3 Strange Thoughts Every Leader Should Think
Posted on Monday, May 2, 2016 by Michael Canic

There’s no shortage of conventional wisdom about what leaders should do. Here’s some unconventional wisdom:

1) Encourage People to Disagree

Every team is subject to “groupthink” – the tendency to discourage divergent thinking and to make decisions that are mutually reinforcing. Why? Everyone wants to be seen as a “team player”, as supportive.

Yet secure leaders don’t want to be surrounded by “yes-men” and “yes-women”. They want to be challenged by people who can think.

Attacking ideas can make them stronger. Present an idea and then encourage your team to poke holes in it. What am I missing? How could this fail? In what situations wouldn’t this apply? Position your idea simply as a draft. Better to identify flaws sooner than later.

2) Don’t Focus on Employee Retention

Top performers will leave your organization and for good reasons – family, health, personal ambition. Those are beyond your control. Sure, you want to retain top performers. But that’s not where your focus should be.

Focus on selecting, engaging and developing the right talent – the process of talent management. Not only will you build a motivated and high-performing workforce, but the people who do leave will become your promoters (which is when your Alumni Program should kick in … but that’s a topic for another blog).

3) Don’t Try to Get Everyone On-Board

I’ve heard the question asked time and time again when companies implement strategic change initiatives. How do we get the naysayers on-board?

Don’t focus on the naysayers! When you devote your energy to them you neglect the passionate proponents who need your support. Focus on supporting those proponents. Celebrate and promote their successes. That will create the pull for those who were on the fence. And the naysayers? Now they need to get with the program. Or be encouraged to explore their career options.

Your thoughts?


Why Every Leader Should Suffer
Posted on Monday, Apr 25, 2016 by Michael Canic

Excellence. In any field of endeavor, excellence requires intense commitment. To go beyond the comfortable, go beyond the convenient. To sacrifice, to push one’s limits.

To suffer.

For a distance runner, it’s the legs and lungs screaming pain. For a mountaineer, it’s the shattering cold and crushing fatigue. For an entrepreneur, it’s the endless hours, constant financial pressure, and maddening uncertainty.

Oddly, many who excel don’t simply endure the suffering, they are drawn to it. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, first to the South Pole, referring to the explorers who had gone before him said, “A strange ambition burned within me to endure those same sufferings.”

Why suffer? Because it takes us to the far reaches of self-definition. It reinforces our image of who we are or who we want to be. It sets us apart from the pack. It makes us stronger. It allows us that rare opportunity to seize the prize.

You say you are committed. But are you willing to pay the price of commitment? People with lesser capabilities and fewer opportunities have achieved greater things than you. Why? Commitment.

How hard are you willing to push? How much are you willing to suffer?

Your thoughts?


Why Winning Teams (and Businesses) Play Offense and Defense
Posted on Monday, Apr 18, 2016 by Michael Canic

It’s the same in every team sport. If you effectively attack but can’t defend, you won’t win. And if you vigorously defend but can’t attack, you won’t win.

It’s just as true in business. Either-or won’t do it. You have to be able to attack and defend.

What does that look like?

Ask “How do we succeed?” and “How could we fail?” Be sensitive to market opportunities and be alert to competitive threats. Identify and institute best practices. And seek out and eliminate worst practices. For the things you can’t control, ask, “How do we exploit the positives?” and “How do we mitigate the negatives?”

Achieving success is not the same as avoiding failure. There are two sides to the game of business: offense and defense. If you want to win, you need to play both.

Your thoughts?


Why Business Will Become More Like Athletics
Posted on Monday, Apr 11, 2016 by Michael Canic

There are few environments as intensely focused on performance, and the factors that drive performance, as the world of athletics.

The unforgiving spotlight on winning and losing, extraordinary pay, and powerful psychological rewards all feed the drive to attain faster, higher, stronger … better.

Invariably, there is a trickle-down to business. The statistical analysis of performance – think of average call times in a call center operation – has been part of baseball for well over 100 years. Video analysis, used for sales and communications training, has been a standard practice in football for over 60 years. And many technology innovations, such as anti-lock breaking and traction control in cars, had their origins in Formula 1 auto racing.

If you want to see the future of performance in business, you might look at athletic practices today.

Practices such as equipping athletes with sensors to gauge work rate, energy expenditure, and movement efficiency (soccer). Designing athlete-specific programs for sleep, hydration and nutrition (track and field). Training cognitive skills to improve perception and decision-making (football).

What does it mean for business? Imagine, for example, a world in which technology tracks employees’ alertness, triggers breaks for nutrition and fluids, and automatically adjusts the work environment – light intensity, sound, table height, seat orientation – to maximize focus. What do you think that would do for performance?

The next time you kick back to watch your favorite team and the announcer starts talking about what the team is doing to improve performance, ask yourself: How can I apply this to my team, my business? How can I apply this to improve performance?

Your thoughts?


The Secret to How the Great Sustain Greatness
Posted on Monday, Apr 4, 2016 by Michael Canic

“Play ball!”

Yes, baseball season is now upon us and that familiar game-opening refrain will be heard in stadiums near and far.

Which got me thinking about great players, which got me thinking about how great players remain great, which got me thinking about Satchel Paige.

Paige, of course, was one of the outstanding pitchers of yesteryear, an icon of the old Negro Leagues who at the advanced age of 42 made his Major League debut. From which point he continued to throw smoke and embarrass batters for years.

And to what did Paige attribute his enduring success?

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Which got me thinking about Lionel Messi – who may be the best soccer player ever – and what a reporter close to the Argentine phenomenon once said,

“Messi is so self-demanding. He has achieved everything but he never relaxes, he always looks ahead, never back.”

Which got me thinking about when Kobe Bryant, preparing for the 2012 Olympics, woke up a trainer at 3:30 in the morning to help condition him for two hours. After which Bryant continued practicing on his own, until the official team practice started at 11, just so he could make 800 jump shots!

It’s more than just talent. It’s more than simply wanting to be the best. It’s the insatiable drive, regardless of how good one is, to get stronger, to continually improve, and to find out just how good one can possibly be.

It’s forward focus and it’s commitment.

Your thoughts?


Andy Grove – In Praise of Paranoia
Posted on Monday, Mar 28, 2016 by Michael Canic

He may have started it. With the release of his 1999 book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove may have triggered the now widespread view that paranoia is an essential part of a leader’s mindset. A paranoia that drives leaders to actively anticipate and rapidly respond to the strategic inflection points that characterize every industry.

The enduring legacy of the former Intel CEO, who passed away last week, is that this mindset is now reflected in leaders and businesses that endure.

When Fortune did a feature article on Goldman Sachs, the subtitle revealed, “The biggest surprise of all? The paranoia that keeps driving (them) to the top.” An HBR article noted that, “Toyota grows steadily, yet it is a paranoid company.” In their book, Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen wrote that a key trait of companies that produce dramatic results is their “productive paranoia.”

Cultivate paranoia. Not a paralyzing paranoia, or an irrational paranoia of everyone and everything. But a constantly scanning paranoia that senses change, evaluates implications, and triggers action.

Cultivate a healthy paranoia.

Your thoughts?


Why Mastering Your Business Isn’t Enough
Posted on Monday, Mar 21, 2016 by Michael Canic

If your goal is to outcompete the Hiltons and the Marriotts, offer more room-nights than anyone in the world, then you’d better be expert at buying and developing real estate. Common sense. Until Airbnb came along.

Who would be crazy enough to take on Walmart? When it comes to cost and supply chain management, they’ve got it nailed. Who would be crazy enough? Amazon.

If you want to become the world’s largest car service then you’d better have a fleet of vehicles that matches up with Hertz and Avis. Obviously. Or not, if you’re Uber.

In the game of business it’s no longer enough to simply think faster, better, cheaper. You need to think different. It’s not just about the business, it’s about the business model.

You’re expert in your industry. You know it as well as anyone. Your industry as it is. Not your industry as it will be. You could master the game but if someone else changes it then you’re playing the wrong game.

Don’t just think business. Think business model.

Your thoughts?


How to Envision the Future
Posted on Monday, Mar 14, 2016 by Michael Canic

I remember back in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Gary Kasparov. It was a big deal, a computer beating the best chess player ever. Well, now there’s an even bigger deal. Google’s Deep Mind just defeated Lee Sedol, the world’s best Go player. Go is an ancient board game in which circular stones are used to entrap one’s opponent. And it has even more permutations than chess.

What is remarkable is that Deep Mind was programmed to “think” – to learn how humans play, to adapt, and to get smarter with each game. Its victory is a major landmark in the development of Artificial Intelligence.

Think of the implications. It wasn’t that long ago that technology dramatically transformed manufacturing. With adaptive machines, the same thing is now likely to happen to services. (Do you think all those “expert” financial advisors should be worried?)

So, what to do? Take your leadership team through a visioning exercise. Here are the questions to ask:

     1)   How are adaptive machines likely to transform our industry?

     2)   What would the implications be for our business?

     3)   Will there be compelling opportunities we should exploit?

     4)   Will there be significant threats we should act on?

     5)   How should we best monitor how adaptive machines are 
           transforming our industry?

Adaptive machines are the future of technology and the future of business. And adaptive leaders in adaptive organization are the ones who will thrive. If they first make the effort to envision.

Your thoughts?






How to Blow Away Customer Expectations
Posted on Monday, Mar 7, 2016 by Michael Canic

I almost didn’t go. One of the last things I want to do in any country is wait for a retailer to prepare the tax refund documentation for the trip home. Most times I don't bother.

But this was Selfridges, the UK retailer known for its innovation, high-quality brands and exemplary customer service. And the sales clerk in the Burberry shop strongly encouraged me to go up to the 4th floor.

I entered the lobby of the tax refund processing area and felt a bit odd. This was not the crowded, noisy, tense environment I had expected. It looked and felt more like the entrance to a spa. After checking in and waiting all of, oh, 5 seconds, a gentle voice called my number and directed me down the corridor. At the other end was a comfortable and professional looking area where I was greeted by Henry.

Suffice to say that Henry’s warmth, amiability, and professionalism made the surprisingly quick process very enjoyable. It struck me he would not at all be out of place as a concierge at a 5-star hotel.

But there was more. As I wasn’t in a rush, Henry offered me tea to enjoy in a separate room that, again, could have passed for a relaxation area at a spa. We chatted about business as I enjoyed my tea. I then thanked Henry and left.

Exercise for your leadership team:

  1. How do you think I feel about Selfridges?
  2. What am I likely to say and do as a result?
  3. How does this story transfer to your business?

Your thoughts?


The High Cost of Not Holding People Accountable
Posted on Monday, Feb 29, 2016 by Michael Canic

Like many leaders, you struggle with holding people accountable. Why? Plain and simple: the cost. It takes time. Mental energy. It’s awkward. Uncomfortable. It can get emotional. All these disincentives lead you to procrastinate or avoid.

Let’s look at the other side of the equation. What’s the cost of not holding people accountable? First, the issue doesn’t go away. Performance doesn’t improve. Behavior doesn’t change. Second, is what that says to everyone else. That poor performance or conduct is okay. It doesn’t need to change. Third – and this is the big cost – is the message you send about you as a leader. That you’re weak. Spineless. That you’re not committed to winning.

If your people don’t believe you are committed to winning, how likely is it they’ll be committed to winning?


The next time you face that moment of truth, about holding someone accountable, don’t focus on the cost of doing it. Focus on the cost of not doing it.

Your thoughts?



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