Saturday, August 22, 2009

Focus: How and Why

Anyone remembering the television program "Kung Fu" starring David Carradine might recall the admonition his Kung Fu Master, Po, gave him to, "Choose wisely, Grasshopper." Now, if you will recall this always came back to the lead character, Kwai Chang Caine, when he found himself in the predicament of the week. His challenge was to be able to see through the circumstances and peripheral factors and find the true central good he must focus his attention upon and act to right whatever the wrong of the day might be.

In like manner we have to sort out all the side issues and distractions as we attempt to make our way along the path to an end result that will add value to our journey. Our primary task is to find the real markers that will align our steps with the value-adding outcome. If we choose unwisely as we move along the path we may slow our progress, or head off in some direction having nothing to do with our chosen goal.

Focus is so very critical for leaders, and followers. When we, as leaders, lose our focus we tend to be uncertain in our direction, and our instructions to our subordinates are also uncertain and usually vague. If we are followers, and realistically everyone is following someone, and we lose focus we tend to become aimless in our execution of the tasks our leadership assigns to us. It kind of matters that we are focused on our mission, to use a quasi-military term. Looking back over the travels of my life I can see there were times I simply was wandering along without focus.

It is always good to have some sort of definition of terms, so we are all speaking the same language, and have a common understanding. So, Webster defines focus as, "a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding." We would say about some matter we are examining that we tried to bring the issues into focus, and if we are struggling we might say something like we appear to have lost our focus.

But how does one get and maintain focus? The primary way is to take the time to plan the mission, outlining what, in simple terms, we have as our goal. In the plan we have to identify what our resources are, the budget we have, and the measures we will use to check our progress toward the goal. We must also determine the critical path. Critical path is the absolute steps we must execute to have a valid and proper outcome.

Another method is to conduct a periodic review of where we are, and whether we are actually on time, and on track. If we are not where we should be, then we must determine where we took our "eye off the ball" and what recovery path we must take to regain focus on our desired outcome. The concept of having our "eyes on the ball" is very appropriate for thinking about focus. If we are wandering in our attention, meaning our eyes are not on the ball, then we are certain to be off track shortly.

Getting back on focus is simple to say, and a bit harder to actually accomplish. We know what is needed, but our minds sometimes simply will not stay put. Clearly, what we need is training in self-discipline. I like to think of it as talking to myself, not in the psychologically troubling way, but in the way one would address the same problem with a subordinate. First, decide what you are doing that is the root cause of the loss of focus. Second, clearly identify what your attention must be upon without allowing discussion. Lastly, decide to get back on focus, and commit to your goal without waffling. Be sure to determine the next checkpoint, and commit yourself to an honest and realistic appraisal at that point.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Leaders and Leaners

I recall, fondly, traveling to Fort Benning, Georgia to begin my journey as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army back in 1981. It was in November, but the weather was still nice, and the drive down to Fort Benning was completed by a young fellow all full of enthusiasm. I don't remember but I might have been driving with the window down, and the radio blasting. I was probably trying to sing along. My lifted spirit was based on the reality I had made it into the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer. I had carried the dream around in my heart for years. I took the long way around to get to the point I was standing, but, by God's grace, I was there.

I remember signing into the Post, and being directed to the Battalion HQ. Just driving across the Post gave me an awesome feeling. Seeing the Airborne Towers in the distance, the Quads as I approached them, and all the officers in training bustling around swelled me with pride in myself for getting this far. It was clearer to me than at any point up to then; I was on my way professionally.

That first day I reported to the Battalion HQ, and to the Infantry Officer Basic Course (IOBC) Company Headquarters. When I walked into the company office I was struck by how sparse it was. Hardly anything in the front office but an old wooden desk and some chairs. But I knew where I was. This was the same point where literally thousands of famous Infantry Officers had come before, right through this very office. As I looked around, taking it all in, my eyes were drawn to a sign posted above the door to the company commander's office. It was a sign on black background with stark lettering in white which read, "Lead, Follow, or Get the Hell Out of the Way!"

While standing there the door burst open and a bear of a man walked out into the room, and looking around at all of us milling around, growled, "What are you all doing in my headquarters?" We mumbled something back, and then one young officer unintentionally rescued us, because he was holding the black telephone receiver in his hand. The commander was Major Wamble, and he glared at the young officer and said, "Are you using my electric telephone, without permission?" The young officer replied he was, and Major Wamble started yelling for us to all get out on the parade ground. We all rushed out of the office at full gallop. I still remember looking back at that sign, and the thing is I kept seeing that sign in my mind's eye for days afterward. I knew the sign held the key to making it through IOBC.

Some time later I happened to be in the Battalion HQ area, and heard several officers who were attending the Infantry Officer Advanced Course discussing a theory of theirs. What they were discussing was their theory that the officer corps was populated by three types of officers. They claimed there were Leaders, Leaners, and Losers. I took a seat nearby and listened as unobtrusively as possible, hoping they would not notice a Second Lieutenant listening to them as they talked.

Leaders, they said, were those that stepped up and took action and worried later about things like getting permission, and whether they were supposed to be doing something. These Leaders simply knew something was required and they just did it, every time. They were the officers the Army simply had to find, train, and keep. So, my mental note recorded, I must get myself identified as a Leader.

Leaners, on the other hand, were officers that waited to be told, not because they did not know there was something requiring action, and not because they lacked the skill and ability, but were afraid someone would get angry at them for acting without permission. (It was clear to me these officers did not think much of Leaners.) Leaners were smart enough, but lacked courage. I made a mental note, Leaders have to be courageous, and not afraid to act.

Finally, the discussion moved to Losers. This part of the discussion was critical to me, and I just hoped they did not notice I was sitting close by in rapt attention hanging on their every word. Remember these officers were several years senior to me, some maybe having already held company command. What they thought was like holy grail to me, I just hoped I could remain there and quiet until they finished the discussion.

So, they said, Losers were those officers in the corps having no idea why they were in the corps, and mostly clueless about what needed doing. Worse, they could not be counted upon to take action even if assignments and permissions were given to them. They were simply not of value to themselves, or to the corps. They lacked the skills, the courage, and the ability to do what needed doing. Losers, they intoned, must be found and pushed out of the U.S. Army as soon as possible. My reaction to this was simple enough; I was sure I was not a Loser. Now, my mission was clear, develop a courageous attitude during this course, and become a Leader.

As I progressed through the IOBC I kept these thoughts foremost in my mind. I would be courageous, and I would lead every opportunity I was afforded. In addition, when assigned to follow a fellow officer during his turn as the Leader, I would be a courageous follower. I remembered the lessons of IOBC, and have inculcated them into my life. I am not a Loser, and I will either lead or follow well to ensure I do not have to get the hell out of the way. I would never become a Leaner, and would not allow myself to be a Loser.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Getting seen by recruiters and employers

I read an excellent piece a few days ago about how to improve the chances of getting seen by recruiters and prospective employers that I think is a great strategy for any job seeker. I will make an attempt to summarize the major steps of the program, and give you my analysis as to why I think it ought to work. Let's us get at least a little deeper into this.

First, the credit for this approach goes to Greig Wells, an executive recruiter from Boca Raton, Florida. He has a website you can visit at and he has a video there that runs about 4 minutes (just more than, I believe). This introductory screen gives a pretty good "come-on" to his real website, which you get to by giving Greig your name and email. Pretty standard opt-in tactics so far. But, when you give him this bit of information, which he probably is adding to his autoresponder list of contacts so he can email offers like any good Internet Marketer, you get the next screen, instantly. Most Internet Marketers require double opt-in, done by going to your email and clicking a link to prove you wanted to get the information. Grieg, however, is nicer than that as he just opens the next page and you have access. On this page is a super video of just over 25 minutes that is worth the listening to after the cost of first sharing a bit of personal information; really the value is that huge. We will get into this right now.

What Greig is suggesting is job seekers need to get themselves seen by Recruiters searching on Google and Linked In. Take note that Greig is pushing getting your resume seen as a page one result on Google, and as a page one listing on Linked In. He uses some pretty polished language talking about having a Web 2.0 strategy using all the search engine optimization (SEO) tactics to drive that Google result. This is all so techie sounding, eh? Well, the manner of doing this is not so techie. It is pretty simple. You want to accomplish a number of things, but these are paramount. Get your resume on a webpage as the content so it can be found by Google's webcrawler robots. You can do this using a website, a blog, or a file hosting service (like Geocities). You want to ensure your resume is titled using keywords. An example of a title that Greig might approve is, "Project Manager, Charlotte, North Carolina." Notice this title identifies a skill, and a location, which Greig identified as hugely important -- because that is what the Recruiter will use to conduct their search.

Now the resume must be packed with keywords (like process improvement, or project management). That is so when the webcrawler robot reads it it will find those keywords, and return your resume to the Recruiter. But there is more you need to do to ensure you get page one status. You need to get linkbacks to your resume's site, and it takes lots of them (think hundreds of them). You get linkbacks by going out and making them on other sites. If you read a newsletter, and it allows comments, you would make a good comment and at the end leave your URL, which is the address of your resume's location. So that is usually left as something like (that's my blog address here). You need to find hundreds of different places to make comments and leave your resume address. The webcrawler robots love linkbacks and rank a site higher the more it has. It thinks those linkbacks mean the site is popular. Next thing that needs attention is your Linked In profile.

On Linked In you need to get your profile really cranked up as we used to say. A complete profile as close to a resume as possible when you think of the summary and objective, employment, and education. In addition, at the top of your profile is a title area. Make sure it has your name, title of the position you seek, and location. It should say something like, "Kenneth Wallin, Project Manager, Charlotte, North Carolina." In that header area make sure you have achieved the maximum 500+ connections. If you have 100 connections you are not going to turn up on page one, so make the connections. Also, you want to have better than 10 recommendations, but in any case at least 10 of them. Go ahead and ask those friends to whom you are connected to write you a recommendation. I have done that and now have 15 recommendations, and I have a relationship off-Internet with 13 of those folks. So they do know me, and the other two are close now as we have exchanged email, and developed a friendship. At the bottom of the profile page is your contact information. Greig stresses that your phone contact number must be included. Recruiters need to get in touch right away, and email is not even fast enough. They just go to the next name on the list with a phone number if your is not listed.

The final piece in this puzzle is to get on Twitter. It is not a complicated program. Just get an account and start tweeting. You want to build a set of followers in the thousands. That is pretty easy, it just takes a little time. The fast way is to find popular folks, access their followers, and follow them. (This is not cheating, it is the way Twitter works.) The interesting thing about Twitter tactics is if you follow someone, they will normally follow you back. I attest the truth of this. I have just started, and already have about 150 followers. I will build more quickly, and I am thinking I can get to a thousand in a matter of days if I really try. If you think this is quick, however, just know that Greig does it for his clients in a day. In fact he does all this stuff in a day or two from initiation of the plan. If you go in with no Linked In connections, a poorly developed profile page, resume not published, and no followers on Twitter, then he and his team will just do it for you. He charges for the service, so if you can do these things yourself (not that hard) you can save money, and still make it happen.

So, go and do it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


First, let me get the bias out of the way, after all that is an important thing for an academic to do, reduce bias, or at least recognize it and deal with it. I am biased, not because I believe ACBSP is better than AACSB, but because I distrust anything used as a bar to eliminate opportunity for otherwise qualified people. AACSB accredited colleges and universities use this accreditation to reduce competition for their programs. That, in my opinion, is just wrong. Well, if you have a labeled first point, there ought to be a second. My secondary bias is my school is not AACSB accredited, it is ACBSP accredited, and I firmly believe our academic rigor and achievement is top of the line. So, you now know where I am coming from, let's see where I am going.

ACBSP is the Association of College and Business School Programs, where AACSB is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. There is another accreditation at the international, which is International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE). They each have a niche to perform in and overlap in the major area of offering accreditation for schools of Business. Notably, ACBSP mentions on their website that they offer accreditation to colleges and universities with associate, masters, and doctoral degree programs. Their focus is on the 2,400 schools of higher education with programs in business administration, finance, management, and marketing. They do work with programs that include economics in their business school courses of study. ACBSP was founded in 1988 in Overland Park Kansas. In 1992 ACBSP was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Later in 2001, due to a federal program change ACBSP was recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Here are some interesting facts. ACBSP has an agreement with the National Honor Society Delta Mu Delta whereby the society will form chapters only at colleges and universities that are accredited by ACBSP. ACBSP is the only accrediting program to recognize programs offering Associates level education in business.

Now, about AACSB, the big distinction is that AACSB is more focused on schools that stress research. The AACSB website does not stress this point, every other program recognizes it, and it is mentioned on the ACBSP werbsite, and is not challenged. AACSB is older, having been founded in 1916. One of the interesting points that AACSB makes, and it is mentioned several times on their website, is that they ensure the graduates of AACSB accredited schools are ready to go to work on day one. They also claim the schools they accredit produce graduates that are getting the good jobs upon graduation due to the networking they provide.

Both ACBSP and AACSB push the fact they are CHEA recognized, and they both tout this distinction over the IACBE accreditation. Fact is many programs are getting multiple accreditations, which is usually ACBSP and IACBE, or AACSB and IACBE. In fact, my school, Northcentral University's School of Business and Technology Management is accredited by ACBSP, and now is provisionally accredited by IACBE.

To reach the closure on this post, let me say that I believe the accreditation mess is a matter of snobbery and smugness. AACSB graduates (actually graduates of schools with that accreditation) are probably no more qualified for their upcoming career endeavors than ACBSP graduates, and certainly both are on par with IACBE accredited school graduates. You want to know why I so resolutely make this assertion? Easy, it ain't about the accreditations, it is about the academic programs. If the business school is assuring rigor and top notch teaching, then the accreditation is going to find that, and endorse that program. If it is not, they will protect their brand and not accredit.

This is all so very academic until it strikes a blow in the real day-to-day get-a-job world. There is where the snobbery and smugness become intolerable. The colleges and universities with AACSB accreditation are keeping the ranks closed to disallow graduates of non-AACSB programs into their halls as teachers, or even adjuncts. It is a weak program filled with academic discrimination, and eventually it will fall. But, just now, it is quite apalling to see those openings for tenured positions restricted to graduates from AACSB programs. The playing field needs leveling, in a soon sort of way.