My Soapbox: Trust, Accountability, Empowerment: All that matters

Building relationships based on respect

People who have worked with me before have heard me on this particular soapbox quite a bit and for those I will suggest maybe they don’t need to read this particular blog. There will be nothing new here. That said, it is perhaps because I continue to hear stories from great talent I have met around the world that are working with people that still do not get it.

It is for these people that I write this blog.

Executives get busy and they get stressed. Markets start to squeeze and pressure mounts, causing many to revert to the old command and control techniques they used in prior decades. When the kitchen heats up, they forget the basics. I believe some need to be reminded of a basic principle that should be obvious to all: Organizations are successful when there is a strong relationship of respect among leaders at all levels.

Now, before I go further, let me be absolutely clear: effective leadership requires adapting your style from time to time to appropriately handle a given challenge. There are times for diplomacy, inclusion, and democracy (e.g., complex problem), and there are times for command and control (e.g., during an urgent crisis). However, underlying your leadership style, and regardless of the type of problem, the relationship of respect must prevail.

A relationship of respect requires three key elements: trust, accountability, and empowerment.

Every team that has worked with me over the past decade will have heard me speak explicitly of the three simple things that I feel are the most important elements of effective, increasingly global, teams. I sincerely hope that those that worked with me before that will see in this blog some of the elements of our team work that worked best even if we never put it to words.

Trust. Accountability. Empowerment.

You will notice that none of them involve bureaucracy, centralization, or added layers without added value! It also does not require being “nice”.


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Trust: We must build and maintain levels of trust across borders and business units, recognizing the unique strengths and backgrounds of each individual. In companies that are complex, especially with multiple business units and geographies, the absence of trust can cause money, time, and valuable resources to be wasted on duplicated efforts.

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Accountability: We must be a respectful organization and a collegiate one, but all of us must be held accountable as well. Accountability goes hand in hand with trust. When we all understand each other’s respective areas of responsibility and accountability, we create a culture of trust, and we can focus on the services and solutions we deliver and the goals we want to achieve without distraction.

It is important to note that accountability is as much about what is accomplished as it is about how it is accomplished. If you’re an a-hole, regardless of your delivery skills, people will find it hard to trust you and the relationship of respect will be difficult.

Empowerment-Zone.jpg.728x520_q85Empowerment: People must be allowed to make decisions and drive change without being micromanaged and without needing to get multiple approvals; they must be allowed to be leaders. Just as importantly, we must enable those whom we empower. Power without training is not a formula for success. Empowerment is about giving a person the ability to manage something tangible that adds value, but also about working with that individual to help him or her succeed.

Leadership is not easy, and successful teams are elusive to many people. But, with some basic focus on respect and these key principles, you will at minimum have the right foundation for success.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

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#TechNotes: Facebook, Snapchat, and the new new thing

nextbigthingblog2

Are we there yet?

I’ve enjoyed reading lots of the analysis out there about Facebook and whether or not their attempt to buy Snapchat is a sign of desperation. Reportedly, an offer of three billion was made by the company and rejected by Snapchat ‘s young leadership. Everyone immediately said Facebook was doomed. Now, snapchat has been hacked and Instagram Direct is trying to fight back, under its new parent of course, Facebook.

A few quick thoughts :
1) I cannot begin to imagine the conversation where I decide to turn down 3 billion dollars but I can understand why snapchat would do what they did. It is entirely possible in this rapid change environment that investors would place value on snapchat that is comparable to the value placed on Twitter . Now, to be clear, I do not feel that the value on Twitter is appropriate nor do I feel that investors would necessarily be making the right call to place such a value on Snapchat. That said, whether you believe it to be a bubble or not investors are putting a significant premium on social media applications, especially those that are highly focused on mobile.

2) Facebook is falling into the trap of many large companies. It is scared to let go. In today’s hyperpaced communication overloaded society, users will flock from one platform to the next with little transition time or switching costs. Perhaps Facebook Inc strategy should be to intentionally kill Facebook.com. Build the tool users will go to after Snapchat loses its luster. Building for the future almost means building amazing, but disposable, products for today. This is more than just pushing video ads to mobile phones. If they are good, they should be able to churn out new products and services much faster than competitors. If not, they will cease to be relevant like MySpace before them.

3) Some people are arguing that instagram, including the new instagram direct functionality, are Facebook’s answer to snap chat and their way of the remaining relevant for young people. I’ll offer an alternative theory. The reality is that, like Microsoft has done several times in the past, Facebook bought the popular photo sharing company because they thought it was the next big thing. But was it really the old next big thing? Facebook may have become the “late to the party” juggernaut that it would never have desired to be. Just as the lucrative 18 to 25 market has been leaving Facebook in droves, the same market will begin to leave instagram. Watch TLC, Bravo, A&E, and CNN and note how often they reference Instagram. Face it, when people over 35 start to use something, their children stop.

The bottom line is I don’t necessarily believe the Facebook is in its final days. I do believe, however, the company must drastically rethink their strategy and consider alternatives for growth in the United States. If they truly believe that growth in other markets will counter dramatic drops in USA, I believe that is misguided. Other markets will eventually follow the same path of the United States. Younger users will leave; older users will join the platform at a much lower level of engagement; upstarts will create the next next big thing and advertisers will be tempted away.

For now, I have sold my Facebook holding and bought a small Twitter holding so I can enjoy a brief ride on the wave of the current big thing. And I patiently await the next next big big thing. Oh wait! There it is….

Note: I am sure there are lots of Facebook fans out there that would tell me that I have lost my mind and perhaps I have. But, of course, I’ve heard that before. Post your comments below. I would love to hear from you.

Be Well. Lead On. And may the consumer be the ultimate victor of these fantastic #techwars.

Adam

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My soapbox: Life is an echo

Karma

When you carry out acts of kindness you get a wonderful feeling inside. It is as though something inside your body responds and says, yes, this is how I ought to feel.
Harold Kushner

Life is an echo.

Christmas is often the best time to see the true character of people. You see the good and the bad. You see those who find great joy in giving to family, to friends, and to those in need. You see those that seem to take joy mostly in receiving from family and friends. You see those that love unconditionally and show that love through physical and verbal manifestations of caring. And you see those that truly don’t seem to have an ounce of caring inside. Yes, the negative of Christmas is that sometimes it brings out the very worst in people or at least makes the bad that’s already inside much clearer. It highlights the negative like the bright lights on Michigan Ave in Chicago highlight the stores or the shiny garland and ornaments highlight Christmas trees.

Today, my soapbox message is a simple one and it is a message that has been delivered through centuries and ages. From spiritual leaders and deities, to actors, comedians, and politicians; and everyone in between. It is this: Doing good feels good. Loving feels good. Giving feels good. Supporting feels good. Commiserating feels good. Forgiving feels good. And, even better, in addition to feeling good you have the additional benefit that people return all of the above right back to you. Yes, absolutely true and proven time and time again is the Golden Rule that one does unto others as he or she wants done unto him; Do good. Feel good. Receive good.

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This is the time to forgive. This is the time to perform a random act of kindness. This is the time to love. This is the time to understand and ask questions. To listen. It is not the time to hold grudges or seek revenge. It is not the time to be angry or jealous. It is not the time to fight over material things or hurt feelings.
I’m posting on #karma today on my facebook page, LinkedIn, Instagram, and twitter. If you follow me on all, you will see several thought provoking images. Confucius, Jesus Christ, Buddha and several other great thinkers and spiritual leaders all seemed to believe that what goes around comes around and it is better to do good thing to do ill.

Thanks for reading another soapbox rant. Smile. What are your thoughts on karma or The Golden Rule? Have you experienced personally or through someone else the results of bad Karma? Seen someone blessed beyond imagining after doing good and giving sacrificially? Share below please. I would love to hear what you think.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

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My soapbox: Aim for life connections instead of networking

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Networking or making life connectionsI met someone this afternoon with whom I truly felt an immediate connection. It was scheduled to be a “career conversation” but instead was an open introduction, over tea, and very casual. The conversation reminded me of a question someone asked me recently: “How can I get better at networking like you?” Those who truly know me realize just how much this question disturbs me. But to many, this would be considered flattery. I do not consider it so at all.

The fact is, I am not a networker. In fact, I detest networking.

Networking is to me a very clinical term, and reminds me of the technology of networking. I know that like various applications in a bank, I am connected to various people. Some linkages were planned and chosen carefully, others stepped in to a role that was by default in my network. Within a network, we depend on each other to work and do our part, and if one portion of the network is significantly damaged, the rest of the network is damaged. I know that to some extent, my success depends on others in the network being able to carry something from me and me in exchange carrying something back. Networking is a fact of corporate (and community) life. However …

I am not a circuit or a router. I am a human being.

When I am in my final minutes of life, perhaps I will think to myself, “If only I had made that one additional link that would have opened up my network to another dimension!” Of course not! I like people. (Of all types! Really! Click here for a blog I wrote on the topic, noting that yes, I even love jerks and *€$holes. I just don’t necessarily want to work with them.) In any corporate network, there must be someone that is necessary but not wanted. God, I never want to be that person.

I prefer to make life connections.

Life connections are not always about business. Some examples:

- Getting to know all of the bartenders at the Artesian Bar at the Langham Hotel in London. Learning how each came from their home countries of Italy, Russia, and elsewhere, to London and why they are so passionate about cocktails. Enjoying a laugh or two whilst enjoying a cocktail or three. Side bonus: I have been introduced to a popular chef/mixologist in my hometown of Chicago for when I return. Plus, the Artesian has become a great place I can bring clients, colleagues, and other connections.

- Building a relationship of trust with my vendor partners and colleagues whereby they share personal details of their lives with me and allow me into their world. Sharing a good meal and a great bottle of wine with no talk of contracts or issues. Side bonus: we find connections we did not know existed and ways in which we can help each other out in so many more ways that traditional sourcing relationships. And, as we move to different roles in different organizations, we can call on each other for advice and support.

- Introducing two people, not because I think they can help each other, but because I just think they are both just really really cool people. Watching them get to know each other and become friends. Side bonus: people have done the same to me, bringing some of the most wonderful people I currently know into my life.

- Having a cocktail party at my house with a mixture of people I have met through work, the neighborhood coffee shop, and other connection points. Looking around and seeing there are people from five different countries with incomes and careers as diverse as chalk and cheese. Witnessing how they all learn from each other: new recipes, fashion styles, tax policy changes, technologies, dating schemes, relationship tips…. Side bonus: Learning myself about all of the above!

Many people will classify the above as examples of networking, and perhaps they are. And, to be clear, I’m not necessarily against networking entirely. I just think it is critical people start with the right perspective. And be honest! If you really just want to meet me for what I can do for you, or who I can introduce, just come out and say it. At least you will save some time! But, I encourage you to take some time to get to know yourself better, enjoy meeting people just because, and see the amazing things that will come out of your connections forged by respect, trust, and integrity. It is amazing how much more one can get from a relationship when he leads from the heart and the mind.

Enough! Off the soapbox, here is some reading …

For those of you who REALLY want to get good at Networking, especially the shy ones, here is a decent CIO magazine article on the topic.

For those of you who like me want to learn how to be a better person and know that success that comes from good just feels better inside, there are a couple of good links for you. Yes, they are a bit kooky. And there will be some who succeed despite being downright bad people (I can name a few.) But, I choose to succeed, or fail, with my values intact. Here are a few links for you:
24 ways to be a better person
How to be a good person in 5 steps

And for those few out there (certainly not a regular reader of my rants) that are downright sinister and yet deep down feel they want to be good, there is even some help for you. I found this one both intriguing and humorous.

Thanks for reading another soapbox rant. I would love to hear what you think about networking and making life connections.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

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My Soapbox: Take talent personally

Talent should be on the agenda and objectives of every leader at every level, every day, and in every organisation

Talent Matters.

I recently went on the soapbox when a conversation was started about forming a committee to work on ways to identify and develop strong talent. It’s clearly not because I do not find the goal relevant. In fact, I think Talent should be on the agenda and objectives of every leader at every level, every day, and in every organisation. That is the only way to be successful. Committees formed formally to focus on talent, regardless of intent, simply do not work without concerted action and interest from leaders with true desire to manage and grow talent. And, worse, the experience for those on such committess can be downright disheartening if they feel they are part of an academic exercise that in the end does not matter. Talent matters!

I want each of my leaders to feel excited thinking about what they are doing for their teams. What opportunities are we finding for them to stretch and be rewarded? To train them and coach them? To sell them for career enhancing roles with peers and other teams (or even other firms) even if it means losing a critical resource in our world? Talent matters!

I view every top performer in my team as a future CIO, CTO, or executive. I LOVE being able to share stories of individuals who worked with me at some point and rose through the ranks to take on major leadership roles around the world. Love it! And I firmly believe that the only reason I have been successful (or recovered quickly from failures) is because I try desperately to hire strong, develop well, and appreciate greatly. Talent matters!!

Anyone that knows me recognises that I tend to hate governance and I disdain committees. I frown on talking and planning talent development “initiatives” unless I see the signs of true interest and passion. Because a committee or initiative without passion is …. sadly, like many many many leadership teams in the corporate world … just bureaucracy.

Just my soapbox for the week. Thanks for listening. And, one more time, as I hope you’ll agree … Talent Matters!!

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

I pledge to listen harder.
Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

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Ready. Aim. Do it.

A New Beginning

Every day is a new beginning. All of life provides opportunities for new beginnings. Whatever has gone wrong, or right, in your life, you can begin again.
Jonathan L. Huie

New beginnings can be nerve wrecking. You spend years building a team, finding the people you can trust to get things done and do so in a values based manner. You drive strategy and create value for shareholders. And you check off so many boxes, proudly getting to a point where you can finally rest and look at the great things you and the team created …. and then you move on to the next challenge.

YIKES!! So much for resting.

“Success is simple. Do what’s right, the right way, at the right time” Arnold H. Glasgow

If I’m honest with myself, I will admit that I will likely never get to truly resting until retirement (target TBD). The fact is, I love gnarly, complex, global challenges and am thankful I have found that in my new role.

Leaders at All Levels

Top 12 Quotes on LeadershipI am incredibly excited about this new adventure and will enjoy getting to meet the new teams around the world. One concept I have constantly addressed that I expect will be highly relevant here is the fact that everyone in today’s technology organizations must be leaders. From time to time, everyone will be called on to make decisions, act independantly, and respond to crises without time to go up the chain for days.

You can’t always wait for the guys at the top. Every manager at every level in the organization has an opportunity, big or small, to do something. Every manager’s got some sphere of autonomy. Don’t pass the buck up the line.
Bob Anderson

I blogged about this a while back with “Leaders at All Levels”

Chicago

Chicago

I LOVE Chicago, the place I have called home for so many years. And I love having the opportunity to give back to the community in which I love. Living in London over the past two years was an amazing adventure, the opportunity to more deeply explore another great city, and to work with colleagues in other European cities. While my prior role required that I moved to London for a while, I am confident that the relationships I built in Chicago will continue to grow. And, of course, I hope to see many of my friends from London throughout the year. Visit!!

As Marilyn Monroe said, “A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” So I expect my friends to trek on over to see me from time to time, share a lager or a cup of coffee, and warm my heart with their presence!

Let’s Go

Two great quotes come to mind as I contemplate the week ahead and my new adventure:

“If your work is becoming uninteresting, so are you. Work is an inanimate thing and can be made lively and interesting only by injecting yourself into it. Your job is only as big as you are.” George C. Hubbs

“You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” Henry Ford

I’ve enjoyed my time to reflect on the good and bad aspects of my prior leadership role, and the opportunity to give back via non-profit and civic consulting. But it’s time to go back to corporate, tackle this new and exciting challenge, and meet a new batch of great people with whom I hope to build something great.

Be Well. Lead On.

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections
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Adam at Sunset

This blog is a revision of a prior post.

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The Importance of Perseverance

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton:

Great post on the importance of continually pushing toward your goals.

Originally posted on LeadToday:

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” 

Successful people try, the most successful people try harder. Nearly all of the most successful people you’ll ever meet have this trait in common: they did just a little more after they first felt they couldn’t do anymore.

I’m certain that the primary difference between success and huge success is the little “extra” that turns ordinary into extraordinary. The ability to do more than you think you can is not limited to hugely successful people, everyone has that ability, it’s just that the most successful people put it to use.

I’m also pretty sure that persevering people have fewer regrets than those who quit too early. They never have to wonder “what if” I had kept going, and tried just a…

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#Foodie Review: Grace (Chicago)

Clearly I love food. Anyone that follows my blog or my tweets on Twitter understand this more than most. I love to eat, I love to dine out, and I love to experience new cuisines and restaurants. I have a low tolerance for bad food and no tolerance for bad service. Of course I can’t write a blog for every restaurant that I visit. So I’ve decided to do a series of comparison reviews. In some, the connection will be obvious. In others, perhaps less so. In the first of the series, I set out to find two restaurants that were of similar quality in food, decor, value, and service albeit different cuisines. In this case, also looking for strikingly different levels of activity and, likely, different levels of competition and long-term success. For the first pairing, I chose two upscale restaurants.

Today I focus on the first of the upscale restaurants, Grace, one of the West Loop’s premier dining establishments. As a comparison, I dined at Acadia and will subsequently do a full review of that South Loop spot.

A tale of two city restaurants … Grace and Acadia

Part 1: Grace

Grace
652 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661

Summary: Recommended / Special occasions only.

This is one of the restaurants I have wanted to visit since moving back to Chicago. Everyone has heard of Chef Duffy’s fascinating and tragic history and rise to where he is now. You kind of want this place to thrive. But, this is Chicago, so backstory or not, the food and service must be stellar. And I was impressed. The food was spectacular. It was showy without being too over the top (I don’t really want a pillow on my plate). And I left more satisfied than when I dined at Alinea, albeit less so than L20 or Everest.

FOOD: 5

Very interesting presentations of each course. We all had the menu with meat and lots of it. We loved the heirloom tomato dish with a delicious whirl of sauce.  There was an amazing oyster dish that my friend Sherry thought was superb.  An artichoke dish could have been skipped but the meat dishes were amazing, including both lamb and beef. Wine pairings were good but not great, and I have yet to find a wine guy as good as Dan Pilkey, formerly of Ria. It is perhaps because of him that I find so many not up to par. (Let’s be clear here, I am not an expert and they certainly know more than I do, but the good ones bring you along with them and the wines fit perfectly with the meal.)

When I dine at these showy places, I often worry that the emphasis will be so much on presentation and flare that the food will be bad. Or, that the temperature will be off. That was not the case at Grace, and all of the dishes came out at good temp and high quality.

SERVICE: 4

Service was exceptional and well coordinated, albeit a bit practiced and “obvious”. My friend summarized service as “quite good but a little bumpy given the prices.  Could have been more precise.” I agree. At Les Nomades, service is amazing and the servers are there when you need them and almost invisible when you don’t. Here, and maybe this is more due to newness of the restaurant, the service seemed too much like they practiced and wanted to get it right like a routine. I kind of want them to seem a bit more like they are simply happy to serve us.  Overall, I think service was great. Nothing we needed was ever held back, transitions were smooth, and timing was on point. If I felt they were happy to be hosting us, I would have felt a tad better.

One note: The sommelier, as I mentioned above, was good but not the best. IMHO, she needs to learn to be less intrusive and a bit more nuanced in her interactions with the diners.

DECOR: 5

This is a beautiful, understated, classy establishment. I love the open and airy kitchen with bright woods and colorful spices on display. It’s fun to watch the activity in the kitchen without being overwhelmed by it as can be the case in some restaurants (I sat sweltering in front of the kitchen of Little Goat recently.) The room is small and thus not many patrons. You can have a conversation without screaming or worrying that your neighbor hears every word. Everything is tastefully presented.

VALUE: 3

This is a very very very expensive place. And I knew that of course before dining. It is in line with most places of this style and caliber but I still feel it is pricier than it needs to be. One caveat is that it has been a few years since I dined at Alinea and thus cannot vouch for whether that place and others have also gone up significantly. But, you get what you pay for and Grace is an experience more than a meal.

OVERALL: 4

Grace is a great addition to the West Loop culinary scene and its nice to have another high-end restaurant over there versus in the Gold Coast / River North area. Grace is ideal for a very special date, not business in my opinion. More for celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary. Given the prices, this clearly could not be a regular dining spot for most people and I personally would not see myself returning anytime soon given the tremendous number of other choices in Chicago, many of them significantly less pricey. That said, the chef’s story, the great food and tasteful decor, and the strong level of service make this highly worth trying if you are a foodie.

Stay tuned for review of Acadia in part 2 of this tale of two city restaurants.

More on the chef >> http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/grace/

Chef Curtis Duffy

Chef Curtis Duffy and Adam Stanley

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

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Life Lessons (Guest Blog by Robert Acton)

Guest Blog

Connections Life Lessons: Leaders Share Their Stories

One of the greatest aspects of my career, education, and life in general has been meeting people. I love meeting people and getting to know their stories, what makes them tick and how they handle life challenges. I have met several leaders over the years and I want to give voice to their stories. Thus, I have asked a few of them to share their stories as part of my Connections blog. I will not set a schedule but will share these when I receive them. I hope that by sharing their stories, you get to know a great leader but also perhaps see a bit of your story in theirs. Perhaps we can learn from each other in this manner.

This guest blog is from someone I have become friends with personally after years of working together professionally. Rob Acton was Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid when he recruited me to join their Board of Directors. While he has moved on to other great things, I continue to serve on the Board. More importantly, we have become good friends. Rob is smart, passionate, and a true leader already. Yet, he is willing to learn from others, as well as from his personal successes and failures. With all the great things behind him, I expect even gather things ahead and am honored to share his thoughts on good leaders.

If you would like to guest blog as part of this series, please contact me via twitter, LinkedIn, or by posting a comment on this blog.

Be Well. Lead On. 

Adam

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leadership-definition

In the Presence of Great Leaders
Robert B. Acton
Executive Director – Taproot Foundation New York

I am inspired by great leaders. They are rare. There is no objective measure for great leadership, no certificate or title, but when you’re in the presence of one, you know it.

The handful of great leaders I’ve interacted with have a set of characteristics in common:

1. They are obsessively passionate about the mission they are leading. Their commitment to its success is unwavering.

2. They inspire people by telling great stories. Their scope of knowledge is both deep and wide, but they really connect when they tell stories.

3. They are both confident and humble. Their confidence engenders loyalty to their cause. Their humility engenders loyalty to them.

4. They are wise. They have experienced a lot of learning over the years and know how to synthesize and apply it to new and changing circumstances and environments. They make good judgment calls.

5. They invest heavily in others. Without anything to gain, they carve out quality time for high potential people who can learn from them.

6. They experience life with unfettered enthusiasm, even joy. Each day is an adventure. A day without a hill to take is a day wasted. They live life with the accelerator pressed to the floor, every day.

7. They are easily moved. They laugh and they cry.

8. They are guided by deep-seeded values. They know they can’t fake it and wouldn’t want to anyhow. Their core is firmly in tact.

9. They love people. Actually, they are obsessed with people. They are usually the last to leave a room if there are interesting people to meet and conversations to be had. They always make time that they don’t have for people.

10. They have a masterful base of knowledge. They know their area of expertise, of course, but that’s the easy part. More impressively, they know three important things about your area of expertise, as well.

A few such leaders I’ve been privileged to know well: Charles Middleton. Tony Campolo. Sylvia Reynolds. Laura Truax.

Some I’ve observed briefly, or from afar: Tim King. Sterling Speirn. Bill Clinton. Ken Chanault. Cathy Trower.

My aspiration is less about reaching a particular job and more about “becoming” — learning more and more how to be reflective of these truly great leaders.

That’s what year 45 will be about.
Leadership

About the Author:

 

Rob Acton

Rob Acton

As New York City’s Executive Director, Rob Acton sets the strategic direction for Taproot Foundation and the pro bono movement in America’s most populous city. He is known for belting out Broadway show tunes at the photocopier and trying to measure everything. Prior to joining Taproot, Rob spent over 20 years leading nonprofits, working in direct services and engaging in policy efforts designed to bring opportunity, justice, fair-treatment and second chances to residents of Brooklyn, Harlem, Chicago and Jackson, Mich. Most recently, Rob served for seven years as Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), overseeing the delivery of free legal representation to more than 22,000 low-income clients. During his tenure, CGLA expanded ten fold the number of clients served and tripled the agency’s annual budget. In May 2008, CGLA received the prestigious Alford-Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence. Rob’s roots in NYC run deep having worked at a number of nonprofits including Legal Outreach, Inc. and the Brooklyn Juvenile Rights Division of Legal Aid Society. He has served on a number of nonprofit boards and has taught graduate level nonprofit leadership at DePaul Law School and North Park University. He earned his J.D. from Brooklyn Law School and B.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Spring Arbor University. Rob calls New York City home and his favorite root vegetable is the sweet potato, especially in the form of pie.

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Life Lessons (Guest Blog by Marquis Parker)

Guest Blog

Connections Life Lessons: Leaders Share Their Stories

One of the greatest aspects of my career, education, and life in general has been meeting people. I love meeting people and getting to know their stories, what makes them tick and how they handle life challenges. I have met several leaders over the years and I want to give voice to their stories. Thus, I have asked a few of them to share their stories as part of my Connections blog. I will not set a schedule but will share these when I receive them. I hope that by sharing their stories, you get to know a great leader but also perhaps see a bit of your story in theirs. Perhaps we can learn from each other in this manner.

This guest blog is from someone who has already made tremendous strides in his professional career, having a successful stint at McKinsey and Company and years of Aon experience under his belt. Marquis Parker, an energetic, ambitious, and confident young leader, also has degrees from prestigious universities including Princeton and Stanford. With all the great things behind him, i expect even gather things ahead and am honored to post an excerpt from his blog “Amazing what one can learn in 10 years”. Since this is just an excerpt of a very well written blog, I encourage you to read and comment on the entire blog here.

If you would like to guest blog as part of this series, please contact me via twitter, LinkedIn, or by posting a comment on this blog.

Be Well. Lead On. 

Adam

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Amazing what one can learn in 10 years

Marquis Parker (excerpts selected by Adam L. Stanley)
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I originally started this blog to share my story as an MBA applicant, but, over the years, it morphed into something totally different. For the past few years, I’ve used this blog as a forum to answer questions from my readers as a way to share the learnings that I’ve acquired from stumbling through my education and career without having been taught the “right way” to do it all; I figure that I’ve already endured the bumps and bruises, so I should use that to keep others from having to do the same.

Below, I’ve provided my top 10 life lessons learned from my last 10 years of educational, professional, and real life experiences. Many of these items are somewhat basic in nature, but all of them were true revelations for me when they hit me and have helped me become the man that I am today.

1. Be thankful for what you’ve got

My advice here is that, no matter how dissatisfied you may be with your current situation (e.g., job, career path, financial standing), just remember that someone else could have it worse. If you hate your job, think about all of the folks who would kill to have any job at all. If you’d say that you’re not advancing quickly enough in your career, make sure to appreciate that you have a career at all…many recent grads would give anything to trade places with you and have a chance to start their careers. Lots of people complain about their homes, cars, clothes, possessions, etc., but I’d bet that they don’t think others who have lost everything or are barely hanging on in the aftermath of the economic crisis. It’s real out in these streets.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work hard and fight for what you really want…We all deserve the right to do that. That said, I would strongly encourage you to be thankful for what you have in the present when trying to build for the future. Keeping the proper perspective will be very helpful in truly appreciating advancements once you get them.

2. “Be ruthless with your time”

This is a holdover from my 2006 list of lessons after graduating from Stanford GSB. I took the quote from one of my favorite GSB professors, Jim Ellis, from a list of tips that he gave in our final ‘Managing Growing Enterprises’ session.

You’d be surprised at how quickly your time can be taken up by others and, next thing you know, you won’t be left with any for things that YOU need to prioritize, like getting your work done, spending time with the people who matter to you, and, most importantly, sleep/health. It took me a while before I realized that this had happened to me again, but, when I did, I made changes to follow Prof. Ellis’s advice and start being ruthless with my time. I started budgeting in time to hit the gym, spend more time with my peoples, run around out in the streets, and sometimes simply do nothing productive at all (which was a major change for me). It was GREAT and had a huge impact on my overall stress level.

If you take only one thing away from this list, I hope it is this point… It’s great to want to give of yourself to help everyone, do everything, and have impact everywhere, but, sometimes, you just need to focus on you and what you need. Time is a resource that is non-renewable. Make sure that you focus on being ruthless when it comes to yours.

3. Find an anchor for your confidence

I’m a firm believer that honing in on a few things that make a person distinctive/interesting/great is a bulletproof way to not only develop one’s confidence, but also to maintain it, even in the face of struggles or failure.

4. Optimize on building meaningful relationships, both personal and professional

Some may think that ‘connections‘ and ‘relationships‘ are the same, but I see them as separate ideas, with the latter being much more valuable.

Here’s how I think about it:
Connection: Being linked to a person in some manner, but not necessarily in a “deep” way; Similar to “having met” someone versus “knowing” that person; Can be established without having actually met or even spoken to a person; Connections can be established for any number of reasons, including being alumni of the same (or peer) academic institution, having worked for the same company, similar industry/functional/career interest, and mutual connections

Relationship: [Instead of defining this myself, I'll rely on the one from Wikipedia] Strong, deep, or close association/acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment; The distinction here is that the parties involved have put in work to move past simply being connected and toward really getting to know each other; Relationships provide a foundation for ongoing engagement and mutual benefit for both people

5. Treat your network like it has value…because it does!!!

This item ties directly into the previous one. Once one has developed a set of meaningful relationships, he/she will have the foundation for a diverse and potentially productive network, which would include friends, colleagues, associates, and acquaintances. These connections could lead to job opportunities, introductions to notable people, help/support in some kind of initiative, or any other of a long list of benefits. Due to what’s at stake, It is crucial to be thoughtful about how you manage and leverage your network because destroying/damaging it is much easier than developing it in the first place.

I’ve either experienced or heard of many instances where people have been unwise in interactions with folks in their networks, often resulting in permanent changes in how they are seen by those connections. Actions like flaking on scheduled phone calls, showing up late to meetings, not being prepared to have a meaningful discussion, being overly informal, taking a long time to respond to communications, and not following through on commitments can end up having lasting effects. In many of these cases, the person may not even realize that he/she did something improper, but, once the damage is done, it likely can’t be undone.

6. “Know when to hold ‘em…know when to fold ‘em”

Life is basically a series of gambles on a bunch of factors, like education, relationships, career, and health. Winning at the game of life requires getting enough wins in these individual gambles, whether it’s by being dealt a strong hand, using the right strategy, or blind luck. In other words, you should aim to handle those “gambles” in the best way possible in order to end up with the best overall result.

Anyone who plays poker knows that, in some games, you can end up with cards so good that you want to immediately raise your bet. In other games, your cards might be so iffy that the best move is to fold and get out of the hand. In the series of “gambles” that make up life, it is sometimes best to “lay down your cards” and exit a given situation.

7. Be open to accepting feedback AND be willing to give it

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feedback is defined as “helpful information or criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product, etc.“…in other words, feedback is supposed to be seen as a good thing. If asked, most people would probably describe themselves as feedback-seeking and then go on list the many benefits associated with it. But, in reality, when comments that aren’t necessarily glowing come their way, a lot of people are quick change their tunes. Having lived and worked in a few feedback-heavy environments, I have quite a few thoughts on the topic.

8. Recognize that it’s OK to have a chip on your shoulder as long as it serves as motivation to achieve more

I’ll start by acknowledging that many people will disagree with this item and may see me as spreading a negative message, likely due to the negative connotation of having a chip on one’s shoulder. Some assume that it is an indicator of a person being quick to argue or to see someone else as doing him/her wrong (whether justified or not). I choose to view it differently.

I understand that some people with chips on their shoulders end up bringing negativity with them wherever they go, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. What about the instances where a person uses it as a push to aim higher than he/she would have otherwise? Or, what about it being a way for someone to motivate him-/herself to overcome perceived roadblocks on the road to success? I’d argue that this can be a win if done productively.

9. Don’t be afraid to go for the “Hail Mary“

Some you may have heard of the term Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which is a similar concept, but what I’m referring to here is different. If something is a goal, the implication is that one has thought about it thoroughly beforehand and *hopefully* develops a methodical plan to achieve it. With the Hail Mary, I’m talking about making an attempt to do something that seems so far away from being possible that it wouldn’t even qualify as a valid goal. It’s like taking the idea of a “stretch goal” and stretching it so far that it sort of doesn’t even make sense. Feel me?

10. Remember that everyone deserves a chance to win

From what I’ve seen, one of the biggest factors in achieving success is simply having a legitimate chance to do so. There is a school of thought that says anyone can find an opportunity if he/she is willing to work hard, sacrifice, be flexible, etc. in order to make it happen. For many in our society, that school of thought is just plain wrong and, sadly, that’s just the way of the world. I believe that it is up to those of us who have found some measure of success to recognize this fact and do what we can to help these folks get their shot.

Looking back over the above list, I can’t help but be amazed at how much life experience can teach a person over time. It isn’t always easy to see those lessons as positives instead of setbacks, but time has a way of providing the right kind of perspective.

Of course, many items in my list seem basic to many of you, but, for a guy who didn’t really get these things until his late 20s and the first half of his 30s, they were literally life-changing. Also, folks tend to assume that it’s been an easy road for me because of what I’ve accomplished, but that couldn’t be further from reality. So, it’s refreshing to think back and realize what hard work, sacrifice, and the hustle has made possible for a scraggly little dude from the country (VA represent!).

About the Author:
Marquis Parker is a business leader, coach, advisor, mentor, and award-winning blogger on topics of MBA student life and admissions, careers, and business concepts. He has experience in formulating strategies and analyzing mission critical issues for companies ranging from government and public sector entities to global private sector organizations. Throughout his career, he has acquired a broad set of educational and career experiences grounded in Business Operations, Strategy, Technology, Private Equity, and Education. In addition, Marquis has served as an advisor and/or Board member to several small businesses and non-profit organizations, including InstaSafe, McRae’s Foods, The Friends of Sinai Children’s Hospital, and Higher Praise Ministries.

Currently, Marquis is a Vice President of Strategic Projects for the U.S. division of Aon Affinity, which specializes in developing, marketing, and administering customized insurance programs and specialty market solutions for affinity organizations and their members or affiliates. Also, for the remainder of 2013, he is serving a secondary role as a Vice President of Global Operations for Aon Broking, which integrates the insurance broking infrastructure of Aon Risk Solutions across its retail, wholesale, and specialty businesses in 120 countries. Since joining Aon plc, a $12B provider of risk management, reinsurance, and human capital advisory services, in 2010, he has held leadership roles in strategy and business operations in 3 of its 4 operating business units, including a stint as a Vice President on the “special projects” team for Aon’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

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#Foodie Review: Sumi Robata (Chicago)

Summary: Not recommended / Needs to work on service.

I really really want to like this place. The food was tasty and flavorful. The drinks were innovative, unique, and well presented and cute little bottles. The location, on North Wells in the midst of lots of other great spots, was also appealing. However, something just was not right about the place. Worse, observing the staff and chef, I walked away with the general feeling it will never change. And thus, my initial thinking is that I would not recommend this restaurant. There are simply too many options in Chicago and, in my opinion, restaurants rarely get a second chance. That said, I will be watching to hear of improvements and focus on service to make this good restaurant great.

Sumi Robata
702 N. Wells
Chicago, IL

Sumi Robata Chicken

FOOD: 4

Food at the restaurant would most easily be described as tapas. Japanese tapas. Lots of grilled, some fried, and all very well seasoned items on the menu. Their twitter feed describes it as “A traditional robatayaki from Chef Gene Kato. Sumi, which derives from the Japanese word for charcoal, focuses on the tradition and skill of robata grilling.”

With four or five friends, you can easily sample the entire menu and taste all of the different flavors in foods that are available. The actual variety is a bit misleading, however, as there are several that to me seemed very similar. For instance, there are three or four  chicken dishes on the menu that all are presented quite commonly with very little difference between them. But, let me be clear: I do feel that the food is fantastic and nothing I am saying is meant to take away from the assessment of quality of the food.

SERVICE: 2

Service is the greatest problem with the restaurant and its not simply with the actual server that was assigned to our table. Rather, it was the experience. It was the pace, the timing, the way in which the menu was explained, and the overall experience dining at the restaurant. It felt, frankly, as if I was dining at a very amateur restaurant. A restaurant that was owned by someone who really loves to cook but has never been involved in actually running a restaurant. I felt as if I were participating in a Top Chef competition very early in the season. Lots of businesses started by ambitious entrepreneurs with amazing ideas but needing a little business acumen come to mind.

Back when Chicago was basically a city of steak and potatoes, menus were fairly straight forward. As food options expanded, great servers and hosts find ways to unobtrusively explain the concept to new diners. On my first visit to Girl and the Goat, seemingly eons ago, I keenly recall how the server went through the menu, gave us a sense of how many items to order, and gave us time to process the menu. This was not the case here. This place is kind of tapas style but uniquely so. Because Japanese tapas is a relatively new concept in Chicago it is very important that they explain to patrons what the experience might be like. We had a couple of awkward moments when orders were brought out and not explained. One of my guests waited patiently for her lamb while another enjoyed his plate with two pieces on it. Little did he know that he was eating both the lamb he ordered and the lamb she ordered. They had been combined on one plate. Ok, makes sense, but who knew? If I’m not clear, you understand how I felt at the restaurant!

DECOR: 2

In this area, I am told perhaps I did not experience the best of the restaurant as there is a space downstairs that is roomier. As it stood, the upstairs area reminded me a bit of a Chinese takeout restaurant with a few tables, or a Pret a Manger franchise. Basic wood tables, not much space. Nothing fancy or memorable. As I have said before, however, decor alone would never keep me away from a restaurant. Nor would it keep me from recommending. All other things being equal, however, I prefer a nice ambiance with my good food. And less noise.

VALUE: 3

Based on the good quality of the food, and considering the neighborhood, I would say this place is about average. As long as you know what to order based on your party, you can have a reasonably filling meal for less than $50 per person including a cocktail. Given I know that I could have had the same or better meal at other Chicago restaurants with better service and decor, I’m giving a 3 for value.

OVERALL: 3

I would not recommend this restaurant but would not turn people away from it either. There are too many nice restaurants in Chicago for me to tolerate average, but if I lived in the area and wanted a good, flavorful meal without having to get dressed up or impress anyone, I would certainly visit this place.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

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Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

ALS

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#Foodie Review: TR Napa Valley (Chicago)

Summary: NOT Recommended / Needs overhaul or closure.

This review makes me a bit sad. I really want this place to succeed because Chicago needs more wine and cheese spots. Having just moved back here from London, I was excited to see this spot right across from high-end Oak Street shopping like Prada, Barney’s, and Tod’s. The street and area need more upscale coffee, wine, and “drop-in” dining spots for heavy shoppers (I am not one, but my partner is..). The first time I tried to go to TR, there seemed to be no one working there. I walked in and looked around and there was no one. Odd. The second time I went, we had decent glasses of wine and pitiful service, The third and my final attempt was last week. There was an incredibly friendly young man there who greeted me and brought me wine list and menu. I don’t remember his name but I do know that he was not the owner or sommelier and his knowledge of wine was fairly limited (kind of bad for a wine bar, but forgiven because he was very professional, courteous and friendly). While he tried his level best to make the experience pleasant, I remain hugely unimpressed by this place and suspect it will close.

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TR Napa Valley
61 E. Oak St
Chicago, IL 60611

The Good. The Bad. 

Good:
- Wine flights are generous pours and well worth it for the price of around $28 for three wines in a flight, about 125 ml each.
- Server guy was friendly if not overly knowledgable about either wine or cheese.

Bad:
- Individual glasses of wine are strangely RIDICULOUS. I mean like prices I saw in London at some of the private clubs like Annabel’s and Arts Club. The least expensive GLASS of wine was $24.
- Apparently only the owner really knows about the wine on offer and he does not seem to be there very often. Or at least, the three times I have tried he was nowhere to be found.
- they served Carr’s table water crackers with cheese, along with fig and other accompaniments that looked like they got them from Jewel’s or Dominick’s. Not to be a snob, but when I go for wine and cheese, I want something a bit more upscale than aisle 3 at the local grocer.
- hasn’t been there for long, but it is already looking dated. The flowers were dried out and looking sad. The paint was chipping.

Predicting this place will close soon unless the owner is independently wealthy and does this just for a hobby. I did hear there is a private club that is “invite only” with costs to rival the best clubs in New York and London. Good luck with that.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

Follow me on Twitter 
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Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

ALS

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