Continuous Improvement, Working Without a Safety Net

What gets in the way of improvement?  Stated differently, what gets in the way of on-going success?  Understand that today’s success is tomorrow’s mediocrity.  I believe the answer is related to our clarity of vision, our focus. We have heard the cliché, “Keep your eye on the ball”.  The question is which ball?

I believe that the answer is also related to how much energy we spend on maintaining the status quo. We can easily create an overload of rules, processes and metrics that keep us from doing our best work.  Like the swimmer who spends their energy treading water to avoid drowning, instead of swimming to shore.

Note to My Son

A few things I know:

It is obvious that you are being called to make a difference, just like I am.

You are making a difference, you just don’t think about it that way.

You need to get back into a group leader situation. Your group was always involved in helping people. I believe that you miss and need that.

When frustrated, do something. Remember that you can’t eat the elephant in one bite. You can’t solve the world problems all at once either. Start in your back yard and move out from there.

Note to My Son

That would be you. Nothing wrong with trying to find the “best” solution or answer.  The problem is the definition of “best” changes with circumstances.  There are no perfect solutions to many of life’s problems. The best you can do is have a positive attitude.  “I will be successful at whatever I do” attitude.

I know you well enough to say that you are going to be successful in whatever you chose.  It is more difficult for you and your generation than it was for me and mine. I really believe that luck played a major role in success in my generation, but persistence is more important in yours. Your grandfather told me that I should be the very best at whatever I did, not matter what the circumstances. That way I would rise to the top of whatever heap I was climbing.  Good advice.


One of the most important responsibilities of a leader is to define reality for those they lead.  It is also a significant failure point for leaders.  From a simplistic point of view, there are three realities that we typically deal with.

As we think it is universe: This universe is defined by our opinions and prejudices. It is not basedin reality. An expression of this is when we think for the customer instead of consulting with them. These can be internal or external customers. These leaders will be described as poor listeners or defensive. It takes very little time for leaders using this universe as a model to lose the confidence of their followers and be left with nothing but position power. Self-limiting decisions or failure to achieve the best results are the result.

The Leadership Riddle

As a leader I find my fulfillment within the success my subordinates’ experience while executing the strategies and plans that we have put in place. This amounts to me experiencing success in the third dimension by watching others succeed.

I first learned this as a basketball coach, watching my kids on the court successfully execute strategy we had worked on in practice. That was the expression of my success. The more they were recognized the more successful I felt and the more successful I really was.

Taking Risks verses Taking Chances

For the most part, all of us have a robust fear of failure. We are good at counting the cost of trying and failing. We are also pretty much aware of what we don’t want to lose.  The result is that we miss opportunities due to not taking the risk of possible failure.

What we are not good at, is evaluating the risk of not trying. We decide to play it safe. Understand, though, you are guaranteed to fail if you don’t try. By playing it safe all the time, you limit your opportunity for success.
So what risks should you take? Fortunately, you are the only person who can answer this question. Do you have a plan? Do you know why you are interested in taking the risk? Is success tied in some way to your effort? These are just a few of the questions involved.
It comes down to balancing the difference between taking risks or taking chances. Taking a “calculated risk” is meaningful, but no one has ever heard of taking a “calculated chance”. A calculated risk is where you know what you need to do in order to be successful and you have some control over the criteria for success. For example, deciding to seek a Six Sigma Black Belt certification involves the risk of not making a passing grade. You control that risk with your effort.
Taking chances involves activities that put you in jeopardy in situations where no matter what you do, success is controlled by chance. For example, mortgaging your home in order to buy lottery tickets. You have hope, but understand that hope is not a plan.
The definition of an entrepreneur is someone who has a passion for seeing their dreams become reality. They live in fear of not trying. While other people fear losing something they already have, entrepreneurs fear not gaining something they want but don’t have.
So here is the point. Be an entrepreneur with your life. It is wise to be aware of the cost of failure, but at the same time be aware of the cost of not trying.

A Father’s Legacy

My dad has been gone from this life for 6 years. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. These thoughts usually come by way of considering how he would handle a situation or how he would enjoy hearing a certain piece of news.

For a long time, remembrance was painful. It was unclear if the loss would ever quit hurting. Now though, remembrance brings a smile as his wisdom aids me in the day’s troubles.
My dad never got to meet my son’s wife or their two boys. I know how he would love them. The good news, though, is that his memory and legacy live on in me and my son.
This then is the point of life. To live so that the wake of your life leaves a positive impact on others long after you have gone. My dad accomplished this. It is my sincere hope that I can too.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

One of the challenges that we have as leaders is to keep our eye on the ball. Since we are responsible for driving our organizations to the finish line using the least amount of resources possible, and at the same time achieving the greatest value possible, we cannot afford to get distracted by non-core issues.

When the boat is sinking, the color of the bailing bucket is not all that important. Yet, all of us have seen leaders get caught up in issues that do not move the organization forward. Examples of issues that get in the way of progress are office politics, finger pointing, whose job it is, etc.

Walt’s Incomplete Guidelines to Success in Life

Can you remember when you graduated from high school or college? The feeling that you could change the world and that you could be and do anything you choose? Can you also remember the day you realized that maybe you were not going to change the world and that you were limited to what you could be?

I can. I can also remember feeling disappointed in myself when my dreams for success did not immediately come true. Fortunately, I had a wise advisor in my life that helped me put things into perspective.