then, let yourself go, and write about what has been gnawing at you deep inside your “gut feelings.” In Dawn’s case, she scrawled that the company could no longer compete effectively against the rising behemoths in the industry. Worse, she felt she did not have the capital nor the right people to engage in the fight to get back on top.

3. Take a refresher break after writing and thinking; go for a walk or do something that will let your mind roam and reflect. Give your mind the freedom to connect loose dots together. Take 60 to 90 minutes so you’re fully refreshed. Then come back to your note pad and begin to write down more ideas; put pen to paper and let it flow - honestly. Dawn recorded three brutal facts: 1. Her company had grown swiftly. 2. New well capitalized competitors had entered her market space. 3. Her revenues were declining.

Dawn came away from her Focus Time with one key question: “Should we sell the company and prevent the destruction of further value?” She engaged two key advisors, one of whom was a venture capitalist. He encouraged her to sell, giving a very strong rationale. She then engaged the management team, and through a series of meetings, all held in a short time frame, the consensus was that it was time to sell and avoid the risk of a major loss in value. The decision was gut wrenching, and would not have been faced as directly if Dawn had not taken the necessary time to focus her own thinking, listening carefully to both her rational mind and her gut instincts. Ultimately, the company was sold and she saved the company from destroying millions of dollars of value by trying to compete in a space that would have been nearly impossible to win.

The lesson is not that focus time always produces a great decision. The lesson is that without focus time, you increase the probability of missing a key strategic question you need to be answering and acting upon. Leaders must step out of the flowing river, move to the banks, and sit thoughtfully to observe what is happening. Through focused attention, the problems have an opportunity to crystalize in your mind. So ask yourself two questions:

Do you take regular time alone to STOP and THINK about the future of your organization and the future of what you are trying to create as a leader?

What is the most important question you need to be asking yourself? Write it down and then block out time to FOCUS, REFLECT, AND DISCUSS with at least two key people. Don’t let yourself get distracted. Be part of the 10% who actually think - and change your world for the better as a result. 

The Power of Questions at the Front Line

I write to transformational leaders — or those who aspire to be one — because you are the catalysts for change.  Transformational leaders have internalized the power of connectedness.  As a part of gaining mastery, you have to get out of the office and engage ….   all while communicating very high standards of excellence.  Evaluate yourself against three powerful questions that can transform you as a leader - 

Get out of your office and ask, “How can I help you?”

Doug Conant, while he was CEO of Campbell Soup Company, knew that if he was going to transform the company culture, he had to get out on the front lines and ask the simple question, “How can I help you?”  He asked it continually of his employees, his suppliers, and his customers.  In his excellent book, TouchPoints, he outlines how Campbell Soup Company went from a culture of low engagement to a culture of high engagement.  On Doug’s first day at work, a company wide meeting was held to introduce him as CEO.  Doug made a promise that became known as the Campbell Promise:  Campbell Valuing People, People Valuing Campbell.  He knew that leaders must show they care about the employees’ agenda before employees would care about the company’s agenda. Through literally thousands of “valuing” connections, Doug was able to establish a new direction for the company and build a lasting legacy.

As a CEO, you know you need information from the front lines and you only get the truth if you show real interest and concern.  A simple question, asked with the intent to learn, is empowering and highly motivating.  People knew Doug Conant cared, had high expectations, and was committed to getting them what they needed to do their job.  Doug knew that each of his interactions represented an opportunity to build or tear down confidence, to motivate or demotivate, to build urgency or create resistance.  Doug knew the power of positive connection, one person at a time, and demanded it from each of his managers.   

Get out on the front lines and ask, “Why are we doing it this way?” 

Mark McKenzie, the CEO of Senior Care Centers, a large skilled nursing company in Texas, often asks, “Why are we doing it this way?”  He asks with the intent to learn, not to criticize.  He knows that as the company grows, which it is doing rapidly, it  will need new systems and new structures, and all of these need to be aligned with outstanding patient care. Mark is building a culture of asking WHY and getting everyone engaged in the joy of being heard, seeing things change, and measuring progress.  

Get out to your farthest perimeters and ask the question, “How are we doing in living out our values?”     

Stanley Bergman, the CEO of Henry Shein, a 10 billion dollar global medical supply company, visits each company office at least once per year in every part of the globe.  He meets with the country leaders and the product teams. Yes, he has great financial controls and excellent budget targets for each country and each product line, but as he says, most importantly, it’s about connecting with the people. The questions he asks people are most often about the values and how they are being lived out.  He might ask a salesperson, “How are we doing as a company in living out our values to best support you?” He wants the truth and he communicates he is there to listen. His entire non-verbal message is, “I care about insuring you are getting everything you need to do your job well, and that we show you respect all along the way.” 

In every office he visits, he makes sure he and his top people make a connection with every person in the building when they pay a visit.  They leave no one out. He repeats continually a story of what Henry Shein is doing and will do. He is tireless in his commitment to showing respect to each and every person.  

Three questions, three stories. All with the intent of building high trust teams in the new connection economy.  Every interaction in the value chain either adds value or subtracts value.  Your job as a transformational leader is to model how each interaction adds value.   When observed, others will follow.