Archive for December, 2009

A great article with an important lesson

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

This article made me smile in so many ways. I don’t know who Brian is, but, “Thank you Brian!”

A model for decision-shy execs

Michael Stern,  Financial Post  Published: Wednesday, November 26, 2008

One of the toughest challenges in business today is making the right decisions at the right time. Should we launch our new product into export markets? Is it time to contract out production? Should we replace our sales manager? And so on.

A few years ago, decision-making was easier. Everyone had more time to mull things over, there were far fewer people or resources to consult –decision makers had to, um, make decisions.

Today, there is greater urgency and higher stakes. Between the Internet, which provides a wealth of research wisdom, albeit much of it is contradictory and not entirely applicable, and consultants from just about everywhere eager to advise on almost everything there are also a lot more options. Meanwhile, instant communications and data-management tools mean changes can be implemented (and measured) immediately.

How do executives deal with these pressures and make the best decision they can? Ask my home inspector.

When I hired Brian a few months ago to inspect the older home I hoped to buy, I didn’t expect a lesson in decision-making. But his shrewd ability to combine analytical skills with the instincts born of long experience is a model for today’s decision-shy executives.

Brian had a weather-beaten, fifty something face and a quiet authority I took to immediately. The first thing that struck me was all the tools he’d brought. He clearly was up to date with changing measurement and analytical hardware. More importantly, he also knew when to leave them in the toolbox.

For instance, Brian had a digital tool for measuring moisture in the basement, but when it came to testing for dampness, all he had to do was push his finger into the drywall. His years of practice told him, if he felt moisture, he knew there was a problem if he didn’t, it was not really a problem.

That’s what’s missing in the executive suite — insights that come from years of experience. Things are changing so fast that few leaders now have the experience and confidence needed to lead big projects. All the more reason, then, for corporations to honour the knowhow of time-tested leaders, and do everything they can to retain those skills.

The new generation of business leaders, along with a few open-minded old-timers, have embraced BlackBerry’s, text messaging and other new media tools, to contact a host of colleagues. Being able to “ping” people 24-7 for their input is a great resource, but it’s more important to have the judgment and confidence to make a decision by yourself.

When he was probing for trouble in my house, Brian abandoned his Inspector Gadget toolkit and used a pocket knife. He rapped it against a wall and judged its integrity by the sound. He also used it to pry up shingles to get a look at my roof.

“Here is a guy who knows how to get a job done with minimal fuss,” I thought. Best of all, that attitude carried over in to the way he communicated.

As I followed Brian around asking questions, he responded in simple, comprehensible language. He wasn’t trying to dazzle me with his abilities; he wanted to ensure I understood what had to be done now, and what could be put off. A good tradesman benefits from informed customers, just as the best business leaders inform and empower their subordinates so they can think and act for themselves.

Finally, Brian had a firm sense of his limitations. He poked around the house after I asked about possible termite infestations, and he said he was pretty sure I was OK. But he insisted I call a termite specialist before closing the deal.

The business world needs leaders with Brian’s qualities: People who know their stuff, and don’t get carried away by technology; who don’t hoard knowledge or use it to impress or intimidate, and who admit when they’re out of their depth. –

Michael Stern is president and chief executive of Michael Stern Associates Inc. (,an executive coaching and executive search firm in Toronto, with affiliates in major business centres worldwide.

As inspectors, there are some important points to take from this:

1.    Tools may be useful, but experience is irreplaceable.

2.    If you don’t feel the need to impress, that’s impressive.

3.    If you communicate with clients like you care, they notice and appreciate.

4.    Simple comprehensible language is the only language we should speak.

5.    Knowing your limitations is impressive itself.