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Best of the Best 2010

As 2010 comes to a close all means of the “Best of” lists are certain to arise in your favorite circles.  Whether it’s best ice cream flavors, green idea, news stories, remixes, political figures, hospitals, celebrities, musicians, Internet trends, automobiles or my personal favorite books, the lists will surely arrive.  To get you in the mood our friends at Booz & Company’s Strategy + Business magazine have delivered their 2010 Best Business Books list (slightly ahead of the holidays—just sayin’)  Here’s are the nominees:

Slapped By The Invisible Hand: The Panic of 2007 – Gary B. Gordon
Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance – Boris Groysberg
Reflections on Leadership and Career Development – Manfred F.R. Ket de Vries
Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face – Richard S. Tedlow
Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation – Steven Johnson
The Power of Positive Deviance – Richard T. Pascale et. al.
Country Driving – Peter Hessler
Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition – Daniel Okrent

A wide ranging group of other authors get a nod including Charlene Li’s Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform The Way You Lead; Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age; Hagel, Brown and Davison’s The Power of Pull; Jody Heymann’s Profit at the Bottom of the Ladder; Dan Pink’s wonderful Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us; The Heath Brother’s Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard; and from one of my favorite management thinkers Warren Bennis, Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.

Undoubtedly, you have your own favorites or “best” choice for 2010 don’t you?  Share your favorites by adding a comment or two.  I’ll come back to update the listing a little bit later.  Stay tuned.  Here’s wishing you another rich bounty of great reading in 2011.

Laggards, Leaders & Associations

In a crazy economy. crazy measures on recovery come to the fore it seems.  underwearNew York Times writer Jack Healy wrote a terrific piece Men’s Underwear as an Economic Indicator in which he explores the range of ersatz economic indicators we use to assess the status of the American economy.  Healy recalls that “in the 1970s, when Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve was still running his own economic consulting firm, he said that he looked at sales of men’s underwear as an economic indicator. Sales rose steadily in normal times, the theory went, but tended to dip when men had less money, or were trying to cut back on their spending.  Nowadays its everything from uncut grass to mosquito populations that inform the notion of economic recovery.

So where do Associations stand amidst the myriad economic indicators?  Are our traditional indicators still a valid measure of where we stand and what’s to come?  For trade associations whose dues structure are based on the revenues of their member firms a rude awakening likely awaits as the sales declines of 2009 come home to roost in the dues assessments of 2010.  Likewise participation levels in conference programs, events and seminars which have slowed for many membership groups may not be a reliable indicator as new forms of program participation—think webinars, audio conferences and distance learning tools—take hold.  Even the veritable National PTA is fending off membership defections as parents view social media as the better way to organize and inform parent decisions.

Gazing into the future in today’s environment is daunting at best but Associations looking for leading indicators will find them in membership satisfaction, membership conversion–that is how many prospects buy your value proposition–and join, the association’s rate of innovation, diversity, and measures of ethical behavior by members all stand as strong indicators in today’s environment of future sustainability.  Our more traditional tools of member retention, financial statements and event evaluations each a lagging indicator do little to help us anticipate the future.

So what are your measures?  What are the new metrics essential to measuring your succeed?  How will we know when the economy is in an upturn for your profession or industry?  Finding new meterics is an exercise in both innovation and creativity with a significant pay-off for your Association.  Don’t take the process lightly, but if you haven’t already begun to look now might be the right time.  Sure it’s hard to know what works, but just in case you’re wondering,  underwear sales will fall 2.3% this year.  Where are your sales headed?

The Failure of Flyover Leadership

af1newyorkcityThe day after the head of the White House Military Office stepped down, President Obama could joke about the fiasco.  Sasha and Malia are grounded said the President speaking at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner this past Saturday in Washington, DC.  “You can’t just take Air Force One on a joyride to Manhattan.  I don’t care whose kids you are…we’ve been setting some ground rules here.”   

Ground rules or not, the photo of Air Force One flying over the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan—serves as a reminder of the dangers of flyover leadership.  The Air Force photo-op frightened New York and New Jersey residents reminding many of the nightmare of September 11th.  The flyover created a public relations firestorm for the White House.  The President and his Press Secretary were queried as was the Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg, each of whom said they were unaware of the decision.  While claims about proper procedures being followed and notifications to the proper agencies including the FAA, Secret Service, FBI, US Park Police and New York City Police being made, they forgot to tell the people who mattered most—the citizens of greater New York City.  So after spending $357,000 for the photos and following an internal review of the decision process by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, the man in charge of the White House Military Office former Secretary of the US Army Louis Caldera, who had been quick to accept responsibility for the decision, just as quickly tendered his resignation.

There are vivid lessons here for leaders.  The cynics say its just politics as usual when a staffer is dismissed over a poor decision.  Yet, if you are determined to be a leader, whether it’s the White House or your house, leadership requires a strong dose of the political. Leadership most assuredly understands that foresight is far better than hindsight; (b) vetting your thinking and decisions beyond your own “inner circle” pays big dividends; (c) being certain information is flowing up, as well as down in the chain of command is Job 1; (d) making sure those who most need to know are absolutely, positively in the loop—no excuses; (e) assume nothing—ask the tough questions to make sure you fully understand what actions or steps are being proposed, double-check by personal contact if necessary and perhaps finally, expect to be held fully accountable for the quality (or lack thereof) in your actions and decision-making.  I’m certain there are even more leadership lessons to be found here and I invite you to share them so we can all learn from the lessons of flyover leadership.