Dee Hock- Insights from a Visionary

Dee Hock is a visionary. He is most well known as the founder and head of VISA from 1970 to 1984. He is also an amazing thinker and writer. Over the last few months, I buckled down and read all his essays at Heavy stuff!

Here are points he made that most resonated for me. Which ones resonate with you?

  • Today’s immense change requires chaotic concepts of organization that can more equitably distribute power and wealth, unshackle human ingenuity, and restore harmony between societal organizations, the human spirit, and the biosphere.
  • Leader and follower imply the continual freedom and independence of judgment of both. A leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound, they are no longer leader and follower.
  • The best definition of lead is to “go before and show the way”.
  • The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who reports to manage is to manage one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, temperament, words, and acts. This is much more difficult than prescribing and controlling the behavior of others.
  • Without exceptional management of self, no one is fit for authority, no matter how much they acquire. In fact, the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become.
  • We should spend 35% of our time managing ourselves. We should devote 25% of our time and ability to managing those with authority over us. We should devote 25% of our time and energy to management of peers. Of course, this leaves very little time for managing subordinates, which is how it should be.
  • Forget management. Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, employ good people and give them the freedom to do the same. All else is trivia!
  • Don’t live how you think you “ought to live “, be authentic and lead the way.
  • The only place where there is absolute, perfect control, is in the coffin.
  • Tyranny is tyranny, no matter how well intended, cleverly rationalized, or unconsciously perpetrated.
  • Corporations want to socialize their costs and capitalize their profits.
  • To call large agglomerations of people, places and things a community, where proximity is impossible, is to rob the word of all meaning. A community requires proximity, non-material value, and non-monetary exchange of value.
  • Life is a gift that comes bearing a gift which is the art of giving.
  • All knowledge is an approximation.
  • “Taking a new step, ordering a new word, is what people fear most. “ quoting Dostoevsky
  • Giving up any part of our internal model of reality is as bad as losing a finger or an eye. Part of us no longer exists. Oh, how we hate to give it up!
  • The speed of change also means we can fix problems faster.
  • Only a few generations ago, the present stretched relatively unaltered from a distant past into a dim future. Today, the past is ever less predictable, the future ever less predictable, and the present scarcely exists at all!
  • When things are moving fast, what do you hold onto?
  • “They that reference to much the old times are but a scorn to the new.” quoting Sir Francis Bacon
  • “Come full circle to the place from which we set out and see it for the first time. “ quoting TS Elliot
  • We are not helpless victims in the grasp of some supernatural force. We are active participants in the creation of our present consciousness.

Seven Steps to Up Your Speaking Game

I am constantly trying to stay on top of my game as a public speaker. Since many of my speaking bookings were canceled due to the coronavirus, I have been using this time to catch up on some speaking books, further improve my offerings, and pivot to doing more online training. Here are seven tips I revisited going through these books. It will be a great reminder for the pro and an excellent starting point for the novice speaker.

What follows will help you whether you are doing internal presentations or speaking on the Big Stage.

  1. Be an expert who speaks – I remember the time my son asked me if I was a “motivational speaker”. I told if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be speaking for long. We somehow have this idea that you’re either somebody who is a motivational speaker or somebody who speaks on substance. The fact is, to be an excellent presenter, you must be an expert who can produce motivating information. It’s really not an either/or. In my experience, most executives, members, attendees, etc. want substance over motivation. If you are hired to be a motivational speaker, to pump the place up, then make sure that that is your expertise!
  2. Get good at telling stories- as the saying goes “facts tell, and stories sell”. Sometimes you can introduce your topic with a story to get instant engagement. Other times you use stories to emphasize a point you are making. You can also bring people into your stories. “Imagine you woke up, turned on the news, and the first thing you heard was….”
  3. Write, write, write – as I am doing now. Speaking is about getting your ideas into the marketplace. You can precede your work on the platform with well-written blogposts, articles, guides, checklists, and other forms of writing. The point is to do it consistently. One thing I have found helpful is to write in chunks and then allocate the content out over weeks.
  4. Video, video, video – there are under one-minute videos, under five-minute videos, and then those videos that go as long as you care to record. Each has its place. Video can be shot on your iPhone, a recording of a Zoom meeting, or in a studio. Anytime you are shooting a video, make sure there is good light and audio. Keep a steady hand and make sure it is well framed. You could even hire somebody to spruce up your videos like I did with this one.
  5. Stay in your lane – of all the advice given to speakers, this is, perhaps, the hardest one for me to follow. I love speaking on numerous subjects but also understand that to be a high paid and sought out speaker, I have to “stay in my lane” and pick out just a handful of topics within a narrow subject range. For example, while I am very capable to speak on legal matters or human resources, I prefer to stay focused on the power of stories and emotional intelligence, and how those apply to leadership and sales.
  6. The power of humor, exercises, and creativity – whether you are presenting for a handful of teammates or keynote in front of thousands of people, everyone wants to be entertained. Strategically placed humor and exercises can bring your presentation to life. Then step back and ask what you can do to be more creative. For example, I like using numerous props in my workshops and keynotes. I love doing creative exercises that engage people in the learning.
  7. Speak whenever and however you can. There is no substitute for practice and experience. Just get out there and speak. Toastmasters is a great place to start. The more you speak, the better you will get at it!

Having been a professional speaker for over 20 years, I have great familiarity with the above, yet I revisit them regularly. That’s because my goal is to not just be an average speaker but a great one. Which technique or strategies can you use to up your speaking game?

Don’t Let Your Story Kill Your Sales

Over the last few years, I’ve been doing a great deal of coaching and notice the power of the stories my clients tell themselves. So I whipped up this presentation for a client’s sales team… and they loved it. If you are up for it, I would love your feedback too! Brutal honesty will be appreciated. How can I make it even better?


Time to Get Creative!

This is a great time to get your creative juices flowing. Here is a link to a quick and fun book, with more than 100 questions to spur your creativity!

Enjoy and let me know what ideas you come up with.

Free download of the PDF, with no registration required!

“The Principles”… At Work

Principles Book Cover

I just finished a three-month odyssey of reading Ray Dalio’s book, The Principles. It is a 592-page distillation of all that he’s learned in his very successful career. For those of you not familiar with the man, he built the Bridgewater hedge fund into a multibillion-dollar operation and is himself a billionaire. Time said he is one of the world’s 100 most influential people. He is known not just for his investing acumen but also his business leadership qualities.

His section on Work Principles goes from page 296 all the way to page 437. His outline summarizing the work principles was 23 pages. The point is- there is a lot there.

In this article, I will share some of what I learned from this reading and my observations that may apply to how you manage your career and workplace.

“For any group or organization to function well, its work principles must be aligned with its members’ life principles.”

Dalio begins with his four overriding principles about work.

  1. An organization is a machine consisting of two major parts, culture and people.
  2. Tough love is effective in achieving both great work and great relationships.
  3. A believability-weighted idea meritocracy is the best system for making effective decisions.
  4. Make your passion and your work one and the same, and do it with people you want to be with.

One of Dalio’s overarching themes is that of Transparency. It applies to all aspects of a business. Transparency with members, clients, and customers, and transparency with employees. Dalio says never to let loyalty to people stand in the way of truth and the wellbeing of an organization. In my 40+ years of workplace experience, this is a profound statement. I believe we try to please people out of self-preservation. Who wants to piss off the tribal leader anyway? Doing so only puts ourselves at risk.

Managers and leaders must be told that any implication of threat, favoritism, or looking the other way, will not guarantee job security but rather the exit door. It is a matter of trust. People in fear of radical transparency should be removed from an organization. The challenge is… who dares go first? Who dares to say, something’s not right here? Who dares to speak up at the risk of being shunned, retaliated against, or blackballed? Answer: Only those who stand on their principles. And this is the point. The decision by each individual to stand up creates a collective culture that stands up.

I once heard it said that “Culture is defined by how we collectively deal with our shit.” In a Dalio-run company, problems get an open forum where robust dialogue can lead to smart answers.

Dalio talks about the importance of defining the meaning in your work. This comes at both a macro and an individual level. From a macro standpoint, leadership should share what they believe to be the meaning in their work. From a micro level, employees should be encouraged to define that for themselves. This doesn’t happen by accident. It only happens through process and agreement.

So, if I surveyed your employees or even asked you, is there clarity about what your mission is? Clarity about where you exist to serve? Because of my speaking and training experience, I’ve been in hundreds of different offices all around the country. Only a handful of them do a good job of visually defining their mission. In those companies, you must be blind not to know what it is, because it is branded throughout the entire environment. If I went to your company, what story would it tell?

I love it when Dalio talks about delegation. Anyone who is successful has been through the fear and learning curve associated with delegating. The emotional blockage is getting over the reality that people make mistakes. When you delegate to people, they are guaranteed to make mistakes! Just like you did on your way to being an expert at something. But do you want to be an expert anymore at $25/hour work? Or would you be willing to let somebody make a few mistakes so you don’t have to do it anymore?

With my employees, I had a one mistake rule. I expected them to make mistakes, just not the same one twice. We figure out what we have to do so it doesn’t happen again. As Dalio said, “I don’t mind if they scratch the car, just so long as they don’t wreck it.”

I love when Dalio says, “Know that nobody can see themselves objectively.” Amen to that brother! Perhaps the greatest benefit of coaching is that it helps expose a side of yourself you weren’t aware of. My coaches have done that with me, and I’ve gotten better over the years at doing that with my clients. Removing our “blind spots” is an important formula for success. We all have plenty of data and are smart people. It’s our emotional blockages that tend to be the biggest challenge.

I love Dalio’s conversation around meritocracy. It goes along with his idea of transparency. How do you know if you’re succeeding in an organization? Half of the people at any one position are better than the other half. How do you define that boundary? How would you define excellent performance? That can’t be done simply by intuition. If you’re in something like sales, then you can look right to the data. What if it’s not as easy to capture the benchmarks? Answer: Do what you can do, so you create relevant benchmarks.

Dalio encourages us to move away from opinions about what success looks like to as much data as possible. If we consider an opinion, there should be strong logic behind it. Dalio spends many pages talking about improving communications and getting past disagreements.

Next, Dalio spends a bunch of time talking about hiring responsible people. Having a great hiring process, looking for people who “sparkle”, valuing diversity, constant training, evaluation, and feedback, and be willing to fire or as he says, “Shoot the people you love” and never lower the bar.

Here’s one I like: “Don’t try to be liked, try to be understood.” This is a big problem for managers, especially if they have been promoted out of the ranks. In my experience, it’s also about managers understanding they are responsible to the people they manage, and unless there is some legal obligation, they are not responsible for the people they manage. This is an enormous psychological distinction.

One aspect I found interesting was Dalio’s belief you should create an organizational chart to look like a pyramid with straight lines down that don’t cross. This runs contrary to most of what I’ve been observing and reading. Today, we talk about neural networks, where all parts interact with each other. I don’t believe that Dalio discounts the network effect. What he is harping on is the importance of knowing where the buck stops in terms of responsibility. Stay in your lane until it is appropriate to move out of it.

Dalio says everyone has too much to do. Amen! It wasn’t until my 40s that I’ve realized that highly successful people never get everything done. This is one reason why prioritizing projects and your time is so important. Managing from a carefully crafted calendar as opposed to a to-do list. Making sure the team is in alignment and in agreement on all responsibilities and deliverables. And realize, it will never all get done. Just make sure it’s not urgent or important matters that fall through the cracks.

Finally, Dalio reminds us that no principles, rules, or process can ever substitute for a great relationship.

Question: what principles guide your work?