Tag Archive | Leadership

How Covidiocy Strengthened Grit

John Wayne in True Grit – 1969

This is a follow up to the post “Leading Against Existential Threats” from March of ’20. You can revisit it here and you can find the definition of “Covidiocy” here.

Chances are that if you were in a leadership role in ’20 and ’21, you struggled to make sense of the fluid situations we were handed, but if you stayed true to values and pushed through everything, you have evolved into a more resilient and grittier leader.

As I have reconnected with several people that I respect and consider impactful on my business success and evolution as a leader, I asked every one of them the same question; “How has your mindset, priorities, actions, and decision making changed in your business and personal life after the past two years?”

Many companies experienced anywhere from a 20 to 60 percent loss in revenue in 2020 and into 2021, and more than 14 million Americans either temporarily or permanently lost their jobs. Half of society was deemed unessential, people got paid more to stay home, we mastered washing our hands but those of us still on the roads forgot how to use turn signals. With a 99% survival rate, >90% of the fatalities being realized in older people with several co-morbidities, we had to make it about the children and deaths by gun shot wounds and motorcycle accidents counted towards the daily death tolls leaving us with more questions than answers from the health “experts” about real risks. Toilet paper was rationed and we couldn’t get our hair cut or go out for a beer, but weird how no grocery clerk or gas station attendant died of symptoms. We even threw out the global play book that was adopted by the experts in case things like this happened. In fact, now we have a study from the same people that produced the first study we threw out that says we should not have thrown out that previous study and never should have followed the second study. Douglas Adams could not have dreamed this scenario up.

The Covidiocy started in March of ’20 and still continues in some aspects today. All of the sudden we all felt like Robinson Crusoe being thrown into a strange and surprising adventure and it was trial by fire time. As things evolved, there was no pondering WWJD, no ghost written bibliographies from leaders during Spanish Flu or Black Plague to learn from, there were no wiki’s or even historical references for leaders to use, and no precedent for the command and control political decisions that were being handed down daily with false end dates. Opinion became scientific fact and objectivity disappeared. Biased subjective misinformation became gospel and fear was willingly used against individual liberties and free market economics.

Not everyone in my circles fully landed on both feet after two years of staying committed to their roles and responsibilities. There was a lot of burn out and a lot of good people retired early or took simpler roles where they can just take orders and no longer be the one that gives orders. I miss them and I am grateful for a few stronger people than myself that kept me going.

Business leaders spent the last two years getting kicked in the groin daily and weekly by government policies, conflicting health data, lack of consistency in supply chain delivery and responsiveness, chirping crickets when you needed questions answered from your customers that went remote, and trying to write a new play book weekly for business strategy as the world was changing the game. All this while you tried to keep your employees whole and involved with decisions, being empathetic to their family needs and life balance, and helping to translate all of the politics of the situation where objective truth was non-existent or buried. Not to mention that the people that tried to raise flags of concern and had objective data to prove it were cancelled and deemed witches. The Salem Witch Trials may have taken place in the 1690’s but I would argue the mentality and mechanisms are still being stirred in the kettle.

The answers varied and if I hear the word pivot one more time I will probably puke. If you thought perseverance, passion for achieving goals, staying positive and hence resiliency and grit were important before, I say that before March of ’20 we had it pretty easy. Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit” was published in 2016 and contains some brilliant subject matter, but now more than ever, we need to confront even more obstacles and distractions as well as deal with the lagging results described later.

So, as I was listening to my network, gathering feedback, and trying to find my own answer to the questions I was asking of others, I started researching leadership trends now that we realize we were not in a life extinction event. We are starting to see some great articles but they are sanitized because of the fear of being cancelled or being doxed by the perpetuators of what the official line is supposed to be.

I found the information out there overwhelming, conflicting, and subjective depending on the industry the authors were in, but I also found some of the information validating to how I stayed the path and that I was not alone in how my mindset, priorities, actions and decision making have changed. I know I was burnt out by Q3 of ’21 but I took a few days to organize things at home, clean out the garage, replaced some rotting boards, took a lot of long walks with my dog, and made sure my family had their paths set for a strong end to the year. When I got back to work, I found that some of the team had accelerated some of the goals we set and realized the others that were being subsidized and dragging down efforts had to go. I don’t miss them and since we made those changes, the team has never been more aligned on mission.

Through this journey, I found the acronym V.U.C.A. which stands for “volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous”.

Let’s dive deeper.

Volatile: “characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change, transitory”

Uncertain: “not known beyond doubts, not reliable, variable, indefinite, indeterminate”

Complex: “hard to separate, analyze or solve”

Ambiguous: “capable of being understood in two or more possible senses, obscure, indistinct”

V.U.C.A. is actually the love child of and seems to be more acceptable in the business publication world than it’s predecessors F.U.B.A.R. and S.N.A.F.U. and may be followed by B.O.H.I.C.A. in the next pandemic.

V.U.C.A. acts like a catch-all for the changing and evolving business and social environments that we had. Some of the outcomes of navigating V.U.C.A issues were great! Like the speed that restaurants adopted different technology just to serve a hot dog with to-go margaritas curb side, people that did not believe in Amazon now ordering everyday items you would pick up on the way home now delivered to your door without human contact. (this also finally meant not having to wait for that challenged individual in front of you to find their check book). Virtual meeting tools were adopted so we could stay in our pajamas waist down and save on gas. Traffic patterns for those of us that were deemed essential actually became tolerable and even though we seemed to master washing our hands, I think it would be useful to find a mass hysteria that leads to using turn signals next. I actually think some people thought masks saved them from being idiots on the road like my neighbor that masked up speeding through the neighborhood and ran through the stop signs while driving on the wrong side of the road while wearing his mask in his car all alone with the windows up. Although this same idiot did do some of these things before but now combined the activities like an full orchestra and not just the first chair of each activity.

V.U.C.A also acts like a catch-all for the respective problems and ongoing repercussions to operations, business models, supply chains, inflated costs, and disruption to home life that we are still navigating through. Solutions that should have been simple had to be over thought for unnecessary contingencies and every plan you developed for the next day and week was blown up because someone you were connected to had a tickle in their throat and posted in on social media.

I found that navigating through issues caused by V.U.C.A. helps us realize that the tools and attributes we already had in place could be applied to the new normal. You realize that the V.U.C.A situations already existed and you have already been fighting them. V.U.C.A. has technically always been here, it is just wearing new clothes and could be blamed on a new enemy. Tools and attributes such as agility, responsiveness, collaboration, adaptation, continual learning and setting SMARTER goals were already in your playbook.

Let’s get back to the original question I was asking of my network and the answer about how priorities, actions, and decisions making changed in ’20 and ’21. Zig Ziglar said that sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful. I would say that navigating ’20 and ’21 has given you a good base to become even more resilient and successful and I hope this gives some guidance for the next B.O.H.I.C.A moments handed to us by the world. I believe many leaders have these qualities and I look at this list as a time to recognize what works as well as bringing forth some evolved qualities, traits, and skills that you can integrate and reprioritize.

These are not prioritized in any way.

  • Be human and be honest. It is ok to admit you don’t have all the answers and it will build trust.
  • Make decisions based on solid facts.
  • Build a support network….nobody is an island and you do not have to be alone.
  • Collaborate and use your network outside your four walls as sounding boards.
  • Take care of yourself mentally and physically, take care of your family, and remember your empathy when working with others.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Complacency kills.
  • Embrace agility, responsiveness, creativity, and collaborative solutions development.
  • Realize that what got you here might not get you there.
  • When facing new adversities, be able to see through ambiguity and uncertainty and stay focused on opportunities.
  • Be confident in how you communicate about the opportunities you are focused on.
  • Turn head on into problems and be able to reprioritize without losing sight of the bigger picture.
  • Be realistic with SMARTER goals and discuss timelines and deadlines as well as agree on a schedule of checkpoints at which you’ll review project progress.
  • Have contingencies and be able to rapidly reprioritize and address problems quickly.
  • Do the work that is meaningful to the mission and delegate the administrative aspects.
  • You will have failures but it is more important not to quit and learn to use in game amnesia. Use mistakes and set backs as learning opportunities.
  • Give credit to the right people so that their hard work is acknowledged.
  • Never stop meeting new people, learning new things, and helping others whether it is making connections for them to people that make sense or filling a void they can’t fill themselves.
  • Keep your door open, dissent is not disloyalty, and be open to other peoples opinions.
  • Stay true and hold fast to your values and culture.
  • Emotional intelligence became mission critical and you may need to fine tune your communication style to fit the situation.

Business today needs more resilient leadership than ever before but it will also need the more necessary help of human creativity and innovation for imaginative solutions to problems that have not even surfaced yet. This new resiliency was named “VUCA-bility” in one of the articles referenced and the list above was gathered from many resources as well as my own experiences and those of the people that made it through. If this BS happens again, which it will, I hope that you are can make use of some of the points above and integrate them now so you are better prepared for later.

Unfortunately, we are just now seeing the lagging issues of our Covidiocy that were actually predicted to occur, but of course we were over reacting. Even now with all of the policy rollbacks, even with Canada being open again, there is no academic acceptance that the “experts” were foolish and wrong in their approach. And what should scare you the most is not how may rights were trampled upon, it is how fast so many people willingly gave them us.

These lagging and lingering issues include:

  • K12 test score results recently published show kids are dumber than ever.
  • Increased drug use and suicides are logarithmic in growth.
  • The “Sofa” generation was created and being short staffed is here to stay.
  • Major crime rates are surging.
  • Mental health has diminished in all age groups.
  • Respect for other peoples opinions has disappeared.
  • Consumer and producer price inflation continue to increase.
  • Traveled lately? The service mindset is gone.
  • Those that want to do the least in society are being rewarded the most.
  • Educrats thought they could raise our children better and spent more time on pronouns than the three R’s (now the two R’s according to the Simpsons here ).
  • Believing in God, Country, and Family makes you a racist or a fascist or both.
  • All objectivity continues to be missing in reporting and an the ongoing practice of deny, deflect, and distract in the press instead of shining light on hypocrisy, double standards, and holding people accountable is normal.

Time to get gritty.

A key component of grit is resilience, resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way. In other words, gritty people keep moving forward and we’ll wrap this up with the ever wise John Lennon who said “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end”.


VUCA: a definition – From war to the business environment by EHL Insights

What are the main traits of resilient leaders? by EHL Insights

The future of leadership: Skills to look for in business leaders post-COVID-19 by Erin Joy on March 11, 202

urbandictionary.com/covidiocy /by Deus-ex-machina August 2, 2020

5 Characteristics Of Grit-How Many Do You Have? by Margaret M. Perlis on Forbes from October 29, 2013

Learning from Robinson Crusoe – Isolation Specialist by Kent Choi on LinkedIn from April 30, 2020

3 Pandemic Lessons Leaders Should Learn Before Moving Forward by Marcel Schwantes, INC contributing Editor and Founder

Using The Quattro V Formula For Success

This is a follow up to the post made in March of 2020 about leading through an existential threat after several business contacts asked us how we are making it through the interesting times of 2021.

Leading a company in the past 20 months has been interesting to say the least. Existential threats from a pandemic, government actions from unqualified and unelected appointed individuals that threaten business continuity, wasted energy from social causes, lack of objectivity in new reporting, and useless political rhetoric make it difficult to keep your eyes on the prize of creating value for your stakeholders.

How have we been successful? It has been through a constant management and fluid development of our ongoing business goals which we keep organized into four buckets we named vision, volume, velocity, and value. We call this our “Quattro V Formula” and it keeps us on track while remaining agile and responsive to customers needs and keeps us moving the chains on short term and long term projects that improve the business.

I’ll break these buckets down for you and give you examples of how we use these buckets with the hope it sparks some new ideas or validates some plans you have been working on or need to get working on.


Vision is about the things we want to be remembered for. Essentially what would you want your tombstones to say and it does not have to be just one thing. Our current goals under our vision bucket include providing the highest quality on time all the time (ISO), being the go to shop for customers that value expertise and experience, being a leader in local manufacturing thought leadership, being agile, responsive and available to customers, and being an organization of continuous improvements and learning.

This should not be confused with your potential mission statement. I often see vision and mission interchanged, somewhat overlapping, and usually way too fluffy to be useful. To us, the mission statements are the who, what, when, where and how you are executing on activities and the goals that will earn you to your vision.

For instance, on our vision goal of being agile, responsive, and available to customers, we build a project center, integrated and new quoting software with a customer friendly interface and keep customers informed about project progress with real time production data from our ERP system. Make no mistake, we still mess a few things up and there are a few things that we say no to, but we are transparent about the solution and quicker to say no to business that does not fit us with at least an introduction to a different shop that might be able to service them.

On being a leader in local manufacturing thought leadership, I sit on the advisory panel for the UAA program at MATC, my production engineer is on the board of MATC for the apprentice program, we sponsor tables at industry events for speakers on topics of economics, leadership, automation, and strategy to invite customer to, and meet with our strategic vendors regularly to understand how we can work smarter together for shared growth.


The goals in our volume bucket are focused on growth. These are the activities that lead to increased opportunities, strengthen relationships in the market, and increase sales new and existing customer sales. We are a classic job shop that services over twelve industries where business cycles and market trends lead to an ever changing top 25 accounts and work mix so we need to keep talking to people about what they do and how we can help. It is the equivalent of a shark needing to keep moving for oxygen to flow through their gills.

As an example in this bucket, we have a goal of talking reaching out to 10 new customers, 10 existing customers, and 10 strategic partners on a weekly basis. We also have a goal of meeting with three prospects about new business, three customers about more business, and three meetings where we are introducing two people that do not know each other but we know they should be doing business together. We have a goal of $100K in orders and $100K in shipments weekly which means we need to be quoting around $500K per week. We also have a goal of turning quotes around in 24 hours for level one and two parts and three days on more complex projects. Current supply chain responsiveness keeps this last mentioned goal interesting interesting to achieve which is why we have swapped out over a dozen vendors in the past twelve months.


Our velocity goals are focused on accelerating production and shipments to the customer. Time is the one things we can not create more of but we can sure try to use less of it. These goals can be the purchasing of better tooling for faster material removal, designing fixtures to increase spindle time and minimize set up time, recruiting to help find more talented direct employees, outsourcing certain services that other partners can do faster and better, and even using our own truck for delivery and acquisition of materials and services so we do not have to wait for our vendors to deliver.


Your number one priority in a business leadership role is to create and increase value for all of the stakeholders around you. Stakeholders can be employees, customers, investors, vendors, other businesses in your industry association, causes you sponsor or advise, and even the community that your business operates in.

Increasing wages, donating to the local high school’s robotic team, mentoring students in the trades, increasing net profits for the investors, painting a mural on the side of your industrial building that faces a bike trail, adding moisture collectors to your machine centers for better air quality, upgrading inside lighting to LED, paying employees for Christmas Eve as a holiday, hosting a customer appreciation party, and even improving internal communications are all great examples of increasing value.

But don’t confuse the success of the activity of creating value with the actual results of the activity. Value needs to be tangible and measurable to be meaningful. Sending your management team to an industry seminar or leadership training is meaningless if there are no improvements to operations or better performance measured in your operations and financial leading indicators. Increasing wages just increases expenses unless it is tied to performance and improves value to customers and thus the business.

Our latest undertaking is to control our ever rising health care expenses that every company suffers. There is no value in cost shifting, carving out benefits, switching carriers, or simply discontinuing a program offering just because it is minimally used. Sure there are some short term cost savings to the income statement but you have taken away value to the employees. Instead, we have decided to maintain the plan design we have, but are requiring the participants in the plan to qualify for their deductible reimbursement by seeing to their preventative wellness check ups in the previous plan year and register for a third party counseling services that helps our plan members become better consumers of their own healthcare. With this tactic, we are offering our employees the opportunity to identify and navigate health risks earlier for a better quality of life and we are looking to minimize the catastrophic claims and unnecessary hospital visits that torpedo the out of pocket expenses and plan costs to the company profits.

Another successful win in value creation was realized through a labor efficiency bonus that not only increases the employee take home pay, but gives us 110% utilization of direct production hours through multi-tasking and pro-active scheduling of jobs through the shop floor. Every employee wants more money and every company wants more production from them. By giving the employees the chance to achieve the bonus and the ability to measure it and make it transparent internally, we have raised the income per employee over 20% in the past six months with the same FTE head count.

After years of missing delivery deadlines because of poor scheduling and not ordering material effectively, we found a new ERP package that has our late orders down to 5% and provides us with the business intelligence we need to target better business based on contribution and reports our financials to the investors much quicker. This little undertaking did cause some headaches but the result has been a 300% increase in operating profit in a sales year that was down -5%.

Transforming the dull grey north wall of our industrial building that faces the local bike path with a mural that depicts the history of manufacturing in our community is next. Not only is the project in line with the DNR objectives for the bike path but it also helps tell people who we are, what we do, showcases the business impact we make in the community and helps the DNR since we know maintain the area around the bike path as their budgets for maintenance have been decreased.

What additional value are you building for your stakeholders? Is it meaningful and can the results be measured so your activities to get there are worth the time and efforts?


I work from a list of to do’s and to don’ts and a fluid plan that is driven by the prioritization within the four bucket of goals. This list gets some items checked off quickly and the list is fluid in nature based on what I can control, what I can delegate, and what I can make an impact on. I have learned that some projects have a mind of their own and certain timelines for success can be stretched depending on how many people are involved and the responsiveness of other parties.

This list is organized into three categories as well. The first is the to do’s that must to get done or something is going to eat my family. Of course my family is not going to be eaten but the metaphor should show how important these tasks are. The next level are the tasks that I need to do because someone else is depending on in. The third is the list of things I want to do and are more of the nice to do tasks rather than the necessary tasks previously listed. Must do, need to do, want to do. The want to do’s never get attention unless the other two categories are done or have as much progress as possible made on them.

Everyone knows that no plan survives first contact and we know that what can blow up will blow up as an organization but how we react is 95% of the solution. Developing the goals and creating your to do list at least provides you with a plan to go back to once the fires are out. What’s the saying about failing to plan is planning to fail and if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there?

I would enjoy hearing how you have navigated the past 18 months and what you have done to come out stronger. Please feel free to reach out, drop a useful comment, or stop by the shop when you have time.

6 Key Areas to Review Weekly: A Sales Manager Checklist

Stay ahead of the market by maximizing the opportunities in the world around you.

Leading a sales team is a constantly evolving mission with a single objective: to meet and exceed the sales objectives for the area you’re managing. It involves constant recruiting, training, motivating, and coaching of both direct reports and non-reports.  It is a constantly giving position that takes nothing and gives credit where credit is due.

The variables that can impact your success as a leader are tremendous. Below is a weekly sales management checklist and its purpose is to help you stay on top of the primary issues that should have your attention on a regular basis to keep you on track.

 The Market

  • Do we know what is going on in our industry?
  • Do we know what is going on in our market?
  • Do we know what is going on in our competitors?
  • Do we know what is going on in our customers?
  • How are we differentiated?
  • Do we have the right metrics in place to measure change?
  • What does the team need to know more about?

Goals & Roles

  • Do we have defined goals for the year?
  • Do we have defined sub-goals for the next 30/60/90 days based on the annual goal?
  • Does everyone understand their roles and expectations in achieving the goals?
  • Does my team have a plan for achieving those goals?
  • Do we have the right metrics in place to measure progress?
  • What can we provide to the team to help them?

 The People

  • Do we have the right people on the team?
  • Do we know what the team is great at?
  • Is the team utilizing their strengths to their full potential?
  • Do we know where the team needs help?
  • What tools do we need to use better?
  • What activities do we need to do better?
  • Do we have the right metrics in place to drive success?
  • How can we coach the team for better performance?


  • How well is our lead generation working?
  • Are we easy to do business with?
  • Do we have the people and processes to support the sales?
  • Are we maximizing our capacity?
  • Are we meeting our revenue / units / margin goals?
  • What are our customers saying?
  • Do we have the right business intelligence to make informed decisions?
  • What can we improve this week?

 External Relationships

  • Who are our top customer? Who changed?  Who can we grow in the middle 60? Who do we fire>
  • Do we have the right strategic partners to help us add value to our customers?
  • Who else need to know about what we do?
  • Who can we be a resource for?


  • What is my 30-60-90 day plan and is it focused on the goal?
  • Who can I use as a sounding board?
  • Who can hold me accountable
  • What books have I read in the last 3 months?
  • How can I help others in their personal lives?
  • What can we celebrate?

Your particular sales world will most likely involves a few more points or slight changes that are specific to you and your team, your company, your industry, and your market. You may be an owner in charge of the sales effort, a sales manager in a large company, or even an autonomous sales person that has to manage themselves.  Regardless, the sales management function still needs to perform and consistently addressed, these are the sales management fundamentals that will put you and your team in front of the pack and help you maximize the opportunities in the world around you.

Drive Your Own Car in Your Own Lane

Recently on American Idol, Phillip Phillips sang Stevie Wonder‘s “Superstition” to close out the first “American Idol” finals round.

Steven Tyler said, “you just are…Okay”…. Jennifer Lopez liked how he made the song his own and said “you killed it.” Randy Jackson liked his originality and liked how he interpreted somebody else’s song and told him “You drive your own car in your own lane!”

That hit a point with me about the entrepreneurial companies I work with on a weekly basis and how they have had success doing things their way but are not always fully understood.

When an entrepreneurial company wants to do something new, navigate into a new market, or develops a new way of doing things, they do not always get positive feedback from the direct “stakeholders”  about what they envision or what they are trying to accomplish. Two reasons for this are 1) that they have not effectively communicated why they are trying to do something new, and 2) they do not have the right people in place to execute their vision.

Have a vision, set a goal, create a plan, communicate the plan to all parties involved, inform everyone of their role in the plan, live by example, and do what you say you are going to do.  Once these things are in place, you can hold people accountable to their role in the plan and you will be driving your own car in your own lane and continuing your success.